Friday, May 24, 2013

“My Wheelchair, My Friend” (Part I)

If you live in a wheelchair, you inevitably spend a lot of time thinking about your ‘best friend.’ In fact, you may even begin to personify this hunk of metal with tires that provides you with your full measure of mobility.  For me, after long experience and great thought, I have come to regard my wheelchair as my partner.  It is a substitute for my legs, a remarkable device that lets me live fully and independently.  Sometimes it can be a bit cranky, but it is always reliable.  Cranky like when the brakes don’t work properly or when it starts to roll down an incline seemingly on purpose and with malice.  The bottom line is that I love my life, and I love my wheelchair because it helps me live life so fully.

Many people look at me and momentarily feel pity, perhaps because they envision themselves in the same situation and wonder how they would cope.  The truth is that most of them would cope quite well.  Yes, there are many issues to deal with.  For example, poor circulation, which can lead to many medical problems.  But this is manageable.  What’s not manageable is being cooped up, unable to get around on my own, and dependent on others for all transportation.  It turns out, I have none of those problems.  My wheels and I can go virtually anywhere.  Perhaps not in the swimming pool, but otherwise there are no limitations.  I roll along at supermarkets, go to sporting events, attend church, , and most importantly, I speak almost every week in front of a groups of kids and adults.  This satisfies my teaching impulse and leaves the audience with a lasting memory.  I hope it changes their lives for the better in some small way.

All that said, there is one group of people I must always watch out for.  Kids in the 4-8 year-old range.  Many of them think my wheelchair is the coolest toy they’ve ever seen.  On more than one occasion when I was reaching for the Honey Nut Cheerios in the food store, I have found myself rolling well in excess of any rational speed limit impelled by some intrepid youngster laughing in glee.    I try to be on the lookout, but some of these kids are clever.  They eye me from a distance and make their move when I’ve averted my gaze.  It goes with the territory, and while there’s the chance of crashing into canned peas or string beans, it’s always kind of fun.
The point of this blog is that wheelchairs are a great gift to me and everybody who lives in one.   They provide mobility.  They provide independence.  And above all, they give people with spinal cord injuries a great sense of confidence.  The truth is, there’s very little an able-bodied person can do that I can’t.  And given where I was at the moment of my accident, this is a pretty good place to be.

Dwight Owens

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