The stigma of the disease I am trying to control and the result of not doing a good job in the end is one that yields plenty of discrimination.
Life change is never easy. Nor is discussing such life changes.
In the past, I had some discussions about my personal health. About, being hospitalized for this or that. Yet, I held a lot back. “Long-term health issues” masked something deeply personal that could be the difference between being relevant or not.
That was when I was faced with the decision to have my left big toe removed from my foot. It took some resistance, a chance to repair this through wound care and medication, and some mental processing before I faced reality.
Today, I walk on nine toes – not ten. And, I’m OK with that.
The stigma of the disease I am trying to control and the result of not doing a good job in the end is one that yields plenty of discrimination. So is being disabled. Yeah, I’m calling myself that.
Disabled people are functional members of society. We work alongside you. We commute, shop, dine, and play, as well.
Yet, you look at us funny. You judge us. You wonder “why is that person here in my space?”
I know this is not the case for everyone. Yet, I am aware of people’s views on “the other.” This is coming from being gay, born Jewish – among other things.
What I am exploring is how to relate my current situation onto this work I love so much. How to tell the story of a disabled person working in an industry where the fit survives and thrives. And, vice versa.
However, can someone with my disability talk to others about automobiles and travel?
There is a slight problem. I am not seen as disabled as others. Does that matter? Through information, research, conversations, and experience, one can still do this job and do it well.
One such example was a young man whom I interviewed for Lavender Magazine. Eleven years ago, Jack Jablonski was smashed into the boards at a high school hockey game in the Twin Cities. The resulting spinal cord injury debilitated him and rendered him onto a wheelchair. Currently, he is on the content creation team for the Los Angeles Kings – the National Hockey League franchise of my birth city.
(NOTE: You can catch his podcast, “Trading Jabs,” on the Kings’ YouTube channel and via Simplecast.)
There are plenty of others whom I met and worked with that continue to inspire me that live beyond their disability. They have shown their strength through their ability to deliver on the great work in their field. That includes my fellow journalist and contributor to V&R, Jimmy Dinsmore.
As for losing the toe, I look no further than two other inspirations that keep me going.
One of my musical heroes had an amputation, also. Giovanni Hidalgo is a master conguero with one heck of a resume. His chops were immaculate, whether it is one drum or five. I could list everyone whom he played for, but that would more space to use. In 2016, Hidalgo had his left ring finger amputated. Hidalgo adapted his playing by using a stick on his left hand. It is still a sweet sound from these drums.
The other happens to be my mother. She had her left leg amputated above the knee in 1987. Since her second stroke in 1979 debilitated her right side, she walked on that leg. Her cane was present in the 12 years she continued to walk the Earth. However, that left leg gave out on her. She lived an additional five years without more than half that leg.
All of this leads to something I need to express now that I have this change in my life and work. Yes, my “clutch” foot will not work as some people said it was intended to. Does that make me less of an automotive journalist? It has not! I’ve been doing this for over a decade and have been clocked for it. Still, I get up and power through regardless.
You are going to have to deal with someone who is now classified as disabled. Someone with nine toes – not ten. That may not be seen through the rest of this work, but at least you know that’s how I am rolling for the rest of my life.
Furthermore, the last time I checked, I’m still the publisher of V&R, a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, and have a day job as Managing Editor of Lavender Magazine.
Yes, being “brave” and “strong” will keep me going through this life change. But, is it necessary? Perhaps, but I also believe that something can be gleaned from this experience – even in its initial state. Maybe to drive a new set of content regarding those of us who are disabled in the context of the automotive world.
This is just a start of some potential conversations.
All photos by Randy Stern