Try this experiment. Put a cup of something you like to drink on one side of a table. Walk to the other side and pull up a chair. Sit at the table and push the chair as close to the table as it will go. Now reach for the cup.
Welcome to the world of rehab where broken people get put back together. As we wait to restore function we try to move among the places and objects familiar to all of us, rendered unfamiliar by some shortcoming. If you offer someone in a wheelchair an object for pity’s sake make sure it’s within reach. The obligation on the person in the chair is to be patient. Especially when training the able bodied.
For me to be able to define what it means to be in a wheelchair is a bit of a stretch as only two months out of my last sixty years have been viewed from this different perspective. Every indication is that within a few months I will be able to ditch the chair entirely and resume perambulation. Lucky me as not everyone gets to ditch the chair. I come to the chair with less experience than many but with the wide eyed gaze of one who actually lives the limitations. This photo below is from the bad old days, a month ago when my leg was held in a brace that I likened to a sheep carcass gripping my limb. I would never allow myself to go out of my room in bare feet today. Live and learn.
People used to be described as being “confined to a wheelchair.” Such language is now considered archaic and we lucky people simply “use” wheelchairs. Nevertheless it is confining. If I drop something on the floor my only hope of picking it up is by use of my grabbers.
If I lean forward I risk going arse over tip and landing on my head. So it is that I have got pretty good at grabbing stuff with my claw extension. The other big issue that arises in this context is offering help. It took a while for me to establish that if I want help I’ll ask. I know I’m slow but it’s good for me to try and then to succeed. When I can’t reach I pull out my grabber and as soon as the stick appears the offers of help flood in. If I drop something I will need help, otherwise I’ll let you know.
It’s a social minefield. To me in my room with my habits the process is obvious but for someone towering over me on their feet it’s anything but. When I get back to my room after physical therapy I like to sit in my chair before going back to bed. I tidy up rolling around with my grabber picking up and sorting stuff out. I go through my mail which thanks to you all is abundant and much appreciated:
I check the next day’s menu and I skip salads as I don’t much like them here to be honest - I’ve developed a taste for exotic dressings. The rest of the grub is okay for one such as me who grew up in institutions.
When it’s time to lie down I have to make sure my bed is flat and low and three of the four side gates are up to prevent me accidentally falling out. Of all the things I dread an unintended return to ICU is high on my list. So with my bed ready, the blanket is easily accessible by the head of the bed and my all important table nearby I line the chair up, put my plank across and slide into the bed. I wiggle like a maniac and get my shorts off, pull myself to the head of the bed and rest. If I forget to take my shorts off the crisis arises when I need to pee and they are slow to get down when you are rolling from side to side. Then I use my grabber to push the wheelchair away and then I reach out from the prone position and pull the table in. Finally I cover myself with my blanket. All this to get into bed unassisted. In this picture below the bed needs to be flat. The blanket is in position. The plank is ready but my table needs to be near the bed head. The sheet needs to be laid out lengthwise as I can’t reach forward to pull it up from the foot of the bed. I’m telling you it’s a production.
The table on rollers is critical. It contains my snacks, drinking water, napkins, books, and above all my urinals and hand soap on a separate area. If I forget the bottles I can’t pee and I’ll have to call for help. Sometimes they get left behind in the bathroom and it’s a race against time if the nurse’s aide will reach me before I have to let go. Wetting the bed this far along really aggravates me. If I forget anything in the sequence before I get in bed I’m screwed. Getting out of bed is impossible as the chair is now out of reach. If I leave the chair alongside I can’t reach the table. If I put the table next to the window the space is too narrow to swivel it. On and on.
My wife to her credit is a fast learner and has been looking at my room through my eyes. Automatically she stands in front of me as I transfer from chair to bed to catch me in a fall. She knows where to put chair and table when I’m in bed and so forth. When she spends the night I am more relaxed as she will be right there if I forgot something. But that’s how you live everyday when you don’t have the full use of your legs. Every step considered and planned for. My friend Webb the sailor would understand because that’s how you cope single handing a sailboat. So now: when you hand me a cup of tea where do you put it? Within reach is the correct answer.