It began on a Fall afternoon in the mid-eighties. I was at my desk in the science building when a dark-haired young woman lurched into my office, squealed like a pig, fell across my desk, and pushed a piece of paper at me. I took the paper, and read “Please help me. I am not retarded.” Block printing, in pencil, many erasures. She squealed again as I helped her back to her feet, then sat her in my chair.
I went into analytic mode – early twenties, one hand barely functional, no balance, can’t talk. Makes communication difficult. Computer lab down the hall – let’s see how she can do typing answers.
The first thing I learned was her name – Patti. She had been in a car accident, spent 5 months or so in a coma, and then been moved to a group facility. She had gotten to campus on an outing, and planned her escape. She had lurched into my office on her 7th escape attempt. Would I help? Only much later I would get the barest idea of how hard she had worked to write and keep her note, of the many attempts the crippled girl had made before she finally made it to campus. Inside the battered body, the mind was intact but isolated.
I balanced her weak left side, and we walked across campus to Doc Brown’s domain. Doc was our college psychologist – and I explained that Patti had came into my office, wanted to enroll, but was going to need some testing to figure out what sort of accommodations she would need. Obviously communication would be a problem.
I don’t know who it was that learned Patti had been a secretary at Adolf Coors. I don’t know who got in contact with Coors. I do know that someone at Coors made sure Patti got an Apple with a word processor and brought the gift of communication back to her. At first I’d see her coming across campus balanced by one gunsmithing student or another. Later, I’d watch her cross campus alongside one of the girls basketball players. In general, it was safe to say the world respected the young woman trying to get her life back.
All the while, she would make a point of going out of her way to stop by the science building every week or two. She was recovering the ability to type with her good hand. Math – even simple addition and subtraction – was pretty much gone – but she did have a calculator. Speech never came back.
I would like to believe there was a happy ending. I left Colorado and moved back to Montana. We exchanged letters occasionally – but, as Dad said, “When the anchor goes up, everything is finished. But Patti gave me an opportunity to do right, and many people at TSJC also shared in that opportunity.