Three weeks ago, I finally got my new wheelchair. And, when I use the word “finally” I really mean it— for I began the insane process of getting a new motorized wheelchair over ten months ago. That’s a considerable amount of time. It doesn’t take folks this long to buy a new car— which is surprising given my new wheelchair costs just as much as a Ford Focus.
But, honestly, ten months is a long time to spend working on getting a medical device that helps you, well— survive. Try imagining all the things that could be accomplished in a similar amount of time. Have you ever thought about this? Well, I have. Because I’ve had ten months to do so.
So, here goes.
Elizabette’s List Of Things That Take Ten Months To Do
- You can gestate a full-sized human baby. Should you desire to do so, this also includes a few extra weeks to breastfeed. (Hopefully, you live in a society that allows you to do it freely in public and not hidden away in a cave like a troll.)
- You could learn a new language.
- If you’re a white man, you could go on a 16th-century ocean voyage around the world to “discover” places that already exist.
- You could plant, grow and harvest a vegetable garden.
- You could serve a full prison sentence for raping an unconscious woman. (But, don’t worry— you’ll probably get out in only three months.)
- You could become a licensed electrician.
- You could write a book.
- If you’re Donald Trump, you could read a book… Just kidding! (He doesn’t read.)
But, instead of doing any of these things, I spent ten months of my life jumping the bureaucratic hoops to get a new motorized wheelchair.
It would be natural to think that I’d be ecstatic when the new wheelchair finally arrived. But, I wasn’t. This isn’t to say that I wasn’t happy. I was, of course. Obviously. But, the arrival of the new wheelchair heralded the most critical (and hopefully final!) stage of the process.
Making sure the wheelchair fits.
You’d think this would be a given. That all the measurements taken by the wheelchair provider would be accurate. That it would be simple to fit me into a wheelchair that was custom-built for me.
But, it is not.
Three weeks ago, when my new wheelchair rolled into my house, right away I saw a problem. It was over three inches too wide. That’s a lot. Yes, my ass is big. But, no, it’s not that big.
“Uhm… just wondering… did Howard Taft order a wheelchair? And, if so, did I get it by mistake?”
The wheelchair technician, Raul, looked at me— then looked at the new chair:
“Yeah. You’re right, this chair is way too big.”
I felt dread pool in my gut. My mind began to run with an assortment of cuss words. In various languages. (Don’t forget, I had ten months to work on my vocabulary.) Would they have to send the damn chair back? Would we have to start again? Was there a chance that I wouldn’t cry in despair??
My spiraling thoughts were interrupted when Raul said:
“Don’t worry. I think I can shrink it down.”
I was dubious. It was unlikely he carried shrinking potion from Alice in Wonderland in his toolbox.
Over the next hour, he dissembled my new wheelchair in the middle of my living room. Pieces were scattered everywhere. It was like a really expensive LEGO set had barfed all over the carpet. Then, we began to strategize new ways to use the existing parts. Using different configurations. And, slowly, my new wheelchair began to take shape.
Nearly three hours after arrival, we did it. I was seated, driving, and fairly comfortable, in my new (smaller!) wheelchair. It was a feat of engineering, creativity and luck— which, come to think of it, is the essence of life with a complex disability. But, for while the chair is functional and comfortable, there’s a small (yet, large!) difference. I’m sitting over an inch lower than I was in my old wheelchair.
Another key part of life with a disability? Learning to adapt. This skill is essential. And, unfortunately, in a world that’s not always accessible, it’s a survival tool, as well.
An inch may not seem like a big difference. But, when you have everything in your daily life and routine adjusted to a very specific height, this is significant. For example, imagine if aliens came down from outer space with a technology that transferred your head onto another person’s body. How would you feel?
Probably pretty awkward.
(And, no, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones won’t be able to save you.)
Adjusting to the new wheelchair feels very much like that. Even with most aspects being similar (if not nearly identical!), it’s still a challenge. In fact, I’m currently typing this on my desk that I had to recalibrate to fit the new ‘me.’
Honestly, it’s going fairly well, but oddly, on my computer keyboard, I’m now having trouble reaching the key for the number ‘nine.’ I’m sure I’ll figure out an adaptation for it eventually, though. But, in the meantime, I suppose I could refer to the number as 8+1. Although, if I’m feeling especially tired, it might be best if I spell it as 5+4 since those keys are closer together.
We’ll see. It’s not as if numbers are all that important, anyway.
Nonetheless, I must roll onward in this new set of wheels. If you see me, though, please don’t comment on how I’ve grown shorter (yes, this has already happened to me twice).
Also, just because the top of my head is now more within your reach, don’t take that as an invitation to pat me on the head like a cocker spaniel. And definitely don’t ruffle my hair the way your uncle Tony greets every child he meets under the age of 8+1.
Because I really hate that.