|About the presenter: Lee Reeves is a veterinarian in Plano, Texas, USA. He has been active in self-help/mutual aid for those affected by stuttering for over 35 years. He is past Chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Stuttering Association and co-founder of the Dallas, Texas Chapter. Dr. Reeves has authored or co-authored several articles on self-help/mutual aid for stuttering and is a frequent speaker at both professional and consumer meetings.|
The teenage years are hard enough without the added problems associated with stuttering. Feelings of inferiority, shame and embarrassment can be overwhelming. Unfortunately for some, these feelings can lead to isolation and errors in decision making that can have lasting effects. I share a part of my story along with some of the life lessons learned along the way in hopes that you will come to know you are not alone, that there is life after the teenage years and that others who have gone before you are here to help.
I was 16 years old when I found enough courage to walk into the local veterinary hospital and apply for a job. Being a veterinarian was my life's ambition but actually going into an animal hospital and asking for a job was not something I thought I would be able to do because of my stuttering. However, after driving past the hospital several times a week for what seemed like months I finally gathered all of my courage and walked in.
As I approached the receptionist my palms were dripping with sweat and my heart felt like it was pounding through my chest. I somehow got out enough words to let her know that I wanted a job. She said that the doctor was busy seeing clients, but if I wanted to wait, that would be fine. I sat quietly in a corner for three hours as people with their pets came and went through the waiting room. Finally, after everyone was gone and almost all of the lights were turned off the doctor came out. I struggled through long stuttering blocks and facial grimaces to tell him that I wanted a job and that I would do anything. He said that he did not need any help at the moment but he would keep me in mind. Then he asked me my name! After attempting unsuccessfully two or three times to say it I just wrote my name down on a piece of paper with my phone number, thanked him and left.
There was no doubt in my mind that my future as a veterinarian was over before it even began. One can only imagine the humiliation, frustration and anger that overcame me as I once again felt the incredible power that stuttering had over me. However, to my surprise and astonishment three weeks later Dr. Malnati called and said if I wanted to work I had a job. It's possible that my feet did not touch ground for several days. I was presented with the first of many lessons: do not assume that when things don't turn out the way you hope that your stuttering is to blame!
My resurrected career as a future veterinarian began unceremoniously as I cleaned cages, swept and mopped floors and bathed dogs. That was OK with me because I didn't have to talk much. However, as my skills and experience increased, so did my responsibilities. Dr. Malnati always expected the same from me as he did everyone else. We never talked about my stuttering. He was usually patient and never interrupted or filled in words. He also never let stuttering become a crutch to avoid what he expected of me. I remember one occasion when I was standing next to the phone as it began to ring. He told me to answer it. I picked up the receiver and tried desperately to say žCoolridge Animal HospitalÓ, but nothing came out. Finally, Dr.Malnati reached over, smiled, took the phone and completed the call. He never said a word but every time I was by the phone when it rang he just looked my way and waited for me to answer it. I did not master the phone or my fear of it for years but there was another lesson staring me in he face: doing that which you fear does not always bring immediate success yet you must continue to try.
There were many similar incidences that provided learning opportunities for lessons of life that occurred during my time with Dr. Malnati. I continued working for him during college breaks and summers. Eventually, I applied for and was accepted to veterinary school; he wrote a letter of recommendation. After graduation I moved half way across the country and in time started my own practice. That was over thirty years ago and though Dr. Malnati is in his late 70's he has remained a mentor, a colleague and a dear friend. When I mention to him the impact that he had on my life he shrugs it off and reminds me that it was I that had to do the work. Thus, another lesson: opportunities and help come in a variety of ways and from a variety of people but only you can do the work.
I still stutter though neither as much nor as severely as I did at sixteen. The painful memories of those teenage years while once vivid have begun to fade. However, many lessons learned through my life had their beginnings during that same time period and have become more valuable each and every day.
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