On your Feet

If you ever doubt that the disabled world is an exceedingly small one, consider my current frontier – walking. Anywhere. And, let us be frank, virtually any distance.

Next time I raise my eyebrows at someone hooked on methamphetamine, do remind me about wheelchairs. Yes, they are addictive. They are a crutch, if you happen to be in a 12 step program. Otherwise, if you are disabled and 12 steps seem like an awful lot, they are not a crutch. In fact, a crutch represents an enormous step up. Not that you have to step up, for stepping on a level will more than do. You get the idea? Life’s normal metaphors, the ones we bandy about, do not apply. In fact, they present a mockery of my current reality.

The addictive quality of wheelchairs is simply their use. Yes, walking has been difficult for many years. But many things have been difficult for many years. Getting out of bed has been difficult for many years, but I am proud to report that I managed to overcome this difficulty 365 times in 2013 alone. But…do I dare to eat a peach? Not on your life, if I am obliged to pick this peach, for these days even the low hanging fruit are out of reach. Can’t pick peaches from a wheelchair, I always say…and a bird in the hand gathers no rolling moss, and so on.

What happened? I just got out of the habit of walking. The latter can easily become too exhausting, too inconvenient, too impractical…not to mention too painful. And then the less one does it, the more walking becomes all of the above. Until even reaching for things, like a low hanging peach, at any height slightly above ones shoulder…well, that becomes frighteningly destabilizing, not to mention intimidating. Thus, not walking enough can make standing and slightly stretching…well, a stretch.

What is to be done? The answer, the four letter word, sounds simple enough. Until you try to do it. Guess what? If you don’t walk, you lose your sense of balance. Okay, so hang on someone’s arm while you walk. Even when walking with another, just being up and moving feels downright vertiginous. Too much altitude or something. Okay, so now you’re walking arm-and-arm. What about the big time, which used to be little-time, a.k.a., walking solo?

After all, several physical medicine professionals have pointed out that this next step…absolutely no pun intended…is essential. It’s also a big one, because, well, what has happened to your balance…oy, you don’t want to go there. But you have to. You have to go somewhere and on your own and with a crutch and on a regular basis. What is balance? Turns out, it has much to do with proprioception. Fact is, the latter is in chronically short supply among those of a certain neuromuscular persuasion. So, there’s not much of it to start…close your eyes and touch your nose never being your strong suit…. And now there’s less.

Such is my current situation. As for the walking unassisted, that is to say, not leaning on anyone or touching anything, such as a wall…so that the brain orients visually and with what little position sense the body still retains…unfortunately, there’s only one answer. The challenge involves the safety factor. Walking on my own with my crutch has been shown to be perilous. I waver. I lose concentration for an instant, and suddenly the ground is beginning to tilt toward me. In other words, falling seems a very real possibility. So with Jane at work on a day like today, what’s a guy like me to do?

Do it, that is the simple answer. Get up and schlep. It’s easy, extremely easy, to find reasons to avoid this. Who wouldn’t want to avoid fear? Even terror. Of course, this is more or less how I got into this situation. And there’s nothing to do now…except what I’m doing now. Rolling my wheelchair in the bedroom, grabbing the crutch, pushing myself up into the vertical…and commencing a short but fateful journey down the hallway. Which, of course, let us be honest, involves several marginal moments in the bedroom. I keep close to the end of the bed, mentally prepared to fall if my balance or my knees or something fails me. Don’t fail me now.

But, yes, there is the hallway. And it does have, as so many hallways do, a wall. I don’t touch it, that wall. But I notice it, remain aware of it, love it. No falling through the wall, I always say. And no touching. Off-the-wall, that’s me. Into my office, reverse step and….

“Hello?” The shock of this unsteadies me. My crutch waivers, my balance weakens. I have left the front door open, summer being what it is, and now I have a caller. I yell hello at the screen door. There’s a reply. Sir? Sir? Hello? Sir, can we talk to you?

There is no “we” I can imagine talking to, except the police. And somehow this voice doesn’t sound that authoritative. I ask the mysterious persons to wait and try not to think about them too much as I wobble toward the wheelchair. It takes a good four minutes or so to accomplish this. When I get to the front door, I’m not surprised. A religious mission, of sorts, awaits me on the wheelchair ramp. Oddly, I do not have the presence of mind to assure these emissaries that all religious bases have been covered in this household. A fair chunk of the Abrahamic tradition is represented here, however unevenly. But there’s no referring this matter to Jane. It would take too long to set up a conference call. Besides I don’t really care. What I really care about is not falling – and I can get downright religious over that.

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