Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Six Hour Tour And Near Death Experience At Point Defiance Park, Washington

In December of 1991 a friend and I decided to talk a walk along the beach at Point Defiance Park in Tacoma, Washington. Point Defiance Park is the largest inner city park in the nation after Central Park in New York City. I agreed to go on the hike weeks after nearly being killed by a drink driver. The drunk driver hit me on September 19, 1991. I did not know I had MS at that time and I was still recovering from the accident. All I know is I love being near water, love the outdoors, beaches, the Pacific Northwest climate, and I put full trust in my friend’s navigation skills because she is very outdoor oriented and was studying to be an environmental biologist.

Everything was fine at first. The light was beginning to fade from the sky, however, and then the horrific truth hit us. We had gone too far along the beach. The tide had come in and we could not turn around without swimming through the water of the Puget Sound. The water level ahead of us was much lower than the water in front of us and we also knew we could climb up embankments as necessary to prevent swimming in the water and hence risk getting hypothermia.

My initial reaction was to call out to the Coast Guard. There was no Coast Guard presence that evening. It was December, the sky was going completely dark and the idea of a rescue was a ridiculous idea. We made the determined decision to keep walking around the point of the park until we came to the safety of a waterfront community called Salmon Beach. It took six hours to reach that community and I think at times I thought we might die, but we did not die. My friend made certain we did not die. She unwaveringly encouraged me to keep going. At times, we waded in water levels up to our chests. We saw baby seals resting on the sandy beach. I saw phosphorescence coming off her shoes as she stepped into the sand. The greenish glow coming from her shoes encouraged me somehow. I began to narrow my focus. I began to view this problem as a one step at a time venture. I began to realize we would not freeze on the beach that night in the cold. Most terrifying to me was the idea no one would even know we were missing as I was house sitting and my friend was spending the night with me. No one would know to call for days. We had no choice but to keep moving forward.

Six hours passed until we emerged at the Salmon Beach community. We climbed up a set of wooden stairs to safety and a young man with wire rimmed glasses passed us asking how our evening was going. It was far past evening. It was the middle of the night. We could not even respond. We just looked at one another and began laughing hysterically. It was the hysterical laughter of two women who could have lost their lives that night. However, we did not lose our lives. We kept going forward. All of us have to keep moving forward. I recently read that the reason the rearview mirror in a car is so small the windshield is so large is that we are driving forward, not looking backwards. I am no longer in contact with my then friend. Friendships sometimes go that direction. It was not the hiking issue that drove us apart, it was life circumstances. She moved to another state to pursue graduate studies and we drifted apart like driftwood floats around in the water from location to location. I always hope she is well. I am certain she is. In my mind she is well. In my mind we are both continuing to be the strong women we were and continue to be and we are both moving forward. –Alison Whiteman

Monday, August 29, 2011

My Longtime Tacoma Neighbor, Former Governor, And Death With Dignity


Former Governor Booth Gardner

I lived across the street from former Governor Booth Gardner for nine years. He lived in a very nice high rise condo and I lived in a five hundred square foot apartment. We had a lot in common though. We both have serious neurological diseases and we both had a view of the Puget Sound. I used to see Gardner out exercising with his walker alone or with his caregiver. I was either often asleep with profound fatigue or out pushing myself to walk or run as able. Gardner has Parkinson's and I have multiple sclerosis. Oddly enough, prior to moving to the north Tacoma location, I lived for five years in a building where his mother had previously lived. It seems we were meant to trail one another, though I am certain he does not know this. I figured he deserved his privacy, so I never invaded it. My neighbor went to visit him, but she cut the visit short because she felt uncomfortable. I wish I had visited him. I could still visit him. I want to visit him. I would not be uncomfortable at all because that's just the way I am. I once had an entire conversation with a MS patient at The University of Washington by reading her lips because she was not able to speak anymore.

A friend of mine told me today he is planning to end his battle with Parkinson's soon. This startled me. It scared me. I tried to hide my tears and fortunately a colleague came into his office and said it was time for lunch. I cried all the way out of the building. I was still crying when I went to buy the Vitamin D I take in a very large amount to combat my disease. I fully support my friend's decision because a late state neurological disease is pretty horrifying. Hollywood films depict death as a peaceful passing. Most deaths are not that peaceful. I have a friend who is paralyzed in a poorly funding nursing home. She shares it with dementia patients who scream unless they are asleep. My friend is trapped in a body that no longer works and her pending death is anything but dignified.

