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Hollie Brock and Jim Potter both paraplegics, discuss what it is to "be" a paraplegic

BROADCAST: 1968 | DURATION: 00:50:32


Mr. Brock, a recreational therapist, and Mr. Hollie, a nurse, discuss paraplegia. Each of the gentlemen discuss the individual accidents that caused their injuries, their recovery and how they got through it. They talk to Studs about the things they enjoy doing and goals they are trying to reach.


Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.


Studs Terkel This is a program that deals with survival. It's simple as that. My two guests are Jim Potter and Hollie Brock. Technically, they would be described as paraplegics. That's a technical description, isn't it?

Hollie Brock Right.

Studs Terkel And and Jim Potter is seated in a wheelchair here and Hollie is ambulatory--he walks. People ordinarily don't know that, what, you have no legs? Is it that? Your two legs?

Hollie Brock No, I was paralyzed.

Studs Terkel You were paralyzed. But you're walking around?

Hollie Brock Right.

Studs Terkel Yeah. People don't know it, do they? Or do you have a certain walk?

Hollie Brock I have a limp sometimes.

Studs Terkel You have a limp. They're both working, you might say, they're both there at the Schwab Rehabilitation Center here in Chicago. And when people--often we see films, or we see photographs of paraplegics, quadriplegics, and there is the "Tsk tsk tsk tsk tsk tsk. Oh,

Hollie Brock Hemiplegic.

Studs Terkel Huh? And this is, I guess, one of the big things. Jim--suppose we start with Jim. Who are you? Who's Jim Potter?

Jim Potter I'm a man who works, and drives a car, and has a wife, and lives his normal a life as I can possibly live. Generally. I come from a background of a Wisconsin small town and was fortunate to go to college and receive a bachelor's degree in physical education. And I was also fortunate to teach elementary and junior high school physical education in Mayville, Wisconsin, prior to May 23rd, 1966, when I fell asleep while driving the car and went off the road and was thrown out and landed on my head and broke my neck which left me paralyzed from basically the the shoulders down.

Studs Terkel [What happened?]--So that's, you were--let's see, you can use--one arm is okay?

Jim Potter Right. My right arm is basically, completely 100 percent I would say. 99, possibly--I'm missing one little muscle by the thumb here. And my left arm is about 50 percent. And my trunk muscles, there are none, and my legs are completely paralyzed.

Studs Terkel Yeah. So we'll back--that's the setting. That's that's Jim Potter. You're twenty-? Twenty-?

Jim Potter Eight.

Studs Terkel Eight. And this was about, see, it was six years ago?

Jim Potter Be six years this

Studs Terkel Six years ago. Hollie Brock--who you?

Hollie Brock Right now I'm a student at Cook County School of Nursing and before then I had graduated from Chicago Vocational High School. And I was working as a mechanic's helper, and I was coming home one night and it was raining a little bit, on my motorcycle, and I stopped in a store. When I came out somebody shot me. And I was paralyzed from the waist down for about four months.

Studs Terkel You're you're 20?

Hollie Brock Right.

Studs Terkel So you were about 17 or so-

Hollie Brock No.

Studs Terkel -when it happened?

Hollie Brock This was just last year. I was 19 when it happened.

Studs Terkel You said you were you you were paralyzed from the waist down. You said you were paralyzed?

Hollie Brock Yeah. Right now I'm only missing three or four muscles.

Studs Terkel It's come back. So let's start there--what happened? What was you feeling? Now we come--we'll keep it open, Jim, Hollie. So, there was the accident and you regained consciousness?

Jim Potter Five days later. I landed--I had a, what's called a concussion of the head, and the left side of my face was smashed in and the--well, I was right on death row for about two weeks. I was in a coma for five days and I came out of the coma and I had amnesia for an additional 23 days. And so, really, I didn't I didn't know what my problem was at all during this whole time. And, unfortunately, I couldn't breathe; I had congestion in the throat and so forth and I had to have the tracheotomy operation. And this was the thing that saved my life, a specialist that came in and said if he doesn't have that operation right now you're going to die. It's simple as that. And so they went ahead and got me to a hospital. I was in Waupun Hospital first and they transferred me to the University of Wisconsin Hospital. And there they did the operation and I was touch and go from one breath to the next for another four, five, six days, and then, finally, I pulled through. And, so, I was I was put on, in a stryker frame with crutchfield tongs in my head and traction on my neck to get the vertebrae back into place and about 15 pounds hanging over the end of the bed for for six weeks. And when I really knew I could remember was when my--I had my parents were there to visit me and on a Sunday, four weeks after the accident, and they s--I remembered the next day--and up until that time people would say, "Well did you have a nice visit yesterday with so-and-so?" And I'd say, "Well, were they here yesterday?" No no recall whatsoever. Well, on the day before the crutchfield tongs were supposed to be taken out of my head--

Studs Terkel What are crutchfield tongs?

