Sunday, May 23, 2010


Now that my broken leg journey is (presumably) coming to an end on June 3 when I get my cast off, my therapist suggested that I write down all of the things that I've experienced that people in a wheelchair have to go through. This way, I won't forget them when I'm walking again. I think that this is a great idea because I feel like I have learned a lot and have suddenly had to become aware of things I've never imagined. That said, here is my list:

1. Crutches are a bitch to use. They are dangerous and not easy to navigate AT ALL. My hat goes off to those of you who can master using crutches and even get up and down stairs. I could barely walk two steps without slipping and putting my bad leg down, hence me using the wheelchair. I guess, once a klutz, always a klutz...

2. Restaurants and other public establishments have a very loose idea of what is considered "wheelchair accessible." Some have a makeshift ramp to put over stairs. Some have last-minute ramps built in that are too narrow for a wheelchair, but count as being "wheelchair accessible" so that they're within the confines of the law. Some have a low step that you can technically get over in a wheelchair if you're picked up and pulled over, but it's a pain. This past weekend, I missed out on attending my friends' party because the only "wheelchair accessible" area available was the outside seating in the front (and yes, this apparently counts). Since they sat everyone in the back patio (that had stairs leading to it), they could not accomodate me. I've been fortunate in that I've gotten to go out and do a lot during these two months of healing, but I've learned that there are many cases where a paraylized person or someone with ALS or MS or any other condition that puts you in a wheelchair could be left out.

3. Sidewalks SUCK. Seriously. Or at least the ones in New York City do. They're crooked, busted, bumpy and often tilt on an angle. When Jon has pushed me down the sidewalk in the chair, it's a two-person effort with me pointing out all of the bumps and cracks and him trying to avoid them. It's reached a point where I've memorized the sidewalks so we know exactly how to go and where the rough spots are. I'd never really paid much attention to them before, but they've taken on a new character for me.

4. Doors suck, too. Every time I go through a door, it's a new obstacle: is the door too narrow, is there a door molding to go over, a ramp leading to the door, etc? Again, I've never noticed so much about entrances before -- for example, there is about a six-inch rise leading into our apartment's bathroom -- but now I find myself staring at random doorways and plotting how I'd get inside certain buildings.

5. Using a wheelchair takes a lot of upper body strength. Rolling those wheels is not so easy. You really get a workout doing it. And even if you're being pushed, you can't really just sit back, especially if you weigh as much as I do. I've learned to grab onto pipes, railings, anything available to help propel myself along, especially up hills.

6. Getting out of a wheelchair is an art. I don't know how people who can't use their legs at all manage, but somehow many do. But for me, it's become a little like rock climbing, where you have to look ahead and plot out every move, "I'll grab onto this rail and then move my foot this way and then slide in." I've gotten pretty good at it, though. I can now get in and out of cars as easily as I do even without the broken leg. And I even figured out how to navigate our non-wheelchair accessible bathroom.

7. Rolling office chairs with wheels make decent wheelchair substitutes! Okay, for anyone reading this, go out and get yourself a rolling office chair. They cost maybe $50 and it's the type of thing you'll use all of the time. Plus, you just never know if you might injure yourself and if you do, they are SO handy. Because the wheelchair didn't fit through some of the doors in our 1930s apartment, I had to use the office chair. I even used it on my first night home from the hospital when the stupid hospital wouldn't let me borrow a wheelchair and sent me home with crutches (even though the doctor didn't think I should use the crutches. Idiot.) After falling and hurting myself, I had Jon take me upstairs in the office chair ... and it took a long time, but it worked. That office chair was my saving grace. I'm not kidding when I say that I wish I could buy our two office chairs some beers to thank them!

8. People tend to be nice to someone in a wheelchair. I don't know if it's pity or just that most people want to help, but I encountered so many people who held doors for me or stoppped me on the street to say that they hoped I felt better soon. Of course, others were oblivious and got in my way, but most were kind. Who says that New Yorkers are rude? We rock!

9. When in a wheelchair, your world becomes a lot smaller. Because you now have to plot how to get everywhere, simply getting across the street is an adventure. I think I will appreciate being able to go distances again, without the help of a chair or car and by simply using my feet.

10. I've often been concerned about the limitations that obese people face (not fitting in airline or movie seats or booths; having to shop in special stores), but now have a new appreciation for all that wheelchair-bound people have to deal with. Unfortunately, many folks in a wheelchair can't reverse their conditions, whereas obese people at least have that option. Yes, it's hard, but the possibility is at least there, whereas it probably isn't (at least until more research is done) for those who are paralyzed. I'm hoping to do some more to raise awareness of this, even if it's on a small scale. For starters, when I return to work, I'm going to question the fire martial about what we should do if a wheelchaired person is on our floor. In drills, they always tell us to take the stairs, but if a person can't take the stairs, there needs to be another option. I'm also going to speak up when I'm on the bus and I see people rolling their eyes at those who have to have the wheelchair pick-up lowered. Yes, it takes an extra 10 minutes, but it's necessary! Me doing these things is not much, but it's a start in making people aware that we need to make things more accessible for others.

1 comment:

  1. Hi there, I just got out of my cast Friday and looking for a good therapist in Brooklyn Or the city,can you suggest one? How are you feeling? Another week to get yours off isn't bad, howd you get hurt? Isn't it terrible getting around with a disability? Ugh. Anyway feel free to email me,David