In November of 2008, Gardner was instrumental in passing The Death With Dignity Act in Washington State. The act legalizes physician assisted death with some restrictions. The measure is not without controversy. There are some who say it is up to God to decide when it is time to die. Others say they can make a deal with God about dying. Some say God does not exist. These are not the specific provisions in the measure, however, just the philosophical discussions I have had with people lately. In fact, the decision to die under the act must be approved by two oral and one written requests, two physicians to diagnose and determine the patient is competent, a waiting period and verification of the patient's decision. All involved who are acting in good faith are immune from civil and criminal penalties.

My friend has had a long and tremendously successful life. He recently held his first grandchild. He is a kind person. He is a good person and I think it is his decision about how long he wants to continue to battle an incurable condition. I do believe in God, but I also believe God does not punish anyone for making the decision to continue living under intolerable circumstances. I have no children. I live very far away from family members. I do not want to die of late stage MS in any nursing home. I have made a deal with God. Should it get severe, I will be able to choose to die versus continuing to live in a very undignified manner. Thanks to all the work Gardner has done, this Dignity With Death Act will be available to me. It won't be available to me anytime soon, however, because I am still fighting. In fact, I am not even close to dying. For that gift, and it is a gift, I thank God. My next move is to check up on Gardner like I should have done during those nine years. So many people are terrified of death and disability. The odd thing is it happens to all of us eventually. We may think we can cheat it, but so far we cannot. I think facing the fact we are going to die is actually making a choice to live boldly. It sure changes your priorities. What legacy do you want to leave behind? Since I have no children, I want to be remembered if even for one day as someone who fought tirelessly for people with disabilities. In fact, I would settle for fifteen minutes of recognition. Or maybe I don't need that recognition at all but just the chance to leave those footprints of justice on the earth. -Alison Whiteman

Thursday, August 25, 2011

I Survived A Drunk Driver in 1991, In Honor of Sheena Blair

I am writing this to honor Sheena Blair, a young life taken far too soon by a drunk driver. I don't know why some of us survive this horror and some don't. I just think life is flat out unfair. This Saturday August 27th, there will be a DUI prevention summit at Jackson Hall, located at 314  MLK Way in Tacoma from 10a.m. to 3p.m. hosted by Frank Blair among others.

On September 19, 1991, I headed down Interstate 5 on my way to a seminar at The Evergreen State College where I was working on my Master In Teaching degree. I was twenty-six years old. My advisor and I had just had a conference with a teacher in The University Place school district and had made the decision to move me to a different location becase she was quite racist. We bravely but calmly confronted her about her racism, and she cried and told us she could not be racist as she was the daughter of an oil tycoon and therefore well-traveled. Well, that convinced us that she was racist for certain.

It was sunny and dry that day. It was a true typical Pacific Northwest September day. I was listening to a tape in my Honda's stereo. It was a tape of the Black Crowes. I was so close to the campus when my life took a change forever. I saw a long line of red tailights ahead of me and everyone was slowing down. I had to slow down, but I looked in my rearview mirror and saw a large truck fish tailing and heading right for me. I was trapped. I could not move to either the absent shoulder nor the left lane as traffic was moving quickly. I panicked. I thought I was going to die. Mr. Walsh, the drunk driver, hit me going about fifty miles an hour fish tailing. He was driving a 1979 Ford pick-up loaded with firewood.

He hit the right rear bumper very hard, slammed me into the next lane and I was swiped on the driver's side by a semi-truck. I continued in a forward motion slamming head into a Subaru. The next thing I remember is a voice outside my window. "I am nurse! Don't move! You have been hit very, very, very hard!" I tried to get my door open but the car was too smashed on the driver's side. I panicked. I just wanted to get out the car. The nurse pleaded with me to stay in the car in case of internal injuries. People were removing firewood from my car. A piece of firewood had smashed into my windshield and yet it managed not to smash my head to bits. I undid my seatbelt and crawled over the stick shift and got out of the driver's side. Everything after that became quite odd. I was very thirsty.

