September 13, 2009

Monday Muse - my wheelchair experience

Out of all my college homework assignments, there has been one, up to this point, that has truly been the most trying. Not putting together a PowerPoint presentation. Not writing a 10-20 page essay. Not preparing a lecture for fellow classmates. No, the hardest thing I have done is going from being a completely able-bodied individual to an individual who is confined in a wheelchair for 24 hours. This was my experience...

The very first thing I did in my wheelchair was to get from my bed INTO the chair. This part wasn't too hard. Then I had to maneuver the wheelchair out of my bedroom into the hallway. This was more tricky because I was still getting used to how to use my wheelchair but I managed. After getting into the hallway, I pushed myself into the bathroom. (You have to love how often a pregnant needs to go to the bathroom :P).

My experience in the bathroom was almost the hardest thing I had to do. I don't have rails up to hold on to when trying to transfer my body from my chair onto the toilet. So I had to reach for the toilet or laundry hamper to help myself over. Neither of which is really stable. Then of course, because I have to pretend my legs don't work, I had to pull my legs over with me. Now the fun part - shimmying my pants down. This isn't as appealing as it sounds. It was a hassle! It was hard because you have to rock back and forth pulling up a little part of your pants here and there until they are all the way up. And they never really went all the way up because you're body is at a 90 degree angle. And lucky me having to wear preggo pants, that made it even more difficult to get them in the right spot. Not to mention I'm doing all of this while still sitting on the toilet. The same place I just defecated in. Eww.

Then I had to transfer myself from the toilet back into my wheelchair, with unwashed hands mind you, and that was not too fun either. Especially if I forgot to lock the brakes. So I'm back in my chair, I flush, and then roll myself to the sink. I have to move the pedals out of the way, which means moving my legs out of the way, so I can get close enough to the sink to wash my hands. I can reach the sink and towel fine. But later, when I tried to brush my teeth I first, couldn't reach the toothpaste and my husband had to get it and second, I had to bend really far to be able to rinse/spit out the toothpaste. Very uncomfortable.

Ok, so out of the bathroom and into the kitchen for a drink. I can reach my sink and the fridge and counters fine. But the freezer, top of the fridge, and cupboards, were out of the question. I could get a drink but I couldn't reach snacks for my children and so my husband had to help. Anyway, I got my drink and headed toward the front door as we were all leaving for Wal-Mart.

It's funny the things you don't notice in your own home. Like the fact that when you go out my front door, there's a little lip on it. A lip you can't roll over with in a wheelchair. I had to pop a wheelie to get out my own door! Even though we learned how to do this in class, I'm still not very good at it and it took me 3-4 minutes to get outside. There I was, finally outside my door and I look down. 16 steps from my apartment down to the ground. Oh fun.

More tricky work. My legs kept wanting to help me and at times I didn't even realize they were. I had to keep remembering to NOT use them especially when transferring. So I transfer myself out of my chair and onto the concrete stairs, which my husband so graciously swept for me prior to my expedition. Down I went, all 16 stairs, scooting all the way with hubby carrying my wheelchair down for me (there was no way I could do it AND scoot). Here is where my arms started to get tired. But I made it and the trick now was trying to go from the stairs back into my chair. The first time I did this, I was too far down on the stairs so getting into the chair was super hard. But I learned.

My husband rolled me out to our car and put the girls in. Problem. Because we park in a parking lot, there was no room between our car and our neighbors car for my wheelchair to fit. So hubby had to back out of our spot and back in, making enough room for me. Plus, there wasn't a slope in the sidewalk in front of our apartment, so I needed help getting over the curb. (Oh, and trying to buckle the carseat straps for my children, not easy to do and required a lot of bending that really hurt.) Then it was time to get into the passenger seat. This required some muscle, muscle I lack in my upper body, but I managed and hubby folded up my chair and stowed it in the back.

Off to Wal-Mart! Getting out of the car and back into my chair wasn't too hard as long as there was enough room between our car and the person next to us, which there was. Next was rolling up to the store, with both girls on my lap. In case you're wondering, yes, it's harder to push yourself when you have children on your lap. But being in the store wasn't too bad. We noticed two kinds of people while shopping. The kind that would look at me in my chair and immediately turn away and the other kind who would stare at me, my chair, my children, my husband, and back at me again. There was one lady who seemed annoyed at my slow pace compared to her hurried speed but everyone else tried to make room for me.

By the end of our trip, my arms were tired. Out in the parking lot, it sloped up a bit and I didn't have the arm strength to push anymore. So my husband had to pull the cart and push me. (He's quite the guy!) I felt really dumb at this point because cars were waiting to drive past us and we were holding them up. At the car, because my chair had to be in the back, that meant the groceries had to be put over, and onto, the backseat (which is more of a pain - if you have a van, you'll understand this). This sucks when trying to get the groceries OUT Of the car.

