The W-Word

A wheelchair

The W-Word

I’ve hated the “w-word.” I’ve become angry when my wife suggested it, and heaven forbid a nurse mention it at the doctor’s office. I can walk. I will walk. No matter how difficult. No matter the pain. No matter how it looked. No matter whom I offended. I was going to walk. “Wheelchair” was a word not allowed in my vocabulary.

That was not terribly long ago. When I think about how close in time that is to now, I become a little frightened. My walking has deteriorated to such a point that using a wheelchair not only makes sense (it made sense long before I started using one) but is a practical necessity to get me from place to place without falling.

My whole family — parents, brothers, sisters-in-law, nieces, nephew, wife, and children — went to Niagara Falls, Ontario, this past summer. For all but three in our fifteen-person entourage it was the first trip outside the United States (does ten miles over the border really count?). We enjoyed a lovely vacation — we greatly enjoyed each other’s company, we got to experience new things together (like the price of restaurants in Canada!), and we saw a piece of God’s magnificent creation. I could not walk the long distances the others would be walking, and even I was wise enough to understand that — the dreaded “w-word” was really the only option.

I learned an important lesson on that trip — and not only that Canada has exorbitant taxes, at least for tourists, to pay for their health care system (maybe they should have their own revolt against Her Majesty’s government) — the wheelchair wasn’t so bad. I didn’t have nearly the pain I would have otherwise, and, quite frankly, I was far less a burden to others than I was otherwise. When traveling, a wheelchair made perfect sense.

When my wife’s family traveled to the Smoky Mountains a month later, I never gave the wheelchair a second thought; I used the wheelchair. A wheelchair was slowly becoming a part of my life, kinda like that little seedling that becomes a mighty oak, slowly but surely. Now, I don’t even think about a wheelchair most places; I simply use one. My neurologist has told me to walk all that I can — sage advice, I know — but sometimes the chair is just necessary. (The architects who designed the office building where my neurologist practices knew nothing about movement disorders — his exam rooms are a LOOOOOOOONG way from the waiting room — I use a wheelchair every time I go there now).

Today, my wife had a doctor’s appointment — same office building as my neuro but a different floor. Truth, they say, is stranger than fiction, and if that’s the case, her appointment is a strange tale. Arthritis is the diagnosis; it was painfully obvious (no pun intended) on the x-ray, bone on bone. Tammy’s had a major flare-up in the last couple of weeks, and one of the things that exacerbated the flare-up? Pushing my wheelchair. A cortisone injection, an anti-inflammatory, and physical therapy should keep a total knee replacement away for a few more years.

But, I digress. . . . Today, at my wife’s appointment, I learned more about myself and using a wheelchair than I did about her. I learned:

My wife loves me.

She thought she was in better shape than I. She dropped me off at the patient entrance (even though I wasn’t a patient), went and parked the car a far piece in the parking lot, and limped back to the office building. She wasn’t able to walk much herself, but she believed that she could walk far more effectively than I.

There are good people in this world.

The valet who helped me out of the car was more than willing to take me up the ramp into the lobby of the office building. Yeah, I know it was his job, but when people do their work with an extra degree of kindness, it brightens your whole day.

I can push myself.

When we went to Niagara Falls, I had proudly proclaimed that I was going to push myself. Well, it didn’t work out that way — I tried on the first day we were there and got maybe five feet and had to stop. Today, being pushed up and down the incline in the lobby was the only help I needed. I could get everywhere else I needed to go on my own just fine, thank you. I’m proud of that.

I can drive like Mario Andretti.

Tammy asked me to slow down a time or two. I was proud of that, too.

Wheelchairs make it much easier to get to the bathroom.

I’ve talked about my overactive bladder issues in an earlier post. The doctor had been in to examine Tammy — he honestly didn’t need to, the x-rays told the story very loudly — and he determined that a cortisone shot was in order (Tammy says she’s already feeling a little better). Tam didn’t want to be in the room alone when she had her shot; I was to be right there beside of her holding her hand (I about didn’t have a hand by the time she was finished pulling and squeezing it). When the doctor left to tell the nurse to prepare the injection, I had to pee, and pee badly, and pee then. I knew I couldn’t wait to go, but I didn’t want to leave Tammy alone for the shot (she was scared, hmmmm no, terrified). She promised to tell the doctor to wait until I got back that she wanted me there (she was scared, remember?), and I zoomed down that hall and into the bathroom with time to spare. I don’t know if I wanted to get back to help Tam or if I just had to pee that badly.

I need to be careful with elevator doors.

I misjudged the width of the elevator and scraped my arm. No serious injury (to me or to the elevator), but it smarted.

You can avoid trash cans.

At Polishing the Pulpit, Mom pushed me and she hit every trash can in sight. Well, maybe just one. But, I learned today that they are avoidable.

I’ve been quite jovial today. I’ll tell you why. I’ve been worried about Tammy, and that worry is relieved (yeah, there’s surgery a few years down the road, but I’m looking at surgery in the next few months, if the Lord allows). More to the point here is that Tammy and I decided long ago that we’d laugh instead of cry, that we’d try to find the humor in the situation instead of depression, and that we’d live life looking at the nearly full glass and not the one that’s about empty. That’s the way it has to be.

Sure, we have days that are harder than others, and we have days that are long and painful, emotionally and physically. Yet, laughter keeps us humble and helps us put ourselves in perspective. Go ahead and laugh today. “A joyful heart is good medicine” (Prov 17:22). God loves you, and may he bless you as you walk with him.

I only need to use the “w-word” when going long distances (like at the hospital or doctor’s office), but I have several friends who use one all the time. Give them a little extra grace today. God bless you all!

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