This is the Wheel Life
By Myra Shinkman
Just a little over a year ago, I broke my right ankle, tibia and fibula. I had to have surgery to set it, wore a cast for almost 3 months, and even today, I am still in a wheelchair. These are some of my thoughts about spending this period of time looking at everybody’s bellybutton.
It’s amazing how different the world looks from down here. When I’m outside, what may seem to you an insignificant crack in the sidewalk looks like the freaking Grand Canyon to me. Those little wheels in the front of the chair – they get stuck very easily. Actually, one of the first things I learned for going over any obstacles: big wheels first. Just like the kids’ toy. I really wish wheelchairs came with rearview mirrors. Sometimes I go backwards more often than I go forwards. Almost worse than the cracks are the slight inclines used for wheelchair ramps. I’m in a manual chair, and those ramps are hard for me to get up.
Still, I do manage to do it, but boy I wish the world were a lot flatter sometimes. I hear Nebraska’s flat – should I try moving there? Another thing I discovered being in a chair – is that people are apt to just grab the chair and push you places. Usually without asking first. Oh how I HATE that! I’m still an autonomous human being; ask my permission before you move the chair. If it helps you, consider me somewhat bionic, as in the chair and I have melded into one being. You don’t go around pushing random ambulatory people around, so don’t do it to me. Mmm’kay?
The term, “Wheelchair Accessible,” ain’t necessarily true. Today’s case in point: my mother is in the ICU at a local hospital (she will recover), so I went to go visit her this morning. To be let into the ICU, you have to take the phone off the hook on the wall and talk to someone at the nurses’ desk to get them to buzz the door open. Despite all the ramps, etc., the phone was too high off the floor for me to reach from the wheelchair. I have to ask people to do that for me. Does this make any sense to you? No it doesn’t to me, either.
For various and sundry reasons, I am looking for another place to live. I’ve been searching on craigslist for an apartment share, and I put in the search bar the phrase “wheelchair.” There was one place that looked really great – it was to share a place with a couple of other women my age, it said it was wheelchair accessible, and it was in my price range. When I contacted them, they told me it was on the second floor. In a two-story house. Huh. How is this wheelchair accessible?
One of the weirdest things is that I’ve completely lost my ability to tell how tall people are. If you’re standing next to me, I no longer know if you are a very tall 6-footer or a shrimpy 5’1″-er like me. Very disconcerting because I used to be a very good judge of height. Hey, I don’t mean to gripe about this too much.
There are actually some perks to being in a wheelchair: you don’t have to wait in line at a restaurant. I tend to get a table right away. I guess it’s bad “optics” to have a wheelchair-bound person sitting outside the restaurant trying to get in. If I drop something, people from all around rush to pick it up for me. Never mind that I have no problem picking things up off the ground – it’s my right leg that isn’t working, not the rest of me. Still, it’s nice, and it’s good to see young people in particular being so thoughtful. Ditto for being at the supermarket. I just have to look up longingly at something on the top shelf, and people clamor to help me get it. It’s kind of nice, actually. I didn’t get this much attention when I was standing on my own two feet, just being short.
I hope one day fairly soon to be out of the wheelchair. Maybe I’ll need a walker, maybe I won’t. Apparently, I have some form of diabetic osteoporosis and keep breaking bones, so being careful will be my motto for the rest of my life. Standing or sitting, i intend to enjoy my life as much as I can. So, if you see me rolling by, give me a wave. And if you block my view to anything, expect to be stuck in the back with a pointy stick. Cheers!