Jim Potter Two tongs which are pointed, slanted inward so that they hold--by the weight pulling, it holds them in the holes that they drill in your head. Fortunately I was not conscious when they drilled the holes in my head. I don't think I'd like that too well. And, so they, the day before they were to come out, they pulled out--15 pounds of weight hit the floor, and I jumped with a start. And they didn't put 'em back in, naturally, because my neck was back then, X-rays again showed that it was back and the vertebrae were back into place. But the damage is done. And the vertebrae's like two ring, one on top of the other, and one slides out. If you can picture a piece of jello sticking down through these two rings, or washers, and have one slip off sideways, you're gonna to smash the jello. And when the jello's smashed, it's--that's what the spinal cord is--I closely can relate it to to jello. And with all these fibers running through it, sending the impulses up and down from the the brain to the to the parts of the body.

Studs Terkel You've become an authority on this now I notice.

Jim Potter Well, from my background in physical education; you you study anatomy and physiology and so forth, too. So I here I had a tremendous advantage over, maybe, someone like Hollie, or--I don't know how much he knew about it--but a lot of people who don't have the basic knowledge of the human body. When something happens to you, you're stuck.

Studs Terkel What what happened to you? Your thoughts, I mean, at the time you made the discovery?

Jim Potter Well, once--well, I was I was very sad, naturally, when when the doctor finally told me, after I could remember it, and he told me that I would, I would be paralyzed from from the chest down, roughly, for the rest of my life. Then I'd--that the probability that I would walk again was was very slim. And, naturally, I was, I was very sad, being a physical education teacher before, and being highly physical all the time, and in in top condition--six foot two, a hundred and ninety pounds. What are you gonna--you you're naturally gonna to be saddened by it then. And this sadness lasts quite a while. Like, a few weeks until you begin to start to program and go to a rehabilitation hospital and get some functional training and so forth, which is gonna to build your life, both vocationally and avocationally and and such.

Studs Terkel So then something happens; we'll come to that something that happened, as far as Jim Potter is concerned--your own, you know, your thoughts, your feelings. [match strike] And Hollie--what about you? When you regained your consciousness.

Hollie Brock I was never unconscious.

Studs Terkel You were never unconscious?

Hollie Brock No. Well, the police came and took me to the hospital, and I was in a little pain but not much. And my legs felt like they were floating. They were busy at the hospital putting in IVs, and a Foley, and a Levin tube down my nose. And they pumped my stomach out and gave me fluids and I asked them to put me to sleep but he said he want--the doctors told me they want to talk to me, so they could find out the exact location of the pain and everything. So they took X-rays and they f--one bullet went straight through me, the other one lies [through?] my spinal column. And a specialist looked at it at County and he decided it to just let it alone for about three days to see if the bullet was still moving. And so after about 36 hours in the hospital I went to sleep. They gave me somethin' for sleep and when I woke up, I guess I must've lost about six days. And during that time they had performed the operation and took the bullet out. And I was, when I woke up, I was on the ward at County Hospital.

Studs Terkel Let's--from here on in we're open, I'd say. Now we know who you are. We don't know WHO you are. We know what happened to you. Now we're talkin' about who you are, aren't we? Jim Potter and Hollie Brock, and what a human being does in certain circumstance. So, shoot Jim, or Hollie--take it over. So, I was thinkin' about the spirits--you said, naturally, you felt pretty lousy--both of you did, that's putting it mildly. And then, what happened, as far as your thoughts are concerned? You know, your feelings?

Jim Potter Well, I think, you you lie there and if you've had any religion at all it's gonna come back pretty strong to you, as another source, or a, "Thank God, I'm still alive. And what am I supposed to do now with my life?" Why did this happen to me is naturally what everybody says. Why did this happen just to a fine young man, a physical specimen? Why did something like this happen to him? People say this to you all the time as they wipe the tears from their eyes, and so forth and so on. Probably the most traumatic, the biggest setback that ever came to me, was after leaving--I left the the University of Wisconsin Hospital and was waiting to get into rehabilitation. But I was on a waiting list eight or nine people long at a small rehab hospital in Madison. So I went to my hometown hospital--much cheaper and there- the same care I was going to get there that I would get in the expensive hospital in Madison. And it was in September, just before I went to the rehabilitation hospital, and I I went to church. And sometimes I look back on it and think that this was, was a mistake, because the minister had come to see me often. But I went to church, and I sat there, and I was in a big, ugly, old wooden wheelchair that was--I had a broken arm, also, besides a collapsed lung, and a kidney injury to go with the spinal cord lesion, and the coma and all that and my left arm was still in the cast so I couldn't wheel a wheelchair myself, so I had to have someone push me and do everything for me, basically. And I went to church and after church I was sitting outside and all the old ladies would come around to you and say, "Oh, Jim, it's so bad this had to happen to you and we're so sorry for you." And I lost about two months of mental stability. I was ready. I had accepted it. I was ready to go into a program of rehabilitation. I was ready to to live my life and make the best with what I had. And this just emotionally set me back about two months. This was just a traumatic situation. And and very shortly after this, a few people had talked to me and so forth, I said to my brother get me out of here I can't stand this any longer.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Jim Potter Because I was breaking down-

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Jim Potter -and and people were putting me right back to the day I first knew about my accident. And this--I wasn't, I wasn't ready for anything like this. Now I'm ready for it. Now they can say this to me and I'll say, hah, what do you know about it?

