I took my foldable electric wheelchair solo on my trip to Philadelphia this week. My last solo wheelchair experience was in New York City in 1977 when I took a course at NYU’s Rusk Institute of Physical Rehabilitation. On the second day of the two-week course, I spent the whole day in a wheelchair by myself. It was terrifying. I got stuck in a pothole crossing Fifth Avenue during rush hour. The ground rules were, never get out of the chair. A homeless woman ran over and pushed me across before I got run over by the honking yellow cabs. On Tuesday, in Philly, I got stuck again in a small sidewalk pothole and a man, sitting on the curb with an “I’m homeless” sign came over and pushed me out. I saw him again on my way back from the restaurant. I handed him $10 and thanked him for helping me. He wouldn’t take it, I was just helping you out. I thanked him again and told him, you helped me and now I’m helping you. He took it. Read More
I fell in New Orleans a couple of months ago flat on my face. No injuries, scraped my hands and arms. Freaked me out a bit and my friends. A week later, back home, I fell again. Same thing. My primary care doc and neurologist always ask, have you fallen? Falling is one of two outcomes we track together. (The other is, are you still playing your saxophone?) It’s been a long time since I’ve fallen. Outside. A year or more. I had to stop shoveling snow. I didn’t mind falling in the snow. Kind of fun. Worried my family, though. I do fall inside when I’m turning suddenly, like in the pantry or trying to vacuum. I’m starting to be a bit alarmed about this increased falling. I stumble a lot normally but always catch myself. This is stumble and fall. Not good. I worry about it at 2 am the apocalyptic hour. Otherwise, I’m pathologically optimistic and flex my superpower: accepting what is.
I met a buddy (we’ve been dear friends for more than 40 years) in Washington recently. He wanted to go to the National Gallery. He suggested we rent a wheelchair. I’ll push you, then we can spend more than 30 minutes looking at the paintings. He knows that my sightseeing endurance has been steadily decreasing. We spend more time to rest me each time I see him. I was reluctant.
My wife wants to travel. I’ve been resistant. I just don’t have the stamina anymore. I’ll be a drag. But, I love having adventures together (the nonhealth-related kind).
After the falls, I was in Baltimore for a meeting. I was telling a colleague about my falls. He uses an electric wheelchair, collapsible, with a joystick. He said I should consider getting one. He’s an amputee. He can walk most of the time quite well. Often the wheelchair will spend four months at a time in his garage. He doesn’t need it. But traveling can be wearing. It collapses and he can gate check it on the plane. Weighs 50 pounds. Folds with the pressure of one finger into the size of a medium size suitcase. Has a range of 14 miles. It’s 23″ wide. I’m intrigued. As a habitual doer, I bought one two weeks ago.
I feel like a charlatan. I can walk. I’m not paraplegic, I didn’t have a stroke. My chiropractor said, as long as I keep up my 3500-4000 steps a day, think of the wheelchair as an extender, not a crutch. What’s wrong with a crutch? I use a cane. Anyway, I’m testing it out. I’ve been aware of community accessibility issue for a long time, but now I appreciate every slope, every intersection, every pothole and crack, every lip that’s greater than one and a half inches. I’ve had to get out of the chair and right myself several times. That feels ridiculous.
When my mom starting falling, I suggested that she get a cane. Oh no, honey. That would be silly. I don’t need a cane. It would look ridiculous. I said, Ma, I use a cane. Do I look ridiculous? She replied, oh, no honey, I’m so glad you’re safe. It’s a great accessory for you. No irony.
So, anyway. Sigh. Soon I’ll be comfortable enough motoring around in it. (I need to give it a name). Next, I’ll have to take it traveling. Ok, maybe I’ll feel a bit ridiculous. Pride recedes, Europe on the horizon.