December 7, 2015
I am not as strong as my children, particularly my Sarah. In an attempt to understand what my girl goes through, I borrowed her wheelchair for an afternoon of shopping.
Dirty hands. I wore her gloves, yet the gunk accumulated. When I wheeled into the restroom to wash up (what an experience that was!) I found blisters. I now understand Sarah’s thick callouses. To leave the restroom required filing a logistical flight plan and a ten-point turn.
I wondered how Sarah shredded her clothing. I now understand. The cloth catches in the wheels and snags on the Velcro. So did my hair. When we designed the chair, we ordered a cushy seat, but surprise! The padded seat is not comfortable. I think I may have permanent damage as a result of this experiment. (Not really.)
People openly stared. I ignored them, the same way my little girl ignores such rudeness. Since I am not practiced at the art of wheelchair navigation, I worried about bumping into or running over my fellow patrons. To that end, I asked two gentlemen to “excuse me” as I passed. The taller backed away as though I’d inflict him with a debilitating plague, while the other stayed put. He rested a hand on the top of the wheelchair and leaned close enough for me to smell his digesting dinner. He yelled, “You do real good work.”
Good work? Since I didn’t know the man, nor did his phrase make any sense, I nodded and wheeled on, uncertain what prompted his comment. I think it stemmed from the general discomfort around disabled people. Good folks want to engage in conversation but fear they won’t know what to say. Confinement to a wheelchair does not automatically indicate mental incapacity. (Consider Stephen Hawking, for goodness sakes.) Also, the chair doesn’t convey deafness.
Aisles crowded with stock precluded my entrance several times. Items on high shelves remained inaccessible. I could only purchase a basket-full, since I couldn’t push a cart. My shoulder with its damaged rotator cuff protested, and my night’s sleep suffered from my muscle aches.
I conducted this test to experience life from my little girl’s perspective and better understand her challenges. I confirmed what I suspected. She is much tougher than me. At the end of the day, I walk and stand without assistive equipment. I realized my child’s strength and courage vastly outstrip my own.
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