Studs Terkel Yeah. What about you, Hollie? Did you encounter a similar experience?

Hollie Brock No. I realized what had happened. But it was only after a few weeks I was in the hospital that I understood, you know, what the problem was--like, that I might not never walk again. And--well, I could look back to my past life and I could see, you know, things that I've done wrong. And, so, I really had accepted it.

Studs Terkel No, I mean people outside, you know.

Hollie Brock No. They didn't bother me.

Studs Terkel Did they say, "Oh, poor Hollie"?

Hollie Brock Well, they said that but it didn't bother me at all.

Studs Terkel Didn't bother you. You mean you just, you just let it slide off?

Hollie Brock Yeah.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Hollie Brock No effect.

Studs Terkel Well, what you did--so, what happened? Jim--back again--so finally you left and then you wanted to work on that therapy program. Because you're a therapist now? That's what you are, isn't it?

Jim Potter Right.

Studs Terkel You're the occupational therapist at--

Jim Potter Recreational

Studs Terkel Recreational therapist at--

Jim Potter Schwab.

Studs Terkel Schwab Rehabilitation Center which is here in Chicago at--

Jim Potter Right.

Studs Terkel Out on South California. And you work there. Now, you s--what's your work there, Hollie?

Hollie Brock I'm a orderly. I just work--I was working full time until I started school. Now I work just weekends at Schwab. And I work Monday through Friday at County Hospital.

Studs Terkel As an orderly?

Hollie Brock No, I work as a nurse

Studs Terkel A nurse. How did you--how were you able to get around, how were you able to start walk- walkin'?

Hollie Brock Well, my muscles grad--they became--began to come back, and gradually they got stronger. My left leg got stronger and my right leg was a little weak in the quadriceps--that's the muscles that hold your knee straight. And, so, we had a brace at Schwab--I was a patient there--and, so, I used the brace and a walker and started walkin' around. Then I got so I could use crutches. And it go so I could walk around on a cane with the knee brace. And one day my therapist took the brace away and told me that I could walk without it, you know, I didn't need it any longer. And so I hobbled around for a little while without it and then gradually my leg got stronger and I didn't need it any longer.

Studs Terkel And you're driving now. You drive a car, right?

Hollie Brock Yes.

Studs Terkel What a you- What about you, Jim? See see you're in the wheelchair now, but you you get around with the chair, yourself?

Jim Potter Right, right. I'm in the chair, from the time I get out of bed that's the first place I go to is the chair.

Studs Terkel How do you work as a therapist?

Jim Potter I provide recreational activities [throat clearing] for the patients at Schwab and just now beginning to get more extensive, hopefully, to meet individual needs more closely for patients. And this is basically what I what I do at Schwab. I get around in the wheelchair all the time. I was gonna to backtrack a little bit about what Hollie said about his--the muscles started to come back. I think, medically, it's more a process of the nerves beginning to reroute themselves or or to make the proper connections in the spinal cord, right?

Hollie Brock Well, it's like you take two pencils and erasers and you put them end to end and then you move them so that they're not right on top of each other. And what's left is a little bit of each pencil touching. Well, the nerves that were there, they begin to accept some of the jobs of the old nerves.

Jim Potter Right.

Hollie Brock And from that little passage, maybe some of it grew back, but all of it didn't, and that's why I'm missing the muscles.

Jim Potter That's

Hollie Brock But nerves have a tendency to--sometimes they grow back in some people and sometimes they don't. It's just a medical uncertainty.

Studs Terkel You know, what occurs to me as you two guys are talkin'--you've both become experts. It occurred to me that this is what you've gone through, you know. You actually are the people who've had it--the injury, the accident, you know. But as a result of this, of your interest in whatever it is in life, I guess, you've become experts now at it, isn't it? You notice the image you used, you used two rubber pencils, two rubber erasers against one ano-, and you were speaking of jello earlier. So you use images the way, I guess, poetic doctors might.

Jim Potter Well, my [throat clearing] my jello symbol come from from when I was teaching a health class to seventh graders. One of the kid's father was a butcher and he brought in a hunk of spinal cord from a cow. And we laid it on the table there and you put your finger and just--you could cut it right in two, just by pushing your finger down on it. It was that, it was just like a piece of jello. And this is how I could make this analogy because of that experience there. But I was I was just trying to--now, in my case, apparently the the cord was so smashed, and so severed, that the two pencils were not coming together; only a couple fragments were coming together. In other words, a little bit of those eraser was hooking together which gave me some sensory return. Originally I could feel nothing from about the neck down, or just below the neck. And now I have certain, slight touch sensation in my stomach and down in my right leg, part way in my thigh, which came back because it didn't just snap out of the blue like people talk about miracles. This is what what I'm trying to clar-clarify here, is that because the nerves do reroute themselves and make new connections, certain ones do and certain ones don't, depending upon the degree of damage to the spinal cord. It isn't a miracle-

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Jim Potter -that you're gonna--Hollie's walking and I'm not--because Hollie had a miracle and I didn't have a miracle, this is--

Studs Terkel What interests me, Jim Potter and Hollie Brown [Brock] are my guests and they're both at the Schwab Rehabilitation Center, paraplegics, injuries of one sort or another. One sort or another is putting it mildly. But what interests me is you two became very interested in what was happening to you, see, while you were there in bed, you know, whatever--I imagine incredible pain and everything else--but, and your life was going to be different than what it would have been had it not been for the accidents, you see. But you two became very interested in what's happening to you. Isn't isn't that the idea?

