Dear Universe

Dear Universe,

I’m sitting here in a wheel chair wondering why it’s so damn hard to document that I’m disabled. I have come to the realization that I can’t work anymore. But over the decades I’ve done such a good job convincing myself and others I can do anything, the gate keepers of the abundant kingdom of retirement, are skeptical. Many others have gotten by the gate keepers and through the gate, but with me there are questions, reservations, suspicions. Maybe Harry is trying the pull a fast one. Why doesn’t Harry just snap out of it?

I didn’t set out to prove or convince … I just set out to do. Everything I ever did was in spite of opinions that I couldn’t do it. I remember when I was three or four years old this other little boy told me he had a tricycle but I couldn’t ride it. I asked him why and he explained that his mommy said I wouldn’t be able to because I was crippled. I told him that I got a tricycle last Christmas, I rode it every day, and his mommy was an idiot. You would have thought he’d learned his lesson about misjudging the limitations of others but he decided he would simply beat me up for commenting on his mommy’s mental capacity. It wasn’t as simple to beat up the crippled kid as he thought … I didn’t end up crying … He did.

Looking past the gate I hear stories about those who got through. There’s good (and not so good) folks over there because they have ADHD and can’t sit still, drug addicts, asthmatics, diabetics, people with heart conditions, bad backs, carpal tunnel, repetitive stress syndrome, missing arms legs fingers and toes. But Harry might be up to something. Maybe Harry thinks the world owes him a living. Just what makes it so hard for Harry to work?

I grew up going to the Shriner’s Hospital for Crippled Children in Portland Oregon. I’m crippled for God sakes. I have no feet, one knee, and three and a half fingers and crookity posture. Years of walking crooked and doing stuff anyway, has resulted in a bad lower back and a few years back I began using crutches whenever I am wearing my prosthetic legs. The rest of the time I use the wheelchair, if the wheelchair won’t go there, I sometimes use a 3-wheeler or Quad. A 3-wheeler broke down in the woods once … I crawled home. But the gatekeepers need documentation, policies and procedures must be followed. Harry might be up to something.

Carpal tunnel? My hands have hurt for years. I get cramps in them like you wouldn’t believe. I dislocated the only full finger on my left hand the other day. To look at that hand you wouldn’t think I could use it to do much of anything. But everyday throughout the day I now get painful reminders of all the things I need that hand for to get-r-dun! I have this repetitive stress syndrome I’ve read about called “mouse shoulder.” Using the mouse for hours a day on a daily basis has created what feels like pinched neck and shoulder nerves.

As I look through the gate I see people with other medical problems or combination of medical problems that gained them admission. Heart conditions, high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney failure, asthma, Crohn’s disease, carpal tunnel, arthritis, glaucoma, fibromyalgia. I don’t have all of these but I do have, high blood pressure, diabetes, a heart condition, and kidneys operating under stress. I probably have arthritis but haven’t bothered to be tested for it. It seems like every time I take some kind of medical test I find out sometime else wrong with me.

The other day I was at work dealing with a stressful situation and my body started in telling me to get out of there. My face felt hot and tight. I was distressed and depressed and my thoughts were running wild. My friend Heartburn began telling me to get into my stash of Gavescon. I was lightheaded and “woozy.” Mouse shoulder kicked in with the neck and shoulder pain. Much as I wanted to obey my body and get out of there I didn’t because it was unclear whether I should go to the “wellness” room, go home, or go to ER.

Often when I get distressed about work I begin violently gagging and dry heaving. It used to upset the dog but he now treats it like the rest of the noise I make getting ready for work. He sleeps through it. The stress also gives me diarrhea. I used to tell a former supervisor I had “lower intestinal issues” until I’d said it on several different occasions and he got angry. My absences are now explained the same way every time. “I’m not feeling well. I won’t be in today.”

When I get depressed I can’t focus. It’s not that I choose not to focus … I can’t. My wife got out of bed one morning and asked me “So, what are you going to do today?” I replied, “be depressed and stare at the walls.” I pretty much did. It happens at work too. I get behind on assignments, then I get more depressed because I’m behind, which makes it harder to focus, getting me further behind, more depression … MAKE IT STOP!

For almost 60 years I’ve been trying to keep up physically with the rest of the world and have pretty much done it, by exerting 200% of the effort. I’ve lived in at least three houses where the wheelchair couldn’t get through the bathroom door. One place I had to crawl up the stairs to get to the toilet. I couldn’t afford to move and couldn’t quit going to the bathroom. I crawled … I crawled to the toilet every time I needed to do things you do with a toilet. There has been a whole host of things I’ve done because they needed to be done and I couldn’t afford to pay someone else to do them. So I’ve made it, done it, got there … but my body is worn out ahead of its time.

