I Am Who I Am


By Mark E. Smith

I’m heading back to Detroit at this writing. It seems that city, which has far more going for it than most realize, can’t get enough of me. This trip, I’m giving the keynote address at a healthcare leadership conference for doctors and hospital executives. My theme is,”The Quality of a Practitioner’s Character Dictates the Quality of Care.”

See, I know a little bit about the subject – or, more aptly, I’ve known the impact of a practitioner’s character on patients’ care since right before my birth.

Twenty minutes or so before my birth, my mother was given an epidural, a routine anesthesia to lessen the pain of child birth. However, an incorrect amount was given by the anesthesiologist – a massive overdose – resulting in my mother not breathing, with me quickly born not breathing, as well. To make matters worse, the delivery room staff forgot to have an infant respirator in the room or even on that hospital floor, and when they did get one, it had a hole in it, not properly maintained. I was manually resuscitated by the delivery doctor, minutes of brain-damaging loss of oxygen having passed.

It later came out in court that, in an attempt to bolster his income, the anesthesiologist was illegally moonlighting, working revolving shifts unbeknownst to anyone between a military hospital and the public hospital where I was born. By his own admission, he had been working 90 hours, with virtually no sleep, when he administered my mother’s overdose of anesthesia.

Now, it is true that there was a snowball effect. The overdose of the anesthesia caused me to stop breathing, then the lack of an infant respirator prolonged my loss of appropriate oxygen, and then the final broken infant respirator was simply a topping on the cake, you might say. And, it all culminated in my severe cerebral palsy.

Again, I know a little bit about how the quality of a practitioner’s character dictates the quality of care.

Now, there are a lot of potentially different outcomes looking back. If the anesthesiologist hadn’t given my mother the overdose, everyone agreed that I wouldn’t have cerebral palsy. However, what if a nurse had ensured that an infant respirator was in the room – would that slight attention to detail have prevented my condition? Or, what if someone ensured that the broken respirator was repaired – would that slight attention to detail have lessened my condition?

The answers in my case are, no one will ever know. What happened, happened. And, truly, it’s of no concern to me. I’m proud of what I’ve made of my life, where it’s about potentials, not limitation, where it’s about passion for what I have, not longing for what I might have lost. I am who I am because of who I am – and I would never change that. I would never change me.

Yet, for others to come, my experience does teach a valuable lesson: The quality of a practitioner’s character does dictate the quality of care.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my publicist and I have a plane to catch. Cerebral palsy, no matter – I’m rock-starring this gig!


Author: Mark E. Smith

The literary side of the WheelchairJunkie

3 thoughts on “I Am Who I Am”

  1. It’s the character of the person/people on the other end, too. You and your parents were given a bucket of dog bones (excuse the analogy) and created a Thanksgiving Dinner with it.

    My Mom was operated on by a butcher from California and South Carolina during her final days. She suffered unbelievably because of him.

    The Universe presents us with examples of this almost every single day … you have to step up and do what needs to be done. A lot won’t, sadly. Then … there are treasures like you … like your parents!!

  2. I was born of a 19 year old unwed woman who later gave me up for adoption due to birth related injury’s. They used forceps which damaged my skull and face leaving me with CP and facial disfigurement. Those are the facts and as you say if precautions were taken, if the Dr. was better versed in his art, if they had bothered a little more not just that she was young, poor and unwed perhaps i would have fared better. I am happy as I am now and do not care to be “Cured” I am what I am! Please teach them something of the disabled and our needs equal to those of the able-bodied population. Thanks and I’ll keep working on my end too!

  3. I was in the audience at your speaking engagement today, January 8th. You were the best opening speaker we’ve ever had. You are truly a remarkable person. I took away so many valuable points from your speech today, thank you!!

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