Posted in Being human, disability rights, HCBS, medical, Self-advocacy, Values & Ethics

I’m in the hospital and everything has gone haywire and my life is chaos and I can predict nothing.

I can’t write everything at once so here’s what I’ve got for now. It’s factual medical stuff because that’s the easiest thing to write at the moment. It’s not all the factual medical stuff. It’s not everything I want to say. But to write anything suitable for blogging is harder than fuck right now so I’m doing what I can.

I’m in the hospital. Many things have gone wrong.

One of them, or a lot of them, is related to osteoporosis.

I have severe osteoporosis. Mostly from having to take lots of hydrocortisone, as far as we know. I have to take it, so I can’t get rid of it, I’ll be on it for the rest of my life.

Originally they told me my bones would be normal if I were various ages between 95 and 115. I am 38.

Right now my back is broken in two places. They’re called compression fractures. One is at T11 and one is at T7. T11 is stable. T7 is not healed. They are caused by a combination of osteoporosis and moving the wrong way, generally. With severe enough osteoporosis, moving the wrong way can be as simple as sneezing or bending forward.

I have kyphosis now as a result of the compression fractures. This is common in osteoporosis as well. Kyphosis means bending forward, sometimes known as hunchback. Some amount of kyphosis is common but a lot can be a problem. I have enough to be a problem.

My bone density was just tested using the gold standard testing and is worse than before. The osteoporosis clinic are holding off on doing my Replesta (a yearly osteoporosis treatment) until we can meet jointly with my endocrinologist who prescribes the hydrocortisone (steroids) to figure out a plan.

Right now the endocrinology team have been lowering my steroid doses as much as they can, but they feel they’ve done as much as they’re comfortable lowering right now. My doses are extremely high because we figured out last year during a month-long hospital stay for C Diff, that I needed that amount between the severe adrenal insufficiency and the probable-POTS (I’ll just refer to it as POTS from now on regardless)1. There are many good reasons to suspect that the kind of hydrocortisone I have to take and the way I have to take it in my tube are causing me to not absorb it all, hence the extremely high dose needed. But we’re always looking to reduce for obvious reasons. Hydrocortisone is my most important med and my most dangerous one at the same time. It keeps me alive, I would die without it, but it also eats my body alive and is causing prediabetes and severe osteoporosis.

I am having a lot more problems.

My back doesn’t work right anymore. Any time I stand up or sit down, it hurts like hell and feels wrong in a way I can’t describe easily. That wrong feeling seem more important than the pain in telling me I’m doing something disturbing to my body.

All the things that were difficult before have become impossible now. They used to be difficult things that will damage my body. My body is now well and truly damaged and won’t even do half those things at all.

They are telling me that I can’t go home until my bones knit.

They are telling me that will take longer possibly, because I’m on steroids and have osteoporosis. I have trouble healing in general in other areas so I hope not but I suspect they’re right.

They are telling me different amounts of time but amounting to “weeks and weeks”.

They are telling me to go to rehab until I heal. Which I know full well can turn into rehab / nursing home / ICF-DD / etc. forever, not rehab-temporary and go home.

Rehab is saying the developmental disability agency should handle it. Which is ridiculous.

I am having huge tube issues. Leakage mostly. Lots of it. Nurses here can’t manage it properly. I can’t manage it anymore. It’s terrible. Doctors say they don’t know what to do.

My entire future is up in the air.

My entire future is up in the air.

My entire future is up in the air.

Vermont developmental disability policy — in ways that violate federal Olmstead law — made this worse. It appears to be a statewide problem but Howard Center Developmental Services are the ones I deal with.

There is no pleasant or acceptable way to put this: They made me scrub tables and countertops and mop floors with a broken back. I can’t sugarcoat that turd and I refuse to try anymore.

They have a new policy that people with developmental disabilities who want to remain in our own homes must physically participate in activities of daily living in order to get help with them. They have lied to me and said this has always been the policy. Everyone knows it’s new, especially when applied across the board to all clients regardless of things like additional physical disability. But it’d be wrong even without physical disability for lots of reasons I don’t have the words for right now.

They have taken advantage of me.

I take pride in physical work. I always have. There was a time when I was quite good at it, even though I’ve always had physical impairments. I have not always had osteoporosis. At any rate, I enjoy it, and I enjoy having done it, and I prefer to do things for myself. These things have been deliberately and manipulatively used against me. They have been used to encourage me to do more than I can actually do. They have been used to justify things that are unjustifiable.

For example, my main blog picture that I use a lot of places is a picture of me being violently assaulted. But it’s also a picture of an activity that I take great pride and enjoyment in: Weeding the garden. It is not too hard to get me to weed a garden because I love the feel of my hands in the earth. I love the work. I love seeing the results of my work. That’s just my personality and preferences in the world.

But.

People with severe osteoporosis in their spine should not be weeding gardens. It combines virtually everything that endangers your spine to a stress fracture. Bending forward in that way is just bad for osteoporosis of the spine. They’ve told me bending and twisting my spine are two of the worst things I could be doing. They’re certainly two of the most painful.

So.

It’s easy to push me to do this. It’s very easy. There’s so many buttons they can just push, easily, to make me obey their rules. Which at the time, for the program I was in, meant that I could not get help weeding the garden without weeding it myself. I could not participate in a safe way according to them. I had to participate the exact same thing as the staff was doing. So if I was not weeding staff could not weed. And even trying my best that meant the garden never got weeded fully.

Mind you if they wanted participation at the time, I could’ve been holding the hose and watering, or doing something else that wouldn’t strain my back. But I wasn’t. And all of that can either cause a stress fracture or cause other damage that can lead to stress fractures getting worse or becoming more likely later. It’s not good. Ever.

And they had other rules like if I started to show symptoms of heat exhaustion, which I’m very prone to, then if I tried to sit it out in the car then all help in the garden had to stop for the day. So again my garden never fully made it off the ground and I never got to eat what I grew. And not everything grew that could’ve grown.

But they said because I liked gardening all this was okay. No. That makes it less okay. That means they took advantage of my interests. They took advantage of my pride in my work. They took advantage of a lot of things. To force independence theater down my throat until it fucked up my back something awful. Again there’s no good way of telling people they had me scrubbing tabletops with a broken back.

That’s just one example.

Now it’s everything around the house.

I’m allowed to do something else. Like, I can’t do dishes, so I’ve been washing countertops while someone else does dishes. That was an improvement and I let them do it. Felt like a compromise. Was and remain terrified of losing my apartment over this. Because their definition of independence is completely fucked up. And because they force this policy on all of us. So it’s so easy to get pushed into it. One part by fear, one part by pride in your work, they know how to push all our buttons and they do.

I am proud of what I do.

I enjoy work.

I am scared of being taken as lazy.

I am scared of losing the life of my own I’ve fought so hard for.

All those things.

They use.

They use them on purpose.

They hurt us with them.

It don’t matter — whether we have osteoporosis or not. It does and doesn’t. Because this is wrong to do to anyone.

But with osteoporosis it’s also doing physical violence.

It is violent to work someone until their back breaks twice and then work them some more after you know.

Violent.

This is violence.

They hurt me.

This is not okay.

Nothing can make it okay.

Even by their definitions of independence — which they claim this is all about — they’ve made me lose independence, not gain it.

When I got to the hospital I couldn’t walk to the bathroom on my own.

My arms don’t work the same as they used to. They’re way more of a problem than walking.

I can’t sit anymore without lightning fire shooting up and down my back until I can’t concentrate on anything.

How is this independence? Even by the messed-up definitions they use?

They’ve taken away my ability to do shit for myself.

Their idea of independence is all about doing shit for yourself.

That’s not how I define it.

But they do, and by their standards, they’ve taken it away.

By my standards they’ve taken it away too. By making me dependent on them to make decisions about what I should and shouldn’t do with my body.

But by their standards, which are about being able to do shit, they’ve really fucked up any chance I have. I’ll be really lucky if I can fulfill their terrible and illegal requirements to keep my ability to live on my own.

