I assumed I would provide a public service, imparting knowledge to these young people. I would do them a favor and would receive nothing in return. As planned, I gave them an understanding of what it’s like to live with a disability. But to my surprise and delight, the energy, compassion, and earnestness I felt from the students lifted my spirits. I gave, and they gave back.
I wanted to start slowly, just one class of 25 or so eighth-graders, in case I bombed. My greatest fear was that I would bore them. The first session went well, so we set up three more sessions of 50 or so eighth-graders over the next week.
Using a PowerPoint presentation, I kicked things off with some pictures of Mrs. Sturgeon and me when we were the same age as these students. I deliberately made fun of our clothing and hair styles, and I quickly gained credibility.
Then, I told them about my diagnosis and explained the basic science of multiple sclerosis. I discussed the variety of symptoms that MS patients might encounter. I showed them pictures of me using a cane, forearm crutches, and a scooter. Next came the highlight of the show – an iBot demonstration. In each of the four sessions, when I elevated myself into balance mode, the students couldn’t believe their eyes.
I spoke about my mother – what a role model she was – and addressed some specific lessons I learned from her. I mentioned the eerie similarity between her injury and my disease.
Then I introduced my blog and talked about how it has benefited both me and those who read it. I shared with them some of my favorite posts.
I finished up with what I called My Keys to Resilience. Then came my favorite part of each presentation – audience questions.
Always, the questions started slowly, then once the ice was broken multiple hands flew up at one time. The students didn’t have much of a filter, and that was refreshing. Here are a few of the questions they asked:
Can you feel your legs? Yes
Does it hurt to lift your arms? Not really
Have you stabilized or are you still getting worse? Getting worse
What do you have for hobbies? I explained some of these
What kind of music do you listen to? Nothing made after 1982
How do you get into and out of bed? I explained this
How much did the iBot cost? $26,000
How did your mother break her neck? You’ll have to read my book
How do you travel? I explained some of this
What is the difference between MS and ALS? Mostly life expectancy and speed of deterioration
Are there any treatments? Many for relapsing, none so far for PPMS
Can you move your legs at all? A tiny, tiny bit. I demonstrated for them.
Do you have other wheelchairs? Three others
How does that wheelchair balance? Like a Segway