President's Message: There Truly Is an ACB Family

by Mitch Pomerantz

This is not the President's Column I intended writing to begin 2012. I had another topic in mind based on a recent small difference of opinion between the NFB president and myself. And while I may get back to the underlying philosophical disagreement in a subsequent column, circumstances have changed over the past few months such that a more personal commentary seems appropriate.
In late September and early October, I had three consecutive weekends of cross-country travel: to the Oklahoma Council of the Blind convention in Oklahoma City with Donna; to the ACB fall board of directors meeting in Louisville; and finally to the Michigan Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired convention in Lansing. At the end of the month I also was attending the fall convention of the California Council of the Blind where I would get my first opportunity to see Donna preside as affiliate president. More on that weekend shortly.
By the time I boarded my flight for Kentucky I began thinking that I was coming down with a cold, something I do perhaps once or twice a year. Things went downhill from there and by the time I arrived home from Michigan, I had a fairly serious cough. During that week I began experiencing significant pain in my neck and shoulders which radiated down through my arms and all the way to my knees. Making matters worse was a loss of strength and mobility in my right arm, along with some neuropathy which thankfully did not affect my braille-reading finger. Early in the week prior to the CCB convention and after several days on a general antibiotic, I was told things were improving, although I didn't feel much improvement.
On Oct. 28th, I went to the convention hotel where I immediately ensconced myself in our room. I attended the Thursday evening CCB board meeting, an access and transportation committee meeting on Friday morning, and the opening general session on Friday afternoon where I did get to see Donna serve as presiding officer. I then went back to our room to rest until we were scheduled to attend a dinner for local affiliate presidents.
Around 5 p.m. I received a call from my treating physician ordering me into the hospital for tests. She had finally gotten the results of an MRI I'd taken the previous Sunday evening. There was evidence of a serious infection in my neck and I needed immediate treatment. Donna's parents, who were serving as convention volunteers and who are two of the most wonderful people anywhere, drove Donna and me to the Kaiser Hospital in Los Angeles. Among the highlights of that night were 12 hours in the E.R. because there were no beds available in the neurosurgery ward, and a visit from the neurosurgeon in charge of my case who informed me that in his opinion I should immediately undergo neck surgery to clear out the infection. After hearing him tell me there was no guarantee that the surgery would ameliorate the symptoms, I declined surgery and chose a multi-week treatment with antibiotics through an infusion pump.
To make a long story a bit shorter, I was in the hospital for six days. I spent a lot of time training two shifts of nurses about the capabilities of blind people. Most of them got it, I think. I spent nearly 90 minutes in an MRI chamber, and had a needle biopsy under a very local anesthetic. By the way, the marathon MRI is not recommended for anyone who is slightly hyperactive or has excellent hearing. The doctors did find an antibiotic which does an excellent job dealing with what turned out to be a staph infection. And no, we haven't a clue as to how I picked it up. At this writing - the weekend after Thanksgiving - the infection is improving, although my back and neck are still very stiff and sore (something I may end up living with indefinitely). I should have a more definitive idea of the long-term prognosis after meeting with that aforementioned surgeon in early December.
The real reason for the above narrative isn't to evoke sympathy. During my hospital stay and since returning home, I have received calls and e-mails from literally scores of ACB members; yes, many of them close friends and colleagues, but many more folks whom I'd only met once or twice at various functions. Those calls and e-mails have made it abundantly clear to me that the American Council of the Blind is far more than an advocacy organization; it is -- we are -- a family. On occasion that family is dysfunctional; the more active members of that family sometimes become frustrated with the more passive ones. There is gossip, sniping and many of the other less positive endeavors encountered within families. Anyone reading this who is subscribed to either of ACB's general-interest lists is more than aware that the Kumbaya spirit is occasionally absent from the discussions despite the best efforts of the list moderator.
However, like most families, we honestly and sincerely care about one another. Since September, three other ACB leaders, Berl Colley, Marlaina Lieberg and Paul Edwards, have experienced health-related setbacks. They are all improving, but the outpouring of support for their individual recoveries has further demonstrated that we truly care about the welfare of each member of the ACB family. The same is true when we learn about the illness of a rank-and-file member of our organization. Their status doesn't matter; what matters is that they are a part of ACB.
Donna and I are tremendously appreciative of the expressions of love and support we've received since October and I am incredibly proud to be serving as president of an organization whose members see themselves as part of a large and diverse family, warts and all. It is far easier to fight in the legislative and advocacy trenches on a daily basis if you believe that you're doing what you're doing for your family. From now on, that's how I'm going to view the work I've still to get done as your president.