There’s hundreds of other clients in the sort of programs I’m in. We are mostly shunted into either the independent living programs with these requirements and the ability to live in our own home, or the shared living programs where you have to move out of your home and into a staff’s home. Where it’s staff’s rules and you don’t have as many rights but you can supposedly get more care. (Often it’s more like nursing homes, no more care but everyone feels like you’re safer.) Based partly on your ability to do all this shit that didn’t used to be a requirement to live on your own.

And I’ll point out again this is massively illegal.

We have very few places to turn.

We are isolated from each other and it’s hard to organize even when we want to.

The state has a huge bunch of programs that say they’re there to protect us and give us legal assistance when our rights have been violated. They’re almost all bullshit. They look good on paper. We are shown the back door and told to leave when we manage to get in at all. Or we are given services but as badly as they can manage. The “protective” system is really hard for anyone with a cognitive disability to navigate.

So don’t tell me all the right numbers to call. I’ve called them all. Or my DPOA has. It don’t work like that. I wish people understood that. I wish people understood all those organizations serve themselves, not us. People with developmental disabilities are left in the cold, period. When we’re not, it’s sheer dumb luck.

People are also being pushed out of services. A chaplain told me her DD friend started doing really well at the independence theater so they told her she didn’t need help anymore and removed all her services. She needed and still needs them. Being able to appear to do some things some times doesn’t mean being able to do all things all times when they’re needed. People can die from lack of services. People can suffer. It’s not okay for so many reasons.

I feel like I’m trapped in a maze I’ll never see the outside of again.

Lots of things I want to do with my life.

Including show people this is happening. To me and others.

But I want to do things. Say things.

I don’t know if I’ll ever do any of them.

I didn’t even know if I’d be able to write this. Or anything bloggable.

I don’t know anything about my future.

My cat is living with someone else for indefinite. I want to be with my cat.

I want to be able to be with my cat.

I want to be able to crochet.

What they’ve done to me has taken all that away for who knows how long.

Rehab, I’m told, won’t even let cats visit. Dogs yes cats no. WTF?

Wheelchairs are torture devices now because they require sitting and sitting is the enemy. Sitting hurts my back and makes my tubes leak.

My ostomy is not healed even after a year.

My new J-tube may be ruined.

My surgeon told me when he put it in that it may be the last one he’ll ever allow me to have.

I need a J-tube to survive.

I have a gut feeling there are solutions and nobody’s finding them.

Other things there may’ve been solutions once but they may be gone by now.

I don’t know yet which is which and where is where.

My future is a big fuzzy unknown.

I don’t fear death but I want badly to be alive. There’s so much I want to do.

I want to write things that are important to me.

I want to fulfill the promise I made to make a video about feeding tubes. Even with all the complications I can’t possibly recommend them higher. I love what my feeding tube has given me. It’s given me life. I want to tell people that. I need to tell people that. It’s given me life. Life is what I want. I promised myself if it saved my life I’d make a video explaining this and that’s become too hard.

I want to do and say a lot of things about a lot of things.

I want to crochet.

I want to live with my cat.

I want to be a human being I want to be a human being I want to be a human being.

Practically nobody treats me as human. I treasure everyone who does.

Even now people act like it’s a surprise my back is broken.

Even now people act like it’s a surprise this has consequences.

How many times do I have to break my back?

How much kyphosis do I need for how long?

I have other curvature too.

Someone who has watched all this happen, really close up, for years…

They told me something.

They said, in an ordinary family, if someone gets sick or breaks a bone, the rest of the family does more of the work so that person can rest.

Going to the hospital is the first rest I’ve had in ages.

And it’s the first my abilities have improved.

And I’m working my ass off, mind you.

I do a little more work every day for physical therapy.

They’re telling me, I need to learn to feel my body.

I’m learning to feel my body in ways I didn’t know.

They said nobody can do it for me, I have to figure out what “too much” feels like.

I’ve been taught never to obey “This is too much” from my body. Never to feel it, never to obey it.

Howard Center has practically made it a crime. It goes against “independence” to ask for help when something’s too much.

They could’ve kllled me.

This kind of thing might still kill me.

I will no longer say yes to everything.

My arms don’t work in so many ways.

Everything’s haywire. It’s like having a whole new body.

I’m having to learn a whole new body.

It doesn’t move the same, it doesn’t react the same, it doesn’t feel the same.

Everything is different.

My back sends me signals I can’t even compute.

My arms do weird things every time I move them.

I have trouble getting enough air.

I have new muscle spasms.

All triggered by random-ass things I can’t predict.

And no notion of whether rehab is gonna be an ability to recover for awhile, or an exercise in frustration as they tell me to do shit that’s bad for me and don’t believe me when I tell them what I know about my own body. Whether I’ll stay a little and leave, or get trapped in their system or some other system.

And people think this is normal.

People think this is okay.

People even think this is good.

If they say it’s not good for me, they still sometimes think it’s good for everyone else. It’s not. This is wrong to do to someone. It doesn’t just hurt you physically. It hurts you all kinds of ways. All in the name of helping.

And meaning well doesn’t make this okay.

Nothing can make this okay.

THIS IS WRONG.

THEY’RE HURTING US.

IF THEY CAN SAY WE LIKE IT, that MAKES IT WORSE, NOT BETTER.

My fucking back is broken twice and even after the x-rays happened they still kept going.

My fucking back is broken twice.

My ribs have been broken so many times they don’t count it on the x-ray.

My hip has a healed stress fracture.

My body is falling apart.

Some of that is just osteoporosis.

But some of that is being forced to do shit I can’t safely do.

Also please remember that in a person with adrenal insufficiency, a broken bone can trigger a life-threatening cortisol drop or adrenal crisis.

We often don’t catch the broken bones as they happen. They show up on x-rays or CAT scans later. Often while looking for something totally different.

This is a stress fracture of the thoracic spine:

This is kyphosis stemming from an osteoporosis-related stress fracture:

I’ve got both of those going on.

My sodium has been tanking worse than it ever has since my ICU stay where I stopped breathing due to sodium and potassium deficiencies. I’m on fluid restriction to try to get it back up. I have milder potassium issues right now and right now all my electrolytes but sodium are mildly abnormal. This is all tied to the tube issues.

When I came to the hospital I was delirious. That morning I had been in my chair doing something active and engaging, and next thing I knew I woke up across the room on the floor. I’d shit myself bad enough my pubic hair was saturated with shit. I’d aspirated antacid that’d come up from my stomach. I couldn’t pull myself off the floor. I spent a couple hours dragging myself around until someone came in and called 911. I don’t remember everything clearly but I’ve been in the hospital ever since.

People think this is normal, inevitable, okay.

I’ve been watching hospital roommates get talked into rehab, nursing homes, into not going home.

I don’t see any choice but saying yes to rehab. I know what rehab is. I still have no real choices in this system.

The night before the hospital, Howard Center told me they couldn’t have anyone stay with me in the emergency room. VNA had told me I wasn’t acting like myself and wasn’t thinking straight and that my sodium must be very off. It was. But since nobody could stay with me, I opted for coming home with the woman who took me at the end of her staff shift. That meant missing the medical treatment I needed.

My friend visited me recently. They said they walked by Howard Center and wanted to just go in and scream at someone. They didn’t, fortunately. But it’s a common feeling among people who know me well. They’re angry. I’m angry. Over what happens to me but also that it’s happening to others. The numbers are such it’s impossible my situation is unique. I wouldn’t be as motivated to tell people all about this if it was unique.


Graph showing sodium levels for the past several years. The first huge dip is my ICU stay when I went alkaline and was admitted for respiratory arrest with oxygen around 60. Other large dips are often hospital stays, often involving going alkaline. The series of dips towards the end is recently. Recent dips is the lowest it’s been since the ICU stay.
Thoracic spine, 2 views 5/8/2019 12:06 pm
Clinical History/Comments:
K94.13-Enterostomy malfunction (HCC-CMS)-ICD-10; J-tube site leakage, r/o constipation

AP and lateral views of the thoracic spine are compared with the prior examination dated April 21, 2019. The images are underexposed because of body habitus. There is mid thoracic kyphosis resulting from veritable plans involving T7. There is also moderate wedging deformity of T11. these regions are very poorly seen on the last examination, and I am unable to determine whether there has been progression of deformity. Overall kyphosis looks very similar.

