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Lions Roar : March 2014
Island, I am helicoptered to Straub hospital on Oahu to repair what remains of the right hemisphere of my brain. It is the same hospital where Phil had been practicing as a first-year medical resident before we left on our trip to the Big Island. Approaching my hospital bed, my parents wear worried eyes and crumpled clothes. I vaguely hear a nurse explain my physical losses. My father’s voice quivers in response: “Are they permanent?” “It’s too soon to tell.” The room is abloom with garlands of leis, tropical bou- quets, and cards from Hawaiian residents offering apologies for the crime. When the neurosurgeon inspects the tracks of sutures in my head, he turns to my folks and says, “You can take her home now.” Their collective gasp jolts the room. Patricia, a social worker friend of Phil’s, swoops into the room in a blaze of light that pierces our confusion and dread. Waving a file bulging with admission papers for a rehabilita- tion hospital in Chicago, she says, “If this place can’t teach Judy how to sit up, read, dress, and feed herself, no one can. You’re lucky they’re in Chicago.” With a compassionate smile, she strokes my face and then embraces my parents. Hilo detectives, visiting before we depart, tell me that my travel journal helped them retrace our steps. But it ends with our visit to Kilauea the day of the assault. My musings and sketches of Pelé are remarkable, the big copper-skinned native Hawaiian sergeant says, but offer no clues to the crime. In denial of Phil’s death and my multiple disabilities, I focus on the officer’s compliment of my artwork. He glares at my crushed skull and says that Phil’s murder and my assault are tearing him up. In the distance, Pelé weeps. Waking Up Outside the Tent (2012) Wheeling onto the hydraulic wheelchair lift to board the Metra commuter train that takes me from home to my job in down- town Chicago, I am greeted by a cheerful fellow traveler who climbs into a seat in front of my power scooter. “Wow, you’ve got to hand it to Metra for installing those lifts for you guys,” he says. I hold my breath and compose myself before lean- ing forward and responding in a patient, quiet tone. “Metra resisted wheelchair lifts tooth and nail. We won these lifts with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.” “Oh,” he says sheepishly, “I didn’t know. Is that what you do?” My face brightens as I say, “Yes, I’m an advocate for people with disabilities.” What I don’t say is that I was slow to embrace the dis- ability community. My ego and self-image as an able-bodied An adjunct instructor at the University of Illinois Chicago’s College of Nursing, JUDY PANKO REIS lectures and writes on women’s health, violence, and disability. More than a decade ago, she was introduced to Buddhist meditation. businesswoman resisted identifying with a group I had perceived as inferior. My identity evolved when I married and began net- working with other disabled women. Like me, they faced barri- ers in accessing public transportation to travel to work and get their children around. Once I accepted my many disabilities, a rainbow of possibilities evaporated my fears. Wider systems of interdependence with other disabled people began to emerge. Recovering his fumble, my travel companion says, “Hey, that’s a great scooter. Love the Harley-Davidson sticker on the back. Does it go backwards?” “Sure does!” I say. Emboldened, he asks, “Do you have MS? My wife’s cousin has MS and uses a wheel- chair.” “No,” I say, “I was hit on the head a long time ago.” I hold my breath again, this time waiting for the usual onrush of inqui- ries: the who, what, when, and where. When moments of empty silence pass without interrogation, I release a silent sigh of relief: I’m off the hook. During the train ride, I muse that this week marks the thirty- second anniversary of my injury. The bludgeoning that resulted in Phil’s murder and my disabilities is too much to share. My eye PHOTOBYSHELDONREIS SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2014 61