For over twenty years I have lived life with my wheelchair. I was 55 when I had the accident that made me a T 5-6 paraplegic, and as expected and required, over those years I have adapted. Adaption is easier written than done, but with the help of family, friends, and medical professionals, I have matured into my life from a wheelchair. However, I would be dishonest if I do not confess to certain feelings—such as pining for the days when I raced everything from 400 meters to the marathon; or the ability to bound up a flight of stairs two at a time; or my day-long hikes on The Ridgeway in England each July; or taking a walk with a loved one on a cool evening. While I learned to manage the new life, I did miss aspects of my old one and at times, I admit, to wallowing in a self-dug pity-pit. But I always remembered the words of Tom Oberdorfer, my counselor, “It’s alright to go there, just don’t stay.” So, whenever I fell into the pit I always crawled out-usually after a good wallow. However, a recent happening has changed my view of my life and what I can’t do.
I got COVID! I had had two shots and one booster, but the horrific infection made me extremely ill for three days. To breathe I sat on a sofa for over 24 hours with my feet propped in my wheelchair. When I was finally able to transfer out of the sofa onto my wheelchair, I had developed my first pressure sore-right on my tailbone. Still feeling the issues from COVID, I went to the ER to have the sore examined. Home again, my wife and I had directions and the name of a local wound-care doctor. Two weeks and two appointments later and after great care by my wife Mary Ann, the sore has lessened a bit. But like all pressure sores, it will only be cured by not applying pressure in any way, which is simple in one aspect–don’t sit. Yet how to do that when a wheelchair is my only way to move? The remedy is to lay in bed to reduce the pressure on the sore. A pile of good books and bandages and butt cream make the hours and curing go faster and better; but it represents lost hours of living as I knew them-wheeling about, living life in my wheelchair. The pit Tom warned me of looms larger and deadlier.
However, I have concentrated on the things that I used to be able to do—all during my last twenty years. I remember how good it felt to vacuum the downstairs and screen porch and to pick-up pines cones in the front yard and to ride my stationary bike and to and to and to.
Like all good lessons learned by living, my appreciation of the many things I did just a few weeks ago is being re-taught to me by this experience. I knew that my life was rich and full these past twenty years, but not being able to do those things just now has made them more attractive and appreciated. They become like the old English proverb that describes stolen fruit as the sweetest. There may some wisdom in that proverb because once on the Thames Towpath my friend Druin and I stopped our run to pick delicious cherries from a garden tree overhanging the towpath. We stood stuffing ourselves until a stern voice on the garden side of the wall reminded us that those were not our cherries. Correct. But they were so good.
Soon the cancelled life I led so brief a time ago will return, and I shall celebrate it by vacuuming the downstairs and picking up pinecones. Until then, however, I will read and appreciate my good care.