I have a friend named Michael, he’s a quadriplegic, and he leads a remarkable
life. Though mute, and blind in one eye, Michael taps out short stories, directs
photo shoots and prints out the pictures. All this he does with Morse Code and his
chin to a switch. There are dozens of abbreviations in his head for sentences,
phrases and paragraphs. He creates these, and puts them in his computer to use
for communicating with others. His computer is his voice.
Michael burns CDs to give as Christmas presents, birthday presents and just
being nice to someone presents. He then goes a step further and creates CD
covers, complete with song titles and pictures.
Michael’s stories are descriptive and beautiful. Many are poignant tales of his
past travels in Europe, travels with his parents and siblings before the accident
that left him paralyzed. You are with him on his journeys, through the sights and
sounds of his written words. I enjoy reading them, and even though so many of
them make me cry, there is no self-pity in his words. He isn’t regretting his loss;
he’s reliving what he had. This is his gift. He takes you with him. It can take him a
half an hour to write these words, because of the Morse Code. Everything he
accomplishes on his computer is done this way: stories, prints, CDs. Still, he can
make his day more productive than a lot of mobile people I know, myself
included. Few of us can imagine the willpower it takes to do what he does every
day. Michael is also a local celebrity. His photos have been featured in several
art shows in our hometown of Buffalo. Strangers are linked because of him. I
often meet someone, who knows someone, who knows him. I describe his
accomplishments and people know who he is, or they are impressed, just
hearing about him.
I started walking for exercise because of Michael. He once stated, via his
computer, that he was amazed at how people choose to waste a perfectly good
pair of legs.
Michael must spell out his needs with a series of dots and dashes where one
letter can be four taps long. This, however, will not deter him from using his
cheek to tap out a funny comment that has us mobile people rolling with
laughter. Tapping out a funny comment: now that’s determination.
Although he has no voice, Michael says a lot worth listening to. I owe my
knowledge and use of computers to Michael. He learns computer programs on
his own through trial and error. His persistence keeps frustration at bay. He’s
never intimidated by anything new. As long as his computer is on, and his switch
is near his cheek, he needs little or no help to do what he wants. There was no
way I could be around him, watching him work, and not be shamed into the
techno century. I bought a computer and have now been learning, right along
with Michael, the intricacies of these machines.
There are times when Michael is sad or angry, but what impresses me is how
infrequently he displays these negative emotions. I’ve seen some people looking
sad or expressing anger so often that I wonder if they ever smile. They should
meet Michael and realize that they’re walking and talking, so why waste energy
on negative emotions. Meet my friend and realize what you have, and what
you could lose. Meet Michael and be inspired.
Michael has programmed his main requests into his computer with ‘please’ at
the end. There are abbreviations, which he put in his PC that do more than
express his needs. He has compliments programmed in there too, and they’re not
just empty words, but are full of his appreciation for what you do for him.
Michael is so considerate, that he has coded a separate and personalized ‘good
day’, ‘good night’ and ‘thank you’, for every nurse that has taken care of him
since he’s had a computer. That is a lot of unwarranted typing, but it’s his way,
and he knows we nurses appreciate it.
I have never seen anyone meet Michael and not relax around him. He has a
somewhat magical effect on people. His casual nature envelopes all in his
company. Using his cheek and determination, he touches so many people that,
he is a pleasure to be around. I wish I could share his life with the world. So
many could benefit from his attitude. His aspirations to make his life as full as
possible are a testament to the inner strength in all of us, if we choose to seek
Michael makes CDs that move you to dance, he writes stories that move you to
tears, and types comments that move you to laughter. With a tap of his cheek, he
motivates those around him to higher levels of awareness and appreciation for
being alive. He lip-syncs the songs he hears on his stereo, and with one eye,
he sees so much to live for. He creates recipes that everyone in his life enjoys.
Everything is richer in his world of few limitations. He conquers as many
obstacles as he can, and exhausts all avenues of a new venture before giving up.
We could all learn from his triumphs. Now please excuse me; I have to get
moving. I have a friend to keep up with.
Author’s note: Sadly, Michael passed away November 11th. 2004. I still have the CDs he made for me. I’m still in touch with his family. I still miss him very much.