The single most important thing in my life, aside from my wifey, is my wheelchair. Multiple Sclerosis has caused damage to various parts of my body; most problematic is the disabling of my legs. You can read about my wonderful wife in my memoir, “Come Get Me Mother, I’m Through.” You can also learn the account of the inaugural day in public with my very first wheelchair when I suddenly realized I’d be at butt level the rest of my life, but I digress. Safe to say (aside from my wife), my life revolves around my wheelchairs.
The first thing I accomplish in the morning is transferring into the power wheelchair my medicare plan grants. Throughout the day, ninety-five percent of my time is spent in either that chair or in the manual wheelchair my wife has afforded me, which gives me the freedom to maneuver away from home. It was more logical to purchase the manual chair than buy a large van equipped with a hydraulic wheelchair lift to haul the power chair around town.
I’ve learned to love being in a wheelchair. The upper level of my home is wheelchair ready with wooden floors. The powerchair elevates for easy access into cupboards, it leans back and the foot section extends for napping and therapies. When the weather allows (and my wife approves), I use the manual chair and you’ll see me wheelin’ around town doing chores. Though I’m not a “mall walker” but a “mall wheeler,” I’ve put on miles in our local mall and nearby Walmart as I get what could be some of the only cardio exercises available to a guy stuck in a chair on two wheels. Undoubtedly, the most fun I have is being at eye level with kids, you can read about my excellent encounter with Alyssa in my last blog.
The chair allows me to be the first to set the mood in every situation. Never afraid to engage, I start the conversation with a smile and show respect to those I encounter; at the entrance of grocery stores, the hair salon, the library, the doctor's office, and restaurants as I maneuver through tables. Realizing it’s inconvenient for some, I pour on the extra good vibes. But, you “walkers” inconvenience me too.
When you kick the back of my wheelchair because you’re not watching where you’re going, the logical gesture should be, “excuse me.” If I kicked your chair at dinner, I’d stop and say “excuse me.” But MOST TIMES, you “walkers” just keep walking. It happened recently at my favorite Italian restaurant. A woman who witnessed the bang while sitting at an adjacent table said, “Wouldn’t you like to have a squirt gun so when that happens, you could just squirt them?” That lady can play on my team any day.
“Wheelchair-ers” are just like the motorcycle “rider-ers” you see while driving down the street. There’s always a glancing smile or a nod of acknowledgment, just like the bikers.
On an early Sunday morning, while bouncing around my Xfinity TV channels, I stumbled upon a Hop-Along-Cassidy black and white movie short from 1939. There was a well-dressed gent in a wooden wheelchair and I was immediately intrigued, wondering how the man would be portrayed in film over eight decades ago. The scene took place in an old west town with a drunk sheriff who, in a stupor, handed over his badge to the elderly man in the wheelchair.
Reveling in his new position of power, the wheelchair man began to talk up things he wanted changed in their town to make it more family-friendly and lawful. The guys with black hats, and the former drunken sheriff, didn’t like the sound of those changes. There was unspoken talk of revenge, simple eye gestures and body language from the rowdy gunslingers, making viewers wonder of impending danger.
In a setting reminiscent of my reality, the frail gentleman pushed the wheels of the second most important thing in his life (his chair), as he followed the most important thing in his life (his wife), up a dirt pathway to their lovely home decorated with hanging flower baskets on the porch. All of a sudden, a hooligan on his horse rode up and “cattle roped” the recently badged sheriff and took off down the dirt road Main Street at full trot, with the wheelchair, and new sheriff, bouncing uncontrollably behind. The old man desperately tried to stay in his chair as the cowboy “whooped it up” barrelling through town. The ruffian's horse flew past a supply wagon. He yanked on the rope attached to the chair, placing it directly in the wagon’s path. There was a violent collision as the chair slammed into the back of the stationary wagon, producing a massive cloud of dust and debris, leaving the old man’s body crumpled on the ground. It took my breath away. That’s not what I was expecting. His distraught wife cradled him as he took his last breath and I began to feel deeply troubled by what I’d just witnessed. That was pretty bold of the filmmaker, over 80 years ago. I was hoping to see something a little more encouraging about the way people in wheelchairs were treated, way back then. Seems like us “wheelchair-ers” may have needed more than a squirt gun.
My wheelchairs give me the freedom of movement and the natural ability to break the ice and force conversation. I’m proud to say, for the most part, you walkers have been pretty good to me and I’ve never been “cattle roped.” However, my daughter is an equestrian and is employed by her stables and I often appear in my wheelchair at her shows, to hang out and pet horses. There is that one crazy Cowboy who doubles as a Veterinarian who always wants to talk to me about his favorite podcast, something about Quantum theories. I’d better get me a really big squirt gun.
Until next time,