An important decision needed to be made.
Beth heard back from graduate schools. With acceptance letters from three law schools and Harvard’s Ph.D program at the School of Public Health, she narrowed down the decision to Georgetown Law in Washington, DC, or Stanford Law in California. The idea of going to graduate school in an unfamiliar place appealed to Beth, since she expected to work in DC after law school. She selected Stanford without ever visiting the campus, since she had no open weekends prior to the decision deadline. She wasn't concerned. A great school, great weather, and great outdoor pools. How could she go wrong? Beth accepted at Stanford Law, then promptly and officially deferred law school for one year, as planned four years before with Peggy. Nothing would interfere with her month in Beijing.
Beth’s happy news about Stanford coincided with bad news for John.
The first-year teachers in Newton received pink slips. Their contracts would not be renewed because of major budget cuts. We couldn’t believe it. He had National Board Certification, stellar evaluations, and 31 years of teaching experience, but only Newton seniority mattered. I updated his resume and helped him apply for teaching jobs while he finished the school year. He interviewed in Waltham and South Boston.
At the end of April, I met Beth at the new pub under Harvard’s Annenberg Hall. A packed crowd gathered to launch SPINALpedia, the new disability project Brittany co-founded with Josh Basile. The band Braddigan performed at the event. Beth spoke to the crowd along with another friend and two other quads, including Brittany’s dad.
“My goal was to create a support resource that uses the power of people’s experiences to motivate people with new injuries to adapt their lives,” Brittany said. The band’s lead singer, Brad Corrigan, added, “As a musician, I love stories that are real, and there’s nothing more real than someone sitting in a wheelchair, saying that there’s always hope.”
During the concert, a stranger tripped and accidentally knocked Beth’s chair over backward.
I moved across the room to help, not worried. She had tucked her head safely forward as she fell, chin to chest. Brittany pushed everyone out of the way, including me, before lifting Beth off the floor and back into the wheelchair. Apparently, this had happened before, and Brittany managed the situation to deter anyone inexperienced or drunk from helping. Beth teased her, and Brittany apologized to me, but there was no need. Why would I object to someone looking out for my daughter? With SPINALpedia successfully launched, the website followed, with video clips sharing individual experiences with paralysis.
Next: Florida and England!
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Approaching the 12-month anniversary of her spinal cord injury, Beth participated in her first seminar for Laraine’s physical therapy students in Toledo.
“Beth’s insights and down to earth presentations enlighten students and motivate them to challenge the spinal cord injury patients in their care,” Laraine said.
The patient panel included a young married quad who showed the students her intricate embroidery while her adorable toddler played nearby. Another quad, an older man, seemed annoyed when his leg straightened suddenly. He broke the spasm by leaning forward and patiently pressing a fisted hand at the back of the knee on the same leg, a process my daughter would practice and duplicate countless times.
“I was one of a few panelists who shared our experiences and answered many questions,” Beth said. “I also participated in the ‘hands on’ part with Laraine showing specific techniques. Then the seminar participants tried the exercises with me while we talked. I hope it helped them understand a patient’s perspective a little better, and also to see that a quadriplegic can do more than is usually expected.”
Laraine asked Beth to start the physical therapy routine, to transfer out of her wheelchair with help, to lift an inert leg onto the mat table with a now-stronger arm, and sit up slowly on her own. As she sat in the long-sitting position with her hands in her lap, Laraine gently pushed and prodded her trunk. Beth stayed upright most of the time, winning the battle. The students clapped.
To finish the demonstration, Beth wobbled through the steps of the ending routine independently.
She tied the laces of her shoes and used her teeth to do the final tightening. It would take more persistent trial and error to complete the task without using her teeth.
Laraine asked her to share the progress with her ongoing ponytail quest. Beth scooted forward in her chair and then leaned back to anchor herself for better balance. Her right wrist lifted the hair up from the nape of her neck. She put a standard elastic band around her left index finger and left thumb. With effort, she used her head as an anchor for her hand to move the hair through the elastic band. Unfortunately, it wasn’t tight enough. She kept trying to loop the band around a second time to hold the ponytail in place, determined to do it on her own.
Another year would pass before Beth achieved her goal of a perfect messy ponytail.
Curious how she does it? Here are two of her videos:
...And one that includes tying shoes:
I'm a mom on a mission to share the power of hope and connection! For signed copies of my new memoir, click BOOK, and find it on Amazon HERE. It may be found everywhere books are sold. Thanks!
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