8 things to know

Here are 8 things to know when you go into surgery:

  1. Don’t eat or drink after the hospital tells you. For me – that means no food or drink after 10:30 pm on Thursday.
  2. My caregiving team (i.e. mom and dad) should bring a book because they have to wait while I’m in surgery. Mom, what a great time to read the draft of the book I wrote!
  3. Be clear with the doctors, make sure my parents and I understand what’s happening, and ask questions (watch To Err is Human). Use Google Live Transcribe so that I can better understand what’s being said because I have AN (auditory neuropathy & hearing loss)
  4. Plan on watching mindless tv shows or videos because you’re going to be really groggy and pain medicated. Hope that the hospital has the channels that Premier League football and Twins are on.
  5. Bring comfy easy-to-put-on clothes along because when you are discharged, you are going to want to get the f**k out. It’s less painful for me if I have easy-to-put-on clothes because I need other people to get me dressed because I have cerebral palsy (CP).
  6. If you’re staying overnight, don’t think you’ll sleep well because if you are either a light sleeper or a mom, you won’t get any sleep. Especially if you’re like me and have sleep apnea, the beepy thing beeps a lot all night long. And nurses come in and check your pulse, blood pressure, IV’s, etc. My dad is pretty good at sleeping just about anywhere.
  7. Hope that you are not in the hospital for more than two days. The last surgeries I had for putting in my DBS (deep brain stimulation), I was there for a week. That was more than long enough for me!
  8. Get a gallon of coffee because if your parents/guardians/friends/partners are anything like my mom, they are going to need lots of coffee. Thanks to Ronald McDonald House for helping take care of the caregivers and having good coffee for my mom and a nice place for my dad to get breaks, too.

I will have one more post by Wednesday at the latest, going more in-depth about the surgery the doctor will be performing on the big toes and then my mom is going to do a guest post after the surgery. The photos shown are of me in the hospital when I had my DBS surgeries 4 and 5 years ago (yes, did this one twice + one time to have the first one removed!)

Another song for my hospital playlist: Brave by Sara Bareilles

“Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
Show me how big your brave is”

Dad holding Justin in hospital bed

To Err is Human

I watched a documentary, To Err is Human, with my mom and dad last weekend. Like Cal Sheridan, who is featured in the film, I also have kernicterus because of a medical error. Did you know that medical errors are the 3rd largest leading cause of death in our country? There are as many as 440,000 preventable deaths every year. Far more than that are living with the long-term impacts or injuries from medical errors. For me, it means severe cerebral palsy, auditory neuropathy, visual tracking difficultiesBlack and white photo of dad holding baby Justin, and some messed up toes. Had my newborn jaundice been tested and treated in time, I may have had a very different life. But, it wasn’t – and I don’t have that different life.

Watch this documentary and find out more about what we can do to improve the medical system so that it’s safer for all of us. We NEED to do this!

Surgery

Speaking of medical stuff, my toes surgery is on April 29th  with a night or two in the hospital. My mom is going to write a guest post after to let everyone know how I’m doing. I’ll have surgery on both big toes with a couple months’ recovery. Hoping for relief from the toe-pocalypse although I also know that surgery and recovery will mean it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Foot xray showing bent big toe

Interrupters

Until then on to crazy fun April starting with Interrupters concert tomorrow night!!! Favorite songs: She’s Kerosene and Got Each Other (featuring Rancid)

We don’t have much but we’ve got each other! 

 

3…2…1 Action

Follow up to last week’s post about Google Live Transcribe app for Android. I had another doctor’s visit with my Movement Disorder Team on Thursday, so tried out Google Live Transcribe again. We made a video while waiting for the doctors to come in to the room. “Huh, you say? Not a video!” Yes, a video! My mom is the co-star for this one and dad is the camera person.

Tips for using auto-transcription apps:

  • 1 person talk at a time
  • Speak slowly and clearly
  • Have someone who does not have hearing issues also monitor the captions so they can correct things when captions are wrong

Auto-transcription is not perfect. Without someone who can hear better monitoring for accuracy, I would miss stuff. Like this time, the doctor was saying something and one of the words was “actually.” Google Live Transcribe thought he said “sexually.” This could lead to some big misunderstandings. My mom backed us all up so that I understood what he was actually saying.

Like a lot of stuff in my life and with assistive technologies, it’s a work in progress. This kind of tech will be helpful for some of us with hearing loss in some situations but not all. This works okay for me because we have just a couple of us in the room and I have someone who is reading the captions along with me to let me know when it messes up. If I’m in a college lecture, event like Disability Day at the Capitol, presentation, or meeting, then I’d prefer to have CART captioning. It’s more accurate.

Discoveries

The toes report

Met with the orthopedic specialist on Friday. Surgery in the next month or two as soon as it can be scheduled. Basically, the muscle tone and uncontrolled muscle spasms in my feet have caused my big toes to be just shy of dislocated. I have really strong muscles! And as I’ve mentioned before, it’s as if all of my muscles have their own individual brains, none of which listen to the brain in my head.