The pile up of cars Mr. Walsh caused was quite significant in number. I was the most serious victim, and yet I was wandering around on the freeway in a state of total shock. At one point, I refused medical care stating I had to get to my seminar. Later, I was placed in a police car with Mr. Walsh until he explained I was the victim, not the DUI driver. I asked the tow truck driver to drop me off so I could go to my seminar. He agreed to do that. So that is what I did. In a state of total shock I arrived at my seminar and told my classmates I had been hit by a drunk driver. "Why are you here then, Alison?" someone asked. "I had to come to seminar," I said. It was promptly detemined I was in a state of shock due to the complete lack of color in my face and my deep need for water.

Three of my classmates took me the emergency room. I was turned away from the first one for not having the right insurance. That hospital knew about the accident as it had made the news, but still, I was told to go to another ER. In the x-ray room the technician hit on me. He asked me what I do in my spare time. I told him that normally I moved my head side to side which I could no longer do. The following day was the worst. I was in so much pain I thought I might die. I had contusions on my chest from the seatbelt. I could not turn my head. When it was over, I had ten thousand dollars in medical bills for therapy to restore my neck to a somewhat normal condition. I had to use my own liability insurance to cover all damages as Mr. Walsh was both unlicensed and uninsured. In fact, the title to the truck was not even in his name.

Mr. Walsh hugged me on the freeway that day. He smelled like a whiskey glass. The scent of whiskey came from his entire body. It was disgusting. It was even more disgusting as I had just ended a relationship with a man who was a terrible alcoholic. I thought God might be punishing me, but that was not the case. America is just littered with drinking problems and drunk drivers and it just doesn't seem to be improving that much.

I honestly did not know what happened during the accident. A few days later in a dream I flew over the scene and saw it happening from above in my mind. I later matched my dream to the police report. It freaked me out that my brain knew what happened in an unconcious state, but I did not know what had happened until I had a dream and read the police report. It's very odd how the human brain works.

I remember one of my classmates telling the entire seminar the reason I had lived was that I was an "angel." No, that is not why I lived. I am not an angel. I was just lucky. Sheena Blair was not lucky. Neither is her family to have lost such a beautiful young woman to such a tragic event. I think Sheena was an angel because the activism of her parents has led to significant changes in DUI laws. All I did was go to a MADD meeting and tell the entire room off. "I don't care if you drink until your liver fails you," I said, "but don't you EVER get into your car drunk and drive again." A man came up to me and said, "You made me really mad saying that." I said, "Well so what. Be mad then." I walked away. That was far from angelic. I was outraged. When I feel my crunchy scar tissue on my shoulderblades to this day, I am not so much angry as wondering why I am still alive. I am not sure I will ever have an answer to that question. -Alison Whiteman

Welcome Aboard Australia!

According to my blog stats, I am getting hits from Australia now. Well, I just have this to say. In America we say, "In Australia, sorrow goes down the toilet in the opposite direction." A high five kangaroo to you readers in Australia! -AW

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

It's Hot Oustside

I don't think I have any right to say that because I live in the Pacific Northwest. Oh just arrest me then. -AW

Keeping It Real!

Relationships take a lot of work. Having  disability is a lot of work. Throw the two together and you have a soup mixture that might be quite distasteful depending on what ingredients you use.

 I have had symtoms of MS since the age of fourteen. That's since 1979! Okay, I am getting old! However, in 1979 there were no MRI brain scans like we have now. I got tested for a brain tumor and that was ruled out. My opthomologist noted I had one pupil larger than the other and found that odd, but he didn't know why either. As an adult, another opthomologist noticed the same thing and said, "You ought to have some brain tests." Did I have brain tests? Absolutely not. I just kept falling over and thinking, "I am mighty stressed out for some reason."

In 1998, the left side of my body went numb and I still thought I must have the flu. My then boss said, "This is not the flu. Go to a doctor right now. I am ordering you out of the office." Seven days later I was in utter shock. I was told I have multiple sclerosis.

