Don't Make Me Over
A Unique Perspective on His Survival by Stroke Survivor and Comedian John Kawie
There are a few problems I have with the world at large. For instance, people kicking the back of my chair. Public nail clipping. Never-ending car alarms. And our upstairs neighbor doing his impression of LeBron practicing jump shots. But today I’d like to vent about one that’s currently stuck in my craw: the unsolicited advice, opinions and comments strangers offer about my disability.
These folks are well-meaning, but they have the stroke rehab knowledge of a cantaloupe. Like my aide, Norma, who claimed her conch soup was a miracle elixir that could raise the dead. I didn’t know what conch was — thought it might be edible Jamaican hooch — so I was all in (doesn’t taste like chicken). Or her friend Monica, who swore that putting nutmeg under my tongue (the actual nut, not ground) would magically return the use of my affected left arm. Well it didn’t, but I did manage to do a better Daffy Duck than Mel Blanc.
I was a newbie stroke survivor, desperate, straight out of the hospital. You name it, I tried it. Now? I’m street savvy. No more magic potions for me. Yet, the advice keeps coming.
Take last week. While Marilyn was finishing her workout at the NY Health Club, I was killing time in the lobby. Suddenly a swarm of fitness instructors poured in. I found myself surrounded like Custer at Little Bighorn, but instead of the Sioux nation I was under attack by a war party of “Baywatch” clones. They fired everything at me: tai chi, Pilates, water-aerobics, kale-filled smoothies and, of course, “The Rock” wanted me to pump iron. Just what I need… half my body looking like Popeye and the other half like Olive Oil.
I reassured the throng of underwear models that I was fine while Marilyn pushed me through the door. We made it to the street only to be confronted by Joe, the neighborhood homeless guy, who yelled, “Hey buddy, your left side ain’t lookin’ too good.” Perfect! He wants money from everybody else, but lucky me — I get opinions.
Two blocks later we reached our building’s elevator and shared it with an elderly woman visiting a neighbor on 16. She gave me the once over, and I knew what was coming.
“Dear, I used to be a therapist ... if you worked hard … made a serious effort … you’d get your arm back … hope you don’t mind my suggestions.” Mind? Of course, I don’t mind being singled out and having to reassure yet another stranger that I’m perfectly fine — ecstatic even.
OK, I’m the crooked painting on the wall that people can’t walk by without straightening. I’ve learned to accept that. I’ve also learned to keep a set of stock answers at my disposal for all disability queries. “I leave my left side like this because _____”:
- I dance in a unique Chippendales unit catering to disabled bachelorette parties. Think Special Olympics with a bow tie and a thong.
- I play Strokeman, a super hero in an Off-Broadway production. Think Special Olympics with a leotard and cape.
- I’m a model for a disabled pin-up calendar (I know, it’s a stretch). Think cheesy Special Olympics.
It seems everyone wants me to go back to what I was. While I’m sure their intentions are good, I don’t want to go back. I need to move forward with who I am now. And, by the way, I’m fine. Really