My daughter and I were getting ready to go to a concert. We had eaten a quick supper and she asked, “how do you want to get there?” It had been a mild December, so we could walk. But it was already dark. I haven’t yet ridden my Power Chair on sidewalks at night. “We can call a cab,” I decided. A company in town was offering wheelchair accessible taxis. “I can ride my Power Chair and hop right into the back of the cab,” I explained. For some reason, I was feeling tired and uneasy about going out. Looking to my right I saw my walker and said, “I miss those Walker Days.” I caught my daughter’s gaze as she suppressed a frown. I admitted, “I can’t believe I just said that!”
What was I saying? What could I possibly be missing?
Previously, I would drive, lifting the walker to place it behind the driver’s seat. Parking at a handicapped spot close to the entrance meant I could take out my walker and slowly make my way to the theater. Usually visiting the bathroom before the show started and then taking my seat. There was a time when this was do-able. When these activities involved a little bit of duress. Just enough struggle, but not so much to tire me out. I live with struggle. These days getting up from bed can be difficult. I think I was missing the days when the struggle involved walking. When the walker supported my weight enough that I could do it for a little bit. Now walking is so hard; it isn’t walking anymore,
“Well, you have five minutes to change your mind again,” she said with a grin. It was the night of the annual lecture that I help organize in honour of my late husband. As a family, we were preparing to go. It was very exciting; one of my stepdaughters was in town for the event. “Shall I go by Power Chair or drive in and take my walker?” There are pluses and minuses to either one and for the past hour I had been changing my mind at regular intervals. The pendulum swung once and I’d say, “I don’t like watching people react to the wheelchair.” When the pendulum swung low, I couldn’t decide. As it moved to the far side, I’d state, “I like using my legs.” We drove there. The walker was pulled from the van, I leaned on it and I pushed it past my son, who was holding open the door to the building. Once inside, I got tired of walking down the hall, turning to my daughter I asked her to pull me. I turned around, sat on the walker and she pulled me the rest of the way to the auditorium. I live with patient people.
That was a year ago. I have since decided that walking is very pedestrian……
This year I was talking to my stepdaughter before the event and told her “I’m taking the Power Chair, because I want to be free.” I smiled broadly, remembering how she had teased me last year for changing my mind so often. Freedom is relative. I meant I was free to move without making a huge physical effort. I was free! I chose to ignore other’s reaction to my wheelchair. I was also free to move myself around without having to ask others for too much help. Perhaps, I was freeing others from the stress of looking after me.
My hands grip my walker. I’m standing beside my parked car, as traffic rushes past me. I’m going to a Very Friendly Commercial Establishment. Balancing my weight on my right foot, I lift the left foot forward. I squeeze the brakes of my walker, and put my weight on the left foot to move the right. Inching walker forward. Then, lean on the right, and drag the left forward.
Just reading about this is exhausting. Yet, I don’t think of this “pretend walking” as torture.
What I do is a willful meditation in slow movement. I take my mind to a place similar to a yoga flow. I concentrate on each movement. When I square the wheels of my walker to the ramp of the sidewalk and slowly amble away from street traffic. Relief. I’m up on the sidewalk! I smile, wanting to celebrate my arrival. Turning the walker towards the entrance, that is 3 metres away, I realize I’m still not there. I wonder: “how much longer will I be able to move like this?” Push that thought aside and plow forward slowly. I know when I get there, I will be met by smiling faces.
Recently, Halifax hosted the Bluenose Marathon. When I took a look at the route of the 40k marathon, I exclaimed, “ That looks crazy!” Who would chose such a struggle?
Lego stills and photography by Carlo Myers.
This poem is brought to you by the letter ‘W’
Lifting both appendages high:
the left waves
a good-natured farewell
as the right
points toward the exit.
‘W’ walks sideways,
crab-like on tips.
flipped upside down
‘W’ turns into ‘M‘
Upward swinging arms
hang upside down.
Hugging the ground
with 3 points of contact:
past, present & future.
wends its way
reaching for its walker.
Wheels will do.
The chair comes
with the letter
Art work by Sophia Myers
Poem by rita kindl myers