Helping Hands

One year ago this week, our friend Francisca suffered a seemingly unremarkable injury to her right arm. What could have been the result of sleeping wrong, a bruise from a forgotten bang or bump to the arm or any other benign reasons has turned into an unimaginable frustrating and life altering journey for her.

You may remember Francisca from her years as an actress, or more recently as a fitness instructor. You may remember her from Cuba, from Halifax or from Toronto, but regardless where or how, you all know her as a feisty, caring, generous person who makes time for her friends in between her erratic and unconventional schedule. What you probably know her best for is her indomitable spirit and fierce independence. This journey has all but destroyed that spirit and independence. Here is her story and how we can all help her to get it back..her story of a year from hell.

After awaking one day last December to virtual paralysis in her right hand, she thought the numbness must only be was not. The doctors had no answers. Radial nerve palsy, auto-immune disease and genetic disorders were ruled out in these early days. Because it was not considered serious at the time, she then had to wait months to see a specialist. Now, being right-handed, Francisca had great difficulty with day to day tasks...cutting and preparing food, carrying an umbrella, putting coins in her washing machine, things we all take for granted. This wouldn't have been fully debilitating if she had the support of her husband but within a month, he gave up on her and her inability to support them and became abusive towards her. The situation with him became so untenable, she was forced to call the police and have him removed from their home. Left without his support, the emotional devastation compounded her physical devastation and she was left trying to run her life with one hand. A neurologist was unable to diagnose her, her income was greatly reduced, and agencies did not consider her disability a disability. March became a month of counselling trying to deal with these issues and applying for OW. April turned into its own nightmare trying to file taxes with an errant ex-husband but at least she had an occupational therapist and saw a hand specialist. However, she was denied Legal Aid and rent geared to income - services she could have used to deal with the dissolution of her marriage. Francisca got through all of that even though the emotional strain was really starting to show to the people closest to her. May and June were an endless parade of appointments, and a lack of answers. July was filled with denials from ODSP and her own building for rent geared to income.

And then came August 21st. The familiar numbing again. This time in her left hand. You can imagine the panic. After struggling for 8 months to get to appointments, make our government agencies and doctors understand the true severity of her disability, she now has lost the remaining ability to do the most basic of tasks. It is hard for you or I to see this disability. She is one of the thousands with invisible disabilities where you don't see how incapacitated she is. Imagine getting on a streetcar and you can't hold the strap. Well, you can see she has splints on her hands, but perhaps that is just a minor sprain so you don't offer your seat. Imagine trying to change the sheets on your bed when you can't lay a sheet flat. Imagine not being able to do up your zipper on your pants. Imagine not being able to take something out of your oven. Imagine not being to get change out of your purse for the bus. Imagine not being able to use a glass because it might slip and break and you cannot sweep it up. Imagine nobody being there to help. Now, this is not to say that her friends have not helped. But it has been a year and nobody can help every day of every week of every month.

Yes, Francisca has some resources. She has finally, after 10 months, qualified for ODSP. She has received rent geared to income. She has been provided some help for victims of abuse. She even has a diagnosis of bilateral radial nerve palsy. However, these resources are not enough to enable her to prepare a meal every day, to have a support worker, to get the occupational and physiotherapy she sorely needs or to even buy groceries (because she can't carry the bags). She has been so very proactive and sees a counsellor to deal with the physical trauma of her injury and the emotional trauma of the breakdown of her marriage, but the ODSP she has been approved for may not kick in for months and Francisca has not been able to work in her chosen career as a physical fitness trainer for almost a year now. There is a long road ahead before she will recover.

What has been the worst for her in all this is losing the independence she prides herself on so much. She is grateful to her friends and sister who have helped enormously, but she knows that since she may not have full use of her hands for AT LEAST another year, she needs to rely on her upcoming ODSP. Which brings me to this appeal. We have all asked ourselves how we can help. We all want to drop by and bring her groceries, clean her bathroom, wash a dish or make her bed. But we can't all do this all the time. So, this is how we can help. With some funds to bridge the gap between now and her ODSP (hopefully to kick in by the spring), she can hire the people she needs to help her. Maybe someone to clean her apartment every 2 weeks, a personal support worker to help her prepare her meals and show her some nifty hacks so she doesn't hurt herself in her own home because she can't properly use a knife, physiotherapy to help her regain the strength in her hands, a metropass so she can get to her numerous appointments, grocery delivery in the winter when she can't do up her own boots to go get food. She has been unable to work for this past year. Her funds are depleted. We all know even with ODSP, a lot of these necessities will be out of reach while she cannot work. With some control over her life, she hopefully will begin to heal emotionally and physically.

A little can go a long way. Let's get Francisca on her hands again! Let's see her do a cartwheel again..SOON. Your support is very much appreciated.
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Francisca Zentilli 
Toronto, ON
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