When I was 19, I thought I would follow in my father’s footsteps and take up dentistry. It was a challenging time for me, as I had to uproot from my hometown and move to the capital of my state – Porto Alegre. Although excited, I was also apprehensive – I moved in with my younger brother and a friend. You would think that being disabled would have its advantages around the house…. errrrr you’re wrong, I was doing all of the cleaning and cooking around the house! Two 16 year old boys…the house was ALWAYS a mess!
I was the first disabled person to begin a dentistry degree at the university. Many things needed to be changed – Instead of having it all ready for me, you could say it was work in progress. For example – the tables were too high; and so many tasks were really difficult. By the time they got everything ready for me – I no longer needed them. I wasn’t really benefitting, but I guess in the future any other disabled people coming to the university would already be catered for. There were so many hurdles that although I really loved dentistry, after a while I began to HATE it! Everything was so difficult!!! I actually ended up hurting myself on a couple of occasions as a result! This also opened my eyes to what my future career in dentistry would be like, because nothing was catered for the disabled.
Another thing that I couldn’t cope with was the fact that all dentistry students had to wear white overalls. Now as you can imagine when you’re in a wheelchair wearing white is not practical at all. Your sleeves get dirty really quickly, because you have to push your wheelchair! You’ve put your bag down and then when you have to go somewhere you have to put it on your lap. You end up getting all dirty. It was a complete NIGHTMARE!!!! Oh, and another thing that has just sprung to mind! When I’m eating something all the crumbs go onto my lap but for those who aren’t in a chair all your crumbs fall on to the floor…so annoying!
On a positive note, university was amazing, the professors tried to help me as much as they could. But I guess, its Brazil! To get anything done, takes forever, there are so many stages to get through, before you get to the end result. At the end of the day it was really tough – long hours at uni as dentistry was a hard degree and getting to and from uni was also an issue, as transport wasn’t the best. I would normally get picked up by a private coach, which had the correct accessibility for wheelchair users. On one occasion my class finished earlier than normal and the coach was only due to pick me up in an hours time. Many of my uni mates were happy when we didn’t have class, but I was sad. It meant that if I wanted to get home early I would have to go on public transport. Of course at this time public transport was not accessible at all for wheelchair users – in the contrary accessibility was a real problem! When it was wet, wearing your white overalls and having to get onto the public bus, was not fun, believe me!
Most buses in Brazil have a revolving barrier before you get in! So once the bus arrived, I had to implore to the driver to allow me to get onto the bus! Why you might ask – well since most buses were not adapted, they weren’t authorised to allow me to come on board. But to be fair – what was actually needed was good faith on behalf of the drivers – some helped whilst others refused. On this occasion I had to ask a passenger for some help in taking my bag, books and chair. Then I had to ask those sitting at the front of the bus if they wouldn’t mind swapping seats, so that I could sit there. Once all that was sorted out I then had to crawl underneath the barrier! Baring in mind, that I was in my white overalls, so you can imagine the state I was in. And that wasn’t the end of it, because I had to do it all again to leave the bus!!!!! It is a hard situation for all but at the same time it is also a nice opportunity to meet nice people that are willing to help you! Nevertheless it was still worth it, as I was able to get home early!
After the first year, I decided that dentistry wasn’t for me so I transferred to a Law degree! The benefits were – not having to wear those ‘awful’ white overalls, and law was a lot more flexible timetable wise. Did I do the right thing? Or should I have been persistent with dentistry? I guess I did, because the moment you start loosing your passion for something, you need to go on to new endeavours, which inspire you and brighten that flame inside of you – so that life can have a greater meaning. Of course, there were many other things that happened in order for me to arrive at this decision, but I can’t write it all down, otherwise I’d be writing a book, not a short post!!! 🙂
Love Sam x
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