Impression: Compression fractures of T7 and T11, suboptimally seen because of diffuse osteopenia and body habitus.

An x-ray report describing compression fractures at T7 and T11, and kyphosis. The “body habitus” stuff is a medical way of saying I’m fat and they didn’t expose the x-ray long enough to compensate. There’s people a lot fatter than me who get good x-rays, so I don’t know why they don’t just adjust things the way they’re supposed to sometimes.

Here’s a webpage about compression fractures of the thoracic spine if you’re interested. It has a lot of information about how they work and what to do and not to do. The drawings on this blog post are from there. It’s the University of Maryland Medical Center website.

When a bone in the spine collapses, it is called a vertebral compression fracture. These fractures happen most commonly in the thoracic spine (the middle portion of the spine), particularly in the lower vertebra of the thoracic spine.

There is not one single cause of compression fractures, though the word compression would indicate that the fracture occurs because of too much pressure being placed on the bone. If the bone is too weak to hold normal pressure, it may not take much pressure to cause the vertebral body to collapse. Most healthy bones can withstand a lot of pressure and the spine will bend to absorb the shock. However, if the force is too great for the vertebrae to sustain, one or more of them can fracture. To understand a fracture, think about bending a pencil. If you place pressure on the pencil, it will bend a little then go back into place when the pressure is gone. However, if you bend the pencil too far – past its breaking point, it will crack or break apart. Similarly, the amount a vertebra collapses/fractures depends upon the amount of pressure it has to withstand.


A common cause of compression fractures is the disease osteoporosis. This disease thins the bones, often to the point that they are too weak to bear normal pressure. The thinning bones can collapse during normal activity, leading to a spinal compression fracture. In fact, spinal compression fractures are the most common type of osteoporotic fractures. Forty percent of all women will have at least one by the time they are 80 years old. These vertebral fractures can permanently alter the shape and strength of the spine. The fractures usually heal on their own and the pain goes away. However, sometimes the pain can persist if the crushed bone fails to heal adequately.


In severe cases of osteoporosis, actions as simple as bending forward can be enough to cause a “crush fracture”, or spinal compression fracture. This type of vertebral fracture causes loss of height and a humped back – especially in elderly women. This disorder (called kyphosis or a “dowager’s hump”) is an exaggeration of your spine, that causes the shoulders to slump forward and the top of your back to look enlarged and humped.
Trauma to the spinal vertebrae can also lead to minor or severe fractures. Such trauma could come from a fall, a forceful jump, a car accident, or any event that stresses the spine past its breaking point.

If the fracture is caused by a sudden, forceful injury, you will probably feel severe pain in your back, legs, and arms. You might also feel weakness or numbness in these areas if the fracture injures the nerves of the spine. If the bone collapse is gradual – such as a fracture from bone thinning, the pain will usually be milder. There might not be any pain at all until the bone actually breaks.

Treatment


The most common treatments for a thoracic compression fracture are: pain medications, decreasing activity, and bracing. In rare cases, surgery may also be necessary.


Pain Medications


Mild pain medications can reduce pain when taken properly. However, remember that medications will not help the fracture to heal. The medication is simply to help with pain control. 
To review the types of pain medications used for back pain please review:
Medications for Back Pain


Decreasing Activity


You will most likely have to limit your normal activities. You should avoid any strenuous activity or exercise. You will definitely need to avoid heavy lifting and anything else that might place too much strain on your fractured vertebra. If you are elderly, your doctor might also put you on bed rest. Older bones take longer to heal and are typically thinner and weaker than younger bones. Treat this fracture as you would any other broken bone – carefully and seriously!


Bracing


Another common form of treatment for some types of vertebral compression fractures is bracing. Your doctor may prescribe a back support (often officially called an orthosis). The brace supports the back and restricts movement; just as an arm brace would support a fracture of the arm. The brace is well molded to conform tightly to your body, like a cast for any other fracture. The brace used to treat a compression fracture of the spine is designed to keep you from bending forward. It holds the spine in hyperextension (meaning more extension, or straightening, than normal). This takes most of the pressure off the fractured vertebral body, and allows the vertebrae to heal. It also protects the vertebra and stops further collapse of the bone.
Vertebral fractures usually take about three months to fully heal. X-rays will probably be taken monthly to check on the healing progress.


To learn more about the different types of braces available to treat compression fractures you may wish to review the document entitled:
Back and Neck Braces


Surgery


Surgery to fix most spinal compression is rarely needed. With vertebral fractures, surgery, or internal fixation, is only considered if there is evidence of sudden and serious instability of the spine. For instance, if the fracture leads to a loss of 50% of the vertebral body’s height, surgery might be necessary to prevent damage that is more serious to the spinal nerves. 


If your doctor feels that surgery is necessary to treat your fracture, he or she will probably suggest using some type of internal fixation to hold the vertebrae in the proper position while the bone heals. If there are signs that there is too much pressure on the spinal cord, the bone fragments pushing into the spinal cord may also need to be removed.

Several specific complications can occur with a vertebral compression fracture. If you notice or suspect a complication, please contact your doctor immediately. 


Segmental Instability


If a fracture leads to a vertebral body collapse of more than 50 percent, there is a risk of segmental instability. Each spinal segment is like a well-tuned part of a machine. All of the parts should work together to allow weight-bearing, movement, and support. A spinal segment is composed of two vertebrae attached together by ligaments, with a soft disc separating them. The facet joints fit between the two vertebrae, allowing for movement, and the foramen between the vertebrae allow space for the nerve roots to travel freely from the spinal cord to the body. When all the parts are functioning properly, all spinal segments join to make up a remarkably strong structure called the spine. When one segment deteriorates, or collapses, to the point of instability, it can lead to localized pain and difficulties. The instability eventually results in faster degeneration of the spine in this area.


Kyphotic Deformity

Though the thoracic spine is supposed to be curved (or kyphotic), if the curve in a person’s thoracic spine is more than 40 to 45 degrees, it is considered abnormal. Sometimes this deformity is described as “round back posture” or “hunchback”. It is a common disorder in elderly women who have osteoporosis and frequent fractures. The front of the vertebrae will collapse and wedge due to the lack of normal vertebral space. This condition leads to a more rounded thoracic spine.


Neurologic Complications


If the fracture causes part of the vertebral body to place pressure on the spinal cord, the nerves can be affected. There is some space between the spinal cord and the edges of the spinal canal. However, this space can be reduced if the pieces of the broken vertebral body push into the spinal canal. The bony tube of the spinal canal cannot expand if the spinal cord or nerves require more space. If anything begins to narrow the spinal canal – such as if the vertebrae protrude into its space, the risk of irritation and serious injury of the spinal cord or nerves increases. 
The narrowing of the spinal canal due to a compression fracture can either lead to immediate injury to the nerves of the spine, or irritation of the nerves later. If the irritation on the spinal nerves comes later (even after the fracture has healed), it can cause pain and problems with the nerves not working right. The lack of space can also cause the supply of blood and oxygen to the spinal cord to be reduced. When the spine needs more blood flow during increased activity, the blood vessels may not be able to swell to get more blood to the spine. This can lead to numbness and pain in the nerves that are affected. The nerves also lose some of their mobility when the space available to them is reduced. This leads to irritation and inflammation of the nerves. This condition is called spinal stenosis. For more information on spinal stenosis, you may wish to review the document, entitled:
Lumbar Spinal Stenosis


All of these conditions may lead to the need for surgery in order to reduce pressure on the spinal cord, or to stabilize the spine. Surgery might also be necessary to reduce pain and/or the danger of neurological problems.

