Monday, August 31, 2015

Time Warp: A Piece of Disability History

I am spending September as a visiting medical student in the Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. One of my mentors is the medical director at the Central Wisconsin Center on the edge of town, and he pulled some strings to get me a free dorm-style room for the month on the second floor of a residential hall for individuals with developmental disabilities (DD). The CWC was founded in the mid-1950s and is one of the last of its kind. In the 1960s and 1970s, states diverted much of the funds they had allocated for long-term care to community resources ("deinstitutionalization"). While many individuals with DD function very well living with their families or in group homes, others have needs that are too complex. It is a good thing to have some facilities for both short- and long-term residential treatment.

My bedroom is the window to the right. A few changes have been made since Murphy Hall opened.

1) The addition of a concrete ramp. (Yes, a home for persons with disabilities was constructed with steps. Read into that what you will.)
2) A no-smoking sign. (Unheard of in the 1950s.)
3) An automatic door opener. (Yay, technological progress! But they turn it off at night when the doors lock, so I did not get to benefit from it while moving in.)
4) An ADA "handicapped" sign. (Yay, legal progress!)

A little wooden bear welcomes you (above). Behind him is the west wing of Murphy Hall (below). In front of him you see my bicycle, which I stuffed in my trunk for the 4-hour drive, in the hopes that I will be able to do some biking while I’m here--for instance, to church, or to the local public library, as there is no wireless internet at CWC.

Otherwise, the buildings on campus have apparently not been renovated much since CWC accepted its first patient in 1959, so the much of the architecture is strikingly mid-twentieth century. My room has a linoleum floor, hideous curtains that are at least 20 years old, and a bathroom tiled in five shades of “diarrhea.” I feel like I am living in a bit of a time warp. However, my mentor assures me that the treatment is state-of-the-art, belying the historical surroundings.

Down the hall, the staff lounge still has what must be the original tube RCA television set. I watch MASH while fixing and eating dinner.

Sometimes I take the bus halfway around Lake Mendota to the University of Wisconsin Hospital. There’s even a Little Free Library at the bus stop! It's got mostly fantasy fiction in it. But I’ve been too busy reading my birthday present from Dear Husband—a popular history of neuroscience—and my “homework” for this rotation, another advisor’s recent book on the 1960s German measles epidemic and the babies with disabilities it caused. (Reviews to come soon.) Next to the bus stop is a large meadow of goldenrod and black-eyed susans with mown paths that I hope to explore one afternoon.

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