Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My letter to the New York Times

Thought this might make a good story:

There's a resident at the Hebrew Home in Riverdale named Ray Ozarow. Right up front, I should probably disclose that he's my dad. He's been there about two years now.

What makes Dad's a story worth telling is this:

He's kind of a hero.

My father was born with cerebral palsy in Bayside, in 1927. His parents, founders of the first Orthodox congregation in Bayside, had two other sons already. At the time, there weren't many services for kids with DAd's physical challenges but my grandmother was determined to mainstream her son. She did, often bullying other parents into play dates. Though doctors said he might never walk or talk, Dad did both--going on to play sandlot baseball, compete on his high school track team, and off to college--NYU and Hunter, where he acheived two masters degrees: One in Social Work and one in Phys. Ed.

He met my mother at Welmet Camps, and they were married and raised three healthy (and beautiful, if I say so myself!) girls in Great Neck, NY. They owned a lovely home, celebrated holidays, vacationed in Cape Cod.

Dad accomplished a great deal in his life--he ran a summer camp for disadvantaged kids from the Lower East Side for many years--worked as Self Advocacy Coordinator for United Cerebral Palsy. More recently, he received a lifetime achievement award from Governor Pataki.

But that's not where the story is...

You see, now that he's in a nursing home, Dad's observing people who've been able bodied all of their lives and are suddenly thrust into the institutionalized care setting, without any training or resources to deal with the devastating impact of all they've lost. As lovely as the Hebrew Home is, and it is a gorgeous, comfortable setting, Dad says, "These people are coming from family homes, from a culture of holiday meals, of working for a living, of taking care of themselves. They aren't used to being disabled. It's a terrible loss for them and very disorienting. But I've been dealing with this all of my life. I can help them."

When he started talking this way, I thought he was just musing-as the elderly sometimes do, reviewing his life, wishing he'd done more, cataloguing accomplishments and regrets. But last year, Dad drove his power wheelchair down to the office of the Director of the nursing home and planted himself there until the director agreed to meet with him. Then Dad offered his services. "I can help set up programs and procedures that help better meet the needs of the residents," he said. "I've done this before."

It's the most frustrating project of his life-Dad can no longer use his hands to write or operate a telephone or recording device, and like all institutionalized care facilities, the HH is layered with entrenched and unworkable methods and procedures (and deep cuts in funding). Still, he's beginning to help.

Through his dogged (and I mean dogged) determination to communicate, he's talking with social work staff, offering his wisdom and suggestions about realigning every layer of the HH homes staff to the same mission.

On a personal level, he's created a way to reach out to our family across the country, by dictating emails, once a week, to a wonderful volunteer named Joan. Cathy Chandler, his social worker, receives and delivers our email messages back to him. And he's collected a whole notebook of emails from nieces, friends and of course, daughters.

Every time I visit, people stop me to say how Dad has inspired them. This is nothing new, it's happened all my life--like other people with disabilities, Dad inspires something in the able-bodied. A kind of, "If he can do it, maybe so can I."

But now, observing how Dad manages to offer comfort and a listening ear to other residents, helping them cope with life in a nursing home, impresses me most.

What impresses me is the way that Dad, bent over with spinal stenosis, facing his own challenges every day, manages to wake up every morning asking: HOw can I help people today? What can I do to be of service?

To me, that's the story of a hero. And I thought you might be interested in telling it.

3 comments:

Dawn said...

I loved reading this!

Amy Oscar said...

Thanks, Dawn. He is pretty special. And thanks so much for stopping by to read about him.

Health Care Services in Florida said...

ya i also like it :)