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Spinal Cord Injury Paralysis Resource Center

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It's Back to Work I Go

By Donna Lowich

Opening of the PRC in 2002, with Christopher Reeve

Opening of the PRC in 2002, with Christopher Reeve

"Welcome back!"  A chorus of greetings from my friends and co-workers buoyed me throughout the day. It was November 2, 1986. It was a warm, wonderful greeting, but it didn't alleviate the butterflies fluttering inside me. After all, it was my first day back at work after an absence of exactly one year.

What a year it had been: two spinal cord surgeries that paralyzed me from the shoulders down. After months of hospitalization and intensive physical therapy, I was discharged home where I continued my therapy program.

My difficulties
I needed all the encouragement I could get. Despite my progress in therapy, things were very different since I was last at work. I no longer was driving, and I was now in a motorized wheelchair. Although I tried to prepare myself to deal with these major changes, the reality of the situation still stung when confronting them on a daily basis. It was harder than I had imagined. But nothing was more difficult than trying to provide an answer to the question every human being asks at a time when they feel the most vulnerable: "Why me?"

My job as a corporate reference librarian involved providing information to people within the company on telecommunications-related topics.  I loved looking for and (ultimately finding) the answers. My physical limitations changed all that, forcing me to work slower, do things differently, yet still manage to keep pace with my colleagues at other locations within the company.

Going foward, was the only way to go
These were not external pressures, but pressures I put on myself as a part of my effort to get back to where I thought I should be, where I wanted to be. It was difficult for me to look ahead and not think back to how things used to be. But looking ahead was my only option.

Slowly, I adapted to my new rules and developed new ways to get my work done in a complete and timely manner. Eventually, I grew more confident about my ability to perform my work to my satisfaction.

But, I still couldn't understand why this had happened to me. The thought bothered me but fortunately I had positive diversions to keep me from dwelling on the negative: I had my family, my goals, my therapy. Life continued, as life always does, no matter what we say or do. Although I continued to improve with therapy, the question remained.

What should I do?
Gradually, the "Why me?" morphed into another conundrum: If I needed to leave my current job, would I be able to easily switch jobs? Would I be hired since I would need job accommodations?

In October 2000, fourteen years after my return to work, a man walked into the library. He introduced himself: "Hi, my name is Doug. I need some information on ..." He proceeded to list the topics that he needed. He explained: "I need this information because I am developing a new organization that will help us sell specific software products to specific customers."

During the next few weeks, as I provided him the information, Doug mentioned he needed someone to provide and organize information for others within his new department. I was proud to know that Doug was willing to give me such a wonderful opportunity!

I was truly enjoying my job in my new organization when a year later, I got a call from my friend, Kathy. 'Hey, Donna, I think there's a job that you might like. There's a job opening for an information specialist to research and give out information to people with spinal cord injuries. It's with the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation"

What an opportunity!
I could hardly believe it! My interest was immediately piqued. I applied online the next day and waited for an interview. I was thrilled with the possibility of being able to help others overwhelmed with the same issues that had overwhelmed my family and me fifteen years earlier.

I felt the interview went well. What would I do if, IF they offered me the job? I had decided that if given the opportunity, I would take the job at the Reeve Foundation. I realized that I had a difficult situation to face but I had to do it because I wanted to do it. I knew that I would have to confront my dilemma of what I would say to Doug about leaving.

At the same time that I was puzzling about what to do about my current job and my possible new job, more events were altering the path that I thought was going to be mine.  The next day, before I had a chance to talk to Doug, we received an announcement from our vice-president. She was calling a meeting for our entire organization at 9:30 in the auditorium.

Such terrible news
As we gathered for the meeting, Jeanne was visibly upset. Her voice trembled as she announced, "Because of industry trends, it has been decided that this department is going to be disbanded. Everyone will be blended back into their original organization. I'm very sorry, everyone."

What terrible news for everyone! We had come together and worked to make each team and every individual successful in our common goals. Everything seemed to be going so well.

Within a few days, I received a call from the Reeve Foundation: "We would like to offer you the position of Information Specialist."

I knew I wanted to accept the offer so I went to tell Doug of my decision. I told him about the events of the past few weeks. As we talked, I told him about my surgeries and paralysis.  I ended with, "Do you think this is an amazing coincidence?"

Doug replied, "There are no such things as coincidences. If I were you, I would make any necessary life changes and do this."  This is definitely not a coincidence." He paused. "It's something I think you should do."

This was not a coincidence
I believe this was an answer to my questions. I received my answer; it just wasn't on my timetable. It came when I least expected it. I reflected on all the events of the past few weeks, and the twists and turns my life was taking. Could it possibly be a mere coincidence that as one door was closing, another was opening? Or, was Doug correct? What else can be the explanation for the ultimate answer to the two questions that plagued me for so long?  I knew now that I could get a job. But more importantly, I could get a job where I could help other people using both my work experience and my personal experience.

Why me? I believe that God knew that if I helped others, they would help me to see the big picture, and understand His mysterious ways a little better.

And, maybe that was His Plan all along.

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Umbilical Cord Blood Banking (PDF)

Center for Research on Women with Disabilities (CROWD)Dept of Physical Medicine and Rehab Services at Baylor College of Medicine.

Disability.govserves as the official government website on disability resources for the public. It was created by the federal government to serve as the single online point-of-reference for information and programs related to disability. The site is managed across all federal agencies under the New Freedom Initiative.

Just One Break-JOBEmployment placement service for people with disabilities.

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN)The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is a free consulting service that provides information about job accommodations, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the employability of people with disabilities.

Mobile WomenArticles, resources, online forum for women with disabilities especially wheelchair users.

PASS TutorialTutorial on completing the Plan for Achieving Self-Support (PASS).

Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement ActThis site provides information about the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act.

Paralysis Resource Center The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm ET. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

Reeve Foundation Online Paralysis Community Connecting people living with paralysis, families, friends and caregivers so we can share support, experience, knowledge, and hope.

Quality of Life Grants DatabaseFind resources within the PRC Quality of Life Grants Database. Search by Zip Code, State or an Entire Category.

Library Books and VideosFind resources within the PRC library catalog.

ASK OUR EXPERTS
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  • Call our Paralysis Information Specialists
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The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Eastern U.S. Time. International callers use 973-467-8270. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

This project was supported, in part by grant number 90PR3001, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.