-University of Maryland Medical Center, Thoracic Compression Fractures

So that’s a bunch of quotes from the website that explain how serious this is and what it can mean and what to do about it and what not to do. Note how weeding gardens falls under the “worst crap you can do to osteoporosis” category. I’ve never been offered the opportunity of a garden since then. They can’t appear to deal with the idea of helping me in the garden without forcing me to break my back in the process. Like I can do nothing but the things my body shouldn’t. Like they should determine what I can and can’t, should and shouldn’t, do, and then force me to do whatever it is.

Right now?

Chest pain whenever I breathe.

When I stand up or sit down, my breathing goes wonky. Sometimes can’t catch my breath. Sometimes everything spasms and vibrates.

My bedsheets are full of bile from my J-tube stoma. (The tube is not leaking, the stoma is, it’s an important difference. The tube has been behaving wonderfully, it’s something around it not working.)

Moving my arms can range from painful to making things in my back move that shouldn’t.

Lots of these things cause a ‘warning’ feeling, like ‘something ain’t right here’ that’s more disturbing than pain.

There’s a lot of pain though.

Not just in my back.

And I can’t sit anymore. So wheelchairs are my only option for distance yet make me feel like 20 kinds of hell until I’m ready to collapse from pain but can’t.

Can’t reach behind my back.

Can’t bend forward.

Arms are weird.

Back is weird.

Breathing is weird.

Breathing HURTS.

Nobody explains fully.

People say I need to understand for myself.

Never been allowed to.

Rest is better.

Not rest all the time. Supposed to be a balance.

But getting any rest is a novelty.

Any at all.

They all say I’m working really hard.

But I feel like I’m resting a ton.

Even one day of rest I was gaining abilities instead of losing them.

One day.

One fucking day.

I haven’t had one fucking day of rest.

Even though I got fucking pneumonia.

Even though I been having seizures.

Even though, even though.

One day of rest.

Not that the hospital is safe.

But it’s safer than home.

Knowing what the hospital is like that’s scary.

They often ask, “Do you feel safe in your own home?”

No, no I don’t.

I feel manipulated.

I feel taken advantage of.

I feel like I’ve given everything just to get what everyone with a developmental disability deserves.

Given everything until it broke my fucking back and even then they wouldn’t let me rest.

They made me scrub shit.

Even when they knew.

Even when they fucking knew.

Even when they knew that moving my arm across the midline was making horrible things happen in my back.

Even after I told them.

Even apparently after other people told them.

Because I’m not the only person who stood up for me.

People who’ve known me a long time are furious.

I haven’t been furious enough.

I’ve been letting them.

I’ve been letting them parade me around do independence theater just to get the services I’ve always gotten.

Independence theater is physically violent.

It probably broke my back and it definitely made it worse afterwards.

How many times does my back have to break before it matters?

How many people have to get injured or suffer or lose services or lose their homes?

How many people participate in or justify what I call a crime against humanity?

Because the way disabled people are forced out of our homes is a crime against humanity. It doesn’t matter whether it’s recognized as one. It is one. It’s like the Victorian poorhouse. It doesn’t have to exist but people in the societies in question think it does. Doesn’t make it any more okay. In some ways makes it worse.

I’m not someone who can’t accept the inevitable reality of being disabled.

I’m someone who refuses to accept something that isn’t inevitable or right at all.

I’m so sick of seeing people who have perfectly natural reactions to this situation treated as pathological.

I had a roommate who was being shunted out of her family and into rehab.

One of many, but this one…

She objected by stating every day that she was going home.

There were all kinds of reasons she said this.

I didn’t learn till she’d been sent to rehab, that they considered this a sign of disorientation.

I’ve been disoriented since I’ve been in the hospital.

She wasn’t.

It had nothing to do with not knowing where she was.

But that’s what they do.

They call it pathological, when we resist in any way.

And they think this way automatically. It’s not a deliberate attempt to manipulate necessarily. It’s just where their minds go.

I have been delirious. This makes me vulnerable.

I am scared about my future.

I don’t know where to go. What to do.

I have weird ideas about what I want from life these days.

Part of me wants to move to the San Joaquin Valley. Yes, I know what it’s like, I’ve lived and worked there, and I’m not kidding.

But I can’t get out the hospital door, let alone on a plane.

I want to crochet lots of things.

A desert scene in tribute to my friend’s dead cat.

Something showing water and not-water in a particular way I have mapped out in my head.

A tribute to California landscapes that mean something to me.

Places where my bones seem to resonate with the land and the bones under the land in some places.

Things about my ancestors.

I want to publish the letters I’ve been writing to Cheryl Marie Wade. Which is a thing about my ancestors, actually.

Things about what’s happening to people.

Things that are just about being a fucking human being.

I want to be human.

I want to be human.

I want to be human.

If you know what I mean by that.

I want to be human.




1It’s hard to diagnose. So we’re almost certain I have it but not quite. It’s just easier to say “I have POTS” than “I have what’s probably POTS but we don’t totally know” every single time. Here’s some information on POTS if you care what it is. It basically means my body responds to standing as if it means I’ve been running uphill. So among other things I get weak and out of breath from standing sometimes. Like my gastroparesis, it could well be related to the neuropathy that runs in my family.

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Posted in Being human, Developmental disability, Developmental disability service system, disability rights, HCBS, Self-advocacy, Values & Ethics

Good agencies make people better, bad agencies make people worse.

Something I haven’t been able to say, but is finally possible to say pretty clearly and directly. Here’s a very simplistic way of describing how to tell a good agency from a bad one:

Insert people as staff or management or whatever other jobs there are.

See if they treat their clients better, worse, or the same just by being there.

I don’t believe in “good guys” or “bad guys”, let alone something as simplistic as being able to tell by what color hat someone’s wearing. But sometimes you have to simplify things to communicate them. Like most people, I like to think of myself as a decent human being. And here I am wearing a black hat. It’s my favorite of my own hats, like the ones I bought for myself. Most of my favorite hats are actually brown and inherited from my dad. Make of that what you will.

A good agency will, by the way it’s structured, encourage people to behave with respect, responsibility, and ethics.

A bad agency will do the opposite.

A bad agency will make it so that it requires a great deal of effort to behave like a decent human being even if you’re trying really hard to do so.

A good agency will make it so that the average person will go in and do better than they otherwise would have.

A good agency will make it so that someone going in with malicious intentions will find it hard to act on those intentions or last long within the agency if they manage it.

Put simply: A good agency will make it easy to be good and hard to be bad. A bad agency will make it easy to be bad and hard to be good. Good agencies bring out the best in people, bad agencies bring out the worst in people.

A very good agency will change many people with malicious intentions for the better, through means that are themselves good. A very bad agency will change many people with excellent intentions for the worse, through means that are ethically muddy at best and outright evil at worst.

All of this is simplistically worded. But hopefully you know what I mean. I’ve spent a long time struggling to find words for this. I’m still not there yet. Life is more complicated than a cartoon version of right and wrong. But a good place makes it easy to do the right thing and encourages everyone in that direction, and a bad place does the opposite. Even if it’s never that simple. Which, of course, it isn’t.

But I’m excited that I’m able to even say this much.

Because I’m getting sick of having to add disclaimers to everything I say about HCBS or medical services like “I know there’s good people here, but…” Of course there’s “good people” here. There’s every kind of people everywhere. But that isn’t what makes an agency good or bad. Also, I genuinely don’t believe in the existence of ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ so all of this is an oversimplified way of describing things anyway. But to be able to describe this at all is an enormous relief.

Also, this is one aspect of how agencies operate. This is one aspect of what makes agencies better or worse. And this is a description of a tendency, not something that’s written in stone and never changes.

But it is something.

And I was able to say it.

And given how difficult writing is lately, that feels pretty good. It also feels good to finally be able to say this without practically having to write a novel to do it. I’m tired of having to constantly reassure people that I understand they are often coming in with good intentions, that calling an agency bad is not the same as making everyone who works there ‘bad guys’, or that I don’t even believe in good guys and bad guys in the first place. And never being able to even get to a discussion of what’s happening.

