Wheelies

Southern Illinois University in Carbondale (SIUC) is wheelchair accessible. In my time there, it was commonplace to see “wheelies” maneuvering about campus; powered by mouth straws, a joystick, or by hand.

In 1981, I met Ed, a wheelie from Chicago. Ed was old by college standards; probably in his late 20s or early 30s. Ed was riding his motorcycle when someone ran him off the road. The last thing Ed remembered was picking up his shoe and seeing his foot inside. Immediately afterwards, he passed out only to find himself a wheelie months later.

Although my first visit to a doctor in Chicago was in a wheelchair. I never became a wheelie.

In the early days of my recovery, I was transported through Firmin Desloge Hospital on a stretcher. I recognized the ceiling more than the decor. Years later, I revisited Firmin Desloge under my own power. In order to move on, I needed to walk the halls and see things from an upright position. Afterwards, my friend Ozzie and I toured St. Louis to create more positive memories of the Gateway to the West.

My family home in Chicago was anything but wheelchair accessible. Upon my arrival from St. Louis, several family members lifted me over the fence and carried me to my bedroom. An office chair became my makeshift transportation on the main floor. Although the width of the chair scraped the woodwork, it was manageable as well as cost effective.

I never imagined myself as a wheelie. In fact, I was so opposed to the idea that I threatened suicide if I was unable to walk again. That remark broke my mother’s heart. Thankfully, I wasn’t tested and her cardiac rhythm remained intact.

On a recent visit to Philadelphia, I met my cousin Margaret for breakfast at the Reading Terminal. Margaret is a wheelie. Living in the city allows her to get around on her own. With a lift out of her apartment, a powered chair, and bus service, Margaret enjoys a fairly active life. In our conversation, she mentioned how things improved once she stopped suffering. Margaret explained it this way, “Sometimes people hold on too long.” Although some consider walking with a cane or other device degrading, maybe it’s just the next step. Perhaps by using the cane, walker or wheelchair, they can be supported and have a better quality of life.

What I learned from Margaret, Ed, and the men in the movie The Best of Men (Trauma & Healing blog) was life goes on whether you are a wheelie or not. Making the best of your life is essential. I admire wheelies. Be well… Nancy T
** 10 % of the proceeds from “Finding My Way From Paralysis To A Rich, Full Life” benefit the   Christopher & Dana Reeves Foundation.

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