Thursday, July 7, 2011

The wheelchair chronicles

So far I've been to two weddings and a bris in my crutchy/wheelchairy existence. I sprained my ankle in a particularly busy week with people getting married and having babies, Baruch Hashem. Well, BH that there are so many smachot (celebrations), not that I sprained my ankle, of course.

Turns out that the crutches are *really* hard for me. My hip that has been hurt by the PVNS just cannot take all my weight. Crutching around is very painful. So, I go into the wheelchair for relief... not many other options. I use the crutches only when I have to. Getting up from sitting, using the toilet, getting dressed, it's all SO challenging, you can't imagine. If my un-sprained leg was healthy, it'd be challenging, but with the bum hip, wow. It HURTS.
So, on the ground level of our house, and outside when I can, it's wheelchair.

I am learning a lot about people in wheelchairs that I hadn't learned in my previous wounded conditions over the years.

First of all, the world is *hard* for people in wheelchairs. Even those "ramps" on the sidewalks are hard to get up because they build them with a little 'lip'. Once, even though Robert was just parking the car and he'd come push me in a minute, I decided to try to get myself up the ramp as if I had no assistance. It was nearly impossible. I first turned the chair backwards to go back-wheels up first. I got half way up at that point and the wheels started skidding in place. In the end, I wound up using my left leg to push a little to get myself over the hump. NOT so handicapped friendly, indeed.

Then there is the issue of being in a public place. Everyone *stares*. It is uncomfortable to be looked down upon, even though it is just a matter of simple physics that people have to look down to see you. It is a whole different perspective. The one in the wheelchair winds up *feeling* looked down upon, even though it's just a matter of physics.

The other issue is that many, many people want to push you as a way to offer help. I find that I prefer to push myself, rolling the wheels manually. I let people push me because they want to help, and I think it is really hard for them to be with a person in a wheelchair. To a walking person, the person in the wheelchair looks like he/she needs help. Usually, he/she doesn't. What I really would rather do is roll beside the walking person and chat like normal. But, being in a wheelchair isn't normal.

At one of the weddings, I let different people push me when they offered, even though I didn't need it. It got annoying. 1. I couldn't talk to them because they were behind me. 2. It made me feel more handicapped. 3. I got 'put' into places where it wasn't my comfort zone-- like too close to people; they could hit my bad foot unintentionally. I'd have stopped further away from people.What happens is that people pushing the chair stop in the space they would've stopped in even if they weren't pushing the chair. That makes the person in the chair *too close*. The body space of the wheelchair person winds up being encroached upon, albeit unintentionally. This happened many times.

There were fun times at the weddings, too. At the one last night my friend put me into the middle of the circle of dancing and I "danced" (read: held hands and rolled back & forth) with my dear friend, the mother of the bride. Then when the dance floor cleared out a different friend pushed me really fast in a big circle around the dance floor (behind the separation where women dance-- nobody could really see unless they were in the women's dance section at the time). I was havin' some flyin' wheelin' times. (I really hope it's not on the wedding video!) 

Anyway, I learned some important things about handicapped people. Treat them as if they can do everything, and help them only if they ask, or if you see them struggling. I know it's hard not to offer help, but personally, I didn't want the offers.
And if you do wind up pushing, be sensitive to stopping farther away from the target than you feel is normal, because you have someone in front of you. Also, if you feel the person in the wheelchair using their wheels to slow down or move a bit, let go of your grip and let them move. Most people didn't realize when I was trying to move myself with my hands on the wheels.

There is one thing I do like about being in a wheelchair... I am eye-level with my kids. :-)


  1. I just read your blog entry. Thank you for sharing that perspective. It made me stop and think.

  2. Definitely food for thought. My little girl just read it and it was such an eye-opener for her in how she perceives her wheelchair bound cousin.

  3. Sarah, I think this is an important post and will enlighten a lot of "well meaning" people who take it upon themselves to take over even when it's not appropriate.

    When well-meaning people do these inappropriate things, I also think it's important that the person in the wheelchair say, "Thanks, but I'd really rather drive myself. This way I can be next to you and we can have a conversation."

    I also feel that it's appropriate for others to SOMETIMES ask if the wheel chair user needs any help, especially if the user is going up a curb or a steep hill. The potential helper just needs to be prepared to hear "No thank you, but I appreciate the offer."

  4. excellent. You are so aware even as you are going through a hard time you are conscious of what to learn from it. Amazing. By the way I recommend the movie about Vertigo - a dance performance with "able" and so called "Disabled" dancers and how each learned from the other and learned movements that suit others. Talk about whirling wheel chairs. The movie is about the project. The troupe is in Ranaana or somewhere like that but came to Eilat to give us provincials a chance to see culture. It was Fab! Keep writing!

  5. Dear, dear Sarah,

    Life wasn’t hard enough???

    Just some food for thought…There really is no one way to approach someone in a wheelchair (or anyone who’s vulnerable, for that matter). Everyone is different. It really means going inside ourselves and asking “What feels right here?” Listen to your intuition and then, check it out with the other person. See what their needs are. Never assume that any one way is correct for them.

    Lots of love and hugs…

    Shabbat shalom,

    Miriam M.

  6. amazing observations! thanx for sharing your thoughts with us. so many things we take for granted and never thought about how handicapped pple live. even though you had a hard week, you look teriffic!(in the pics), keep smiling! shabbat shalom, rochel.