Well, there is a lot more to say, but who has time to read my entire life story an anyone's entire life story particularly if that person is not even famous? Let's just say I was thirty-two when I found out. The most humiliating thing was not being able to hold a job. I tried and tried and tried and tried, but twenty-one years after The Americans With Disabilities Act, it is very hard for a person with a non-static disability to hold a traditional eight hour a day job. It's not only hard for the worker, it's hard for the employer.

I have had some incredible remissions. In 2005 I had been literally running around my old neighborhood listening to music and loving every minute of it. I once went running in an intense sideways rain storm past a team of large high school football players who looked at me like I must have been out of my mind. Well, that's another subject entirely.

This year I slipped into what they call a MS flare. I don't know when it is going to stop. Yesterday I finally realized this is really bothering me. I mean, it took me months to realize just how much it is bothering me. I just have this incredible way of stuffing feelings until they all burst out like a carbonated drink someone shook and accidentally opened. It's just a mess! I now have a mess to clean up! OMG! Well, let the cleaning begin! -Alison Whiteman

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Two Separate Discussions With Three People From Kenya In Two Days

Sometimes things are just a coincidence.

However, in the last two days I have talked to three people from Kenya. All of us are in agreement about America. The pace over here is too fast. The focus is too superficial. Americans want money, fancy cars, things that appear to be nice even if they are not paid for.

All of us feel like strangers in a strange land. I have pretty much felt this way since I returned to this country in 1972 from England and Germany. Although things are certainly changing in the European Union lately, I am certain the pace is still nothing compared to the pace of America. It really hit me in 2000 when I was out of the country for eight weeks. When I returned, even the aggressive sounding voice over the airport speaker startled me. I am not ashamed to say I am a sensitive person even if quite outspoken at times.

You can see kindness in the eyes of some people. All three of the people I talked to from Kenya have kind eyes. One of them gave me a hug. We get each other. We know that in America polticians get elected not by the content of character, but by appearances. Then after time, those appearances crumble and we see the truth. Or, the sad thing is, some people don't see the truth because they are too wrapped up in maintaining their own appearance. Some young adults I spoke to today work for low wages in retail. However, they were all really good people. All of them said most young adults could care less about politics or the world. They only care about themselves.

So my country has lost its credit rating. The people that prop themselves up as false prophets under the guise of assisting others when what they are doing is exploiting people for profit will be brought to justice eventually whether it is in this life or the next. I just cannot worry about it anymore. There is one non-profit in Tacoma and the CEO makes 100K a year. That is not charity, it's exploitation. There are others working under the guise of assisting others who make a lot more than the workers I spoke to today. They will have to face the truth someday. They will be found out and it is not my job to make it known. It is their problem.

What puzzles us is people do not realize you cannot take fancy things with you when you die. There was a popular saying on bumper stickers many years ago. It read: He who dies with the most toys still dies. We are all going to die someday. It's a sad truth, and having the fanciest of things or the best looks doesn't change that fact. It also does not change the fact that at any moment any of us could be the victim of a very serious disease. No one is immune to disease. I know I'm not. I have multiple sclerosis and for those who are glad I have this disease, well, it could happen to you too. It could happen to someone you love. I think that might be even worse. I think it would be for me. -Alison Whiteman

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Positive Comment About A Shift In Teen Clothing

I went to the mall today. First, there was no SWAT team exercise. That was a good thing. Second, I noticed clothing styles are changing. Specifically, skanky clothing for teenage girls is going away. A nice conservative trend seems to be coming into place.

I hope this means we are going to stop showing shows like "Sixteen And Pregnant" and "Teen Mom." I am tired of the exploitation of girls and boys who ought to be studying, not making babies. My sympathy level for pregnant girls is quite low. I feel for the parents particularly in a time when resources to care for these children are going away. I actually have some hope for America based on the shift in clothing.

Perhaps I am being too optimistic. I just hope this trendy trend to have babies as teenagers ends. I never had a baby. I have never even been close to having one. I knew it would be too hard for me. People ask me if I am sorry about this. Are you kidding? Everyone I know who has had kids but for a few say it was a kind of a nightmare.