Hollie Brock Yes.

Studs Terkel You were watching yourselves. Is that it, in a way, Hollie?

Hollie Brock I guess it's just curious to know what happened to you and why you were like that. Because I guess you you hear so much about medicine, and what doctors can do and what they can't do. And you wonder why, sometimes I guess, you wonder why they couldn't help you. So, you know, curiosity, you just try to find out what's the matter, and where the problem is that they can't help you.

Jim Potter Interesting point that you said there, as you were saying both lying there in pain. I had no pain, really. And Hollie probably had a lot of pain. Right, Hollie?

Hollie Brock I only had pain sometimes in my legs.

Jim Potter Right. And because I was completely paralyzed from the from the chest down, you don't feel anything. So how do you know, you know?

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Jim Potter My toe hurts, ouch. No, it doesn't hurt because I can't feel anything. [match strike] And while I was in rehabilitation, a nurse was trying to demonstrate to her teenage daughter that they should be careful when they're go to the homecoming dance, on their driving and so forth, and she hauled off and kicked me in the shin. And I just, you know, naturally didn't feel anything and I'm very complacent about the whole thing. And I just look there with a dumb look on my face and you should have seen the looks on these kids.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Jim Potter Because the the message came through, you know? You drive a little slower tonight because you may end up like Jim. [laughter] Because she she gave me a good kick-

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Jim Potter -in the shin.

Studs Terkel I'm thinkin' of something else now, I want to ask you and Hollie the question of there were--there could have been another way of looking--the way is, "Oh, God," you know, as you say, why did it happen to me, you know? And that's it. And for the rest of your days, why did it happen to me. The matter of self-pity, you know, and it could be quite natural, I imagine, too. But instead you two guys were very interested in what happened, you know? You see what I mean? That's--the way you talk indicates that to me. Is that it, Jim? Was that--you became now--of course, you were physical education, no you're--now a question of a change in the whole way of life was involved, wasn't it?

Jim Potter You you stop and take a little stock in yourself and you say, look, what have I done? What was I doing before? And now what can I do in the [chair noise] future so that I can be not just another person who's living off the government, because I could be that, I think, probably. Right, Hollie? Couldn't we?

Hollie Brock Right.

Jim Potter Couldn't we? Because of our classification and so forth we could be getting, if we fit in the classification, Social Security Medi--disability benefits, or welfare, and so forth and so on, and we would we would exist until the day we die. But we wouldn't live, Studs. We wouldn't live. And this, I think, is the difference between Hollie and I and a lot of people--they don't want to live anymore. And if--we want to make something out of our life. We want to be productive, we want to help people. When I, as I lie there in bed, or was going through my therapy program in rehabilitation, I had three choices, professionally, to go. I could possibly do a lot of undergraduate buildup in psychology and so forth and become a guidance counselor which I would like to do. I had a minor degree in in physical--in chemistry and I could have gone on and made it a major and possibly a master's degree, but but you think of the difficulty of all the lab sessions and so forth and working from a wheelchair. And so I go into the neighbor, recreation, and I didn't know about therapeutic recreation and hospital recreation until I got to the University of Illinois and started in the straight recreation program. Well then, from from my background of of being in a rehabilitation hospital with no recreational program, and from having an interest in in people with disabilities such as mine, I became very closely and I decided that this would be my line of work. And I could be a community recreation supervisor, or director, or so forth and so on. But you run into a lot architectural barriers in a job like that.

Studs Terkel Architectural

Jim Potter Right. I mean, where would I work? City Hall has probably got eight steps to get up to it. Where my office--

Studs Terkel [Real?] architectural barriers. I see. Yeah.

Jim Potter Now this is one of the big problems for a person in a wheelchair today.

Studs Terkel Architectural barriers. [Isn't that interesting?]. What about yourself, Hollie? Because you were you were a mechanic?

Hollie Brock Right. It's impossible to get under the hood of a car in a wheelchair. So I met somebody in the County Hospital while I was there. He was a male nurse. And, so, we get to become very good friends and I became interested in nursing. And, so, while I was a patient at Schwab, my doctor encouraged me to go into medicine and I told him I didn't think I was ready for that right now. And it was--I just couldn't see myself going into medicine right then. So I guess as a compromise I went into nursing.

Studs Terkel You think you could, eventually, after nursing, take premed courses and stuff of that sort?