Foot xray showing bent big toe

I’m going to have surgery on both of my big toes as the doctor thought it was just a matter of time until my right toe gets as bad as my left. I’ll be in the hospital for a night or two after the surgery. The whole thing involves cutting tendons to my big toes, shaving off some bone on the knuckle parts of my toes, pins for 6-8 weeks. And then I’ll have another quick sedated surgery to remove the pins.

What else to say? It’s going to probably be a long, painful couple of months. Hopefully, it’ll be less painful once I get through it all.

Which brings me to…

Auto-captions

I’ve discovered over the past several years that my auditory neuropathy (AN) and hearing loss makes it difficult to follow conversations. CART (real-time) captions and closed-captioning helps me better understand what’s being said. For every day conversations or doctor visits, that’s not really an option.

Google Live Transcribe icon

My mom’s coworker let her know about Google Live Transcribe app for Android and we’ve been trying that out for everyday conversations. We also used it at my visit to the orthopedic specialist on Friday. It is amazing.

What do I like about it?

  • The text size can be enlarged so I can see it. I have visual tracking issues so larger text helps me read more easily.
  • The auto-captioning with Live Transcribe is pretty accurate. My mom reads along and points out when something is inaccurate. Like when the doctor said 6 to 8 weeks but Live Transcribe wrote out 66 instead. 66 weeks of pins in my toes is very different than 6 to 8 weeks.
  • Being able to read what was being said helped me fill in the gaps for when the discussion was sounding like a statick-y radio, which is what happens often with my AN.

Which brings me to…

My Book

Editing is long, hard work!

 

Advocacy and Action

It has been an action-packed month of advocacy with my presentation at the Capitol Grand Opening in August and being selected by Microsoft to participate in their Accessibility Video Series. I hope that what they filmed is selected for a two-minute film and case study about how I use technology for writing, studying, and connecting to the world. My favorite feature right now is Immersive Reader in Word Online. It highlights the word as it’s being read and I can control text size, spacing, and how many lines are visible. This helps me so much with my visual tracking difficulties and is helping me interact with and read my Psychology textbooks!

Justin reaching out to air-fist bump with Senator DurenbergerOn August 13, 2017, I gave this speech as part of the Hotdish Panel: Remembering the Past and Reimagining the Future – Living with a Disability with former U.S. Senator Dave Durenberger and Dr. Colleen Wieck, Director of the MN Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities Director.  What an honor to be able to share the stage with such amazing people. Thanks to the people who came to see our panel and to the MN Department of Administration for the invitation! Check out the great pictures from the event on the MN Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities Facebook page.

Hotdish Panel Speech

Thank you for being here today. I can’t believe that I’m here presenting with one of the authors of the ADA. Or the woman who has done so much to improve the lives of people with disabilities from closing institutions to starting Partners in Policymaking.

Thanks to assistive technologies like CART captioning which make it easier to hear, communication device that helps me speak, and power wheelchair that helps me move, I can accomplish so much more and be so much more independent than if I had been born in an earlier time. Let me tell you some stories about my experiences living with a disability and my dreams for the future.

Imagine a small group of high school students, sitting around a computer in my bedroom. There is laughter, sharing ideas and a lot of cookies. A young woman is writing up the plan for our history class presentation. I have my section about Civil rights, disability rights and sports in the 1960s ready to be added to the PowerPoint.

Another student was creating a jeopardy game and 2 guys were figuring out what we would wear. For me this was an experience I will always remember, because we all contributed to the project in meaningful ways to get that “A.”

I believe that we all learned a lot more about teamwork, respecting differences, helping others and knowing that each of us has so much to offer when working together towards a goal. This was inclusion at its best. Unfortunately, that rich group experience did not happen very often for me. Except for my church youth group where I was included like any other teenager.

I have had positive examples of accessibility and inclusion in the real world since graduating high school. My 1st was with my US History course at Century College. My professor was outstanding. Course materials, presentations and quizzes were online and accessible. He emailed me class discussion questions, so that I had time to program responses on my communication device.

For one of the first times in my life, I could fully contribute my thoughts and ideas in class. I learned so much, not just about history, but how one professor can make a positive impact and difference by just taking some extra time to be organized and think ahead of time about what I needed to be successful in his class.

As we move on carving out the future, I hope that educators from preschool through college or other post-secondary options, can keep finding the opportunities for meaningful inclusion to happen. The teacher in my 10th grade class and professor in my college history course both thought about how to make learning work for all students, even those of us with disabilities.

We need more teachers and professors to embrace inclusion and think ahead of how to make it work for all of their students.

These have been some of my experiences in the educational system. What’s next though and what do I imagine for my future?

I imagine a future for myself as one where I choose where I want to live, who I want to hang out with, what I will do each day, and how I will contribute to making the world a better place. The decisions that many of you in this room may take for granted. As I move through the halls of our capitol today, I know that I will be spending a lot of time here as a disability rights advocate.

I need help from government services to live the life I imagine. I need 24 hour care to help me with all my basic personal cares. Imagine that you have to depend on another person to give you a drink of water if you’re thirsty, feed you if you’re hungry, and help you go to the bathroom when you need to go.

