Set Free

Twice in the past year, two separate doctors have told me that if I got arthritis today, I likely wouldn't end up in a wheelchair. Given that on both occasions, I was crying because everything had gotten to me and I’d run out of hope, I'm pretty sure they meant it as a sort of comfort. It seemed that way at the time, but that’s not the point of today’s post.

I keep forgetting that using a wheelchair is a fate worse than death.

I could go on for pages and pages about how able-bodied people view the seated life, but the phrases "wheelchair-bound" and "confined to a wheelchair" pretty much say it all. More than once, I have heard people say they would kill themselves if they ever lost the use of their legs, which tends to be my cue for Educational Seminar #57(a).

I haven't always adored using a wheelchair instead of walking. There are many things that I’d love to do, but will have to wait until my next life - riding horses, scuba diving, sitting on the grass, reaching the top shelf, skydiving, initiating hugs. The main issues I have with my disability relates to when it stops me from doing things and after having used the chair for as long as I have, I've become okay with not skydiving.

Between the ages of 11 and 16, I spent most of my time in hospital, starting to use crutches and a wheelchair at about 13 and from 14-16, I was in bed. Back then, there was really no effective way of suppressing arthritis – except steroids and I’d worked hard to get off Prednisone after it saved my life at 13 – and when the arthritis went wiggy at puberty, every joint fused, including my hips. So I lay in a bed for 2 years, waiting for specially made hip replacements. In the last 6 months of 1978, I had a hip replacement, a surgery on my left knee and in early December, they replaced the other hip. Then I got an electric wheelchair and a month later, in January of 1979, I went home.

My wheelchair set me free. Without it, I'd be confined to bed. With it, I finished highschool, moved to Canada, went to university, worked, travelled, danced, live in my own apartment and buy my own groceries.

I've come to realized that I was lucky to start using a chair so young and under those circumstances. My entire adult life has been seated - it is my normal. I no longer have a muscle memory of walking and don't miss it. Usually, only when I am reminded of how dire a fate I suffer (or get a flat tire) does it occur to me that the wheelchair limits me. There have been times in the past when I struggled with what I didn't have, but these days, when I dream of being "healed", I dream of adequate pain control and a body that is less fragile, not of walking.

One woman’s prison is another woman’s wings.

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