Communication is an Endangered Species

Key deer - just one of many endangered species

Key deer – just one of many endangered species

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

Last night, we watched the movie Terms of Endearment. The movie still provides some sentimental waterfalls, but there are some things that seemed so modern in 1983 when the movie was made that are nearly archaic now thirty years later. Phones were push button but still in the old rotary style with the coiled cord and receiver. The movie shows a scene where a large rectangular portable phone presents itself poolside. How “modern” this cordless box appeared that even the character played by Debra Winger pulls it away from her ear to give it a smirk.

How far we’ve come in these thirty years – for better and for worse. The four of us watching the film began talking about the advent of the cell phone into our lives and how it changed communication skills once that tiny little piece of technology made its way into mainstream life. My friend recounted his experience working in a restaurant where communication among employees was open and made for the smooth running of the establishment for his first four or five years in his job as cook. But then slowly over the course of a year, cell phones began appearing in the hands of the waiters, cooks, dishwashers, and managers. Instead of talking with one another, communication occurred over the plastic encased wires, making face-to-face talking less and less. Efficiency  among the staff deteriorated as did the quality of service.

It’s even worse today with the introduction of texting into our lives. I’ll admit it’s convenient to text someone a quick note, but now instead of living lives, paying attention while shopping, walking, or driving, folks text their messages to their phone. We’re going to lose our ability to appreciate our surroundings. I understand the allure. I finally came into the modern world this month when I was upgraded to an iphone with my cell phone company. It’s addicting to follow my career and personal life on this little square screen that fits in my pocket and alerts me whenever Carmelitta Carson tweets or Joseph Jackson posts his status on Facebook or when Monster Mart sends me an email letting me know that kitchen sinks are now on sale. Meanwhile, my husband is telling me – in person – about his schedule for the next week. I didn’t hear him with all the other distractions occurring worlds away from my present. I put the phone away and turned off the beeps and buzzes informing me of nonsense nonessential to living my life.

Last week I wrote a post (Becoming a Non-Person) about becoming a non-person in a wheelchair. I mentioned my friend whose brother faces the challenges of multiple sclerosis that has left him bed- and wheel-chair bound. This past weekend his nurse, who comes every morning to shower and care for him while my friend goes to work, was fired. This nurse was a God-send because she treated my friend’s brother as a worthwhile human being bringing him smiles and laughter. My friend was devastated and waited an entire day before telling her brother. When she finally told him yesterday, he calmly took the news and asked for the phone. He called the boss of the agency that fired the nurse, and he became his old self – confident and strong – and within thirty minutes brought the boss to tears as he convinced her the nurse should be rehired because they were fortunate to have her, and whatever issues occurred to cause her firing should be addressed and used as a way to help this valuable employee and human being.

My friend wrote me this morning to tell me the nurse was rehired, and she could hear her brother and the nurse conversing in the next room.

Those of us on our fancy new forms of communications are the ones in danger of becoming non-persons, not the wonder in the wheelchair who still knows the importance of communicating with confidence, clarity, and compassion. Let’s not make him an endangered species.

Becoming a Non-Person

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

I ceased to exist for a few hours to those around me recently.

The occasion occurred in the corridors of a hospital when I sat in a wheelchair. My husband pushed me down long hallways from the doctor’s office to the lab to the pharmacy. I’d been suffering from a viral virus that made my legs weak. I was unable to walk long distances. I’m getting around much better now, but for a short time, my mobility took a hit.

So during my excursion to a doctor’s appointment at the hospital, I decided to make life easier by using the chair positioned near the exit doors to the parking garage.

When I sat down, everything changed. I ceased to exist as a functioning, live person. I consider myself a friendly sort of gal. I smile and say “Hi” when I pass people in public places. But when I became wheelchair-bound, no one looked at me; they either looked away or looked at my husband who was pushing me around. At the elevator, people rushed in before us, instead of waiting until my husband pushed me into the small space. Perhaps I noticed it more on this particular day. I felt lousy and vulnerable and needed a smile or kind word thrown my way. No one offered even a glance.

My disability was temporary, but it forced me to examine my own behavior. I hope I don’t discount those not able to do tasks the rest of us take for granted. I try to open doors for people. I help others get things down from grocery store shelves when I see them struggling. I certainly want to believe I smile at folks in wheelchairs, but now I question if I really do.

I shared my experience with a good friend who takes care of her brother suffering from multiple sclerosis. He’s unable to walk or do tasks for himself. I almost cried when she told me what happens when she takes her brother out in public.

“You can’t believe the sadness I feel when we go out, and he’s in his wheelchair,” she said. “This larger-than-life man who was a hero to so many, an inspiration to anyone he met, is now a non-person. At a restaurant, the host overlooks him to ask me how many in our party. They don’t know he has asked ME out to dinner, and he’s paying. At the ballpark, people stand in front of him, so we constantly move around. And while the doctors are getting better and directing questions to him, they still look at me to discuss his health.”

Heartbreaking to hear; devastating to live through it.

If I treated anyone challenged with a disability as less than human, I’m sorry. But now I’m conscious. I’m fortunate. I’m grateful. I’m humbled.

And I vow to look everyone in the eye, even if it means I have to lean down to do it.

A former coworker of mine kept a little sign in her office that said, “Never look down on someone unless you’re reaching down to help them up.”