I’m not good at summarizing even at the best of times. But here’s a tl;dr summary to the best of my abilities:

TL;DR: Good agencies make it easy to do good things and hard to do bad things, regardless of what kind of intent and knowledge you come in with. Bad agencies make it easy to do bad things and hard to do good things, regardless of what kind of intent and knowledge you come in with. I’m aware how oversimplified this is, but I have had a lot of trouble writing anything suitable for blogging despite many ideas of things to write. So I have managed to describe one small piece of how to tell if an agency or organization is, generally speaking, a good place or not or somewhere in between. And I’m glad I was able to do that.

Posted in Developmental disability, Developmental disability service system, disability rights, HCBS, Self-advocacy

We need to move further away from traditional institutionalization, not back towards it.

I’ve probably said this before.  But it’s so important I feel like it needs a standalone post.  

Mel holding up a set of house keys.
If only having my own house keys were enough to guarantee my services are not institutional.

I talk a lot about the dystopian hell that exists beneath the shiny surface of the developmental disability home and community-based service (HCBS) waiver system.  Because I live in this hell.  Because people living in this hell don’t get heard from enough, especially online.  Because if something terrible is happening to me, it’s happening to the other people in this system as well.  All kinds of good reasons.

But people misuse the horror stories coming out of the HCBS system.  They use them to say that we need to bring back the old system.  Traditional institutionalization.  Or new shiny variants on it like those farm-based “intentional communities” — a weird word considering people don’t get a choice as to whether to live there.  Those are still institutions, by the way.  So are large parts of the HCBS system.  Institutions are determined by who has what kind of power and control, not by the shape of the building or the number of people living there.

Anyway.

To be very, very clear.

The horror stories coming out of the HCBS system all come from the things HCBS has in common with traditional institutions.

So the problem is not that we have moved too far away from traditional institutions, and need to move backwards to make things better.  The problem is that we have not moved far enough away from the practices of traditional institutions.  The solution is to be less like a traditional institution, not to bring back traditional institutions.

Oh and about that “bringing back the institutions” thing.  I know a lot of the larger institutions closed.  But not all of them did.  It’s not like we just have a world empty of traditional institutions, so “bringing back the institutions” is a concept that doesn’t quite make sense.  We’re still fighting to close them.

But we have to replace them with something better, or people just get moved from one kind of hell to another.

And we’re supposed to be so grateful for this that we don’t complain about the things that have stayed just the same as traditional institutions.  Which is a whole lot of important things.

So again.

The problem is not that we have left traditional institutions behind and need to go back to them.  The problem is that we have not gone far enough away from them and we need to become even less like them.

Anyone using HCBS horror stories to promote traditional institutions is coming at the problem bass-ackwards.  HCBS horror stories should cause people to want to close all the traditional institutions and make services resemble old-style institutions as little as possible.  On a deep level involving power and control, not on a cosmetic level where all you’ve done is slap some new decorations on the walls of the old system.

Posted in Developmental disability, Developmental disability service system, disability rights, HCBS, Self-advocacy

Disability Integration Act graphics that agencies could stand to take a look at too…

This is a series of graphics promoting the Disability Integration Act, an important piece of legislation in the United States right now, that is not getting anywhere near enough support.  From the Disability Integration Act website:

The Disability Integration Act (DIA) is civil rights legislation, introduced by Senator Schumer in the Senate and Representative Sensenbrenner in the House, to address the fundamental issue that people who need Long Term Services and Supports (LTSS) are forced into institutions and losing their basic civil rights. The legislation (S.910, H.R.2472) builds on the 25 years of work that ADAPT has done to end the institutional bias and provide seniors and people with disabilities home and community-based services (HCBS) as an alternative to institutionalization. It is the next step in our national advocacy after securing the Community First Choice (CFC) option.

Credit for most of these goes to Cal Montgomery.  His dogs Murdo and Erastus are featured too.  Image descriptions are in the alt and description tags, the captions contain my personal responses to each graphic.

Picture: A brown tabby cat sitting on a chair. Yellow background, purple text. Words: Hi. I'm Abby. In my house, I can eat, drink, poop, play, and clean myself whenever I want. Humans want the same things. www.disabilityintegrationact.org
This is my personal favorite, and is the reason that my own home is not the same as moving into someone else’s home, no matter how much my agency wants to convince me that moving won’t harm me and forcing me to move isn’t massively unethical.

Picture of a small brown house rabbit on the floor with some vegetables and a toy. Olive green ackground, black text. Text says: Hi. I'm Lily. I spent the first year of my life in a cage. It made me lonely and angry. I'm much happier now that I live somewhere I'm allowed to be free. Humans feel the same. www.disabilityintegrationact.org
Not everyone knows rabbits don’t belong in cages, look up the House Rabbit Society if you want more information on that. Not everyone knows human beings don’t belong in institutions no matter what our disability is. Look up the Disability Integration Act for more information on that.

Picture of a brown tabby cat with white tuxedo markings. Purple background, blue text. Text: Hi. I'm Gallifrey. Listen... Cats don't belong in shelters, and humans don't belong in institutions. www.disabilityintegrationact.org
Pretty straightforward…

Picture of a brown and black puppy greeting a new smiling human by licking him on the nose. Grey background, pink text. Text: Hi. I'm Erastus. The day I got to my new home was a good day. Tens of thousands of people with disabilities are waiting for the services to start new lives in my state alone. You can help. www.disabilityintegrationact.org
This is horrifying but true. This is what I mean by forcing us not to live in our own homes is an ongoing, large-scale crime against humanity. I’m not making this up.

Dog lying on his back on the grass. Purple background, yellow text. Text: Hi. I'm Ersatus. I love my freedom. Disabled people love freedom too. www.disabilityintegrationact.org
It’s amazing how many people don’t grasp this, or seem to think that disabled people ought to be okay with giving up freedoms other people would strenuously object to giving up. They act like it’s the natural order of things. There are entire groups of people who think it’s their job to persuade us to be happy giving up our freedoms. Who think that there’s something wrong or pathological or that we’re in denial about our disability or something, if we still want freedom. That we’re just being stubborn or otherwise causing problems, instead of naturally wanting what everyone else in our cultures gets. It’s like freedom for us is optional and it’s our job to “accept” that. Bullshit.

Picture of an elderly black and brown dog who is very cute. Yellow background, blue text. Text: Hi: I'm Murdo. I have lived with my human for 11 years. As I age, I want to keep living where I feel loved & comfortable. Humans feel the ame way. www.disabilityintegrationact.org
This is a close second in terms of favorites.  People act like when people get older, they should be okay giving up their freedoms as well. This is just as much bullshit as it is when applied to disabled people. There is nothing about being old that means you have to leave your home. Nothing at all. No more than being disabled. This goes whether you acquire a disability or not as you age. Elderly people should not be forced out of their homes any more than disabled people should, nor forced to accept loss of freedom as the price of aging any more than it is the price of disability. The wholesale warehousing of elderly people is part of the same large-scale crime against humanity as the warehousing of disabled people, and is often done by the same industries.

What I like about these is they show how simple and normal it is, what disabled people want.  And they have adorable animals on them, and draw parallels with the actual lives of the animals, and people care about animals.  They might see things about disabled people they wouldn’t otherwise see without the analogies being made.  For real.

But seriously my favorite is the one about being able to poop whenever I want.  That one really encapsulates why it’s important that I stay in my own home, and why making me move to someone else’s home is unreasonable, cruel, criminal, and a whole host of other choice words.

And yet disabled people and elderly people are expected to not only accept restrictions on our freedom, but to do so gracefully and without complaint.  In fact, the more readily we accept these things, the more we are praised.  And then we lose our freedom.

And usually we die faster too.  Not that anyone notices.  They think we die because we’re elderly or disabled.  Actually, lifespans (along with various other measures of physical and mental ability) for various disabilities have had to actually be updated over the years entirely because of fewer of us living in institutions.  Institutions kill people faster.  All institutions, whether large state institutions or small nursing homes.  They reduce our lifespan and nobody notices or cares.  That’s not the only reason they’re bad, but it gives the lie to the idea that they’re really there to “protect our safety”.

There is nothing that happens that is good in an institution that can’t be done, and done better, outside of one.

