Gracefulness or lack there of is not limited to the general population. There was a joke I heard long before I was in wheelchair that went, Hire the handicapped, they’re fun to watch. Cruel? Maybe. But if you can’t laugh at yourself, someone else will!
The best analogy I can think of that best describes the balancing act that higher-level spinal injured people go through daily, is similar to that of a swing-set. Imagine sitting on a swing with your feet off the ground and your hands off of the ropes. Any direction you move, you have to counter balance to stay upright. Now imagine going through the normal course of the day this way. Pouring that coffee suddenly gets challenging.
—Dealing with how different I was from before my injury, entering a college classroom was tough enough. Since I had a chair with me, sitting at the back of the room was rarely an option. I had positioned myself along the front row of the classroom and got set up to take notes. During the lecture, I felt my body getting tight. Suddenly, my legs jumped, my back arched and over I went into the chairs and student behind me. The professor walked up to me casually and humorously asked, “Was it something I said?” I responded, “I think it was your breath.”
—My housemate in college, Dave, was also in a wheelchair with a similar level of spinal injury. We kept little pizzas in the freezer because they were easy to cook. One evening after being out on the town, we decided to cook a couple of these for a late night snack. We both had lap trays with the cooked pizzas on them and sat in the living room talking. Dave lost his balance and fell over forward. When he sat back up, his food was missing. He looked at me pissed as if I’d taken it when he was down. The tears streamed from my eyes from laughing as I pointed to his shirt. The pizza had stuck to his chest. I ribbed him for a couple of weeks until I did the very same thing.
—When I first moved to North Carolina, I had only been in a chair a couple of years. I still had no idea what I was capable of and really hadn’t spent much time alone. One afternoon while typing my resume at the kitchen table, I lost my balance and fell over backward. I blame it on muscle spasms but it was just one of those character building experiences my father talked about. As I was going over backward, my legs hit the underside of the table and turned it over with my typewriter, papers and all being scattered across the room. I’m lying on my back with a splitting headache from hitting the hard floor thinking that its early in the day and no one is around the apartment complex for me to even call for help. After gathering my marbles, I crawled over to the edge of the couch pulling my chair behind. I sat up and spent a few minutes on the floor just looking at the room from a different view and checking out the disarray. My dog loved it because she could attack my ears at her level. This added additional challenge points for those keeping score. Sitting on a hard floor can cause real problems if done for very long. So I grabbed a cushion from couch and placed it beside me. I was able to lift up on it. The place where the cushion was suddenly didn’t seem much higher. With some effort, I was able to transfer up to that spot and then onto the remaining cushions. At that point and 45 minutes later, I was able to transfer back into my wheel chair. I would have made a sailor blush that day with my language but it was a defining moment in conquering helplessness.
—A close friend Charlie, his cousin Mike and I were in the Charlotte Airport on our way to Cancun for vacation. We were pretty keyed-up about the trip and had been really looking forward to getting away. I started down the people mover and scooted along pretty fast. Since I was way ahead of them, I stopped and turned around on the moving walkway. As I was looking back at them, I grabbed the side-walls and my wheelchair tires began spinning backwards while I sat still. It took about three seconds for Charlie to predict what was about to happen. Sure enough, the wheels caught and over I went. Charlie and Mike were laughing to the horror of the lady behind them. They were able to get me back up before we reached the end of the people mover so I didn’t jam the whole system. There’s nothing like starting out on the right foot.