Hollie Brock Well, right now I'm thinking that some of the courses I'm taking in nursing will be transferable so that when I finish I want to go back to medical school.

Studs Terkel Yeah. Now, we're coming to something else, aren't we now? That Hollie, as a nurse, and you [knock on table noise] as a as a therapeutic--no, what what--therapy? Recreational therapist.

Jim Potter I'm classified as the hospital recreation specialist.

Studs Terkel Specialist. Supposedly.

Jim Potter Supposedly.

Studs Terkel But the fact is, you two know what it is. You see? Therefore it gives you that--you're not somebody outside, talking to someone who may have gone through what you did. You're someone who has gone through it. That's a big difference, isn't it?

Jim Potter Yes. I get a lot of looks from patients when I tell them that I drive a car. And that I, you know, even that I don't live at the hospital. I'm going home. "You're going home? Don't you live here?" No, I don't live here. Does a steel mill worker live at the steel mill? You know? [laughter] This is the this is the way it looks there. They don't--even then, because they're still at a situation where they haven't completely come to grips with their disability, and and looked ahead at what's what the future's going to be for them, and what they're going to be able to do with it, they they think that, well, that that you're probably livin' in one of the beds at the hospital [laughter], you

Studs Terkel Isn't that funny? We're talkin' about something that is accepted, has been accepted as a way, when someone has the accidents you guys have had, you know. And it seems as though your whole life has ended. A new life begins. But people aren't accustomed to the fact that the spirit of that person--whatever--or your curiosity, which I, that attracts me, is your curiosity--is what makes a whole, something, something new develops, doesn't it? We're talking about--aren't you talking about survival? Are we talking about survival now, aren't we, pretty much?

Jim Potter Well, I think we're talking about living. Well, as the as the psychologists write in their books, coping with or succumbing to a disability. And that's what we're talking about. Hollie and I cope with very well. Many people succumb to it.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Jim Potter And the disability controls their life rather than them controlling the disability.

Studs Terkel We'll take a slight break for a minute. We'll pick up the conversation with Jim Potter and and Hollie Bock, both of who work--have been--inmates is the word? Guests. Guests, patrons, at the Schwab Rehabilitation Center. And come back to the theme--coping. [pause in recording] Resuming the conversation with with Jim Potter and Hollie Brock. Now, Jim, you recently got married?

Jim Potter Yes. June 26th.

Studs Terkel It's been it's been described, to use, you know, journalistic, sensational journalistic language, a wheelchair marriage.

Jim Potter Well--

Studs Terkel That is, you and your wife.

Jim Potter Right. Right. My wife has multiple sclerosis and, so, she is in a wheelchair most of the time. She does ambulate with with walker or the use of other helps. But, basically, she's in a wheelchair, too. We get along fine.

Studs Terkel Well, the big question is--you get along fine--but the big question is now how does society? We come now to the outside world. You have to--do you encounter this a lot, Hollie? Well, Jim does, as we talked about this, we touched on this a little earlier--the reactions of quote-unquote sympathetic, indeed they are sympathetic, outsiders. This is a big problem, isn't it?

Jim Potter Right. For both of us. Pity. People love to give pity. People people basic-basically mean well, you know, and and I I get angry with people who pity me all the time. And, but but they, you talk to someone else about it and they say, well, oh, she means well. Well, she doesn't know what she's talking about. [laughter] She she may mean well but she doesn't know how to put it across. And it's much easier to pity somebody, I guess, than to encourage somebody. Compliments. I get compliments all the time: You do so well for the for the shape you're in. You know? [laughter] It's beautiful. You do so well for the shape you're in. [laughter] Thank God. You poor kid. [laughter] You know? And quite often people with disabilities--physical--are considered to be mentally off their bean. And this is, this is really sad. People who think that someone, just because they sit in a wheelchair, can't think for themselves and can't express themselves, this is, this is very sad. You come across this all the time. But people always--when my wife and I go places we do we do two things, I think: we bring out the pity of people, I guess. And we try to educate them. But this gets tiresome after a while. People are always, "Well, what's wrong with you? Well, what's wrong with your wife? Well, how come she's in the wheelchair? And how come you're in a wheelchair?" And you tell them why you're in a wheelchair, and why my wife is in a wheelchair, and they still don't understand. Because they don't know anything about a spinal cord. And they're always willing to say--they're not willing to say, "Well, gee, you just plug away and and do things and you'll get along all right." They say, "Well, you'll walk one of these days." [laughter] And I say I won't walk one of these days. I know I won't walk one of these days so. So forget telling--don't tell me about it.

