27 May 2008

Odds and Ends, NY Times Redeems Itself



I missed lots of interesting stories over the weekend because I was in Las Vegas. My good friend JB was playing in a baseball tournament so we went to cheer him on and be tourists as well. I had a great time and at the baseball game I met one of the stars from one of my favorite tv shows, Grey's Anatomy. She was hilarious and awesome and she was nice enough to let me take a photo with her. Most actors are much less attractive in-person than on-screen, but she was even more beautiful in person!

First off, the NY Times has fairly dazzled me with an article about a US soldier with a severe brain injury. Many more soldiers in this war are surviving serious injuries because of better helmet and armor technology. This means there are more vets with disabilities than ever. The soldier profiled was in a Hum-vee that drove over an anti-tank mine. The brain "rattling" he received caused severe disability. He has very little independent movement and he cannot speak. He has what I have sometimes heard called "locked-in syndrome," someone of typical intelligence who cannot speak and communicates only with great difficulty.

I would highly recommend you read this entire article. The article talks about the soldier Shurvon, his injury, his progress in rehab, how he fits into his family, how his mother acts as his caregiver, and his options for communicating. Shurvon communicates only using his eyes. The author of the pieces writes a lot about how expressive Shurvon is with his eyes.

The article is also pretty amazing because the author exposes his own prejudices towards people with severe disabilities, and in doing so makes the reader confront their own beliefs. To me, it is brave to come out and admit that your preconceived notions were wrong and that you have changed them. Well done, Daniel Bergner! This seems like the type of story that can change the way people see people with disabilities:
I thought that there seemed little reason that Shurvon couldn’t someday earn a master’s degree. But at other moments the reasons appeared too immense ever to be overcome; the notion of college, let alone graduate school, seemed merely a soothing fantasy. And sometimes impossible to overcome, too, was the idea that Shurvon’s life might not be worth living; that I, in his place, would rather stop breathing, cease thinking, that I would prefer to die.

Whenever this idea took hold, I recalled a medical ethicist at R.I.C. telling me about studies showing that doctors and nurses tend to rate the quality of life of severely impaired patients to be far lower than the patients do themselves. The ethicist had spoken, then, about the ways that a life acquires meaning.

Next up, this month's "Paddler" magazine has an article about a kayaker who is a paraplegic. A kayaker buddy sent it to me. I'll give you a quote from the story. His raft guide is telling him that he will be able to handle an inflatable kayak on the river, despite his poor balance:

“Trust me,” he winked.

I asked him if he’d ever taught a paraplegic to whitewater kayak and he said he’d never had the opportunity. This was all I needed to hear.

I didn’t demo an inflatable kayak to ensure that I, a paraplegic, could safely paddle. I just bought one.


Weighing in on the Oscar Pistorius Olympics debate is bioethicist Art Caplan, and Paralympian/marathoner (and fellow Stanford alum!) Cheri Blauwet. They have different backgrounds and they both make very interesting points that you won't have heard already in the news. Cheri writes,

I feel that we are being extremely short-sighted to simply say "well...he doesn't have anyone to compete against." With the right resources and investment into grassroots development, we could have hundreds of talented athletes ready by the Paralympics in London 2012.

Medical tech blog medGadget reports on a new device to help people with severe visual impairment see better. The "Sightmate" helps users use the vision that they do have. It also makes you look awesome like Geordi La Forge.

Image: Levar Burton, playing the Star Trek character Geordi La Forge. A youngish handsome black man in a black and yellow uniform shirt with narrow wrap-around futuristic glasses.

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