The lobby at the pain-management clinic had become crowded with patients, so relatives had gone outside to their trucks to wait, and here, too, sat Desmond Spencer, smoking a 9 a.m. cigarette and watching the door. He tried stretching out his right leg, knowing these waits can take hours, and winced. He couldn’t sit easily for long, not anymore, and so he took a sip of soda and again thought about what he should do.
He hadn’t had a full-time job in a year. He was skipping meals to save money. He wore jeans torn open in the front and back. His body didn’t work like it once had. He limped in the days, and in the nights, his hands would swell and go numb, a reminder of years spent hammering nails. His right shoulder felt like it was starting to go, too.
Between 1996 and 2015, the number of working-age adults receiving federal disability payments increased dramatically across the country — but nowhere more so than in rural America. In this series, The Washington Post explores how disability is shaping the culture, economy and politics of these small communities.
But did all of this pain mean he was disabled? Or was he just desperate?
He wouldn’t even turn 40 for a few more months.
An hour passed, and his cellphone rang. He picked it up, said hello and hung up — another debt collector. He rubbed his right knee. Maybe it would get better. Maybe he would still find a job.
- Washington Post