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Broken senior: impaired and struggling at St. Thomas

By , Opinions Editor  |  Thursday, March 20, 2014 12:52 AM
(Alex Goering/TommieMedia)

(Alex Goering/TommieMedia)

So I broke my ankle on the ice … and it sucks.

So far, this has been one of the most disappointing and self-reflective times in my college experience.

Everyone has such a well-defined version of what his or her final semester of undergrad should look like, and having weeks of that image ruined is difficult. But then I got to thinking, could this be a blessing in disguise?

I need to slow down, and now I have. Between two jobs, playing rugby, singing in choir, spending time with those I care about, school work and everyday tasks, I never took a breath. As far as I was concerned, there’d be plenty of time to breathe when I’m older, and right then, I was off to the races.

Breaking a bone takes a lot of that away, especially when it inhibits you from basic movement. In one day, I went from being unassisted and always on the move to limited and dependent. Having to maneuver the snow and ice on crutches and a scooter is not only dangerous, but time consuming and tiring. Scheduling surgery and doctor’s appointments in between a heavy class load is tricky and risky to grades. Even going to the bar and/or having fun with friends is a struggle.

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Life’s a lot easier with two fully functioning legs. But I’m not the only one with challenges, and it is incredibly grounding to see everyday life from another point of view.

As I’ve written previously, in my sister Laura’s battle with bone cancer, her movement has become very limited. Originally she attended the University of Minnesota, but after this final round of chemo, her plan is to attend St. Thomas. While career and academic reasons are the motivating factor, a big reason is the accessibility of St. Thomas compared to the University of Minnesota. It is pretty apparent that our campus is a lot more concentrated, which should make it a lot easier to get around, but I’ve noticed how difficult that really is.

We’ve had a brutal winter, resulting in piles of snow and black ice extending to what seems like oblivion. Friends will admit that everyone seems to have taken at least one spill over the last few months … mine just happened to have a more of an aggressive outcome. But in the end, I’m still a healthy 22-year-old guy, and not everyone is so lucky. If Laura was to take a spill on her affected leg, which is mostly comprised of titanium prosthetics now, the result would be catastrophic.

The university does a fine job clearing snow and salting sidewalks, but often there are areas that sneak under the radar. The most tumultuous location is the intersection at Summit and Cretin Avenues. Our campus is separated by two streets, and often times crossing the street is where the problems lies. Campus sidewalks may be clear, but I would guess that the biggest danger zone is the street crosswalk. In the future, I would like to see the university go out of its way to clear and maintain the crosswalk more effectively. While it is technically a city street, it is also the main route for students traveling to and from South Campus.

The other dilemma on campus is the accessibility of buildings. I am fortunate to have almost all of my classes this semester connected by the underground tunnels on North Campus. Even TommieMedia is down in “the dungeons.” But coming to my Sunday staff meetings and weekend homework sessions is a little harder. The tunnels shut down, and in order to get to work, I have to take some difficult hops up and down staircases.

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Undoubtedly, the most troubling location for accessibility is the Brady Educational Center. I have choir in BEC once a week, and what many would describe as a “journey” getting to the building from North Campus is an odyssey for myself. When arriving, the most concerning realization is the lack of accessible ways to move within in the building. There are two floors, but in order to get into the lower level, you have to exit the building, go around to the back down a driveway that may or may not be clear and enter through a back door, which is a crap-shoot for being open. My choir director noted that he often thought how difficult it would be for a student with a handicap to attend rehearsal in that location. Over my St. Thomas experience, I’ve heard the cries for a new arts center, and looking at the BEC in this light makes it seem very necessary.

While all these problems may seem so miniscule, they really do play into morale, and I continue to think to myself, “How the hell would Laura be able to do this?”

My greatest struggle with this whole “broken” experience is the attention you draw toward yourself. I have such a slight problem, but I really do catch eyes wandering everywhere I go. I don’t blame anyone for looking while I cruise by on my rad scooter, but being on the other side is very surreal. I can’t begin to explain how thankful I am that I have the ability to heal and be back on my own two feet again. Like my sister, those who deal with this kind of struggle daily are truly stronger than myself. Never again will I take stairs for granted.

I’m glad this happened to me. This grounding experience has given me what I needed most: not an epic conclusion to college, but perspective.

Alex Goering can be reached at goer8777@stthomas.edu.

This item was posted in Featured News, Opinions and has 1 comment so far.

1 Comment

  1. Geena Maharaj
    Mar. 24, 2014 12:19 PM

    Love how you ended this piece. Wishing you a speedy recovery, Alex!

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