It is important for people to realize that I can do what I do because I have special equipment and support staff to help me do these things. I know that these issues have become very political lately, which makes it more important than ever for me to make my voice heard and for you to make your voices heard in our political process.

Legislation that advocates have fought for, like the ADA, Idea for education, Medicaid, and the Olmstead plan all help me live an independent life in my community.

When I met and interviewed Dr. Wieck for one of my high school writing assignments. I remember her telling me what it was like for people with disabilities living in institutions. Her words made a lasting impact on me. She said, when you treat people differently, when you treat someone like an animal, you will get an animal.

To imagine what my future could have been like had I been born at an earlier time is heartbreaking. I am so thankful for all of the advocates who have made it possible for me to have more options now. I graduated from Partners in Policymaking this spring and have learned so much about becoming an effective advocate to continue creating positive change for people with disabilities.

John Green writes in the book Paper Towns, it is easy to forget how full the world is of people, full to bursting, and each of them imaginable and consistently mis-imagined. We all want to be imagined complexly as the individuals we are, not held back because we look, move, or speak differently. I have the same hopes and dreams for my future that many of you aspire to.

All of us are unique and face difficulties. There are many times when I feel like an outsider because I do not think people imagine me complexly, or know what to say to me, or how to talk to someone who uses a communication device. I expect that there are many of you here, who have felt the same.

I think we still have a long way to go with inclusion in school, work and life. I want to have a longer list of examples to choose from for my positive inclusion experiences. It really should be more than a handful of positive examples in 19 years.

So, what can we all do? Think and plan ahead to make sure people are included in meaningful ways.

Go beyond a simple Minnesota nice “hi, how are you?” and realize that I and others with disabilities have a lot to say and need people to take the time to listen. Also, what I learned from Partners in Policymaking is the importance of showing up. Show up here and talk to your legislators. Show up to volunteer on citizen work groups, like I’m doing with the Olmstead Community Engagement Work Group. Show up to vote. This capitol belongs to all of us.

Open your minds to new ideas, new people, and new experiences. It takes every one of us here today, to choose the infinite possibilities to create a more inclusive society, where we see value and dignity in all people.

Being Human: Living with a Disability

Why do I have a disability? Why me? Why does anybody have a disability? These are questions that anybody might ask. Why do we have struggles and challenges? And why do some have more than others? It’s not that easy for me to do what I want to do because I have a condition called kernicterus. 

What is kernicterus? I can tell you. When I was hardly a day old, I got sick with newborn jaundice. Did you know that severe newborn jaundice can cause brain damage called kernicterus? For me that means athetoid cerebral palsy or CP, auditory neuropathy, which means my hearing is like a static-y radio, visual tracking difficulties and so much more. And did you know, it could have easily been prevented with a $1 blood test and treatment? What happened to me was an easily preventable medical mistake.

So, what is it like to live my life? Sometimes it’s really hard and I have down days. It’s as if my muscles all have their own individual brains and none of them are listening to the brain in my head. Think about having to rely on someone else to give you a drink of water or feed you or arriving at restaurants where you simply can’t go in because there are stairs. A 3” step or curb is a mountain that can’t be climbed when using a power wheelchair. Imagine that most people cannot understand your voice and that it takes you one or two minutes to type every sentence that you want to share. It is annoying sometimes when people don’t realize that I have a lot to say and need them to take the time to listen. Part of the reason that I write these kinds of essays is because I have the time to make my voice heard.

I didn’t get to choose whether or not to have a disability, but I do get to choose how I live with a disability. A lot of the time, I find a way to fight my goofy muscles and try to do what I am able to do. I work hard to live life without limits. I love to learn, especially about creative writing, literature, and history. I love school and I love to read. Being an author means the world to me because writing calms my soul.

Justin is boy in wheelchair with his younger brotherCan I fight the difficulties on my own? Can anyone face challenges on their own? No. I am lucky because I have amazing parents, helpers and friends. I have a team of doctors and therapists. All of them try to figure out what will help me do the things I want to do. I also have a brother who loves me and is my best friend. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins are part of my team. People, even strangers, hold me in their hearts. I find courage in knowing that people believe in me and support me.

What is my dream and what is in my future? I will do what I want to do and live where I want to live. Minnesota is failing countless people with disabilities by providing little support other than in sheltered workshops and group homes. (Serres) Do I want to be forced to work and live where I don’t want to? Nobody does. I’m going to go to college and figure out how to live where and with whom I want to live. Even though the employment rate for people with disabilities working full time is only about 26% in Minnesota, I will do what it takes to work in a meaningful job where I will give back to society. (Mourssi)

I am Justin Smith and I am determined and want to live my life without limits. I am a human being like any other. We all have challenges and struggles we face. I choose the possibilities not the disability.

Sources

Mourssi, Mohamed. “Department of Employment and Economic Development.” Disability Employment in Minnesota. Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, Oct. 2013. Web. 03 Jan. 2016.

Serres, Chris, and Glenn Howatt. “Sheltered: How Minnesota Is failing the Disabled.” Star Tribune. Star Tribune, 8 Nov. 2015. Web. 18 Nov. 2015.

Originally published on my previous blog site on 4/14/16