We arrive home, I get out, and now it's time to scoot myself back up the stairs. At the top, trying to get into the chair from the ground (again, something we learned in class but I'm not good at) was a pain in the neck. I was pretty weak so I had to have my sweet spouse help me up. Even that was difficult when you have someone who can't use their legs, but we managed. Into the house and that's where I stayed the rest of the night.

At this point, everything I had done was doable. Not easy, but we managed ok. It wasn't until after we put our girls to bed and I went in to check on them and give them kisses while they were sleeping, like I always do, that I broke down and cried. I had my chair as close to their bed as possible but I couldn't lean over far enough to kiss their sweet heads. Thankfully, Spouse was there to carefully pick them up and scoot them closer to me so I could kiss them. I left their room in tears. My assignment had become all too real and I sobbed.

I could do everything else. But I couldn't reach my own children without help. This broke my heart and my attitude. I can't imagine NOT being able to kiss them at night. It's my thing, one of the joys of being a mother and I couldn't do it. NO! After my cry I was angry. I began to hate my assignment and the confines it placed on me in my own home. It may seem silly, after all, it's only a homework assignment and would be over the next day. But it had become too real to me. I wanted to be done.

You could say I was bitter the rest of the night and the next day. I had Spouse move my wheelchair into the living room at night, so in case the girls came in to our room in the middle of the night, they wouldn't hit into it. But you can't keep a pregnant woman from the bathroom and I had to go in the middle of the night. I didn't want to wake my husband up, so that meant me sliding to the floor and dragging myself to the bathroom and onto the toilet. I despised my situation even more.

The next morning, I was still in a down mood. I was surprised by my emotions and reactions to everything. I didn't feel like I could be happy knowing I was so limited. That I had to be so dependent on my husband. I felt like a burden! I even told Spouse, if this ever happened to me for real, I'm not sure our marriage would last. Not because of our love, but because I wouldn't and couldn't be a burden to him! Even though I would need him, it made me feel horrible to have to rely so much on him. As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I hated my assignment even more.

I was done, so done. But I wasn't, I still had six hours to go. I decided to take a bath thinking I could relax for awhile. Not. I about fell into the tub trying to maneuver myself with non-functioning legs. Did you know it's trickier to shave your legs when they can't move? You either have to hold it up with one hand and shave with the other, or try and stick it across the side of the tub and keep it from falling while you shave. And getting out of the tub was a joke! It was so hard to pull myself into a sitting position on the side of the tub and when I got there, I about slid off back in!

I felt even more done after this but a few hours remained on my 24 hour time line. We went to a church primary activity and it went pretty well. A few people asked why I was in a wheelchair and everyone else just looked on. We came home and I laid down for a nap for the last of my experience. I really was done. My arms had had it and I had no strength left to get around. My emotional state was shot and I was as cranky as ever. I just wanted to be left alone and I never wanted to see my wheelchair again.

So my assignment was overall, very effective. I have a much better idea of what some of the patients I see go through. I don't envy them. I don't wish this challenge on anyone. And I definitely don't want to go through it again, let alone talk about it anymore. I know it seems silly to get worked up over the assignment, but until you try it, you really have no idea...


Jen said...

Wow. This was a very powerful post, as was the assignment. I was near in tears reading this and wanting to help you.

Leah said...

What an eye oppening experience, too often we don't think about how hard it would be! Glad you had a great husband to help you out.

Crustacean Queen said...

I'm proud of you for giving it your best effort! I had to have crutches for a week because of an injured leg. I could walk on it, but with a limp and my doctor told me the best way it would heal is to stay off of it 100% Well that lasted about 4 hours. I felt so dumb using crutches when I could walk...even though it was painful. Then having kids and people looking, I couldn't take it. I went home to my apartment and stuck the crutches by my bed and limped around the rest of the week. And yes, it took a lot longer for my leg to heal! Like I said, I'm proud of you for taking it seriously and doing it...even if you HAD to because it was homework. And I'm going to have to agree with you have an amazing husband who ♥LOVES♥ his family!

Cami Jo said...

What a....interesting experience for you! I've learned so much about what people in wheelchairs go thruogh, after being so close to Niccole. I'm truly amazed every day. The simplest things, (like going potty) are such a challenge in that kind of a situation. I'm sure you are glad you did it though. You probably have a lot more empathy for those people than the rest of us!

Anonymous said...

moaning that you had to do this for a dare can get out of that wheelchair and use your have no right moaning about it.instead you should have been realize how lucky u are!!

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