Jim Potter Yeah,

Jim Potter Why, why do you keep puttin' all these fal-false hopes into my head? You know? When I know, when I know and, of course, back a few months after the accident I might have thought well, maybe someday I will. Because there's a certain amount, as Hollie said, of the nerve regeneration and the and the reconnection of those two erasers that who knows how much? And who knows how much your spinal cord is damaged. You can't X-ray a spinal cord and see how badly it's damaged. But people--they they want to dig into your inner life like you're you're a specimen. You're on display. And they're gonna to find out every little nook and cranny about your life so that they can--I don't know what. And the second thing they are gonna to do is they're going to say, oh, well, my cousin had polio, or my my niece had this, or my something or other had that; they always got somebody closely related to them that had some type of disease which they think is exactly the same thing as you have because that person is in a wheelchair. But they don't realize that there are so many medical differences between multiple sclerosis, paraplegic by traumatic injury and a paraplegic by polio. Do you know that a paraplegic by polio can feel his toe? What his foot is? He knows where his foot is when he ambulates on braces and crutches but I don't know where my feet are.

Studs Terkel You're really talkin' about stereotyping, aren't you?

Jim Potter Oh boy,

Studs Terkel This is what it's about--stereotype, isn't it? Do you ever encounter this, Hollie?

Hollie Brock Well, like Jim said, somebody always wants to compare you with somebody they know. Or they try to do things for you which actually takes away from you doing things for yourself. So, actually, it's worse for you. Like when we used to go out on trips, or I'd go out on a pass at Schwab, in a wheelchair, like, we may go downtown. And when you get downtown, you be gettin' around perfect, I mean, you've been through so you know how to get around in your wheelchair. But people always want to [push?] you around, or they want to help you out of the car or something. And, actually, it makes you feel bad when somebody does that and you know that you can do it. At least it made me feel that way.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Jim Potter Well, and on this same token, I've I've told patients at Schwab, and and whenever I see people, as it's- the thing that you have to learn is, you learn how to, if you need help [lighter or match striking], you better ask somebody for it. If you're really in a situation where you need help. I'm not going to be a fool and try and and jump some of these foot-high curbs out here with my wheelchair because I know I'll go right over backwards. So if I need help I'm going to beckon it.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Jim Potter But if you don't need help, and you don't want help, then you've got to learn how to gracefully-

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Jim Potter -tell somebody that you don't. No, thank you. I don't need it. Thank you. Fine. Thank you.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Jim Potter Through my rehabilitation I think I learned the meaning of please and thank you a whole lot better than than I than I ever knew it before, too.

Studs Terkel But there is this, this, the willing hands are there. Willing hands but not too thoughtful head. There's there's--Hollie was saying something--you did, too, Jim, that it's doing it yourself. It's that--there's an old, old--died a few years ago at 94, Bertrand Russell. Great philosopher. And Russell, at the age of 93, always insisted, and he wanted to do it himself. I remember I was once interviewing him and I put my arm under him when he was in this deep chair, and he gently brushed my arm away. It's hard to get out of a deep chair anyway, you know? But he was 93. But he wanted to do it himself. And he did, it was very important to him, you see? He came to the door to welcome the guests, even though he was in the 90s, you see. You know. The idea of doing it. Isn't that the idea, pretty much?

Jim Potter Well,

Studs Terkel Being your own person?

Jim Potter Your self-esteem. You know? I I used to live in a hotel and [match strike] I used to have quite a hill I had to push up to get to the door, to open it up and so forth. No problem. I can go up that hill and open that door. But as soon as I got there, if there was somebody, if they were a 70-year old lady, she was going to hold that door for me as if I couldn't, because of my wheelchair stereotype, get the door open. Now, do you go to the bank when you know the door is locked and closed and you can't get in? This is the common feeling now. The poor boy needs help.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Jim Potter And I'm not gonna to go someplace, to get in someplace that I know I possibly can't get in. I wouldn't have come here today-

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Jim Potter -if I'd known there wouldn't be somebody downstairs to help me up those two steps. [laughter]

Studs Terkel Of course, two step--we'll come back to that matter, don't we?

Jim Potter

Studs Terkel Right. Do you have what what--do you have a problem that Jim has because architectural barriers?

Hollie Brock No,

Studs Terkel No. You you you can mount those steps and do that? There's a basketball team at Schwab, isn't there? How how's that work, a wheelchair basketball team?

Hollie Brock Well, they have different teams all over the country and the team is made up of paraplegics, mostly, because hemis and quads have no use of their arms. You have to be able to move your wheelchair yourself. At different levels, each team, they try to balance it off so that each team has so many people with levels at different places. Because it wouldn't be fair to have a bunch of [throat clearing] C6s playing a bunch of, maybe, L2s, or something like that.

Studs Terkel What are C6s, Hollie?

Hollie Brock Those are neck injuries, mostly, where you be paralyzed from, maybe, the chest down. Whereas L2s or 3s, you'd just be paralyzed from the waist down. So you have full use of your upper extremities. And they play basketball pretty much the same rules, basically, as regular basketball, with the exception that the wheelchairs have to be worked in. And it's, they, you know, like blocking and fouling, well, they just made those fit wheelchairs. But basically it's the same

Studs Terkel How do you foul somebody in a wheelchair?

Hollie Brock Like, you run into them, or--you have to give [cough] them [sniff] a certain area. You can't--if somebody is coming straight down the court, you can't just pull in front of 'em and stop. That's theirs. Now, you can get on the side of 'em and try to knock the ball out their hands, or get behind them and hit the ball. But you can't stop all of a sudden in front of

Jim Potter And your fouling is the same as in regular basketball. You go to take a shot and somebody slaps you on the arm, that's a foul. No doubt about it.

