Last Sunday my wife and I rolled down to the cafeteria where there was a musician performing. Antonio played a mixture of oldies and Cuban ballads and I drifted off looking out the window at people driving and cycling in the luscious south Florida greenery under a sunlit sky. It was a fine couple of hours out of my room.
It occurred to me looking round the room that we were all in wheelchairs. Next door was a wizened old Latino fussing over his almost immobile wife. He loves her my wife whispered somewhat unnecessarily and I knew she was imagining a future similar for us. Behind me a guy in a hospital gown was sitting alone. Across the room I saw an East Indian woman in a white sheet taken from her hospital bed as a comforter who was surrounded by her family picnic (I’ll bet they’ve got great food the curry oriented peanut gallery whispered) but for none of us was there any sense of being out of place. Except maybe the leggy Latina walking on cowboy boots in spray painted jeans and much hair and jewelry. She stood out among the wheelchair audience. An oddity.
It is an institution I live in and a very good one. But here I am protected. Sure I am looked after and helped in so many ways, but beyond that I am normal. As normal as normal can be. In a few weeks, maybe fewer than I want, I will be back in the world. I don’t know what proportion of time I will be in a wheelchair and what proportion managing a walker. Maybe even walking with a cane...who knows? I don’t think I will be walking with my former carefree strides for a good few weeks to come though I know I will get there one day soon. And as I lie here and think about that future I wonder how it will feel to be the cripple in the room.
I will be the head at waist height getting respectful looks from the anxious able bodied eager to help me in my struggle to get through the door yet not wanting to appear impatient or callous toward the poor guy in the chair. No one will accuse me of not deserving the parking placard as I climb out of the passenger seat and cling to the open car door, pivoting my slow legs into position with my walker. It must be awful they will think with gratitude as they stride away and listen to me tap slowly down the sidewalk. No. I can safely say I’m not looking forward to this.
I have no choice. I haven’t adapted as well as some to life in a chair. A Key West woman showed off her cupholder in physical therapy yesterday and we all thought it brilliant. Of course I can’t reach down that far without tipping my chair. Then I’ll end up on the ground and they’ll have to call 911 to get me help. Yes I want to go home. No I don’t want to be my wife’s date, the cripple. I am afraid of the future for the first time. In the good news department they do want me back at work. I talked to the captain and he said bring a doctor’s note and we will do what we need to and glad to have you back. I’m looking forward to that for at the police station I will be safe among friends. Besides I like telling the cops where to go.
I have a few ideas how I will take him for walks. Rusty and I will discuss them this weekend when my wife comes visiting. Meanwhile I fret about being a cripple in a world populated by the normal. I wonder how it will be out there?