I’m also worn out emotionally. I remember looking for work with experience and education … and not getting anything. After a while people began to blame me. “You must be screwing up the interview. I know they have to hire the handicapped. Just the other day I saw this receptionist in a wheelchair … so you must be doing something wrong. Call their affirmative action people.” So even though it went against my grain to ask for special treatment, I would call the affirmative action people with the state, for federal jobs, private industry. I was told affirmative action would get involved if I got an interview or was hired. That didn’t seem very helpful … lessee … I’m hired … I have the job … why do I need affirmative action again? So I finally got a job and got to deal with an affirmative action representative. Actually it was mandatory. They wanted to know exactly what category of minority I was so they could compare their headcounts for the various categories with society’s actual demographics. That didn’t seem helpful to me. Then he wanted to know … if I could go to the bathroom by myself. I needed the job so I maintained my composure … but in my mind’s eye … the wings of the angel of death … swept firmly over the man.

So with all this extra effort  … I’ve made it, done it, got there … but I’m worn out. Physically, mentally, and emotionally … I ain’t gonna make it to 65 like the rest of society.

Universe … I don’t know that I begrudge anyone making it through the gate to the other side of the fence, even though they may be a whole lot more mobile than me, healthier than I am, and feeling a lot less anxiety than I am. Yes I do hope to enjoy myself in the abundant kingdom of retirement. But what got me looking though the fence in the first place was the stress, anxiety, pain, and difficulty I have to go through on a daily basis just to continue on this side of the fence.  I do not want to leave my career on a stretcher.

I guess I don’t even know that I have hard feelings toward the gate keepers. What I do know is … I’m on the wrong side of the fence.







8 Responses to “Dear Universe”

  1. Dan Says:

    Holy Crap Harry !! Your handicapped ????? huh????
    I never really noticed.. I just thought it was more like some people have blond hair, some brown, I really never saw you as any different than any one else.. I guess you just fit in so well I never noticed.
    But I believe you are right, you have well earned your retirement.
    It is time. You will always be my hero.

  2. Colleen Reece Says:


    It is good to hear from you even though the news is not good. Know what? Just getting it down an sharing with others may turn out to be one of the best things you have ever done. Many times we keep everything inside for whatever reason. Yet letting it out may be the difference from internally combusting and somehow hanging in there in spite of everything.

    Please note my new e-address. The Juno one is on the way out. Glad I kept it a little longer and didn’t miss your blog. You are ahead of me. I don’t blog. I don’t have a website. I don’t Twitter or use Facebook, etc.

    I won’t attempt to offer sympathy or pretend to understand. Instead, I’ll just let you know your blog touched my heart, as I am sure it will touch many other lives. One good thing. As we grow older and life sometimes seems as gray as February, we do have memories. I so often thing of our Lewis River and Vancouver days–good times.

    I don’t know if you ever heard, but my nephew Jerry died in a tragic fire a few years ago. I remember how Jerry, Harry, Gary, Larry, Terry, and Mary were such an important part of our youth group.

    Thanks for letting me see beneath the surface, Harry.
    Warm wishes on a chilly night,

  3. Steve Says:

    Nice to see you writing again.

    Agreed. You always gave 200% to prove you could do anything anyone else could. I will always remember you, me and a three wheeled ATV climbing End Mountain out of Camp Leo. You and I belonged there but that ATV didn’t.

    Hang in there Harry. Gatekeepers are no match for a man that conquers mountians.

  4. Dale E. Luffman Says:

    My heart ached as I read your posting! I cannot begin to imagine your personal journey. Judy and I have had our challanges [e.g. Jeffery D. Lundgren!], but we were able to move on. What I do know, Harry, is that I have come to value who you are and have come to be very, very much. I count you as one of my most dear friends [and relatives!]. You have blessed and enriched my life and the lives of my family in many, many ways. – – Dale

  5. Susan Gregory Says:

    You have such a way with words, sharing very personal details that resonate with each one reading, regardless of their life experience or relationship with you. Reading this blog today has given me a new level of understanding, and even though we enjoy kidding each other, my admiration for you has changed (in a good way!). Retirement is within your grasp and well deserved … can’t wait to hear it’s 20 seconds away!

  6. Tami Dahlgren Says:

    Well, I didn’t cry when I read this, but I did get a little angry. I can’t help but wonder how far the gatekeepers would have made it in your circumstances. Sanctimonious idiots . . . You have a very nice way of writing. It’s so conversational. I’ve been told it’s a good thing when you read something and just feel like the person is talking to you. You have a real knack for that. Maybe when you get your shelves at Barnes & Noble you can put in a word for me so that they’ll give me a little space, too. 🙂 I read down a little further through some of your other posts, and I especially liked the part about the lions, wolves, and bears guarding your bed at night. There’s a story there!

  7. Michele Torrey Says:

    Being perpetually exhausted and anxious is no way to live, Harry. And since you deserve only the best life has to offer, I enthusiastically applaud your decision to retire. I think the Universe is calling you to write a book about your life experiences. You’re an inspiration to me, and to so many. Once you’re retired, of course, Carl and I will expect regular visits just to shoot the breeze. (Don’t worry – we’ll tidy up that couch on our porch and brew up a bottle of our special moonshine.) xoxo — Michele

  8. Kathy Sisson(Boyd) Says:

    Harry, you are NOT disabled; your audience maybe though. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and stories; they are magic!

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