A Life Wasted


A nurse practitioner and I have just been talking. Mostly we were talking about herbal teas, of which we are both aficionados. Prior to that, I was talking with a staff member of the Recreation Dept. Mostly we were talking about Washington, visiting the monuments, and cherry blossom time. Before that, I was talking with the director of Social Services and some vice president or other. They were functioning as quality control and trying to get the facts about a night nurse who threatened to take away my medicine because I said the re-order prescription had been sent to the wrong nurse practitioner—said nurse practitioner being the one with whom I was talking about tea.

So here’s the thing: nurse practitioners and above are the people with whom I have good conversations because they are functioning at my intellectual level. The recreation lady is 62 to my 69: we have things in common about which to talk. And when I have these people with which to speak, it makes me happy. It makes me smile.

I have been in a power wheelchair for ten or fifteen years. I have invited many, many people to visit me in my home but they haven’t done it. However, when we connect outside my home then we have long and interesting conversations. Why is that? Why won’t people visit me in my home?

My life has been largely wasted because nobody knows me; nobody gets to talk to me because I am disabled. I have so many good ideas to share and so many good stories to tell but nobody knows me because I am in a wheelchair.

You all have wasted my life because you wouldn’t come and visit me; you wouldn’t get close enough to hear me because I sit in a wheelchair.

Shame on you. How many other peoples’ lives have you wasted because you couldn’t get past the disability barrier?

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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