There’s an old adage about not truly understanding someone until you have walked in their shoes — or rolled with their wheels?
I’ve always been independent, so when a recent health issue restricted me temporarily to a power wheelchair, I was not very pleased.
A brown recluse invaded my home, then my bed, and chomped down on my toe and finger. The finger survived; after about a month, the toe and part of my foot did not.
My doc issued strict orders to stay off the foot, but he didn’t know that wouldn’t mean bed rest for me. I wheedled a limited work permit from him, promising to stay off my feet, and a dear friend gave me a great deal on a Jazzy power chair.
Co-workers have just about become used to me wheeling around the office, and I’ve become an expert at handling heavy rest room doors. I can maneuver pretty well and have only run over toes a few times; my fiancé, Dean, now wears steel-toed boots, thanks to me.
He has been my hero, hauling my shiny red steed to daily medical appointments and to work in spite of my running into his heels quite often.
Using a wheelchair, power or the old-fashioned kind, gives a new perspective to things. Until someone is disabled, even temporarily, they have no real understanding of the challenges.
Doorways suddenly become narrower. Shelves are out of reach. The freezer part of your refrigerator becomes a mystery compartment and you learn how to ask total strangers to hand you something from a top shelf at the local grocery store.
If you’re in a wheelchair, really short people are taller than you, and people of average height are tall. Tall people are really, really tall, and I can now imagine what it is like to be a toddler or small child, walking around looking at everyone’s kneecaps.
As a temporarily disabled person, I have come to appreciate the value of handicap-friendly bathroom stalls and know the difficulty of maneuvering into a narrow, non-handicap friendly stall because some smart aleck locked the handicap-friendly stall and climbed out underneath.
I couldn’t help but laugh when I splattered water all over myself at a water fountain, but quickly sobered up as I imagined how hard it must be for someone confined to a wheelchair to get a drink when thirsty.
I know I will walk again as soon as my foot heals. But what about those who won’t ever walk, or run, or ride a bike? Do we, who think nothing of taking a step, reaching for something on a top shelf, or breezing through life without restriction actually comprehend what disability and handicap mean?
I thought I did, until now.
Maybe this spider bite and subsequent amputation is a lesson in humility and forced dependence.
It’s not easy for a free-spirited, independent person to ask for help, especially when it is something that once was so simple. Daily tasks take on new challenges when one cannot walk, use their hands or has lost strength.
Power chairs have made great strides, however. The mobility and freedom for those confined to wheelchairs makes a great difference, and I wish everyone who needs one, has one.
I’ll only need this one for a while, but I hope my friends and family survive while I have it. Toes and heels are bruised, and our poor cat should have learned by now to avoid the chair at all costs.
With two power chairs in the household now, Junior the kitty has a pretty sore tail. He still sleeps in mine and even refuses to relinquish it when I need to make a nighttime foray. He rides along.
Our dog Vivi knows how to stay just out of reach of the wheels, and enjoys escorting me as I cruise down the street. We’ve all seen people riding power wheelchairs along the streets and sidewalks, and I am glad technology has provided people with the extra freedom when their natural-born freedom and independence have been challenged.
I still yearn for the day my doc tells me I can start walking on my foot again. Until then, y’all watch out for your toes.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at 489-9414.