The View from My Wheelchair
I find myself in a wheelchair for the second time in less than five years after surgery on my left ankle. Last time it was surgery on my right ankle. Both times it was due to tendon ruptures. It feels like déjà vu. Who would have thought that relatively small bands of connective tissue could have such an impact on one’s life?
Because I’ve been there before, I have found it easier to stay positive and keep smiling this time (but I have a long road ahead so I’m sure I’ll have my moments). I’ve been through a lot in recent years and my resilience has grown exponentially. That said, when you are fiercely independent, having to rely on others to help manage various aspects of your daily life is challenging.
Last time after surgery I was totally non-weight bearing for twelve weeks. This time it looks like being ten weeks. Yay for small mercies! With my first surgery, I was off work for 18 weeks. Now I’m self-employed and no work means no pay, so I’m doing a little when I’m feeling up to it. Because I need to keep my foot elevated, I can’t sit ergonomically at the computer for too long. Whilst I’m not doing a lot of typing, I have plenty of time to think, read, plan, listen to podcasts and audiobooks, and of course, binge watch Netflix shows!
I don’t pretend to know what life is like with a permanent disability, but my temporary stints have provided some interesting insights. Lessons I have learned whilst in a wheelchair include:
- many doorways in our house are not wheelchair accessible, including our bathroom, laundry and pantry (note to self: make sure the doorways are wider if we ever build again);
- walking on crutches, without putting the injured foot on the ground, when you are a middle-aged woman is hard, and getting up and downstairs with crutches is near on impossible;
- many public places aren’t wheelchair friendly, and even those that are, often have very heavy doors which are difficult to open on your own;
- there are not enough disabled parking bays (I am grateful for the temporary ACROD sticker);
- to many people, you are invisible when you have a disability.
Physical challenges have meant convalescing in a downstairs bedroom. My office chair has become a quasi wheelchair. I wheel myself to the bathroom door in the wheelchair, then move onto the swivel chair and scoot around the bathroom. My husband installed a hand-held shower in the bathroom to make it easier for me.
Last time I couldn’t drive for months. This time, I can drive but I can’t venture out independently as I need someone to get the wheelchair in and out of the boot. It’s easier to stay at home.
Getting out of the house can be challenging and tiring. There have been social events to attend including a wedding that I had no intention of missing. The reception was held at a wonderful waterfront restaurant, upstairs! I phoned the venue in advance as I thought it must at least have a service lift. No. No lift at all. So, my husband wheeled me to the staircase, and I made it up (and down) the stairs on my backside, thanks to my good leg and my hands. For others though, with a more severe disability, this wouldn’t have been an option.
I have ventured out to local restaurants. With COVID-19 restrictions there’s now a little more room between tables in many venues but I remember last time, sitting at a table with my family, looking towards the bathrooms thinking, “There is no way this wheelchair will get through the crowd and past the obstacles to make it to the loo”. Last week, I did need to visit the bathroom at a restaurant and the staff had to remove two stacks of chairs from the alcove that leads to the toilets so I could get past. So much for being discreet!
Every now and then my husband takes me for a walk (or should I say ‘wheel’) around our local park. One outing in particular sticks in my mind. He was pushing me along the footpath and a couple were walking towards us. I was bemused when they drew level, and the woman, looking into my husband’s eyes, asked, “what happened to her?”
“Hello! I’m here! I’m not deaf!” Seriously!! I realised that not being at eye-level meant that I had a lesser status and was perhaps invisible.
I share this story, not looking for sympathy but to highlight the need for awareness. If you have employees or customers with a physical disability think about some of the daily challenges they face. Look around your premises – how accessible is it? Are your staff aware of equity issues, especially as they relate to people with disabilities?
Who knows what is around the corner for any of us? I won’t be walking again until 2021, and when I am up and about, I will begin intensive physio and rehabilitation. For more than 50 years I took the ability to walk for granted. I don’t anymore.
Remember, life is fickle, and anyone’s life can change at any moment. Be aware of your surroundings and your attitude and make sure you are making allowances for people with disabilities.