There is a lot that happens in institutions that is bad and doesn’t need to happen at all.

There is nothing that happens in institutions that is special to institutions, good, and requires an institution in order for it to happen.  Anything you hear different is a lie used to keep institutions open.

Institutions are our modern equivalent of Victorian workhouses.

Workhouses were institutions for poor people.  Think the sort of thing Charles Dickens wrote about.  They had terrible living conditions and people died in them.  Many poor people would rather die than go to the workhouse, just as many disabled people would rather die, live on the streets, or go to jail than end up in an institution.  People considered workhouses necessary.  People considered workhouses natural.  They were neither one.  These days, people consider workhouses an atrocity and a thing of the past.

But we still have institutions for disabled people, and they are everywhere.  Some of them are large and obvious, others are hidden in plain sight.  But all contain the same thing:  A power structure that puts administrators on top, direct support staff in the middle, and disabled people at the bottom.  If you want to know how institutional something is, follow self-advocacy leader Roland Johnson’s advice and ask the question “Who’s in charge?”

Also, anything that requires a disabled person to move out of our own home — even if it’s “just” moving into the home of an existing staff person — and gives no option for the disabled person to get the same help in the home we already live in, shows that something is institutional in nature.  Even if it’s entirely “community-based” otherwise.  Real community-based services let you live wherever you want to live.

And there are institutional-style services that masquerade as community-based services and get funding through home and community-based services (HCBS) waivers.  Even some that let you stay in your own home.  If living in a system seems more like a dystopia than it ought to, chances are thre are at least institutional elements.  It’s plenty possible to have an institution where each person lives in their own home but it’s otherwise run like any other institution.

At any rate, all of this is very important, and I love these graphics.  And definitely tell people about the Disability Integration Act and give them the link to the Disability Integration Act website.  Which is http://www.disabilityintegrationact.org/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Developmental disability, Developmental disability service system, HCBS, Self-advocacy

What my home means to me: I have so much to lose.

Nearly every night, I walk around my apartment in the dark. It’s easier to find my footing without the distraction of eyesight. I can feel my legs, my feet, the floor, the ground, the things that lie beneath. I touch the walls to better feel the building itself. Like all buildings, it has a personality. I find and touch the oldest parts of the building, wooden pillars in seemingly random places. They stretch from the bottom of the ground floor to the ceiling of the second floor.

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I explore my whole apartment in the dark, all the time. These days, sometimes I cry. People don’t understand what this place means to me. It’s more than any random home, which would mean a good deal already. I have so much more to lose than I used to know was possible.

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The dark allows an intimacy with the house that would be impossible in other circumstances. I can feel the way it wants to be all the things the best houses are. It wants to be a home, a real home. It wants people to live in it. It wants those people to be happy. It wants to protect them and make sure they’re safe. It wants them to be comfortable. It wants to be a haven, a place of refuge, a place of joy. And it genuinely loves the people who live in it.

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I’ve never lived in a house that was a home. Let alone one that wanted to be a home with every fiber of its being. I grew up in a house that wanted to start fights, to make violence worse, to scare and hurt and trap and imprison. It was such an unpleasant place that even from a young age I’d put myself through things I hated, like sleepovers, as long as they’d let me avoid the house. I never understood homesickness, only its opposite: dread that I’d be trapped there forever. I still have nightmares not about people or events but about being trapped alone in that house, unable to get away from it for the rest of my life. So I’m well aware that not all houses have the personality to be a true home, and how lucky I am to have found one.

I don’t normally watch horror, even cheesy horror. But I did watch every episode of Buffy. And only one truly got under my skin. It had a monster that lived in a hospital. You could only see it if you were crazy, delirious, or neurologically impaired. It sat on the ceiling above your bed and terrorized you while everyone else thought you were just hallucinating. Then it ate you.

Of all the things they showed on Buffy, that’s why I usually sleep with all the lights on. Embarrassing but true. When the lights go off, my brain starts imagining that damned ceiling monster.

The dark has always been a refuge from the pain, nausea, and chaos I associate with vision. It’s a place of calm and belonging. A place where things make sense and move slowly enough to understand. Where I can pick up all the shards of a world that comes through so fast it shatters inside my head. And just stare at the stained glass colors if that’s what happens. Or slowly put each piece back together in something like its original shape, so that something I saw earlier finally makes sense. The darkness itself feels alive, a warm and friendly presence: “Here in the shadows where everything blends, the darkness and me are the closest of friends.”

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This house makes it so I can be in the dark again, comfortably, and not be afraid of the ceiling monster.  The house protects me and makes me aware I am protected, even from my own fears.

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I’m not sure how often I’ve said this explicitly on this blog, but religion is central in my life and redwood forests are central to my religion. The connection I have with the particular forest I was born in, Redwood Terrace, is important to my ability to practice my religion. And while it’s true that this connection exists no matter where I go, it’s also true that it’s much easier to be immediately aware of that connection in some places than others. Like a lot of things in this realm, there’s no real way to explain it, things just work like that.

IMG_7980.JPG

Anyway, I find it easy to feel connected with Redwood Terrace from my apartment. Something is different about the ground around this building compared to other places around here. The apartment itself seems to help me connect with Redwood Terrace, as well as it seeming to have developed a friendship and connection with my best friend’s house, which has a similar personality.  All of these things mean I’m more able to practice my religion in this particular home than in any other home I’ve lived in. And that matters, even if I can’t explain to you how it works or why.

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I’ve got so much more to lose than I ever imagined was possible. It’s no longer just a matter of having my own place. I have my own place that I love and that loves me back. That puts things on a whole different level. I have an entire relationship with this place. It would be bad enough if they were trying to make me leave my home, any home I’ve ever had before. After all, there is never a valid reason to make anyone leave their home on the basis of disability. But now it’s not just my freedom I could lose. It’s an entire relationship with a place that matters more to me than I can explain.

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Nobody should ever have to explain or justify why they want to live in their own home. Nobody should ever be told that a perfectly normal desire to live at home is
in any way deviant, selfish, stubborn, denial, unrealistic, or unreasonable. And our society should no more accept this response to disability than we accept Victorian workhouses as a solution to poverty.

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But even if I shouldn’t have to explain, I do want to explain what my home means to me. Having my own place already means a lot more to me than I can express. And I’m not really able to write about that at the same time as writing about my specific home. But having a specific home I’m very attached to, means I have so much more to lose.

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You can’t just replace one home with another, any more than you can replace a human being with another. Even when you don’t mind moving, even when you choose to move, the new place is not the same as the old place. It should always be a choice.

It’s wrong for one person to have the power over another that it takes to tell them their disability means they have to leave their home. But it’s also wrong to use that power if you have it. And each person who uses this power over another human being, bears some of the responsibility for the damage done. And there’s always damage. Taken as a whole, the removal of disabled people from our homes is a large-scale crime against humanity.

Participating in such a thing isn’t trivial, no matter what your role.  Maybe you make the policy.  Maybe you enforce it.  Maybe you grudgingly go along with playing it out, but you play it out on us nonetheless.  Maybe you persuade us to give up ourhomes and move somewhere else.  So many things you could be doing, but it means you bear some responsibility for somethin terrible.  You can’t escape that.  I can’t sugar-coat it for you.

This is my home.

That’s all there is to it.

This is my home.  And anyone who participates in trying to take it away from me, is doing something terrible.

Because this is my home.  Living here is my right.  Having the assistance required to live here is my right.  Nobody gets to chaange that.  And anything that calls itself the Home and Community Based Services Waiver should never include services of a type that force or coerce anyone to move out of their own home.  They’re not home and community based if they force you to choose to leave your home and community for somewhere else, no matter where that somewhere else is located.  This is my home, you can’t just exchange it for another and pretend they’re the same.

