ASSOCIATES (vol. 9, no. 3, March 2003) -


Ever found yourself at the bottom of a dog pile? Getting down there isnít pretty and fighting your way back up seems insurmountable. Once you break your way through to the fresh air, itís all in your attitude and perspectiveóeither you sit there on top of the dog pile and lick your wounds, or you wipe your feet, move on, and tackle new challenges.

A year ago I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. The disease hit me quickly. I had previous months of stiffness in my joints and swelling in my wrists and ankles and my doctor attributed this to my age, diet, and sedentary life-style. But one morning last March I woke up and my arms and hands were stiff as boards and my knees and ankles hurt so much I couldnít stand. My doctor ordered x-rays and blood tests. Curiously, the x-rays showed no bone damage. "I knew you didnít have arthritis," the doctor said. But when the blood test results came in a few days later, I was told I had a chronic case of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). RA is an autoimmune disease. The body's natural immune system does not operate as it should, resulting in the immune system attacking healthy joint tissue and causing inflammation and subsequent joint damage. RA is not particularly life-threatening, such as cancer, but it is a crippling, life-long, deterioration disease. Oh, boy.

I am now on a heavy regimen of unpronounceable, toxic drug formulas and light exercise, and have a new awareness of the challenges facing the physically handicapped. After a year, my disease is now categorized as "under control."

The point I would like to share with you most is that when you find yourself in a difficult situation is to ask for help. Simple: give yourself permission to ask for help. As library staff, we always unquestionably help people find things, use things, borrow things, return things. Turning the tables and asking for help was one of the most difficult challenges I faced but every time I asked for help, someone was there to courteously provide assistance for me.

My first experience in asking for help was to ask the doctor for a medical release to reduce my work schedule. The doctor instead gave me 3 months of total medical disability, and extended it again for 3 more months. After 6 months of disability, my workís total disability plan becomes skimpy and rather costly. So, I asked for help again and found that I can be on a "return to work" program. I have been working 10 hours per week since January and can continue to do this through May while still collecting disability insurance for my remaining non-worked hours.

Sometimes asking for help can backfire in mysterious ways. I asked my hairdresser for help and to cut my hair short because I couldnít move my arms above my shoulders to dry and style my hair. He gave me a really nice cut that I could style wet with my fingers and let air dry. On the way home I stopped at the grocery store and was greeted as "Good afternoon, sir." I didnít know how to handle that, so I said "maíam" would be more appropriate. The next day I went to my exercise class where I turn in my membership card at the desk to receive a key to the womenís locker room. However, the desk attendant gave me a key to the menís locker room. Vanity is a curious phenomenon and I have let my hair grow out. It may take me awhile, but I can blow dry my own hair now!

One day my mother and I did some errands together. We stopped for coffee and also enjoyed one of those gooey, sticky cinnamon rolls. Our hands and faces were plastered with sugar. Mom remembered that she had a sample of a hand wipe in her bag, and tried to open the package it was in. She couldnít and although I tried, I had little strength in my hands and couldnít open it either. Sitting at a table near us was a group of tattooed, pierced, spiked, baggy, and loud young people. I said I would ask them for help although Mom looked at me as if I was crazy. I politely interrupted them and asked for help in opening the package. They all looked at me for a moment and one of the guys said "sure, glad to help." He couldnít open it either! We all laughed and finally another guy ripped it open, thankfully before they resorted to switch blades or gun blasts. When I thanked them, there was a chorus of "anytime." I guess itís true: you canít tell a book from its cover.

I have received help from so many people. The library has been generous in allowing me to recover at my own pace, my co-workers have thoughtfully helped with the essential parts of my job and the non-essential, too. Itís complicated to work in a cataloging department when you canít push a book truck or lift a book. My family has not complained--to me anyway. One day I sat down on the couch at home, forgetting that I couldnít get back up myself. I had to wait there several hours until my daughter came home from school to help me get up. When I would lift something too heavy at a store and drop it, a stranger would always kindly pick it up for me, usually without my even asking. Of course, my face would be bright red!

I have actually found the world to be a better place this past year. I found all people to be unexpectedly kind and intuitive for the needs of others. I found I donít need as much help as I did a few months ago and now find myself on the look-out to help others.

Thank you for letting me share with you.

Wendee Eyler
Editor, Associates

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