—Getting two people together for vacation can be a real challenge. We managed to get 12 people on a plane headed for Freeport Bahama. It was nuts to say the least. A story I can tell, happened late one night. Tommy and I were the last two survivors of the group for that day. We had about 10 or 15 bucks each and it would have been over if we spent any more time at the pool lounge. Being the intelligent people we thought we were, we rationalized that drinks are free at the casino if you’re gambling. Heading over to the casino you had to go through the front lobby and up a flight of stairs. They had placed a sheet of painted plywood over the stairs to make a rather steep ramp but hey, who’s to question their judgement. They didn’t have to do anything. Well, Tom and I managed to successfully spend a few more hours in the casino pretending to play the machines since 15 bucks in a casino gets you to where the red carpet starts. On the way back to the resort, we slipped past the night watchman at the door and headed down the ramp. Well, Tom went head first down the ramp and I went down on my back. We came together at the bottom butting heads. It must have sounded like a couple of coconuts hitting together because the rather large native gentleman at the door just cracked up.
—When you move into a new home, there are a thousand and one things to do before its really like home. One of those things is to meet the neighbors and create a welcome Environment. I’d been up to my eyeballs in dust and dirt from the new construction. I would gather up piles of things left behind by the contractor and so did most of the other people in the neighborhood since it was a brand new housing development. On a sunny afternoon, I had been sweeping off the back porch. (not a favorite job for someone in my situation but the dirt drove me nuts) A storage closet containing the hot water heater and electrical box was located on the back of the house. I had the door open and began to sweep out the inch thick sawdust when I lost my balance and fell out of my chair half-in and half-out of the storage area while my chair rolled down the patio, into the grass and further down the slope of the yard. I managed to get as comfortable as I could considering the door jam was jamming my side. Then Tony, a neighbor from two houses up, walked out into his back yard with a wheelbarrow full of dirt. I yelled out to him, “Hey Tony, I wiped out!” He responded, “Ya, me too” and walked back to his house out of my sight. I must of had this look on my face like What Tha…. A few minutes later he walked around the side of my home and asked if I needed help. In the mean time he was trying to explain how tired he was from cleaning and wasn’t even thinking when he answered me earlier in the back yard. Every once in a while I’d yell out to him in the back yard, “Hey Tony, Still wiped out?”
—A few weeks ago, I was in our local Wal-mart with an old high school friend. We had just become reacquainted after several years. She was helping me get some things together for my new home back in Pennsylvania. I had a mop bucket full of stuff on my lap when I started for the brooms. I found the one I wanted fairly high up on the rack with the broom end up in the air. So being cool, I placed my palm under the butt of the broom and balanced the broom up off of the rack. I know now that Barnum Bailey Circus won’t be hiring me for their juggling act. The broom fell over my shoulder and in an attempt to save it I held on flipping over backwards right into the shelves. The bucket on my lap flew scattering everything everywhere. I think I took a couple of years off of the people in the isle that day. Luckily, an employee walked by just after it happened. He helped me back into the chair and we shared a good laugh. But the girl that was with me didn’t see the humor in it.
—I had been waiting on a new wheelchair for quite a while that I had ordered. So when it did finally come in, I couldn’t wait to try it out. Its one of the lightest, latest, greatest ones that equates to not much more than a few tubes of titanium and four wheels for about three grand. For that much it should be remote control! Getting into a new chair after 6 or 7 years of using the old one was like going from a pair of old warn sneakers to a new pair of dress shoes. So one afternoon shortly after getting the new chair, I had changed into a pair of sweats and kicked back into bed for a while to relax. Not having ever transferred into the new chair without shoes on, I had no clue to just how slippery the foot plate was. As you’ve guessed, I hit the floor. I had placed one foot on the footplate and the other just off the front as I’ve always done. As soon as I committed to swinging my tail over onto the chair, both legs kicked back and slid under the chair forcing me into a nose dive. Another good reason to cover those hardwood floors! But it felt like an air hockey puck sliding around so some fun was had. I knew I would need some help so I called my uncle for a little lift. While waiting for him to drive over to my home, I decided to head for the chair in the living room. Part way down the hallway the moral to this whole story became apparent. Never crawl on carpeting with a pair of sweats on and no underwear! I soon had a pair of anklets. I was far less embarrassed about falling than I was at the thought of someone seeing me crawl through the house with my pants around my feet. Although it reminded me of college.