Studs Terkel So we come back to the subject at hand, don't we, Jim Potter, Hollie Brock, and others whom you meet. And that's the question of coping. Coping is what it's all about, isn't it?

Jim Potter Right.

Studs Terkel Yeah. So what is, what would you suggest then, in the few moments remaining, you know? Your own thoughts, observations since then. What did you want to be? Before, before the acc--what did you want to be before the accident, Hollie?

Hollie Brock Well, I was thinking about going to school but I didn't have any definite plans.

Studs Terkel Now you're probably pretty definite, though?

Hollie Brock Yeah.

Studs Terkel Nursing. And possibly--

Hollie Brock Doc--

Studs Terkel Medical, doctor. In your case, Jim, was what?

Jim Potter My plans were to teach at that school for another year and then go on in to graduate, go to graduate school and specialize in dance.

Studs Terkel In dance?

Jim Potter In dance. And teach, teach dance in a in a college, physical education college of some some nature, and teach basic dance because I I love dance and and I was very active in dance from the time I was about 12 years old. And I know--I knew--could do many, many, many different types of dances. I was in a dance group at at La Crosse State University where I did my undergraduate work [match strike] and--called the [Allbareks?] Dancers--and we we traveled and put on some shows and we did all the, what people say are the old-fashioned dances: the waltzes, and the polkas, and the schottisches, and and a lot of square dances we did. And we showed and then we shared with the people also [clank noise]. And from this experience I pretty well knew then that once I I had some experience in teaching and so forth that I would, I wanted to go back into this area and teach dance at at the college level.

Studs Terkel And so now it's a it's recreational therapy?

Jim Potter Right.

Studs Terkel Do you still hear music?

Hollie Brock He still dances.

Studs Terkel Hmm? He still dances? How do you dance?

Jim Potter I dance on my wheelchair.

Studs Terkel You do?

Jim Potter Dance on the back wheels.

Studs Terkel You've see him dancing?

Hollie Brock Yeah. They had a square dance

Studs Terkel Yeah? Well, you know, we'll probably, maybe, end this program with some square dance music, maybe. Maybe some other music, too. What about--oh, I suppose we haven't asked the question--this is what you call the obligatory question--families, family attitude. That's, always has been a factor, hasn't it? The family attitude. What was it in your case, Hollie?

Hollie Brock Well, I guess it's quite natural that everyone wants to do as much as they can for you. And, so, you kind of get the feeling of being overly protected. And sometimes you have to hurt a few feelings to get your point across. But after you straighten everything out everybody understands you better, that all you want to do is do things for yourself, you know.

Studs Terkel What

Jim Potter Right. This is--basically the same thing--they want to do everything for you. Well, let's face it, you, you for so many months while you're in a hospital, you're you're taken care of and everything like a baby. And many times you are, in the eyes of the parents and the rest of the family, you are put back to th- to this stage in life. And then as you gradually learn to do things for yourself and become more independent, and more independent, it's very difficult to [estab?] those ties again. Just like it's difficult for a mother to understand that, that little Johnny can now button his shirts and she doesn't have to do it for him. And maybe if she tries to button them for him he's going to slap her hands and say I want to button my own shirt. You know? Because she's been teaching him how to button his shirt and now that he can do it himself, and it's the same way here. They're overprotective and they don't want you to try new things. They don't want you to to buy a car and they don't want you to to drive, maybe, until you prove to them that you can. And how are you going to get your wheelchair in your car? These are the questions that were put to me and I said once I get it, I'll get the chair in there if I have to, you know, break my neck again to do it. Because--and same way with learning to to do a wheelie, where you can get up and down a curb or a small ledge.

Studs Terkel What's that called? Do a what?

Jim Potter A wheelie--balance your wheelchair on the back wheels. It was scary and they, and they you know, they have two, three heart attacks every time you do it until you--but once you know how to do it. And you have complete confidence in yourself. Maybe no one else has any confidence in you. But you prove it to them over the the time and it's a long, drawn out process, really. But like Hollie said, you have to hurt a few feelings sometimes. You have to step on some toes to get the point across that I'm a man, just because I may get around on four wheels and don't walk like you do, doesn't mean that that I can't do things, you know.

Studs Terkel You know, this leads to an interesting question. Perhaps you can't answer it--it's a very delicate one--that's the matter of guilt. Those who have not had your accidents, or the family or that--do you sense that--you, I suppose you two become observers, too, don't you?

Jim Potter Oh, [oh is right?].

Studs Terkel You're both nodding. Well, what about that matter? [throat clearing] Hollie?

