I have a thing about people touching my chair. In fairness, most paraplegics do and it’s part of Wheelchair 101 to learn how to keep people from touching it. Here’s a tip- next time you see a wheelchair person, look to see how fancy their chair is and check to see if there are handles. In the states, people who live in chairs do not have handles on the backrests. Handles are an invitation for someone to grab the chair. So generally, I can know if a person is a full time wheelchair dude or if they just have a temporary injury before even meeting them.
I thought the handles rule applied everywhere, but that’s where my American expectations of disabilities represents a culture specific only to the states. There’s no American Disabilities Act allowing me to have access to every bathroom in every building here in Europe and the preservation of history makes most of Europe hard to maneuver in a chair. So I’ll see more wheelchair people being pushed by chairs with handles than I’ll see a handle-less chair like my own. I thought this was a little demeaning of the disability name when I first arrived, but I now know that I was just a snob.
When I started having a really hard time keeping up with Dusty when we would travel or be able to enjoy the views while continuing to roll, Dusty suggested getting detachable handles for my chair. “How dare you?!” was my reply to his helpful, honest and practical suggestion (again, read above. Snob to the core).
We had taken off for another weekend riding the trains to see what I refer to as Rapunzal’s Tower in Nuremburg, Germany. We were lucky, it was a beautiful fall weekend and there was no reason why it wasn’t going to be a low stress adventure. Until we saw the castle that held the tower. Which was on top of the highest part of the city. On what had to be the original cobblestones from when they had actual peasants and the real Rapunzel in the tower. Getting up that hill was terrible. I was exhausted halfway through and Dusty was alternating between pushing me from behind and pulling my arm out the socket from in front. By the time we got to the terrace to look out on the city, I was completely over it. At that point, I could care less if Flynn Rider and Rapunzal from Tangled stepped out of the castle themselves, I just wanted to lie down on the brick and sleep.
So I gave in and I now have two handles that I put on when we’re heading out to travel. And when the going gets rough, Dusty pushes me. He, l (I can’t play up enough how crucial it has been in our marriage that Dusty is a patient and understanding man. I, on the other hand, am like one of those pufferfish; make the wrong move and I could blow up real fast), respects my boundaries with my chair through 3 years of trial and error. As soon as I don’t need the help, I’ll ask him (sometimes calmly, but unfortunately mostly pufferfish-style) to let go and he jumps back quickly to duck for cover.
I’m getting better at understanding that it’s okay to need help. It’s not the best feeling in the world to know that you’re dependent on the help of others, but I don’t know anyone who can be a paraplegic and live on a metaphorical island. It’s one of those growing/humbling/deeply embarrassing moments when I relinquish control to ask for help, but it’s something that I hope I continue to progress.
But in the meantime, don’t touch my chair.