Generations of self-advocates with developmental disabilities have fought for the right to live exactly where I am living now.  Lois Curtis fought for this.  Elaine Wilson fought for this.  They were two women with developmental and psychiatric disabilities, and don’t forget it.  They are what the Olmstead decision was all about.  Everyone has fought for this and I will not give it up lightly.  I will fight for it for me and for everyone who comes after me.  And it doesn’t matter if you don’t understand what it means to grow up thinking you’ll never live in your own home, but I did grow up that way and it nearly killed me.  I don’t want any child ever growing up again believing they’ll never have a chance at freedom and a home of their own if they have a disability. My apartment may not mean much to anyone else but it means the world to me and that’s the only thing that matters here.

This is my home.  You don’t get to tell me that’s not important, or that giving it up is inevitable or necessary.  I know better.  I know my rights.  THIS IS MY HOME.  And this is how much I have to lose.  And more.  I will fight to stay here with everything I have in me, and never stop fighting no matter what happens.  Because it’s not just my home at stake.  As long as any disabled person can be told their disability is too severe to live at home, none of us are truly free, because true freedom isn’t conditional.  THIS IS MY HOME.

Photo on 9-13-18 at 11.06 PM.jpg
You’ll pry my apartment keys out of my cold dead fingers.






I wrote this post using Unity on my Accent 800 communication device.  

This is a reminder that not everyone on the Internet speaks to communiate and some of us use picture symbols to write.

unitything.png
The screen of my Accent 800 communication device.  Above the words, I’ve pasted in the sequence of picture symbols it takes to get each word, so you can have some idea how it works.  You hit a set of symbols in sequence and it gives you the word you are looking for.

 

Posted in Developmental disability, Developmental disability service system, HCBS

My assessment scores, for reference purposes.

Howard Center has several divisions.  There is Mental Health, which it is best known for.  There is also Substane Abuse.  There is Children and Family.  And then there is Developmental Services, DS for short.

I get services through Developmental Services, through a Medicaid waiver program called the Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) program.  In the state of Vermont, to get developmental disability services you must have either autism1 or an intellectual disability or both, and have limitations in certain life skills.

So proving the autism diagnosis wasn’t hard, but they wanted a current assessment of my life skills. So I was 24 years old, almost 25, when this assessment was done. It was done using the ABAS, the Adaptive Behavior Assessment System, the “Adult Form, Rated By Others,” meaning that my staff person (who had worked for me for 3 years at that point and knew my skills very well) rated how often I could do a long series of tasks listed. She asked specifically about whether it should be as I do with or without assistance, and was told to rate me as without assistance so they could get a true estimate of my abilities. My case manager from Easter Seals was there in the room the whole time. I was too nervous to even look at the test so I just sat there doing nothing. The test basically asks how often a person successfully does a series of specific tasks, from always/often to rarely/never.

An important thing to understand about this test is that it is supposed to test your abiliities as they are applied to the real world.  That’s why it asks how often you actually do these things.  Because it’s not about whether you have a theoretical understanding of something, it’s about whether you can actually do it.  At least, that’s how the test is meant to be applied.  Obviously it’s subject to the interpretation of whoever’s filling out the forms.

So these are the scores I got in the different areas.

First are the scores in each specific skill area. These are out of a scale that runs from 1 to 19, with 10 being average, and 1 being the least capable in this area and 19 being the most capable.

  • Communication: 1
  • Self-Care: 1
  • Self-Direction: 1
  • Community use: 2
  • Home living: 2
  • Health & Safety: 2
  • Leisure: 2
  • Social: 2
  • Functional Academics: 3

They then divide that into three areas:

  • Conceptual: 5
  • Social: 4
  • Practical: 7

Conceptual has a possible score between 3 and 26, Social has a possible score between 2 and 51, and Practical has a possible score of between 4 and 64.

Then you’re given a Composite Score that sums everything up.

  • Composite Score: 47

The composite score is from a range of 40 to 120.  My score is in the lowest percentile range for this test which is given only as <0.1.  The numbers are meant to mirror the numbers on IQ tests, so 100 is average.

It’s also important to know that at the point in time this test took place, I was much physically healthier relative to now.  The majority of the stuff I couldn’t do, that this test measured, was due to cognitive disabilities related to developmental disabilities.  I did not suddenly and recently become unable to do these things because of physical illness or disability.  I have been unable to do these things for quite a long time.

As far as how I see the accuracy of the test, I think it was pretty accurate.  There’s only one area that I find misleading, and that’s the communication area.  I got the lowest score possible for communication.  This didn’t make sense to me, or to the tester given that she had a coherent conversation with me.  But I asked my staff person what happened, and she told me that the test just happened to ask questions about the parts of communication that, especially at the time, I was the worst at:  Small social nicety words.

So things like please, and thank you, and hello, and things like that.  And while I’ve gotten better with those, at the time I really did never say those things to anyone.  So she had to mark it down as rarely/never.  So even though I was a writer, I got the lowest communication score it was possible to get.  But I can’t say it was totally inaccurate, because for what it measured I really didn’t say those things.  But it gives a very misleading idea about my communication skills, that the test didn’t even bother to clarify how well a person did things other than really basic words.2

The rest of the test just seems pretty accurate to me:  Left to my own devices, I can do very little for myself.

The important thing here is that this was documented back in 2005 by Howard Center.  As part of the intake process.  So acting like I am suddenly capable of doing these things, or acting like my difficulty doing them is new and entirely due to physical disability, goes against stuff they have in their own files about me.  I mean, in order to get into HCBS services in Vermont I had to prove both that I had a developmental disability of the sort they serve in Vermont, and also that it limited me in a certain number of life areas.  And this was the limitation part.  And it definitely showed that I was very limited in every single one of the life areas tested.

And there are specific reasons for that, but that’s a topic for another post.  I just want to document the fact that my inability to do this crap is well-documented and was known to be related to cognitive developmental disabilities thirteen years ago, so none of this should be a surprise to anyone.  Nor should the fact that skills training was tried extensively in California and didn’t take.  And all the other things they used to know and have conveniently forgotten.

Also I hate assessments.  They make me feel like a collection of deficits.  It’s a very icky and medicalized feeling.  Like having the important parts of you disappear like they never existed.  No depth.  But I’m glad I have documentation of this nonetheless.

 


1 By which they mean any label connected wth autism, so Asperger’s and PDDNOS count, unlike in some states.  Which is not as much of a moot point as you’d think, because people still have old diagnoses from before the DSM-5, and also large parts of the world don’t use the DSM and have not merged all the diagnoses into one.

2 There’s a larger problem at work here that I don’t want to get too distracted by, but is huge: There’s an assumption out there that skills run in a line from basic to advanced, and that you have to have the basics before you can do the advanced stuff, and that everyone progreses by first learning the basics, then intermediate level, then advanced.  And that everyone progresses along the same line, with the same set of skills, and so forth.

Which makes absolutely no room in the world for the fact that there are many people who learn skills in a totally different order.  Or who can do something advanced but not the basics, like my friend who is severely dyscalculic and spent her childhood in remedial math because she couldn’t do arithmetic.  Then a teacher found out she was obsessed with division by zero (which her teachers thought meant that she really didn’t grasp math) and told her to take that and run with it, and she reinvented the foundations of calculus.  And got out of remedial math for good.

There’s lots of people who learn things in a different order.  And there are actual disabilitis that cause a person to do something that seems advanced without being able to do the basics at all.  This often confuses people.  For instance, there are people with autism-related language disabilities that cause them to use very long words but have trouble with “simple” language.  And the very long words convince people that they have no language problems.

So it’s actually totally in keeping with that kind of thing that I failed a communication test that tested “easy” stuff, at the same time I was writing long eloquent articles on the Internet.  I really couldn’t do those “easy” words in conversation.  So I feel like the test was accurate to the specific things it tested, but misleading as a test of overall communication because communication is a lot more than those supposedly “easy” parts.

 

Posted in Developmental disability, HCBS

Enjoying something doesn’t make it okay.

Nor does it make it okay to hurt someone because they enjoy what they’re getting to do while you’re hurting them.  (Note:  Throughout this post, remember that anything that happens to me is happening to other people, and that’s one of the reasons I write about these things.  And as usual I’m not asking for anything that any other client doesn’t deserve as well.)

I had a recent and very surreal meeting with some people from Howard Center.

