From the CEO: Labels

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It was two months after my college graduation. I was an RN on an orthopedic trauma floor, and we received a call from the emergency room. They wanted to transfer us a patient with a broken femur wanted to. The problem? Bessie.

She was 100 years old and putting up a fight. My shift was scheduled to end soon, and a combative patient admission was not a welcome thought. Still, we mobilized staff and got equipment, orders and everything we would need to provide care. We braced ourselves for a challenge.

Onto the floor came Bessie Gesheimmer. I will always remember her name. As it turned out, her fight against the admission was really a fight to see the kick off of the Pitt v Penn State Game. And when she walked out of the hospital on a new hip, I was full of stories about her childhood in Germany.

That “100 year old Fx R hip” taught me about labeling and judgement.

When I went into her room, I expected to find a combative, agitated and (likely) senile patient with a hip fracture. I assumed she would have little likelihood of being discharged anywhere but a nursing home. Instead, I found a gentle woman who, like me, loved the Pitt Panthers. We shared many of my lunch breaks. I heard about her immigration, her work in a family bakery, her children and she kept me up to date on football scores during my shift. We connected, and it turned out that we had a lot in common.

When we label someone blonde, short, boy or elderly, it can help us distinguish each other. But with these names also comes personal histories, feelings and expectations.

What about labels like quadriplegic? Autistic? Blind? Disabled? While they help define parameters for data collection, funding or interventions, they dont define the individuals they name.

We measure each other, observing, comparing, ordering, sequencing. Taller/shorter? Younger/older? But, how many of us want to be described by a single word? For a person who has a disability, that single word (and all that is unspoken) limits and perpetuates the tyranny of low expectations.

I labeled Bessie as a “100 year old fractured right hip” and prepared myself for the challenges that accompanied those words. Had I held that mindset, without being open to seeing more, I would have missed knowing one of my favorite patients in my nursing career.

May 12 is our ninth disABILITIES Expo at the Memorial Coliseum. There is no single word to define what can be witnessed there. Vendors will provide options for enhancing abilities and maximizing attributes. Entertainers will be defying stereotypes demonstrating amazing skills with music, dance and art. Athletes will showcase their physical abilities. It will be a welcoming and inclusive community that is 100% judgement free.

I think Bessie would have loved it.