Honorable Mention 2001 Writer's Digest Contest Article Category
| You Don't Have To Be Mobile To Move Someone
I met Michael over 15 years ago. I'd been a nurse for only two years and had
spent those years working in a hospital. A back injury had detoured me and being
home for two months had made me punchy. I went into private duty nursing and
met Michael two months later. Coming into a private home, even as a nurse, I felt
like an intruder. Michael soon changed that.
Michael is a quadriplegic who leads a remarkable life. Though mute and blind
in one eye, Michael uses a computer and Morse Code to tap out short stories,
direct photo shoots and then print out the pictures taken during the shoots. He has
dozens of abbreviations in his head for sentences, phrases and paragraphs. These
are all created by Michael and installed by him to use for communicating with
others. His computer is his voice.
Michael burns CDs to give as Christmas presents, birthday presents and just
being nice to someone presents. He then goes a step further and creates CD
covers, complete with song titles and pictures.
Michael's also writes via his computer. His stories are descriptive and beautiful.
Many are poignant tales of his past travels in Europe, travels with his parents
and siblings before the diving accident that left him paralyzed, two days after his
When you read Michael's stories you are with him on his journeys. The sights
and sounds of his written words, takes you to the place of his memories.
I enjoy reading them. Even though so many make me cry, there is no self-pity in
Michael's words. He isn't regretting his loss; he's sharing his past. This is his
gift. He takes you with him.
It can take Michael half an hour to write one page of text. Everything he
accomplishes on his computer is done this way: stories, photos, CDs. Still, he can
make his day more productive than a lot of mobile people I know, including me.
Few of us can imagine the willpower it takes to do what he does every day.
Michael is also a local celebrity. His photos have been featured in several art
shows in his hometown of Buffalo, New York. Strangers are linked because of
him. I often meet someone, who knows someone, who knows Michael. I describe
his accomplishments and people know who he is. They are impressed just hearing
I started walking for exercise because of Michael. He once stated, via his
computer, that he was amazed at how some people choose to waste a perfectly
good pair of legs. Then he smiled; we all did. His humor is infectious and
inspiring. He must spell out his needs with a series of dots and dashes where one
letter can be four taps long. This, however, will not deter him from using his cheek
to tap out a funny comment that has us mobile people rolling with laughter.
Tapping out a funny comment: now that's determination.
Although Michael cannot speak, he says a lot worth listening to. I owe my
knowledge and use of computers to Michael. He learns programs on his own
through trial and error. His persistence keeps frustration at bay. He's never
intimidated by anything new. As long as his computer is on, and his switch is near
his cheek, he needs little or no help to do what he wants. There was no way I
could be around Michael, watching him work, and not be shamed into the techno
century. I bought a computer and have now been learning, right along with
Michael, the intricacies of these machines.
There are times when Michael is sad or angry, but what impresses me, is how
infrequently he displays these negative emotions. I've seen some people looking
sad or expressing anger so often that I wonder if they ever smile. They should
meet Michael and realize that they're walking and talking, so why waste energy
on negative emotions. Meet my friend and realize what you have and what
you could lose. Meet Michael and be inspired.
Michael has programmed his main requests into his computer with ‘please' at
the end of each request. There are abbreviations, which he put in his PC that do
more than express his needs. He has compliments programmed in there too, and
they're not just empty words, but are full of his appreciation for what you do for
him. Michael is so considerate, that he has coded a separate and personalized
‘good day', ‘good night' and ‘thank you', for every nurse that has taken care of
him since he's had a computer. That is a lot of unwarranted typing, but it's his
way, and he knows we nurses appreciate it.
I have never seen anyone meet Michael and not relax around him. He has a
somewhat magical effect on people. His casual nature envelopes all in his
company. Using his cheek and determination, he touches so many people that it
makes him a pleasure to be around. I wish I could share his life with the world. So
many could benefit from his attitude. His aspirations to make his life as full as
possible are a testament to the inner strength in all of us, if we just seek it out.
Michael makes CDs that move you to dance, he writes stories that move you to
tears, and types comments that move you to laughter. With a tap of his cheek, he
motivates those around him to higher levels of awareness and appreciation for
being alive. He lip-syncs the songs he hears on his stereo, and with one eye,
he sees so much to live for. He creates recipes that everyone in his life enjoys.
Everything is richer in his world of few limitations. He conquers as many
obstacles as he can, and exhausts all avenues of a new venture before giving up.
We could all learn from his triumphs. Without ever standing up, Michael stands
taller than any one I know. Now if you'll excuse me; I have to get moving. I have
a very motivated friend to keep up with.