Hollie Brock Well, sometimes people feel guilty when they're around you. They think that, you know, you feel bad because they're doing things that you can't do. And, you know, sometimes they try not to do things so that, you know, you won't feel so bad. When, actually, you you know, you've adjusted to your situation and you know where you stand and you know what you can do. So, just because they do somethin', I mean, you don't get upset because you can't do it. There's probably somethin' you can do that they can't do. And, back to what Jim was saying, I remember once we went out to see a hockey game, a wheelchair hockey game: me, Jim, and another patient at Schwab. And we were in Jim's car, and they put our wheelchairs in the trunk for us. And the other fellow that was with us was an amputee and he didn't have his prostheses on. It was, he was just using some crutches. So, we get lost. So when we get back to Schwab, we were by ourself in the parking lot and our chairs were in the trunk. So we were trying to, you know, figure out how were gonna get the chairs out because we knew, you know, Jim couldn't. His door was open, you know, he couldn't get to his chair and I couldn't very well get to mine. And the other fellow was in the middle. And he couldn't crawl over because he would fall. So, but we had figured out a way where we were gonna do it and by the time we get ready to, you know, get out and get the chairs, somebody came so we didn't get a chance to do it. But we had figured out what.

Studs Terkel Jim?

Hollie Brock What was that question

Studs Terkel Oh, about the guilt aspects

Jim Potter Oh, yeah. I'm going to give you one case in point that, that came home to me. Our minister talked with us the other day [throat clearing] and he said you wouldn't know how many people have come up to me [throat clearing]--had come up to him--and said, "Boy, I really feel guilty. Those people, Mr. and Mrs. Potter, are in church every Sunday with their problems and how many times do I stay home because it's too cold, or it's too rainy, or it's one thing or another." And and this brings home the point that people do feel guilty and when--and this is something, there's some place where people like Hollie, and I, and my wife and I, and so forth can can carry home a point to people. That really feeling sorry for themselves sometimes, and they just look around them a little bit and the point comes home.

Studs Terkel I was thinking about how Hollie's point, the point that he made, too, that, ideally, that the other person can't do things they can do, whereas the person who has had the accident has adjusted to it already, has found his own way. As Hollie, who might have been a very good and excellent garage mechanic may turn out to be a very excellent doctor. I'm not saying doctor is better than a garage mechanic, just different lives, see, you know. Or in your case, you might have been a fine dancer but you're probably a very excellent recreational therapist, see? But the feeling, there's somethin' else, deep, deep seated, I think, that Hollie was touching on is that, that person [unintelligible]. See, you're in a spot [match strike] of being [re-observers?] of what I call the human comedy too, in a way, you know? In a way, too. So it happens that way. Of course, sense of humor, I suppose, is a tremendous--we haven't talked about that, have we? You have to have that, don't you?

Hollie Brock Yeah.

Jim Potter You sure do. [laughter]

Studs Terkel Well, we're talkin' to to Jim Potter and Hollie Brock, and they both, in a sense, work at the Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital and they obviously know what it's about. This raises a question over and beyond paraplegics and quadriplegics, it raises a question of people who have had an experience--one way or another something happened to them or they have had something happen to them--being close, like somebody teaching in a certain kind of school, you know. Or somebody working in a certain kind of place where people are considered outsiders, or different from what is the norm, see? That person, having been part of that society, I would guess, is a much better teacher. Probably a factor. That's not to say someone can't understand it in his mind. You talked about that, before we went on the air, Jim, remember, about how a--you wouldn't quite know how to deal with a mental patient, you know, as well as you do with somebody who has physically had your experience.

Jim Potter Right. [throat clearing] I just had the feeling that I have a greater rapport with people that have had sim--that have--similar disabilities to mine because I can understand some of the problems--a lot of the problems. A lot of times I think I can understand better than than some doctors, really, what what the problem, you know, what what this person's going through. Of course, you you have to see the whole person, which means not the person in the bed or in the in the wheelchair, but the person when he gets out of here, out of the hospital. What is he going home to? What type of family is it? What type of of building structure is it? Does he have architectural barriers at home? Does the does the person want to make the most of his life but he's got eight stairs at hom-, eight steps at home to, every time, to get in and out of his house? And, so, he can't hold down a job if he's got to hire somebody to haul him up and down those stairs every time in his wheelchair. Yet he can function beautifully on the job once he gets there. So [throat clearing] it's--but I feel, personally, that that I have a greater rapport with these people.

Studs Terkel You have a similar outlook on this, Hollie?

Hollie Brock Yes. You you tend to be able to see people that are in the situation that you were in, or are in, and sometimes you can get feelings that, like, their doctor can't. You can tell when they're trying and when they're not trying, and you can tell about how they're feeling and why they're feeling that way. Whereas their doctor, he could only know how they were feeling but he wouldn't know why.

Studs Terkel Well Jim, anything else? Jim or Hollie? That you haven't said concerning this nature of life and coping as you see it? Or shall we go on with the music? Anything occur to you, Jim, that we haven't touched, any base we haven't touched? Hollie?

Jim Potter I don't know. I can't think right now.

Studs Terkel We'll let it go for now then. Let it go at that with Jim Potter and Holli Brock, my guests, and the subject is very simple--coping. And, on with the dance. Thank you very much.

Jim Potter You're welcome.

Hollie Brock