One of the many surreal moments came when Lauratried to bring up the issue of medical neglect within the recreational services I was getting.  I was part of a community garden.  I needed help maintaining my plot.  I could do some things but not others.  Anyway, they basicaally made me do things a person with severe osteoporosis and autonomic dysfunction should never be made to do, with regards to bending, lifting, and heat exhaustion.

The woman from Howard’s response was a bewildered “But I thought Mel liked gardening.”

Yeah.  I like gardening.  I don’t like bending clear to the ground with a stress fracture in my vertebra and recently healed rib fractures all over the place.  Nor do I like not being able to take breaks to avoid heat exhaustion without all assistance with the garden stopping for the day.

And yeah I actually did enjoy getting on the ground and getting my hands in the ground and all that.  Even when it was bad for me.

It doesn’t mean that what they did to my body was okay.

cropped-512-gardening-02.jpg

That is a picture of me doing something I loved doing and was proud of.

That is also a picture of me being forced to do something in a way that was physically dangerous to me.

These things are not contradictory.

In fact, it’s very common in human services for them to go hand in hand like this.

The fact that I enjoyed gardening doesn’t make it okay for them to insist that I garden in a way that’s unsafe2 for me or get no chance to garden at all.

Actually, the fact that I enjoy it makes it worse that they did this.

Because they can use what you enjoy in order to get you to do things the way they want you to do them.  Even at the risk of great harm to yourself.  Because you’re way more likely to agree to do something like this if you enjoy the activity in question.

So.  No.  My enjoying it doesn’t make what happened okay.  It makes it worse, if anything.  You shouldn’t have to risk broken bones and heat exhaustion to get any chance at all do things you like doing.  But that was the choice I was given.  And it’s not okay.  It’s far from okay.

Real Social Skills has a good post on a related topic (which I can say from experience with behavior mod, is true even when you do enjoy it, it can still be harmful):  Appearing To Enjoy Behavior Modification Is Not Meaningful


1 Laura is:

  • My durable power of attorney for healthcare
  • Frequently my cognitive interpreter at meetings
  • Someone who helps me advocate for myself and is much more effective at it than I am
  • My ‘second mother’ (and eventually will legally adopt me), has served in a semi-parental role since I was 17.  (Doesn’t replace my parents, but has helped them out a lot.)

So she’s there at a lot of important meetings.  One of the most important things she does for me is cognitive interpreting:  She helps me understand what other people are talking about, and helps them understand me even at times when I’m unable to get language across.  This is a form of interpreting that most people don’t even know exists.  Sometimes also called English-to-English interpreting when it happens in English.

The fun part is when she says what I’m thinking, I verify that she’s indeed said what I’m thinking, and she’s told that she couldn’t possibly know what I was thinking because the other person couldn’t tell what I was thinking.  If the other person could tell that well what I was thinking, I probably wouldn’t need a cognitive interpreter so badly.

2 Because people seem to use ‘unsafe’ to mean anything from dangerous to uncomfortable these days, let me clarify that I mean dangerous.  Heat exhaustion is dangerous, especially when you have autonomic dysfunction.  Broken bones are dangerous.  Broken bones when you have adrenal insufficiency are especially dangerous.  This wasn’t subtle.

Posted in Developmental disability service system, HCBS

The apparent dignity in being a slob, and the terrifying catch-22 on the other end.

When you’re a slob, you don’t have to tell anyone that the reason you never did laundry in 9 months is because you didn’t know how despite being taught just as well as your brothers.

When you’re a slob, you don’t have to tell anyone that if you don’t change clothes for weeks or months on end it’s because dressing yourself has always ranged from difficult, slow, and exhausting to impossible depending on the circumstance.

When you’re a slob, nobody has to know that you actually don’t know how to shower, no matter how long you stay in there and go through the motions.

When you’re a slob, people think you’re gross but they don’t think you’re incompetent.  They think you’re the sort of person they don’t really want to smell, but you’re neither disabled, nor like some of the spoiled brats you went to school with who could’ve taken care of themselves but always had someone to do it for them so never learned.

When you’re a slob, people think you make bad choices but they don’t think you’re pathological.

When you’re a slob, people find you sort of relatable as a human being still.

When you’re a slob, and only a slob, they don’t tell you that you can’t live on your own and need your civil and human rights taken away for your own good.

There are other consequences to being a slob, mind you.  But sometimes it’s easier to be a slob in other people’s eyes — someone who’s made a choice, even if one they think is lazy and morally wrong — than to be a retard.  And I’m using that word advisedly, because that’s the word they’re thinking about you, not something sanitized and pretty.

And when you’re a slob, you can convince yourself you’re in control of all this, even if you’re not.

But seriously.  When you’re a slob, you get to be a human being.  Sometimes it’s just easier to say, “I’m a slob,” “I’m such a procrastinator,” “I don’t care about my appearance,” “I’m so gross,” whatever, keep it relatable, keep it human, but it’s a lie.

Because I don’t actually want to live in unsanitary living conditions.  I don’t want to laugh it all off over and over again.  I don’t want to watch my remaining functioning crumble out from under me because I’m physically and cognitively unable to keep my environment uncluttered enough to function.  These are not situations I have ever wanted.

But I’ve endured them.  Over and over again.  Allowing people to believe what they will.

For so many reasons.

So I could retain the dignity of being considered merely a flawed human being and not a walking pathology.

So people wouldn’t declare me too incompetent to live on my own.

So many reasons.

And then I’ve watched a friend with a developmental disability get told that the infected ulcers on her legs were the result of a “lifestyle choice” — both by Howard-Center-appointed testers who refused to acknowledge she was unable to bathe herself, and by VCIL who at the time catered to wheelchair users and she “only” used a cane — and I’ve wanted to spit nails.

Because that’s the fucking flipside, the catch-22 of being a slob.

Is they can just call you a slob when they want to deny you help you need.  Help that may be at the level of survival, like it was for my friend with her infected leg ulcers.  Like anyone would be so much of a slob that they’d get infections on their legs and go to the trouble to seek help to get services to get help bathing.  That’s not how it happens, people.

But all these things have a catch-22 angle to them.

Admit you need help and they’ll ‘help’ you right out of your right to live in your own home.

Insist on your right to live in your own home and they’ll hold you to impossibly high expectations and try to deny you help and call it a ‘lifestyle choice’ when you can’t do the things.

Be a slob and be denied help because slobs don’t need help they just need a kick in the pants for their laziness.

Admit you’re not a slob and if they believe you, you might be shunted into a nightmare world against your will.

There are no right ways to be developmentally disabled around here.

And I’m hearing horror stories.  About people suddenly being pushed to do things on their own they’ve never done before.  And if they manage it even once even for a little bit, they’re told they don’t need help, sent on their way, hours cut partially, or cut out of services altogether.

There are no right ways to be developmentally disabled around here.

We aren’t supposed to exist anymore.  We’ve become too inconvenient.  We’re the reason their agencies even exist, we’re the reason they have a paycheck, but we, ourselves, as people, as messy human beings who need their assistance to survive, are too inconvenient.  So they’re Xing us, one by one.  Or trying.  We need to resist Xing with everyting we’ve got.

For the time being, I'm still here. Big, fat, hairy, smelly (the VNA is short-staffed, I can't frigging help it), and all. And I intend on remaining.
For the time being, I’m still here. Big, fat, hairy, smelly (the VNA is short-staffed, I can’t frigging help it), and all. And I intend on remaining.

Posted in Developmental disability, Developmental disability service system, HCBS, Self-advocacy

Your Right to a Community Life: A Guide to Home and Community Based Services Advocacy

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Your Right To A Community Life: A Guide to Home and Community Based Services Advocacy

Exactly what it says on the tin.  This is a guide for people with developmental disabilities in United States, receiving services under an HCBS (Home and Community Based Services) Medicaid waiver program.  Which includes me.

It’s in PDF format:

Your Right to a Community Life: A Guide to Home and Community Based Services Advocacy

And anyone receiving or trying to receive these services should read it so you know your rights under federal law and know how to fight for them regardless of what BS you’re told in the meantime.