The rehab journey following my motorcycle crash showed me that more people than I ever dreamed are living with limitations and with broken dreams. The beautiful thing is that since disabilities and shattered hope are such common phenomena, solutions, or ways to keep one’s attitude positive in these circumstances are also quite common. The following story involves the comfort found in relating to other people who happen to wake from comas to find themselves in similar circumstances.

 I hobble into the crowded waiting room at Harborview Hospital’s outpatient clinic. Walkers, canes and wheelchairs clutter the floor. Speech impairments fill the air. I smile. These are my people.
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The majority of the world doesn’t understand having  life changing disabilities thrust on you. I never feel as ok about my disability as when I go to the rehab clinic. I don’t know if this is sick and wrong, but seeing other people dealing with situations similar to my own, helps my attitude. I sit in a hard plastic chair beside a suntanned girl chewing gum with her mouth open. She wears faded jeans and a tie-dye tank top. A walker stands beside her chair. She looks mad and bored.
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I plop down in the chair beside her. “What’s up?”
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She pops a bubble.
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“If you’re talking to me, talk slower so I can hear you right.”
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“What’s going on,” I say carefully. I like how simply and respectfully she is in telling me she couldn’t understand me.
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“I don’t know what they’re doing,” she said, glaring at the door. “All I know is I’ve been sitting here for way over an hour. The doctors are probably out playing golf.
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I smile. I’ve said that same line. “They’re usually late, but not this late,”
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She sighs noisily. “I hate this place.”
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“How many times have you been here?”
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“She pops another bubble and crosses one ankle over her knee. “This is my second time. How about you?”
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“About a million. I’m Al.”
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“Pam.”
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“What happened to you?”
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“I was visiting my dad in Hawaii and tried surfing. His stupid girl friend and I caught the same wave. She ran into me.”
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“She must have been monster big to put you in the hospital.”
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Pam smiles. “She is but what happened is I hit my head on her board. By the time the lifeguard pulled me out of the water, I’d been under more than two minutes. What happened to you?”
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I describe my crash.
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“Motorcycle’s are death machines. I used to have a boyfriend who got killed on one.”
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I look at the clock on the wall. “Talking to you has made the time fly. I’ve been here more than a half-hour already.
They usually call me before this.”
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“I don’t wanna sound mean, but I’ve been here an hour and a half. I better get called before you do.”
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I laugh. “Don’t worry. You will.”
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Pam and I talk for almost another half-hour before she got called in.
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“Well I guess this is it,” she said, grabbing her walker. She looked over her shoulder at me. “I’m glad we talked.”
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“Yeah, me too. Would you like to do it again sometime?”
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She smiles. “Sure. Give me a call.” She handed me a playing card.
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The queen of hearts. The name Pam was written over the picture. A phone number was under it.
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I smile and put it in my pocket.
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After Pam leaves, a guy sits in the seat where she’d been. His speech impairment is even worse than mine, but he is interesting to talk with. Anybody watching us would have wondered if we even knew what we were talking about. Of course we do, some of the time. He said he was a cat burglar who fell on his way to work. I figured he was joking but I don’t ask again. He has less patience than I do. By the time I get called in, 45 more minutes had passed and he was so impatient he was cussing like a one legged pirate with his good foot caught in a bear trap.
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The first thing I ask the examining doctor, when he finally comes into the tiny examining room is “What took you so long to see me? Why do we even bother making appointments?”
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He didn’t bother giving me an answer. He might have not answered because he didn’t have an answer. Or he might not have answered because he didn’t understand me over my speech impairment. And then there was the chance that he didn’t think brain damaged, physically impaired people needed to be answered, unless they asked something he felt like answering. However remote this possibility was, it made me fume, just to think about it. I asked again.
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Speaking loudly enough to be sure he heard me, I said, “What took you so long to see me? My appointment was almost two hours ago.”
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He looks me in the face. For the first time I notice how tired and worn he looks. Deep lines cut grooves in his forehead. “The clinic is two doctors short this week, and it’s our receptionist’s first day,” he says.
So there really was a reason behind my long wait. I didn’t need to let my attitude get all bent out of shape, after all.
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Ok, I overreacted, or did I? If we’d been told they were two doctors and an experienced receptionist short, the wait would have been more tolerable. Not being told anything made it seem like what we thought didn’t matter. Would we have been told if we were a professional sports team or white collar professionals instead of people with disabilities? 
It doesn’t matter. I think the lesson to learn here is that, “If you have the ability to lessen someone’s stress, do it. Why let an honest inconvenience be mistaken for a purposeful slight?
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Riding the bus home after my appointment, I remembered that at my last counseling appointment, my counselor suggested a helpful way to deal with situations like the one I had just encountered. I forget how we got to the point where he made this suggestion, but the suggestion he made is self explanatory.
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“It helps me,” he said, “to practice an attitude of acceptance. A lot of what I remember about counseling sound like a recording of Charlie Brown’s teacher. But four important things I remember discovering through the counseling that I had 30 years ago and the rehab I’ve had since are:
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1.   “I can’t think my way into a new way of living, I have to live my way into a new way of thinking.”
2.   “Time takes Time.”
3.   “I’m not in control of my life. How can I be in control when I don’t know what’s gonna happen until after it happens?”
4.   “The attitude I choose is THE determiner of how happy, sad, productive or lonely I am.”
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