If the prospect of being transferred into a wheelchair lifts one’s spirit it says something.
For me it speaks of a temporary relief from the absolute frustration of not being able to move any part of my body below my neck. It brings some respite from the despair of being stuck in one place for too long. It offers a break from the mind-numbing boredom of not being able to do what I want, when I want.
If you are able-bodied you will automatically see a wheelchair as a source of confinement.
To me it brings a sense of freedom. It is my independence. It gives me the power to move, to go places and participate in living, just like everybody else. Almost.
Although I’ve needed a new wheelchair for quite some time, I’ve been resisting it.
Like most of us, I fear change. More significantly, I fear facing my own reality.
Getting a new wheelchair meant that I would have to let go of what was familiar, and comfortable. I had been sitting in my old Suzuki for fifteen years.
It’s like you giving up your most comfy pair of shoes which you cannot bear to throw away even though they have had it.
It is learning to walk in stiletto heels all over again, reliving that pain and discomfort, feeling self-conscious and alien on your own legs.
I could also never have imagined the emotional attachment I would have developed for my old wheelchair. It’s like chopping off your legs because you can barely walk with your weak, aching knees, then giving you a brand-new pair of state-of-the-art prosthesis and expecting you to be happy.
Despite my stubbornness, time and opportunity forced the decision upon me.
After months of haggling, supported by my supplier, Mobility One, the RAF finally agreed that I qualified for a new wheelchair. The large shortfall was covered by a rather special Earth Angel.
I am the proud owner of a brand-spanking new oh-so-sexy wheelchair – the luxurious and classy Permobil C300S. I’m spoilt. I know.
It has changed my life. I love it. Mostly.
I fit into it perfectly as it was made specifically to my measurements. I can actually feel how my body is being shaped back into a “normal” sitting position.
In it, I feel unbelievably empowered. At the chin-touch of a button and the gentle nudge of a joystick, the Permobil enables me to propel myself in any direction I choose provided that there aren’t any obstacles in the way. I can lift my feet, recline, tilt in space and elevate to almost eyelevel with most average able-bodied people.
Despite being seated and immobile for a decade-and-a-half already, I have never lost the desire to change position, stretch, bend, stand, lie, run or even exercise. But when the urge comes over me there is nothing – nothing – that I can do.
The Permobil assists in some of those movements. Sort of.
The power chair gives me a magical sensation of physical buoyancy where my body is lulled into a fake sense of motion by something mechanical.
My head knows that it’s only the machine moving and thinks: “She’s such an idiot.”
My heart couldn’t care less, bursting with excitement about me doing something all by myself for the first time in many years, willing me to brag to the world: “Look at me! I can move!”
Some people personify their wheelchairs, referring to them as he or she, going as far as naming them. I can’t. I don’t love it that much.
There are still some days that my wheelchair feels alien to me.
It’s almost as if I have a schizophrenic relationship with it. It can bring out the best in me, filling me with joy as its sleek engineering and mechanics transform me into a Strictly-Come-Dancing finalist. I wish!
Then there are the days that my wheelchair leaves me feeling sorry for myself, filled with complete disgust for my useless, unresponsive body and raging at my physical circumstances. No matter how beautiful it is, or how much it can do, for me, a wheelchair becomes a reminder of the stark reality of disability and a sign of weakness.
On those days, I must dig deep, reminding myself to be grateful. Sometimes it’s hard to feel thankful of the ability to drive a fancy wheelchair with my chin when there was a time I was able to drive a car using my arms and legs.
Then, I’m confronted with stories of disabled people across the world who have nothing more than a wheelbarrow as a means of getting around.
Often, I’m consumed by guilt as my imported wheelchair is exorbitantly expensive. What makes me more worthy than them?
I feel humbled, and grateful. Again.
What price would you pay to have the ability to change position every now and again, lift your feet, lie back or “stand up”?
Money doesn’t buy happiness but I’d rather cry in a Permobil than in a wheelbarrow.
Let’s go walking on my oh-so-sexy wheels. See if you can keep up.
Dear God, thank you for all that I have…