The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Wednesday, December 05, 2012


A stroke of ill fortune

There nothing quite like a family tragedy to put the plight of the disabled into perspective.

If you and your loved ones have escaped misfortune consider yourself lucky – and pause to ponder the situation of others.

If that’s too onerous a task for everyday, just set time aside tomorrow (Mon 3 Dec) for the International Day of People with Disabilities. 

This year’s theme is Removing Barriers.  There’s no shortage.

Like millions of others, my brother-in-law and his immediate family wish they could squash a year of distress into just one day.

My BIL only partially fitted the profile of a stroke victim:  No spare flesh, under 55, not diabetic, doesn’t smoke (but used to), eats frugally, though not always well.  He’s been a stranger to doctors and a splendid armchair sportsman.

One morning last year he was ambushed and felled by a tiny arterial obstruction.  Had he got to a modern hospital within four hours and been injected with the new wonder clot-busting drugs he might now be fully active.

Instead his recovery has been incomplete.  That he’s now out of a wheelchair and can shuffle down the street almost unaided is a tribute to his determination and the perseverance of close family and friends.

The disabled share their suffering. Stroke victims aren’t easy to handle.  They often get uncontrollably emotional over the smallest issues, losing temper, straining relationships.  Arm and leg lifting exercises tax patient and helper because progress is measured in hair widths and never guaranteed.

At times like these families should demand hospitals give therapists and nurses the sort of salaries reserved for directors.

Tried pushing a wheelchair along an Indonesian sidewalk?  Civic authorities clearly haven’t, or there wouldn’t be steep kerbs and black holes big enough to swallow chair and carer.

Ever relied on the stability of a crutch to keep upright?  Then you’ll know about fearing fractured footpaths and curse the unthinking who park across pavements.

There are supposed to be laws insisting on disabled access to every public building. Take time tomorrow to check the ramps, lifts and door widths around your office. 

Then count the number of handicapped in your workplace.  It’s supposed to be at least one per cent.  It probably isn’t. Ask why.
Because Indonesians are curious and friendly people, convalescent exercises in public become chatterthons revealing the huge number of families in similar situations.

These encounters can be depressing if dad died, therapeutic if uncle bounced back and is now a gymnastics champ.

There are no accurate statistics for the number of stroke victims in Indonesia but the indicators show more than four million new cases in the Republic every year.

Sounds too few.  Those who’ve cared for a victim soon pick the familiar signs in the streets – the half-raised hand, the one-foot drag, the crablike movement, unwiped spittle and slurred speech. Such people seem to be everywhere – and they’re the survivors.
Strokes kill.  If they fail first time, like political candidates they often try again. At least one in four will be thumped anew, usually within five years.
Drug companies claim strokes are now the number one cause of death for all non-communicable diseases.

What does all this mean to those of us who haven’t felt our chests suddenly gripped and crushed by a giant hand and experienced the icy press of mortality competing with the sweat of terror?

Recognize the symptoms.  Rush to hospital; better to lose your dignity if it’s heartburn than your life if it’s not.

Reduce the risks. Keeping blood pressure down is vital, say doctors.  So is exercise and eating low cholesterol foods. Smoking is not an option.

Apart from wishing a speedy return to normality for victims and families, here’s an appeal to every legislator and civil engineer: Consider the handicapped in your plans.  Just a little care and forethought can make a difference in the lives of those less nimble.

But hey, wait a minute: A decent society is measured by the way the less fortunate, the distressed and disadvantaged are treated.  Do we really need a United Nations day to make us do something that should come naturally?  

(First published in The Sunday Post, 2 December 2012)


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