It has been just over two weeks since injuring my knee. And, because I could not put weight on it, I have been using a wheelchair to get around. I am grateful to be able to afford renting a wheelchair for a couple of weeks, and I am now able to bear weight on my knee and have been practicing walking. I am more determined than ever to strengthen my knee and again get mobile on my own two legs.
As a blogger, it occurred to me to document how I have felt over the last couple weeks.
Depending on others for even the most basic tasks is foreign to me. I believe that my doctor must have sensed this difficulty in our last appointment because he urged me not to be alone and to make arrangements for either someone to be with me or for me to stay with someone when hubby had to be away on business. He called me to ask if I had made arrangements a couple of days after the appointment. At that moment I was cognizant of how important it was to my healing. And I fully understood his apprehension, because at this point, he knew me well enough to know that I have a strong independent streak which might get me in trouble if I were to push my independence beyond my abilities and have an accident, and that of course would set me back even further.
Honestly, this has been a very difficult period for me, even more difficult than not being able to drive because of my stroke. At the same time, this has been an interesting experience, which confirmed how bullheaded I could be. If indeed there was ever a question about that!
We take for granted so many things when they are operating properly. Being forced to use a wheelchair has changed my perspective regarding those with mobility challenges. However, in my case this is temporary. That said, I have been routinely checking access in public places, like restaurants and stores. Before I ventured out I would check if there are impediments for access at our destination. I was very mindful of asking for help and would only ask for help as a last resort. But at the same time, I resented being in a position to have to ask for help. Accepting a need to ask for help is difficult for me at the best of times – a trait that I share with hubby!
Apart from my reluctance to ask for help, the more difficult part was to overcome my fear of pain when I began to walk. Fear is an interesting emotion, because it prevents you from moving forward because you may encounter whatever your rationalized fear, when in fact moving forward will eventually diminish that fear. Fear literally stopped me, even in spite of being fully aware that succumbing to my fear would create a host of other problems and perhaps jeopardize my healing. fear at best is an irrational thought. I made a decision not to be practicing to walk without supervision. I had to be smart and incorporate balance, my need for independence and my need to be safe and to only do things that encouraged healing adhering to my doctor’s apprehension regarding my safety.
Most of us take our legs for granted, like I did. Like anything we don't appreciate what it would be like if we lost the use of it, until it occurs. Normal everyday tasks become obstacles to be dealt with. Even being able to reach for items in upper cupboards was a challenge. Being able to turn the knobs on the stove was also a challenge. Even opening doors became a problem. Simply taking a cup of tea into another room to watch TV was problematic too. It is eye-opening to discover how many things I took for granted that required using both legs. And, doing little tasks in the kitchen became monumental. For example, when I wash dishes, my low position in the wheelchair causes water to drift down my arms and on to my shirt, and putting dishes away took more time to go around the island counter to the other side. (Fortunately, hubby doesn't complain about doing dishes.)
No one thinks about how they will cope if they couldn't use their leg, when they have very capable legs. And if they have, I assure you the reality is much different. It will be both a physical and a mental adjustment, there is no avoiding that. One time I slipped out of my wheelchair overreaching for an item that fell on the floor, but luckily Andrew was home at the time and he was able to come to my rescue. I was able to lift myself up using my arms onto the chair again while he supported it.
However, what I found really interesting is how people treated me. I don't mean in a negative way; people at their core are very compassionate. However, they unconsciously begin to treat you as though you are a child. Calling me “dear”, or “sweetie”, although this could simply appear to be terms of endearment, but it felt as if I was being assumed to be not capable or fully adult. And, if you know anything about me, you will know that I can be stubborn, and very capable, making me perhaps overly sensitive.
In any case, I will do for myself before asking for help. During this period, I found myself missing my late brother Samuel. Because I know that if I had called him, he would have been here on the next plane, no questions asked. And he would have been happy to do it. However, the reality is even though I have a large family they all have their own lives and for me to ask for this type of help would have been a real inconvenience to them. I am fortunate to have people around, though, that are very helpful.
I am grateful that I was able to get through this on my own, with a bit of help from hubby, and my son, Andrew. At the end of the day, what I am most grateful for is that this is a temporary condition. This cannot be emphasised enough. And, every day I am grateful to be in a relationship that is supportive. Hubby even organised his schedule to ensure he was home with me more often. I appreciate and am grateful to the clients who understood the difficulty we were having and accommodated his request.
The lessons that I have learned by this experience is to ask for help and the knowledge that friends who showed up to help really did so out of their kindness and compassion, like my good friend Khalid. I am so grateful for that.
Fortuitously we remodeled the bathroom last year, and it was immensely helpful in my daily routine because I knew I was absolutely safe in the shower, and that is the utmost awesome feeling, which is priceless. I am grateful for that.
My experience with the wheelchair has made me more compassionate towards people who depend on wheelchairs to get around permanently. And I am more keenly aware of obstacles for access in public places. I have only used a wheelchair for two weeks, but it felt more like months.
I really didn't need this experience after dealing with the effects of having a stroke last year, but once again, the fact that I am a meditator has served me well in how I managed this latest bit of difficulty and it helped me maintained my humour and cheerfulness. At the end of the day, I am not a victim. I am resilient and resourceful. My setback is minor compared to what many others have to deal with daily. I am deeply grateful for the support I have at home.
When faced with an unexpected physical crisis what you need are:
5. Friends who bring tea and conversation
Postscript - Hubby’s perspective
Hi, Hubby here. Reading this post makes me reflect on how this temporary struggle has affected me as a hubby and our relationship. After 26 years of marriage you tend to have settles into routines and you tend to have agreed on a domestic division of labour that becomes more or less automatic. If your better half is independent, sweet, kind but at the same time stubborn, and you are a person who tends to be less forthcoming about your feelings, your conduct and expectations of each other adapt themselves to those traits.
When that independent, sweet, kind and stubborn person is confined to a wheelchair, strains develop. She is confined to bed much of the time, and as she has written, even getting around the house presents challenges and frustrations. My first reaction was to want to stay home and be as helpful as possible. But I have a busy law practice to keep going that requires me to travel to client meetings. I don’t much like cooking, but I had to be the cook. Add to that that I am now the only driver in the family, and the little strains begin to mount. As I mentioned, I am a person who bottles up my frustrations until they burst out all at once, usually at home, because I can’t express them with clients. So that has been a bit of a problem. Little frustrations can expand into bigger resentments. With us these don’t last, however. And that is a key to our success as a couple.
Some aspects of the experience have not bothered me in the least. Not only do I not mind pushing her wheelchair and helping her into the shower or the car, but I enjoy the simple feeling of being a help to her. I have always lived with a sneaking suspicion that over the course of the last 26 years she has done more for me than I have for her, and this gives me a pleasant sensation of evening the ledger.
One of the nice things has been that on the occasions that I couldn’t reschedule a business trip, better half has been able to come with me, and we have had some nice little spontaneous outings. This is when her sweetness comes to the fore. Little things like a dinner out or just a drive will break the monotony of a wheelchair bound life. It gives us space to just be together with a bit of a change of scenery.
I agree with better half’s list of what is needed to survive a medical crisis. For the other spouse, you will have to draw on your patience and your capacity to empathize with the other person. It is a temporary test of your love, and I think on the whole we have managed it rather well.