The Body Silent: The Different World of the Disabled is a book written and published in 1990 by author Robert F. Murphy. Murphy wrote the book because he is writing about his disability, which is paralysis due to a tumor “from the second cervical vertebra to the eighth thoracic vertebra, or from the top of the neck to midchest- half of the length of the spinal column” (1990, p.23). Murphy not only wrote about the clinical aspects of his disability, but more importantly, he writes about how his perception of the world alters from sociological and anthropological perspectives.
The main purpose for the creation of his book was that Murphy sought to have his readers understand how his condition, which was the tumor that pressed against his spinal cord, resultantly led to his permanent disability. His main intention was for his readers emphasize with people living with disabilities and understand the adversities that they may experience on daily bases. Based from the content of his book, the intended audience that Murphy had targeted was able-bodied people currently living with no disabilities. Even though it is assumed that Murphy never wishes any reader living with no disabilities to end up living with disability due to a traumatic event, he prepares them for what it is expected if something life-changing and sudden occurs, due to his own experience.
The book mainly focuses on Murphy, who is the major principle character. Throughout the novel, Murphy consistently expresses on how inferior he feels as someone living without a disability. Despite his bitterness of living with a disability, he exhibits better coping skills when being supported by those in his personal and professional lives. I believe that Murphy is very meticulous in explaining about his life experiences regarding his disability because he wants his readers to view his story as a social, physical, and mental metamorphosis. He explains this transformative process using examples regarding societal expectations and human culture.
Yolanda is another important character in the book, too. From my perspective, both characters are very dedicated and exhibit unconditional love towards each other throughout their marriage. Yolanda is the primary caregiver to Robert, especially as his paralysis spreads throughout his body through the course of the novel. Murphy explains the progression of the paralysis by stating that “the paralysis has crept upward and outward, numbing sensation and imprisoning movement, my dependence on Yolanda has been complete” (Murphy, 1990, p.197). Their love is inseparable as Yolanda remains as a strong wife for her husband throughout these adversities.
Then, as I have read the book, I have identified a few major themes. One theme involves the exisiting prejudice towards people with disabilities. Murphy says that there is a “tissue of myths, fears, and misunderstandings that society attaches to them”. Murphy senses the pre-conceived judgments made by able-bodied individuals when they view him as someone living with a disability. He believes that the majority of society views him based on his physical condition as to knowing him as a whole individual. As a future occupational therapist, I am expected to treat the person as a whole individual when helping them return to their lives prior to a disability or adapt to new routines as a result of living with a disability.
The second theme involves a person experiencing a dissociation of themselves as a result of adjusting to living with a disability, like paralysis. He described that “paralysis sets in motion a process of estrangement from others, from one’s own body, and ultimately from one’s self” (1990, p.223). When Murphy was at the hospital for the first time recovering from the surgery in an attempt to remove the tumor, he experienced four significant changes which were: “lowered self-esteem; the invasion and occupation of thought by physical deficits; a strong undercurrent of anger; and the acquisition of a new, total, and undesirable identity” (1990, p. 108). These characteristics are absolutely true to any client that has acquired a permanent, life altering injury for the first time.
The main idea of the work was that people with disabilities are to be treated as equal members of society. With this idea, as I have learned about grassroots advocacy, also known as citizen-based activism, any person with a disability that feels unjust will fight for rights, such as accessibility to shopping malls. In other words, Murphy states that “the major goal of the handicapped movement is not to foster dependency, but to move the disabled into the mainstream of society as autonomous individuals”. Although Murphy did not fight during a specific disability rights movement in his work, he expected to be treated the way he would treat others, with respect and dignity.
Even though I used some quotes to supplement my review of the work, there are some other quotes that stood out which I found to have meaning for me. One quote I found is told by a doctor at the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center who inquired with Murphy if he wanted to be educated on his disability, simply by asking him, “Do you really want to know?” (Murphy, 1990, p.25). Murphy replied, “I don’t” (1990, p.25). Even though it may seem to be a rhetorical question, if I was a patient became aware that I had acquired an injury leading to a permanent disability, I would demand the medical staff to directly educate me on the nature of the injury. I am someone who values in being aware of my own health status because it is a right that I am entitled to.
Another quote that has stood out to me, in which it made me think how people should perceive life and adapt to their surrounding environment. It is, “The problem of the disabled person is very simple: You are just as alive as you always were, and what are you going to do about it?” (Murphy, 1990, p.138). It made me think that if I had acquired an everlasting disability due to a traumatic injury, I would need to consider how I would cope with living with the disability. If I was in this position, I would first mourn about the loss of certain functions, as it is normal to do so. It is important for one to let out their true emotions regarding this grieving process. Once I let out those emotions, then I would re-frame my mindset and see what would need to be adapted in my environment and or what modified skills would I need to learn in order to live my life.
After finishing reading the novel, I reflect that I have a deeper understanding of what it is like for one to live with a physical disability, based on Murphy’s disability. Murphy used and articulated various historical and real life examples that appealed to me, as well as becoming emotionally aware of all of the changes and challenges that people living with disabilities may face. I feel as though Murphy has provided me with valuable lessons that were planned and presented in a classroom, but from his first-person perspective. I will definitely apply what I had learned while reading the novel as it would benefit me as a future occupational therapist. In the context of physical disabilities, I believe that I had been reinforced that people with disabilities are just like able-bodied people with their own personalities and with similar needs, like love, shelter, and friendship. These are things that all humans of any ability, need, in order to live their best life.