Working Stiff

Glenda Turner wrestles with ways to regain a normal life -- as others beat on her to break the grip of the bizarre syndrome racking her body


Turner's life these days revolves around managing her illness. She no longer considers withdrawing from a productive life an alternative.

"I want to be active. I want to be engaged in my own life," she maintains.

She says she lost two jobs in the past after employers witnessed an episode. She now works as a technical writer for a consortium of oil companies.

Before Christmas she suffered two massive spells in one day at the office. Rather than fire her, Turner's supervisors reassured her. They even bought her a CD player to help drown out ambient noise.

"They did it because it was humane," she says gratefully.

Turner heaps similar praise on the Houston Fire Department for coming to her aid on more than 80 occasions, as have employees at several area stores.

Still, she does not want to depend on the kindness of strangers forever. Her goal is to find an expert who can make a definitive diagnosis and begin a course of treatment. Paying for the needed care will be tough, but her friends appear willing to pitch in and help raise funds.

"She is determined by all means to do battle with this illness. She just will not back down," Stallworth says. "She just continues to kick at the goat."

Turner hopes someday to launch a Web site for people with "orphan illnesses," rare conditions that slip through the cracks of mainstream medicine. The idea, she says, is to help people secure reliable information and funding for medical care. She wants to call the site nopityparty.com.

"To whom much is given, much is required," she insists. "I can't let it be just about me, because I have a lot of help."

That assistance was evident on the recent Sunday morning at her Baptist church. After the onset of the attack, her small group of helpers struggle to carry her from the crowded sanctuary and down the hallway.

"Shut the door, and we'll be good to go," Turner moans when they reach a tiny infirmary. Lying on a cot, she screams and pants as if in labor and counts down from ten.

Two of the men withdraw. Her mother, Pearl, wearing her usher's uniform, streams in with other women.

"Someone's got to sit on my legs, because the spasms are killing me," Turner cries. "Just sit on them."

A beefy fellow named Elvis Presley does as he is told.

Turner screeches about having trouble breathing. Her shoulder is "stuck," and her back spasms badly. A scrum of people squeeze, twist and whack her outstretched body as if it were a thick mass of dough. The pounding is the only way to get her muscles to release their grip. Through her pain, Turner bleats directions.

"Just hit me, sister," she bids a woman in gray.

Despite it all, Turner tries to keep a sense of humor. At one point she quips to the crew, "It's a good thing we all know each other."

After some 20 minutes of frenzied activity, her moaning subsides. The medication she took earlier in the worship service is kicking in. "The top part of me is coming back," she gasps with relief. Everyone in the room is breathing hard. Presley wipes sweat from his head with a paper towel.

"You're dripping, girl," Pearl Turner says to one of the ladies.

As the seizures dwindle, Turner sits upright in the bed, talking about the incident like one does a hurricane after it passes.

A few minutes later she returns to the service where a guest minister, who sounds like James Brown, leads the vast congregation in raucous song. The room is a pulsating sea of waving hands and swinging bodies. One girl gyrates up and down the aisles as though in a trance.

"That's church," Turner says with an infectious smile.

She's beaten back another attack, but Turner knows it will be more difficult to realize her dream of helping others cope with their rare conditions. "If I can be a voice to help people who don't have the tenacity or whatever to fight for their lives," she says, "then I'm willing to do it."

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