Because we paraplegics use our arms and shoulders to propel our manual wheelchairs, the condition of our shoulders is especially important. It matters not how large our biceps may grow, if our shoulders suffer injury, we will be forced to use a battery powered chair or have someone push us anywhere we wish to go. In case the reader is not aware, battery powered chairs are expensive, and having someone push us to wherever we desire to go is not practical. Thus, when I recently developed a constant, stabbing pain in my left shoulder I was concerned.
I did what I think most folks do when a physical pain comes on—I took an inventory. I curtailed my riding of the stationary handcycle by riding less days each week and clocking less miles. I also made my workouts less strenuous. When that did not change the intensity and frequency of the pain, I strove to decrease the amount of hard pushing of my wheelchair that I had to do. Even though our house is built on a slab, and our lot is mostly flat, I was cautious about the ramp leading to our back porch and the ramp to my shop. I concentrated more on how I pushed my wheelchair in order to not stress my shoulders, especially the left one. Finally, the ache’s frequency and intensity did not change, In a fashion, I just quit and, taking the convenient way out of my problem, decided that after twenty years in a wheelchair my shoulders were finally giving out from being used for what they were not designed to do.
Not long after that pathetic conclusion, I noticed that the air pressure of my wheelchair tires seemed low. While in my shop later that day, I pumped each tire to the recommended ninety pounds of pressure and went on about my business. Now, I am no Archimedes, but within a few days I noticed the pain in my left shoulder had lessened. I began my old riding regime and felt no sudden twinges when I went up the two ramps that I must use every day. While I never shouted, “Eureka”, I was, as they say, one happy camper. And paraplegic.
The 2010 van that I drive, like all contemporary vehicles, has an abundance of notifications that appear on the displays or even on a cellphone. Mine has this silly, yellow logo that appears on the speedometer’s lower left-hand corner if the pressure in any tire becomes too low. It is just one more example of, to paraphrase the slogan of one early pioneering scientific company, “Better living through….” In this case, through computers. But my wheelchair is manual and has no computer or intelligent operator it seems. Because of low tire pressure, my wheelchair required more force to move it, requiring more work from my shoulders, especially the left one. Gads, after twenty years of using a wheelchair, wouldn’t you think that I would know to check tire pressure?
My first wheelchair was black and had hard rubber tires. It took little time to realize that, while the tires would never go flat, the hard tires caused discomfort, and I despised the black. Quickly, I purchased a purple wheelchair with pneumatic tires–the color was cool and the ride comfortable. But a wheelchair is, after all, a machine and like any machine it must be maintained. But the air of the tires is so common, not complex like other parts. Air! It’s all around us and free. All life on earth depends on it, even in so simple of an invention as the pneumatic tire.
A quick Google search reveals that the pneumatic tire was patented in the United States by Robert W. Thompson, a Scottish inventor, in 1847. (In 1849 he patented the fountain pen.) His “aerial wheels” were a hollow leather tire enclosing a rubberized fabric tube filled with air. However, because the price of rubber was so high, his inventor languished for over fifty years until a new way of manufacturing rubber lowered its price.
But never mind. The point is that because of such a simple cause, my shoulders suffered, and that sharp pain could have developed into something much more serious. And I think that our lives are so much like the lack of adequate air in my tires. We all need air in so many ways for our lives, but what air fills our souls? What air supports our dreams? What air refreshes our spirits? Our lives are made better when we believe in something larger than ourselves, and for me that is God. He is the air that I breathe. He is the air that keeps me afloat. He is the air that soothes my pains. He is the air that cools my burnings. He is the air in the tires of my wheelchair that allows me to push and roll easily as I traverse life.