I think the elderly woman I cared for last summer said it best. "You did not have children?" she said, "well, I don't know whether to say sorry or congratulations." Her four children rarely visit her and when they do, it's to borrow money. She's eighty-one years old! One of them is in a state management level position! It is quite evil of her to take money from her elderly mother. My former client ought to get into her scooter and mow those four children down flat like a pancake. Kids, meh. I like to spend time with other people's kids. They can lie to me all they want about how great it is. I know the truth. (Okay, not all kids are so bad, just the majority of them)-Alison Whiteman

Friday, August 12, 2011

My Amazing Grandparents, Sorry I Cannot Get Formatting Right, Text Below...

Grandpa Bryant, my mum, and Grandma Bryant
Grandpa Whiteman and Grandma Whiteman
The truth is I did not spend enough time with my grandparents. Grandma and grandpa Whiteman were in Colorado Springs and not far away from where I grew up. However, I was growing up and therefore was like most teenagers. I was extremely busy growing up.

My grandfather was a union carpenter. My grandmother worked as a dietician. She saved my father's life actually. My father had lost so much weight and the doctors could not figure out why. It was grandma who noticed the toxic streaks reaching from his thyroid to his heart. My father had to have the thyroid removed and this was during a time when the surgery was quite major.

My grandparents in England were simply too far away. Although we were overseas for a few years until 1972, we were in Germany and then Thetford, England. My grandfather was enlisted in the Royal Air Force and was a gunner. He fought the Nazis. After the war, he worked his way up the stock exchange to a seat on the exchange. I remember him as man of few words. However, he apparently wrote poetry which was never found after my grandmother passed away. He hated his curly hair just like I hate mine. However, anyone who knows me knows I am not lost for words. I am only lost for words when I am asleep. My grandma Bryant was very talented and fashionable. She could sew a dress out of curtain or a bed sheet. She was always impeccably dressed, cooked fabulous meals in her very small kitchen in her London house and was very clean. She drank gin and laughed a lot. She used to give me gin and would thank her, run upstairs and throw it down the sink.

I wish I had spent more time with them. I am a religious person. I do believe they are watching over all of the family and I will see them again. I am certain we will catch up then. -Alison Whiteman

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Before My Mum Had Her Own Business, She Made Barbie Clothes

I grew up with a thougtful mum. I still have the little clothes she made for my Barbies. The Barbie on the left is from the Sunshine Family collection. Mr. and Mrs. Sunshine were total hippies. Mom knit an appropriate hippie outfit for her. The Barbie to the right is quite a bit more high maintenance. I am not into high maintenance. The most beautiful women I have ever seen are ones who wear very little makeup. You can generally find them at any hippie festivals or an outdoor hiking venture. They don't pay to have their nails done, hair dyed or anything. I like real. So obviously, the flat footed Mrs. Sunshine is my favorite Barbie to this day. I also have a doll in a box named Wheelchair User Becky. She was discontinued by the manufacturer because people found her offensive. I find that astounding in this day and age. I think people can just be flat out mean and bizarre.

I was quite the nerd in high school. I preferred spending Friday nights with my mum than football games and definitely did not like parties that involved alcohol. I played varsity tennis and ran on the long-distance team for a year. I also was on the yearbook staff, wrote for the local daily newspaper, spent hours in the photography lab, read tons of books and went to church. I wrote silly poems and rode my bicycle to the wealthy area of my hometown of Colorado Springs wondering what it must be like to live a house that huge. Meanwhile, my mum and my dad slogged away at self-employment and paid a ton of taxes for doing so. I was a spoiled kid really. I belonged to The Colorado Springs country club. My tennnis coach beat Billy Jean King at Wimbledon one year but gave up tennis to get married. She was a tough but kind coach. I had braces and medical coverage. I have affinity for small business owners and increasing disdain for large overpaid government officials. I have never been anti-government, I just want government that works for small businesses and innovative people. Thanks mum and dad. I know you suffered working all those hours. I hope you know I appreciated all the work you did to make my life better. -Alison Whiteman

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Five People Get Me

It's true that about five people get any one of us, and even five might be a high count.

This will be the impetus for my book which might sell about ten to twelve copies. The opening is going to be, "It's true that five people get any of us. In fact, that might be a stretch. It could be that no one understands anyone at all."

Meanwhile, I sure wish I had the skills to make this blog more fancy. I am going to have to upgrade my technical skills. -Alison Whiteman