Judy Dann graduated from Washington State University in 1985 with a degree in engineering and soon found a job with the City of Tacoma. Her life changed dramatically one day when she was hit by a car while crossing a street in Seattle. The accident damaged her brain stem, affecting her eyesight, speech, and mobility. She now uses a walker and a wheelchair and lives independently in a small community south of Tacoma. The following is excerpted from an interview with Washington State Magazine’s Hannelore Sudermann, April 8, 2005, in DuPont.
Life can change at any time.
I got a job at the City of Tacoma just after college. I was doing civil engineering in sewer utilities. I was there four months, and then one day I woke up in the hospital. I remember I went to work and it was sunshiny out, and then I woke up in the hospital and there was snow on the ground. I said, “Oh, what is going on?” They said I was in a coma six weeks. I was in the hospital for six months. There I learned to talk again. I learned to read again. Pretty much everything had to be relearned.
Even if you need help, don’t ask for everything.
Going home from the hospital was kind of scary. If you needed anything . . . the nurse would always bring it to you. If you needed help, there was always someone to help you. At home, no one is at your beck and call. It’s not their job to help you. And you are annoying if you ask for everything.
Declare your independence.
I lived at home for about 10 years. It’s nothing I would want to do again. My parents are wonderful people, but an hour a week is all I need. And that’s all they need to see me. I like being on my own. They said, “Do you want to come back?” I said, “Give me a cup of coffee, and I’ll think about it.”
Find a nice place to live.
I used to volunteer at Fort Lewis. Du Pont is right across the street. The secretary for the colonel said, “Hey, you know what, you should look at the apartments in Du Pont.” It was just a little bitty place at that time. I was surprised there were apartments. I came out here, and it was springtime, and those are rhodies up there, and everything was in bloom. They have flowering cherry trees. It was so pretty. I said, “Yes, I’m going to live here.” That was 10 years ago. It was so close to Fort Lewis, I didn’t have time to take a sip of coffee before I got to work. I don’t volunteer any more, because dialysis really wipes you out, and I have to go three days a week. Still, I’m glad I live here.
Coffee makes everything better.
I have a protein drink that I have to drink because of dialysis. I drink it with coffee.
I can’t drive anymore. I have a scooter. That’s how I get to Starbucks. We have two coffee places in town. No grocery store, but two coffee places. I go to both. That’s pretty much all you can do in Du Pont.
Cats are good company.
The guy who lived next door said, “I have to go overseas, and they won’t let me take the cat.” He was going over for the war. He got the cat about a month’s worth of food and a litter box and brought him here. His name is Yoda. He used to ride around on my shoulder, but now he’s too big. I did a neighbor a favor. It kind of works both ways. He’s a great cat. He’s warm in the wintertime. He wasn’t allowed to sleep with me in my room until he was at least a year old. He was too active. I had touch lamps, and I would wake up at three in the morning, and my lights would be on.
Have different facets to your life.
I go to the coffee place. I sew. I read. And I garden a lot. I have plants just outside my door. I used to grow tomatoes, but I can’t eat them, because I’m on dialysis. So I do cucumbers and carrots. Carrots are so good when they’re home grown. They have lots of flavor. And cucumbers just grow good, so you look like you have a green thumb.
I’m not a Presbyterian, but I go to their bible study. They’re awfully nice people. They need a little bit of help, though. We read the same passage in the Bible, and the pastor interprets it so differently than I would. So I have to tell everybody what I’m thinking. I make sure every one has thought of every point. It’s fun. We laugh a lot. Everyone has really their own theology. They can accept mine or they can accept his. Or they can have their own. I’m Catholic originally. I go to Lutheran church, but it’s a Presbyterian bible study. It’s kind of a combination of all of those. I seek fellowship in pretty much anyone.
Always do your dishes.
Last year I was nominated for a free housecleaning. I thought they were coming to clean my cupboards. I thought I was just going with my sister to breakfast. I thought it was strange when my mother said, “Don’t you think you should do your dishes?” I said, “Why? They’re coming to clean my house.” My mom insisted on doing the dishes. I’m glad she did. I wish she had made the bed, too. Instead of cleaning my place, Home Town Housekeeping and some local volunteers did a total makeover of my apartment. It really helped. My furniture was functional, but nothing matched. It was really ugly. Now it looks good. Everything matches now-it’s so amazing. My favorite new piece is the bookshelf where I keep my stereo and my books right by my chair. At night, I sit in my chair, and I’m exhausted. I won’t get up even to answer the phone. It’s nice to have everything in reach.
People can surprise you.
Before my injury, I wasn’t real impressed with disabled people, so I didn’t assume anyone else would be. They sure fooled me. People are OK. [After the home makeover, which was covered by the local newspaper and a TV station,] I feel I’m more appreciated now. Before, I felt I was tolerated. Now people are nice to me. When I’m out eating, people actually recognize me. Somebody wanted my autograph. I just laughed. I knew people in Du Pont were wonderful, but this was overwhelming.