'I do it ny way'

Remark in advance: Rudi died at the age of 47 on April 27th 2014. I've decided to keep this interview online as an homage.    
 
At the age of 34 Rudi Van Damme got severely disabled, because of an operation which turned out not to be necessary at all in the end. Despite his severe disability and the fact his future doesn't look bright, Rudi still has good courage in life. Below follows his story.

'My right shoulder hurt a lot. The neurosurgeon consulted in Gent proposed an operation. That operation made I became paralyzed. In fact, there was no need for that operation. All that had to be done was to abduct redundant cerebrospinal fluid to the blood vessels. Of course, I tried to put a complaint against this surgeon. Five years later, I had a dossier of half a meter high. However, there were a few problems. It was difficult to find a lawyer who was willing to treat this case. Once I found one, he could start a procedure with the court at the cost of 1,000 euro. To make this case succesful, we also had to find another surgeon in the same function but in another hospital who would like to testify. No doctor wants to testify against a colleague. Finally, I underwent the fact I could forget a reimbursement.'

Depending on others

'From the very first moment I accepted my disability. I don't look at what other people of my age are still capable to do. I look at people who are living in worse conditions than I am. I lead a reasonable life, being severely disabled. I focus on people who accept me as a dignified person and not as a piece of misery in a wheelchair.

'Already after one week, I possessed a laptop with speech control. I've always had the motivation to start more things when I'm in a situation of bad luck. Fortunately, we do have a good social system in Belgium. After having been in hospital for one year and a half, I was sent home again. Here, I'm able to live on my own thanks to the Personal Assistance Budget (PAB). Before I got disabled, I had my own shop in computer soft- and hardware. I was thus used to hire personnel. With regard to the PAB, this turned out to be much more difficult. In the beginning I was looking for a copy of my own. Nowadays, I search for people who answer my needs best. My PAB consists of a fixed budget that is being set on what one is still able to do and what not. I need help continuously. In that context my PAB meets my needs properly.

'My wife has never been able to accept the disability. We've been divorced since 2010. Our visions to life didn't match anymore. Probably, the divorce would also have happened without my disability.

'We do have twins. One of my two sons can't accept the disability either. He hates the fact I'm disabled and doesn't want to look at what I've already achieved in life. I don't have contact with him anymore. The other one has difficulty with my disability as well, but he finds it interesting how I help other people by having contacts with politicians.'

Short term policy

'Those contacts are at the lowest and the highest level and I don't limit myself to one single political party. I approach politicians about cases that have to do with accessibility and labour. I used to make use of the so called call bus in the past. My wheelchair is actually not suited to it. One can easily solve this problem by getting out the last couple of benches. The bus is never completely crowded. The public transport company refuses to do so, because it doesn't fit in their policy. When the current Walloon prime-minister Rudy Demotte was federal minister I once contacted him about the unfair system with regard to unemployment because of illnes/disability. When one gets back to work after having received a benefit of not being able to work and it shows one can't indeed execute that job either, you don't get your old benefit again. That's unfair. Demotte answered it's a complex case which can't be changed quickly. Although the matter had not been resolved by this answer, I was satisfied I got an answer in the first place.

'To keep those contacts asks a lot of time and energy. I'm not intending to occupy myself with my disability solely all the time. Traffic safety, for instance, is important to all of us: young and old, disabled and non-disabled. People with a disability do live in a rather luxury situation. The big problem in this country is it takes a long time before one gets his/her bestowal. Those waiting lists arise, among other things, because of the complicated Belgian political situation. One entitlement is federal, the other regional. All politicians make many plans, but they don't add a budget to it. Those plans are solutions for problems out of the past. They don't look to the future. One can already predict now that the number of disabled people will grow the coming years. People get older, the number of traffic victims keeps rising.'
 
'I miss affection'

'I'm not angry at anyone. I almost have everything in life, except one thing: someone to share love and happiness with. I miss the physical contact. I'm not looking for it actively. I could call on a prostitute, but that's more complicated in Flanders than in The Netherlands. In The Netherlands there's a foundation (The Turtle, JP) that employs ladies for having sexual contact with disabled persons. Such a thing doesn't exist here in Flanders. It should have to be more easy to get such sexual service. I think there will be a big demand, but how to organize it? There have already been congresses about this subject, without something being realized. I think a regular prostitute will find it too difficult to cope with a disabled person like I am.'
 
Uncertain future
 
'My physical condition is detoriating. My spinal cord has been damaged at the highest level. Sometimes, some basic functions don't work anymore. My vertebra is crumbling. I can't make certain movements anymore. My longues are weak. During the night I sleep with a device that helps me breathing. Should I get an infection in my longues, I won't be able to breathe anymore and that would be the end of the story. Winter is the most dangerous period for me. I stood the past winter well.

'I absolutely want to stay alive until the twins get 18. My sons become 17 this year. I might live for another ten years. It could be over soon as well. I don't worry about myself. I do worry about the people who will stay behind. I live with the knowledge that every day can be the last one. That's why I try not to part from anyone quarreling. I prefer to gather people around me who are helpful to me.
 
'I've always lived my life in my own way. It's your life and your decisions are always yours. Good or bad. My musical contribution therefore is My way, but in the version of Herman Brood (Dutch musician/artist who committed suicide  by jumping off the roof of the Amsterdam Hilton some ten years ago, JP) 

In order not to interrupt Rudi's story unnecessarily, I didn't add redundant commentary. His story speaks for itself.
 
Copyright text: Johan Peters, May 15th 2013 - ...