Sunday, August 19, 2012

Opening my eyes to life in a wheelchair.

Aaron speaking to 2nd graders about service dogs

     It's been over 2 months since I last posted. Moving into our new house has been time consuming to say the least, but we are finally getting into a routine, learning our way around town and meeting great people. Since I'm not working a job outside the home now, I've had a lot more time with Aaron and it has opened my eyes to things I hadn't considered before. Our new house is much more accessible than the previous house, except for the acreage surrounding the home isn't.

 Imagine trying to maneuver around dirt, gravel, grass, etc while in a wheelchair. It will wear out your arms in a minute.
This got me to thinking one day. Many times Aaron and I discussed that if people could spend a day in a wheelchair, then  they would better understand the obstacles a wheelchair user deals with on a daily basis. Whether it be a curb cut lacking at the sidewalk, chairs or benches sitting out in front of a business, doors that are too heavy to open, non-accessible bathrooms, narrow doorways and much more. Since we have an extra wheelchair, I decided that I was going to put myself to the test. Now keep in mind that someone who has been in a wheelchair for several years is much more adept at handling ramps and public areas than someone like me who is doing it for the first time. So I limited myself to inside our house for safety and that in itself was a challenging endeavor. To be honest, I was afraid to navigate outside the house. I can only relate it to learning to ride a bike and being afraid of falling.
The first thing I discovered is that all of of  the countertops are too high. I started with making coffee and realized that it's difficult to use both hands to wheel the chair while holding a carafe full of water and then trying to pour the water into the coffee maker, which is sitting up higher than myself. How do you not spill the water all over your lap? While the coffee was percolating, I went into the bathroom and washed my face. What really took place is water running down my arms and into my lap, because I was lower than the sink. Aaron was nearby and  I asked him how he managed to do this everyday and he replied that he has the same struggle. Thanks goodness for towels, but I might have been better off with a bib for the mess I made.
We have pets that require feeding in the morning and this I normally do without effort. Dogs spill food kibbles and cats tend to scatter litter all over the floor. Now, keep in mind that I still haven't had my coffee, so I'm not feeling very peppy yet. I grab the dustpan and lean the top half of my body over my legs to reach the floor. Breathing while hunched over your legs is not easy and then our puppy is trying to play with the dustpan while I'm trying to sweep. I tried not to to get annoyed, because I kept reminding myself that this is something Aaron deals with on a daily basis if he drops or spills something and no one is around to help. So far I'm only 30 minutes into this adventure and I'm already frustrated. In my mind, I know this time in the wheelchair is only temporary and some things I can delay getting done until I am out of the chair. Aaron doesn't have that option.
Next it's onto making our bed. Do you know how many trips I had to roll around that bed since I couldn't just stand and lean over it? I counted 8 times back and forth. Exhausting! Then there was laundry to do, which I thought about postponing, but then I thought to myself, "Does Aaron get to postpone tasks until he gets out of the wheelchair?" No, he doesn't. Our laundry room is about 8'x10' but when you put a washer/dryer and cabinets into that space it's get pretty tight for even a standing person. I rolled in to start the washer, but let me tell you backing out without hitting the door jams was impossible. I will never fuss at him again about scratching the walls. Sorry babe...but at least you are off the hook from ever doing laundry again.

The list goes on for 3 hours and by then I am getting quite frustrated, but at the same time seeing his world from a new perspective. The benefit I had was that I knew this was a temporary arrangement. Someone who is paralyzed or disabled in some other way doesn't have the luxury of waiting to live life until things get better or easier. They manage day by day regardless. Everyday they wake up knowing that the day is most likely going to be a struggle, but they still continue trying. In my husbands case, he even has a smile on his face. I don't know how he does it. I don't know that I would be so positive, especially in light of how little sleep he gets.
I have one memory to share that impacted me on an emotional level and got me to thinking about taking on this task. If you've seen the movie "Avatar" then you will recall the main character in real life is a paralyzed young man. In the movie the young man  takes on an Avatar body, which gives him a fully functioning body. When he first wakes up in the Avatar body he realizes that he can move his legs and his feet. Then he stands up and once he gets his feet balanced under him, he runs outside across the sand. Finally after running full blast  for several minutes, he stops on the grass and stands there for a moment. He sinks his toes into the cool blades of grass and simply feels the blades on his skin.
Aaron had once said to me, " I don't remember what grass feels like on my feet." When I took that scene in during the movie, I teared up, because I remembered him saying that and I thought I get it now. I don't ever want to take for granted the simple things in life. So the next time something seems difficult, frustrating or you feel impatient then allow yourself to acknowledge those feelings, but then remember that some people would be happy to have those experiences again.

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