99 ProblemsThe daily struggles of urban living as a quadriplegic explained one by one. It's so much more than not being able to find a parking space.
99 Problems — #8 I Have Beef With Matt Lauer
Besides appearing to be a pompous asshole and having a hand in Ann Curry’s morning news departure, Matt Lauer has been misinforming viewers about paralysis for decades. And for this, I loathe him and his leg-crossing ways. To be fair I haven’t watched anything Lauer since Curry-Gate so perhaps he has changed his ways… on second thought I’m sure he hasn’t. (I hear he is still using his biting-the-tip-of-the-glasses intimidation tactic while interviewing.) Moving forward.
About a year after my spinal cord injury, I casually was watching the morning news when Matt Lauer teased an upcoming story about an “inspirational” paralyzed man. Naturally, as someone who just joined the world of spinal cord injuries (SCI’s), the story captured my undivided attention. Sure I wanted to know more about my new state and paralysis but I was more interested in knowing what deemed this guy, who turned out to be a football player, as inspirational. What had he done? How did his story make it to the national news? Could he teach me to be a better paralyzed person? I had so many questions that needed answering, still, even months outside of the hospital. So in my tiny room I sat in my electric wheelchair as a C5-6 quadriplegic, tuned into my TV box. I couldn’t wait for Matt Lauer to wow me. Only when the “inspirational story” aired, I found myself feeling outraged not elated. He had gotten it all wrong. Fucking Matt Lauer.
As it turned out, the football player wasn’t so much inspirational, as he was lucky. After months of physical therapy and as Matt deemed it “hard work and determination,” the guy ended up walking again. He had miraculously gone from paralyzed to normal in less than a year. And while I was happy for this former athlete, his story also was a bit infuriating. I, too, had worked hard. I, too, had determination. Yet I wasn’t awarded the opportunity to walk again, and it wasn’t for lack of trying. The implication and message blaring from Lauer’s own mouth–that hard work and dedication miraculously cures paralysis–was a lie and hard to process. I suddenly felt defeated, like how I imagine a person with terminal cancer feels at a marathon finish line of cancer-free survivors–where, and if at all, did I fit in this mess? Thanks a lot Matt Lauer.
Let me explain further.
In the world of paralyzation, one year is a big deal. It’s the amount of time it takes for spinal cord swelling to go down, which is something the spinal cord does in injury to protect itself. So for the first year, spinal cord injury prognosis’ are more like good educated guesses. With all do respect to doctors and experts, there are tests and ways to categorize the injury early on and in the near 15-years of my injury I’m sure technology has increased immensely to aid in these endeavors. But the human body is an extraordinary thing, and the facts are that spinal cord injuries are like snowflakes–not one is the same. Sure there are similar injuries but no one, not even experts, can predict how a particular human body will heal itself. This is how and why “miracles” happen. The football player had not worked harder than me. He also wasn’t more determined. He was at his one-year anniversary and simply hadn’t injured his spinal cord as severely. But that’s not what Matt Lauer would have led you to believe. He seemed to be certain the “miracle” stemmed from “hard work” and “determination” and “preservation” After all, the doctor’s said “he would never walk again.”
Ugh. The mixed messages. My doctor told me I was never going to walk again, but then what doctor is going to make a promise he can’t keep? No doctor is going to say, “You are paralyzed but only temporarily. Hang in there kid.” The reason why is because no doctor can be sure of a paralysis outcome. So they deliver the worst news with a hopeful attitude making each new SCI think, I will be the exception. Or even more deceiving, I will ask God and he will fix it. And then the one-year wait begins. But everyone is not as lucky this particular football player.
It was towards the end of my first year of paralysis when my step-grandparents asked me for a private conversation in my parent’s living room that featured blue carpet.
“Are you sure you’re doing everything you can to walk again?” my step-grandfather asked me. By the way he looked me directly in the eye I could tell he was very serious. Apparently and according to him, my paralysis had recently been “causing problems in my parents marriage.” Surprisingly, I hadn’t noticed. I suppose I had been too busy trying to learn how to live and pass time with a body that no longer worked.
“Excuse me. What are you talking about?” I replied slowly. “Are you effin’ serious? Of course I’m doing everything I can to walk again.”
To this day I can’t recall how this conversation ended. Probably because I was so blind-sided by the topic (That would also explain why I used the word ‘effin when talking to grandparents, something I normally would never do). I imagine that I eventually drove away from the floral couch, where my grand-dad sat, confused to whether or not I should be insulted by such harsh words. Either way, I now believe Matt Lauer can be blamed for this too. While I have no direct evidence that Matt Lauer’s interview caused this conversation to happen, I do know people sometimes believe too easily what they see on TV and that misinformed people spread misinformed information like wild fire.
I also know that again and again I have watched Mr. Lauer interview paralyzed people and incorrectly attribute their success to the human spirit when in fact it’s more likely due to science. History has proven over and over again the only thing we know about the aftermath of a severe spinal cord injury is that some people will walk again and some won’t. And neither outcome should be cited as more inspirational than the other. Any time someone is involved in an injury so serious it’s devastating, and according to Paralyzed Veterans of America (www.pva.org) someone in the United States is injured every 48 minutes. Very few of these new injuries will become the kind of walking-story Matt Lauer defines as inspirational, and I can only hope it isn’t taken personally. No one opts to stay in a wheelchair because it’s the easier route, that’s something I can vouch for.
So can someone tell Matt Lauer that he needs to stop? Like everything, altogether. Just stop. Thank you much.
Disclaimer: I am a spoiled handicapped person that is happily married with two furry children, a dog named Riley and a cat named Zola. Since I was injured on the job, I am fortunate enough to have resources to pay for my very expensive lifestyle. Thus, I do not consider myself worthy of any inspirational title either. For the record, I consider myself lucky. I also am a loyal Ann Curry fan. Sorry I’m not sorry Matt.
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99 Problems #2 My Kitty Has Super Powers
99 Problems #3 Los Angeles Sidewalks Are Cracked Out
99 Problems #4 Strangers Touch Me
99 Problems #5 I Once Offended a Woman With Lupus.
99 Problems #6 I Hate Parking Garage Ticket Dispensers
99 Problems #7 House Wars