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Tap code.

A couple times a year I like to watch a clip from the PBS special called This Emotional Life, an exploration of ways to improve our social relationships, cope with emotional issues and become more positive, resilient individuals in these difficult times.

The clip I watch is an interview with a Vietnam prisoner of war who speaks of how he and his fellow prisoners spent their time in solitary confinement and remained sane. He described a "tap code" they devised and used to communicate with each other.

The tap code was a series of taps on the wall, a crude Morse code, involving five rows and five columns to represent the letters of the alphabet. Some letters were as short as two taps, others required as many as 10 or more taps.

"Over time, the code kept our spirits alive, our hope alive, our dreams alive," the veteran recalls on the show. "We also used it for many other things as well, like French lessons, music lessons or how to repair a television. We spent a lot of time on the wall."

The prisoners came to see the wall as a key to their survival during a horrendous and brutally inhumane period of their lives. The tap code was the primary instrument that kept them sane, optimistic, connected. The tap code gave them hope.

We Need Other People

We, all of us--able-bodied and paralyzed alike--need a tap code, a way of communicating and supporting each other as we make our way through this life.

Humans are social animals and as such, simply can't go it alone.

We need other people for words of encouragement, for a helping hand and occasional advice, for praise and congratulations, and even for an occasional admonishment. We need social support.

Because of our unique circumstances, wheelers especially need a tap code and a network of wheelers to share it.

Peer Support

A few years ago, I sat in a meeting with rehab professionals who explained a project designed to determine the effectiveness of different rehab techniques.

Physical therapists, doctors, nurses and others would document what they did and later determine which interventions proved most effective. After describing the project to a group of us wheelers, they asked us for our reactions and some feedback.

Once we got past our mild disbelief that no one had taken the time to quantify the effectiveness of different therapies and techniques, someone asked why interactions with other wheelers was not included.

What followed was a very animated discussion among the wheelers recalling how important those interactions had been for them. People spoke of peer support such as dark humor, hot tips, words of perspective, insights into possibilities and maintaining hope and optimism.

We spoke of our tap code.

Use The Wall

A friend of mine used peer support to help him early on.

"I thought I should be able to get through all this on my own, when all this time there was this group of other vets who had the answers to all my questions," he recalls. "They showed me I could do things and taught me I didn't need to be ashamed or embarrassed. They helped me deal with sexual dysfunction and bowel and bladder stuff."

Most of us have dealt with those basic issues, but that doesn't mean all our challenges are behind us or that we aren't in need of other wheelers.

We're all aware that life is not a static condition, that things and circumstances--health, finances, relationships and more--are constantly changing. And those changes come at us with little or no warning or time to prepare, just like the onset of paralysis and disability.

When they come, we may not be ready or have the tools to address them well or with any modicum of grace or acceptance. That's where peer support and our need to use the wall comes in.

The true value of peer support comes in the camaraderie, not the specific activity or topic. Many of us have been at this long enough to be one of those people with the answers for all those questions newbies need answered. Being that person connects us with others and provides a sense of purpose.

We never outgrow our need for a wall or a tap code.
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Title Annotation:Milestones
Author:Holicky, Richard
Publication:PN - Paraplegia News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2014
Words:713
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