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A Lifetime of Challenges

Linda Lattin, Columnist

fter surviving one of the worst nightmares a person can have Linda was able to get in touch with her inner being/soul and over-come her loss. She say's that she did not have a choice: The person she was died, but her body and soul insisted she start anew.

Linda is happy to be here and is confident of her personal successes in life: Both of them! smile...

Have you ever awoken frightened from a nightmare, only to have the nightmare continue when you fall back to sleep? This seemingly simple explanation is a haunting and realistic look at my life. Yet, I don't feel sorry for myself. I believe we can control our own destiny by the choices we make.

My first real-life nightmare began in August of 1952 when at the age of two, I caught polio in my left leg during the world wide Polio Epidemic. I was one of the 'lucky ones' because I survived and eventually recovered. The epidemic hit the United States harder that year than it hit most of the other countries. I was only two years old but I spent many weeks and months hospitalized alone, away from my family. That was a very young age to suffer the injustices of the world, but I had no choice. I had to be brave and independent as it seemed that 'I' was all I had. My heart still cries for that brave, tough little girl: I am proud of her to this day.

After many surgeries and rehabilitation I learned to walk without a brace and/or crutches. I learned to laugh at myself and make jokes when I fell, which I embarrassingly did often in my youth. My left knee would buckle and give out, or I would slip on something, and often nothing at all! ...smile... It was easier on my pride when I was the first to laugh. When in junior and senior high school as I tried to stroll, not limp, sophisticatedly passed a group of boys standing by the lockers, I'd fall flat on my fanny. Chivalry was not in their vocabulary yet, and they would poke each others ribs with their elbows, trying to hold back their laughter. There were many times I was not proud. I was ashamed to be me. It wasn't my fault: I didn't choose to have a handicap, but that did not matter: I felt ashamed, and unworthy.

I had a natural positive 'you can do it' attitude, and I embarrassingly survived puberty. After high school I met and eventually married a young man who wasn't embarrassed by my limp. We had three beautiful sons: I was so proud to be their mom. I also became a cosmetologist working part-time until the boys were older. It was important to me to be with the boys until their dad came home; thereby eliminating having an outsider 'raise my children'. After becoming successful in my occupation I purchased a hair salon of my own to work in, and consequently was very busy. I experienced another nightmare in November 1984 when I was seriously injured in a car accident while driving home from work. I was not expected to survive, but the tough little girl within me came out fighting.

I was hospitalized and comatose for four-and-half months and was expected to die many times. As I awoke resembling a Zombie I looked around the room with blank eyes. I had absolutely no knowledge of myself, my surroundings or life in general. Because I had no memory at all, I had to re-learn my own identity as I was re-learning the basics about life. First off, I began with learning to breathe: then I graduated to learning to eat and breathe at the same time. It was all very complicated. My parents and siblings were familiar to me and I drew strength from them as I tried to cope with my total confusion. I trusted my parents unconditionally. When it was time for me to go home I left the hospital with the man they said is 'your husband' but I did not remember my wedding. As my 'unknown husband' drove me to our 'unknown-to-me home', I can say I was in my own Twilight-Zone. As I remembered that thought years later I was rather surprised by the anomaly. I recalled a television show that had been off-the-air for decades, yet I did not remember the man I married or my children. I soon became aware of life, and I eventually chose to become a person again and learn to live independently as possible, as soon as possible.
I have had many successes in this lifetime too, which began to happen relatively quickly. When I returned home after waking up in March 1985 I couldn't care for myself. I immediately started working on building a life for myself because I hated the 'pity' people gave me. I cannot walk due to brain injury and I now use a motorized wheelchair. My voice is Dysarthric because my tracheotomy was left in the entire time I was comatose. People often think I am drunk or retarded: that makes me feel proud - not! I have '˜short-term memory' which often justifies my forgetfulness, and my life was most often wild & crazy.
My hardest challenge was that of being allowed dignity at the start of my recovery and being treated with respect and compassion by normal, able-bodied people. I did not like the way people treated me as a woman in a wheelchair. Due to my 'assumed perception' of others I put seemingly impossible expectations on myself. Surprisingly I achieved them under my own strength and power, but I think the credit for that should go to the determined little girl within me. She wasn't a quitter, and if you told her she couldn't do something she would all but kill herself trying!

Learning to live independently early in my recovery included learning to drive again. I was able to drive an accessible van to my appointments, while arriving with total independence. That is a rare accomplishment, one that I am blessed with, and am extremely lucky to have. I get around using an electric wheelchair and I can drive an accessible van.

My psychologist Ronna Sherman saw my 'need to succeed' and recommended me to the MN Division of Rehabilitation Services which turned out to be my dream come true. My schooling began with computer training at the Multi Resource Center, MRC in Minneapolis in 1988-89 and without stopping I went to college from 1989-1995 and earned Associates in Arts & Sciences Degree, AAS, at a community college in Inver Hills, MN. I worked at the Metropolitan Center for Independent Living, MCIL in Saint Paul while I was earning my degree and continued working there after my education was completed. I was involved in the disability community and I was on several Boards of Directors and Disability committees in Minnesota as well.

I moved to Florida in 2001 because the cold MN temperatures caused some of my chronic pain to be intolerable. As I was in the process of moving, then Mayor Norm Coleman proclaimed February 21, 2001 as Linda Lattin Day in the city of Saint Paul for my dedication and contributions for all people in Saint Paul. I was on the Mayors Advisory Committee for People with Disabilities from 1994 - 2001.

I have written my Memoirs called 'Wheels of MizFortunate' which is a look at where I've been, and how I dealt with my life. I hope that those who read it will see that anything is possible. I believe life can be anything you want it to be - if you open your mind to allow it. I found that place in my life, and I choose to believe I will even find a publisher for my book some day! smile... I don't own an accessible van at this time either, but that's another 'someday' dream, along with some accessibility to my home.

I truly do believe we can control our own destiny by the choices we make. I have a lot of expectations in life: I want freedom and a chance for happiness. Thankfully, the United States Military continues to fight for my freedom. I am sorry that I can't do much to thank them: they are always in my prayers.

I can help myself: I am a survivor, and it has been an unbelievable battle. I have made mistakes, and I seem to continue to do so quite regularly. I will probably always mourn the loss of the woman that I was. I live on the opposite end of the country: far away from family and friends.

I am controlling my personal destiny to this day, and with a little help from God and the powers that be I will continue to love life.


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Mona Tippins, 2009-07-10 08:03:44
Wheels of Mizfortune-- I have read Ms Lattin's book and was amazed at this woman's courage in the face of her calamities. She and her book have been an inspiration to many military veterans who have had either brain injury during combat or other severe disabilities. I am proud to have known her through her book, "Wheels of Miz Fortune."


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