By Barbara Duggan
Do you know this man? Perhaps you’ve seen him at one of many festivals you attend? Perhaps he’s taken your tickets and given you a broad smile and a thank you – all that in a time before COVID mind you. Robert Michel is a “people person” and he gets around.
Michel has lived with disability all his life. He has never walked and is profoundly deaf. His strength is born from an attitude of courage and possibility. He was born and raised in Ottawa and took advantage of the schools for the disabled and the programs available to him. His loving family encouraged him to be independent from a young age.
Michel is as adept at wheelchair driving as an Olympian training a lifetime at a sport. As a young teen, he took advantage of the programs across the city for disabled youth and for many years participated in sledge hockey. Michel was thrilled when he discovered in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto a picture of himself on the ice playing sledge hockey. In addition to curling with Capital Wheelchair Curling Team at the RA Centre, Robert Michel has been active volunteering to help students practise their sign-language skills.
A few years ago, Michel’s health care needs increased as a result of a leg amputation. That was the catalyst for change and he moved into the Glebe Centre
At 54 years of age, he is one of the youngest of our residents. He lives on the fifth floor of the tower with 31 others, where he engages with the staff and looks out for his fellow residents. In the most loving sense, he is a caregiver, “a good Samaritan” as one staff member calls him. “His goodwill is impressive,” says a resident. Michel watches out for the near misses in wheelchair and walker traffic, the close calls when a fellow resident needs some help. He will sit at the dining table when his meal is over and prompt a tablemate to eat. He will sit beside another engaged in crafts and be an encouraging art appreciator. He is a keen observer of people and has a wicked sense of humour that keeps everyone laughing.
Whereas a year ago he’d visit friends that he had made all over the building, leave for volunteer work several days of the week and live as independently as possible, today, COVID has changed all this. Lockdown has become a new normal and Michel along with the others is restricted to the fifth floor.
Technology has been a godsend for him, much like it has been for many of our residents. A computer in his room allows him to reach out to his friends and family regularly. It has long been his connector and without it, says his mother Theresa, his life would be much impoverished. He has a phone equipped with special features that he wears on a lanyard around his neck and uses readily for translation and to complement his stories and conversation.
We are most fortunate to have Robert Michel in our midst. When we want to whine about testing, vaccines and weather, he serves as a reminder of what is important. He is our example of resilience, acceptance and courage; our real life action hero. Our super dude!
Barbara Duggan is director of quality management at the Glebe Centre.