If so today’s story about Jim Post, a paraplegic who despite his extreme physical limitations became a renowned Doctor, will show you your dream may be possible after all.
When Jim was just 14-years-old; a diving accident made him a paraplegic, with little use of his arms and no use of his legs. But Jim refused to give-up his dream of becoming a Doctor.
With considerable effort, and with the help of his future wife Saretha, Jim graduated from college with honors, and being an outstanding student; he applied to 7 medical schools in his home state of Pennsylvania in 1991.
But despite his outstanding academics and cordial personality, each school rejected him, seeing only his physical limitations. One Doctor treated the interview as a joke, sarcastically telling him, “If you studied the piano, with your limitations what good would it do, you could never play it.”
Jim was an impressionable 21-year-old and this Doctor’s sarcasm and rejection hurt him, as did all the impersonal rejection letters. But he refused to surrender his dream, and launched a media campaign to tell the public about his cause.
Then in 1992, fate intervened. On a TV talk-show, he was joined by Dr. Herbert Schaumburg, a prominent physician at the prestigious Albert Einstein School of Medicine in New York. As a child, Dr. Schaumburg had suffered from polio and could relate to Jim’s problems. And as he learned of Jim’s capabilities, he encouraged him to apply to Albert Einstein.
After getting to know Jim, Dr. Schaumburg became an avid supporter and over the next several months helped his fellow doctors overcome their skepticism. It took a shouting match here, some cajoling there from Dr. Schaumburg but in 1992, while all 7 Pennsylvania medical schools again rejected Jim, Albert Einstein decided to give him an opportunity and admitted him.
Not only did Jim graduate from Albert Einstein, he’s become an outstanding kidney specialist at the Bronx Veteran’s Hospital and he’s a faculty member at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. And on a busy day, he may see as many as 40-patients.
How does Jim function so well despite the severity of his physical limitations? He’ll tell you in his own words:
“Extent of my disability: Official diagnosis is C4-5 tetraplegia. I can bend my arms at the elbows and can move my shoulders. I am not able to open or close my hands. This includes not being able to move my fingers. I have patchy sensation throughout my arms and right hand only. The left hand has no sensation. Additionally, I have no sensation from the nipple line down.”
“How do I get around: I use a motorized wheelchair that I charge each night. The wheelchair has the ability to elevate me to lab counters so that I can look through the microscope and (so that I can) examine patients in beds difficult to access.
“I use the New York City paratransit (Access-A-Ride) [public transportation] wheelchair van to get to the Bronx Veteran’s Hospital and home which is approximately 30 minutes away. My assistant [Jane Wagan] meets me in the lobby of my building and travels to work with me. She will also set up my meals on my desk in my office so that I can eat breakfast and lunch.
“I use a special fork that can be inserted into my hand splint. Since I am also not able to move my wrists, I also use wrist splints to hold my wrist and hands in a more functional position.”
“How do I examine the patient: First I observe the patient. I have very developed observation skills. Much of this comes from my own experience having lived through [an] intensive care unit and rehabilitation hospital. I have dealt with fever and other [life threatening] ailments on my road to independence and health [just as many of his patients do].
“Each experience taught me about how patients like to be treated when they are not well. With the help of [Jane Wagan] the stethoscope [is] placed on my ears so … I can [examine] the lungs, heart and abdomen. I taught [Jane] exactly where to place the stethoscope and when to move it by watching for my cues.
“I can also [touch] the abdomen with my hand and check for edema [swelling] of the extremities by pressing on the legs. Much of this exam is exactly what I need to gather the information that I need to make an assessment and plan of management in my specialty. My examination also involves reviewing sophisticated and specialized biochemical tests which I order [as appropriate].”
This is how Jim functions as a Doctor. But for patients in desperate need because of the severity of their problems, he offers an extremely valuable additional service: hope. “Right now there is a 22-year-old with a terrible catastrophic [spinal] injury, the same type I have.
“The Doctors told his mother he might even die. Every day, I stopped by and assured her [for] she hadn’t known what to expect,” as her son’s life hung in the balance and his future looked bleak.
“Even though [he] is paralyzed,” Jim assured her, “He has a future. He’ll be in a wheel chair but he’ll have a life. He can enjoy things. His mother saw I have a wife and children and I’m a Doctor! And I [consulted] with his doctors. It gave her hope for her son. And I used my knowledge, clinical experience and special insight to make his life a little bit better.”
Jim offered this young man and his family assurances and guidance like few other doctors could. And he was there whenever they needed him to offer some relief from their anxieties, and peace of mind at times when it was desperately needed.
But Jim’s special circumstances allow him to help in other unusual ways. “I have an 80-year-old dialysis patient, a World War 2 veteran. He said, ‘I’m tired of people treating me like a baby. I want to be able to get around and do my own shopping.’ No medication made him as happy as when I got him approved for his scooter.
“He’s got his life back. He was used to a level of independence and because of his medical condition, he was dependent on his daughter. He said, ‘I can’t walk anymore without a walker other than a trip to the bathroom and I can’t drive.’ Now he can visit his old friends, go to the local strip mall to the drug store, have some ice cream and pickup some food items.
“It’s a very big thing. I know that for myself. That little bit of independence not to have someone with you all the time. I knew what he meant, how much it would mean to him and I aggressively pursued this and made sure it would [happen] for him.”
That’s what Jim Post does for his patients, as he provides his extensive medical skills and unique perspective to make life a little better for each one. And he also teaches new doctors to be more understanding and to be more sensitive to the feelings of patients and their families.
I told Jim that given all he’s had to overcome to become a Doctor, if I had kidney problems and lived in New York City, even though I’m not a military veteran, I would strongly attempt to have him become my kidney specialist. For Jim is extraordinarily talented, caring and dedicated and has a perspective unique to the practice of medicine.