Most people complain when they have to work on the weekend or overtime. I’m just so damn grateful for every morsel of work that comes my way. I’ll take it – any time of the day – any day of the week.
To be able to work and earn one’s own money is a joy and a privilege that most people take for granted. I know. I used to. I was often dissatisfied and I used to continually complain about my job. I did not appreciate what I had until I lost it – all.
I was a teacher. There were parts of my job I loved – like the children with their bright, young minds eager to learn. Then there were aspects of my job which I hated – like coaching netball. It wasn’t the netball that I hated, as such. It was dealing with the endless bitchiness of the competitive coaches and parents from the other schools we played against. They put so much pressure on the kids to perform well at all times. Their aggressiveness was unpleasant and it often made me feel anxious. So, I grumbled about having to coach netball every season. Instead, I should have been grateful that I was fit, active and sporty – highly capable of running around a netball court for an hour at a time, blowing my whistle. Do you have any idea how many times I have wished that I could go back? Dear God, I promise never to complain about coaching netball ever again. I’d give anything to be able to go back onto the netball court again.
I remember the deep hurt – and anger – I felt when I learned, soon after my accident, that they had found somebody to teach my class. I hated her. I didn’t even know her – I had never met her but, I hated her. How could she just take over my class and use all my stuff? How dare she? I’d better hurry up and get out of here so that I can get back to my children, my classroom and my stuff.
Obviously, a part of me understood. The kids needed a teacher. The school needed to continue functioning. Life needs to go on. Isn’t life just so cruel? One day you die – or you break your neck and wish you had died – and the very next day somebody else is doing your job. I was arrogant enough to believe that they would never find a more enthusiastic, dedicated or capable teacher. It was a harsh lesson to learn in such a ruthless way – nobody is irreplaceable. Life goes on…
I remember my bosses – the headmaster and his deputy – coming to see me in hospital, a few weeks after my accident. I was deeply touched that they had driven all the way from Nelspruit to Pretoria just to see me.
I was so glad that I was lying in bed when they arrived. I would have hated for them to see me sitting in my wheelchair – I was acutely aware of how pathetic I looked. I was so ashamed of being disabled. Besides, I still believed that I was going to walk out of that hospital. I was still very much in denial.
They looked tired – I assumed from the long trip. Later, I realised that they were under a lot of emotional strain too. Despite having a staff complement of nearly forty, we were a close bunch. It was difficult for them to see me like this. They were all devastated by what had happened to me.
Less than a month before, I had been running around the school grounds in my knee-length, pencil-skirts in the mornings, teaching a class full of kids. In the afternoons I had been in my skimpy little shorts, coaching sport on the field. I knew they often admired my sexy legs – definitely my best asset – at the time. I should have shown them off more. Hell, if I’d known I was going to be paralysed, I would have been walking on my hands.
We chatted, and laughed – but it was strained, and forced. I sensed an underlying uneasiness which I tried, so desperately, to ignore. I knew why they were really there. My boss took a deep breath Trace, I have spoken to the Department of Education and there is nothing to worry about. You are going to be medically boarded. And they will pay you out your pension.
What? Nothing to worry about? Is he freaking mad?
They tried to hide their awkwardness. But, it was obvious. I smiled and pretended to be relieved. But, on the inside, I was in turmoil. I was angry. Shit! Have I just been fired? I’ve never even taken a day’s sick leave. Just give me a break. Man. Come on! Oh God…
Selfishly, I never gave a thought of how they must have felt – or how difficult it must have been for them to deliver this news to me. I was so inwardly focused at that stage. There was just too much heartache to deal with, on top of all the physical challenges I was facing at the time. I was resentful and bitter – I couldn’t wait for them to leave. I told them I was tired. I lied. Silently, I screamed. Get the hell out of here and leave me the hell alone. I want to sleep die.
They left. I cried – hard. Oh God, just take me. Please!
That was my first painful experience of rejection, pity and of how most able-bodied people would react to me in the real world. I knew, then, that I would spend the rest of my life trying to reclaim my identity as Tracy – a woman, mother, daughter, friend, sister, lover and teacher. I longed to be employed, active and independent. I knew that I would be continuously fighting to prove my worth, to be taken seriously and be reclaiming my right to be a part of a physically functioning society.
I am so grateful to have been blessed with a good intellect. But there have been days (many) where I have wondered if I wouldn’t have been better off if I had lost my mind as well. Be careful of what you wish for, Tracy!
But, God knows, the days are so long. The boredom is enough to drive me insane, often making me grumpy and then I am really not so nice to be around. What’s the point?
After my divorce, I was so consumed by guilt that my parents had to support me financially instead of putting money away for their golden years. I scanned the newspapers, week after week, looking for a job – not only to ease the financial burden but, I craved the stimulation. I needed to find a purpose to live and pined for a meaningful existence. I don’t know what I was looking for. I mean, did I really think that I was going to find something? Oh, we are looking for a quadriplegic, paralysed from the neck down to do this work.
But, I never gave up hope of finding a job. In the years following my accident, I did some teaching in the form of extra lessons for children as well as adult literacy classes. I did some homeschooling for a number of years. I taught myself to use the computer. I started doing motivational speaking – but engagements are few and far between. I did a little writing – mainly for cathartic reasons. I dreamed, prayed and hoped (nonstop) for a real job. All I wanted to do was to go to work every single day and get paid so that I could support myself. One of my greatest fears is that I will end up in some sort of institution one-day – alone and forgotten. I am acutely aware of how privileged I am to be living in my own home with 24 hour care – a luxury that most other quadriplegics cannot even imagine. And for that, I am deeply appreciative and grateful.
Recently, I came to the conclusion that I have never stopped working. Next time, I will tell you all about the work that I have been doing. In the meantime, I’d like you to think about what work means to you and if you’d like to share your thoughts I would be happy.