Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI), the only quadriplegic to serve in Congress, co-sponsored the bipartisan Fairness in Medicare Bidding Act introduced by Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-PA) and Jason Altmire (D-PA).

Sunday, January 24, 2010

New column speaks to disabled, elderly issues--from Voices of Central Pennsylvania

From Where I Sit (published in October, 2009) :

In high school I was a junior befriended
by a sensual senior who shared her physical
love with others, but talked philosophy
to me. I would have preferred it the other
way around, but I had no choice. If I wanted
to benefit from the privilege of being in
her presence (and I did), then I had to sublimate
my lust by talking about existentialism—
Sally’s philosophical passion.

Existentialism is not as chic today as it
was when I was 15 or 16. Jean Paul Sartre
had not yet refused the Nobel Prize in
Literature, nor had he turned his back on
literature—deciding finally to complete
Being and Nothingness and other non-fiction.
The central philosophical question
that haunted us adolescents—Why am I
here?—remains through our old age.

For me the question takes on an added
dimension. At 28 I was diagnosed as having
a relatively-rare form of cancer that a
generation earlier killed virtually everyone
who had it. For much of my early
adulthood, an astonishingly large number
of physicians believed the disease was
universally fatal. Oxford University Press
published an impassioned plea to physicians
to reconsider their notions of doom.
Today, the disease is nearly-universally
curable. For a while, the people who
began the cure with radiation machines
underestimated its power and a large number
of radiologists died while curing others.
My radiologist at George Washington
University Hospital in Washington D.C.
died before I reached the five-year disease-
free mark. Seymour Kaplan, the
Stanford University radiologist who published
the Oxford medical text, suffered a
similar fate.

I lost the ability to run, walk, or stand
without assistance, but the disease and its
consequences did not prevent me from
fathering two beautiful daughters. Why
am I here? has become a consistent theme
in my life. Consistent themes make it possible
for people to become columnists for
newspapers and for publications such as
Voices of Central Pennsylvania. So, what
you are reading is the first in a series of
monthly columns on the subject of having
physical disabilities and being elderly
here in Centre County.

I will not pretend that physical disabilities
and old age are inherently fascinating
subjects. However, one of the advantages
of being a columnist is that I do not have
to come to the point too quickly—as long
as I get there. So for my readers, beginning
October, 2009 I plan to use my wiles
to make me part of your life. I plan to start
here at Addison Court, the 89-apartment
complex in downtown State College,
where at 3 a.m. nearly every day drunken
students out of control (half a block from
the police station) walk east in groups of
20 shrieking men and women who pause
to urinate and
vomit in our parking

I plan to find out
why the police do
not interfere with
drunken activity
and how it makes
Addison Court residents

I can’t wait for
you to meet my neighbors. A few weeks
ago, Lillian (83), Audrey (80), Hilda (90),
and I had a lively Corner Room breakfast
talking about what it is like when most of
one’s friends are dead or too-far-gone to
remember the same old stories.

Addison Court residents, with the
exception of those with physical and emotional
disabilities, are 55 or older, live in
rent-subsidized apartments, have little
money, not enough to do, and most vote
out of a sense of patriotic obligation.

From Addison Court, half a block north
on Allen, is Webster’s Bookstore CafĂ©.
Webster’s proprietor Elaine Meder-
Wilgus surrounds herself with serious
reformers who are not afraid to have fun.
This column will discuss reform and fun
from my distinct perspective. I am 62. I
am a paraplegic. I have rotten teeth—17

I have strong ideas about the importance
of uniting with others such as myself
because as Al Smith once said, “The only
cure for the ills of democracy is more

In the November column, I will tell you
why I came to State College, how much
money I earn, and how I plan to survive
financial disaster.

--Joel Solkoff is the author of The Politics of
Food. Contact him at

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