Friday, November 23, 2012

“Can’t Wait To Be A Dad”

Before Tamika and I got married, we both agreed that we wanted children.  For us, it was a no brainer, and all we had to do was make it happen.  Easy enough, but it didn’t happen.  At least not right away.  Despite our best efforts, we’d look on with disappointment as the tests always came back negative. 

We weren’t about to let the situation stand, so we swallowed hard and made the necessary doctors’ appointments.  After much questioning, prodding, blood tests, and other diagnostic exams, the doctor announced his verdict: “No problem.  We should be able to make this happen.”  Now, I wasn’t sure about the “we” part because I thought this was kinda personal between Tamika and me, but I appreciated the diagnosis.  Well, a few months later, Tamika was pregnant and we reveled in the joy of planning for our first child.  We’ve done all the necessary tests and been to all the doctors’ appointments along the way, seen ultrasound photos of our child, and gotten all the pre-natal care that’s appropriate.  Tamika has been a champ throughout the process, although she does sometimes have some unpredictable and odd mood swings.  I just smile knowing it will all be worth it for both of us in just a short while.

Brailey Samara Owens … I love the sound of the name … is due to make her entrance on December 12.  “Samara,” by the way, means “protected by God,” and with two doting parents and God’s love, I just know she will have a wonderful life.  And we’ll be prepared for her, at least as much as we can be. We have tons of clothes and other merchandise. Tamika and I have taken many trips to the baby store, and a close friend built a custom changing table large enough for me to roll the wheels of my chair under, so as Tamika says: “Dwight, you’ll be an expert diaper changer in no time at all.”  I even found a website that caters to parents in wheelchairs, and I purchased a pouch to strap around my back and chest so I can move around with Brailey safely secured.

We’re just a few weeks away, and each day feels like a month.  Sometimes I catch myself sitting alone smiling, and I realize just how happy I am.  This year, 2012, is one to remember for me.  I was thrilled to get my new truck early in the year.  Then we finished and published “Still Standing” which has been a great joy to me.  And now Brailey is due to arrive.  I know there are lots of ups and downs in life, so Tamika and I are enjoying every minute of this wonderful year.  And as my friend and partner in “Still Standing,” Jon Praet, says: “Dwight, being a Dad is more than marveling at the arrival of your child.  It’s also a “doody.”  It’s hard to know things for sure in life, but this I know in the fullness of my heart.  I just can’t wait to be a dad.

Dwight Owens

Saturday, November 17, 2012

“A Helping Hand”

This will sound odd in light of the recent devastation of Hurricane Sandy, but for me, hurricanes have been a blessing.  As I describe in “Still Standing,”I was scheduled for shoulder surgery the day Katrina hit, and as fate would have it, Forrest General Hospital lost power.  I spent the next two days on a gurney in a hallway in the hospital with my mother doing everything possible to keep me cool.  Finally they order came to evacuate the hospital, and I was sent to the Mississippi Rehabilitation Center in Jackson about 90 miles away. 

I was rolled along for a long distance with the gurney’s wheels clattering in protest.  I was rolled outside, and for the first time in 30 days, I felt a breeze on my body and the warmth of the sun streaming down.  I heard birds chirping and squirrels rustling from tree to tree, and it was joyful.  I didn’t realize how much I had missed it, and I savored every second.  But I only had a short time before they hoisted me into the ambulance, strapped me in, and began to drive off.

Now here’s where the real story of this blog starts.  Nurse Kim Sissions was assigned to accompany me on the journey, and she knew me well.  She had tended to me the past three weeks, and I knew she took her job seriously.   I just didn’t know how much.

The trip from Hattiesburg to Jackson was slow and ponderous.  Trees and branch limbs were still on the roads, and more importantly from my perspective, there were many large potholes.  Each bump was jarring to my body and sent flashes of pain to every nerve ending.  It was one more exam in a non-stop series of final exams that seemed designed to test my character, and Nurse Kim was my mentor.   She was wonderful.  She held my hand during the entire trip.  She chided the driver to stop finding bumps and protect her precious cargo.  She told me about all the damage that had happened during the hurricane – how some bad actors were siphoning gasoline from their neighbors’ vehicle and how there was some looting.  But mostly, she told me how everyone was reaching out to help their neighbors, making sure they were safe and had food and water, and bringing them to shelters if needed.  She made it sound inspiring and explained how almost everybody was acting in the best spirit of friends helping friends in need.  And she made the pain go away.

My trip to Jackson lasted longer than it should have, but it ended far too soon.  Nurse Kim regaled me with stories, covered me with her body so I wouldn’t rattle back and forth when we went over a bump, and simply eased a tough situation.  I learned this week that Nurse Kim is receiving an award for her service at Forrest General, not for the help she gave me on my trip to Jackson but for the years of loving and expert care she has given to so many patients.  I congratulate her and believe Forrest General could not have selected a better person for the honor.

Dwight Owens

Saturday, November 3, 2012

“It’s Hard Not To Stare”

Living with a disability brings an odd assortment of challenges.  One of the oddest and hardest for me was being stared at.  I live in a wheelchair.  It is my home at home and away from home.  It is with me almost every waking minute of every day, and to me it’s become an extension of my body.  It’s there like an old trusted friend, and I think nothing of it.  But that wasn’t always the case.

Being stared at is an odd sensation.  You can feel it in your bones, and even though you can’t see the people behind you, you know they’re looking.  It’s very disquieting, and in the beginning, it made me extremely uncomfortable.  I hated it.  I wanted people to see me for the person I am, not the wheelchair I sit in.  I wanted to blend in like everybody else, and I was terribly self conscious.  So much so that I often refused to go out because I just didn’t want to deal with it.  It was a problem for me, and I knew that if I wanted to be self reliant and make my own way in the world, I would have to find a way to cope.

My solution was a simple one.  People would stare and not even know they were doing it.  I would look back, and they would turn their heads or avert their eyes.  They were busted, and they knew it, but they just couldn’t help themselves.   They weren’t cruel.  There was no malice, in their hearts, and they didn’t mean to make me feel uncomfortable.  It was just hard not to stare.   But I found the perfect response.  I simply smiled back. 

What I didn’t realize at first is that most people didn’t know how to approach me.  They didn’t know I had all the same thoughts and feelings they do, and they were at a loss.  A smile is such a simple thing.  It doesn’t cost a penny, but it’s worth a fortune.  I learned that a smile puts people at ease and makes it easier for them to approach me.  I can’t tell you how many fun conversations I have engaged in just by curling my mouth upward into a smile.  And I learned something else.  Part of my job as a person with a disability is to teach others how to approach people like me.  A smile makes it easier for everybody.  It invites engagement and draws people closer.  It says: “Hey, it’s okay to talk to me.  My mind is as sharp as yours, and I have things to say.”  Along the way, I believe this simple technique has done more to educate people than anything else I have done. 

Dwight Owens