In my case, I was prone for over a month undergoing numerous surgeries for my back, my spine, and a few internal organs before I was even placed in a wheelchair for the first time. When the medical staff finally said: “Dwight, it’s time,” I thought it would be simple. Little did I know.
Since I had been flat on my back for so long, the simple act of raising myself up to a sitting position was excruciating. And that was the easy past. It was also nauseating. It was like getting on the spinning cups at an amusement park at warp speed, and the pain and dizziness overwhelmed me. The doctors said: “Dwight, this is normal. Stay with us, and don’t give up. It will pass.”
Well, it did pass over time, and soon I had to start learning a new normal. Slowly but surely, I got used to my new best friend. My wheelchair seemed to have a mind of its own, and a bad attitude to boot. It was not easy to control and I kept going places I didn’t mean for it to go. I was continually banging into things. In fact, I put holes in so much sheetrock at the rehab center that they began to tease me. But it was done lovingly and with a smile because they’d seen it all before.
“Dang, Dwight. We’re gonna have to hire a drywall crew just to keep up with the holes you keep knocking in the walls,” my physical therapist would joke. “But don’t worry. You’re getting the hang of it.” And I was. A week later, they were teaching me how to do wheelies, which is important because sometime I have to roll over obstacles or move from a slightly lower place to a higher place. And the fear of tipping over was always there.
The staff would lay out a course of small cones that I would have to weave through, lean to the side of my chair, and pick up one-by-one. They were there to catch me as I began to tip over, but in a week or two, I was racing through the course and moving on the next challenges.
The point of all this is that people in wheelchairs have to learn how to “walk” all over again. Of course, we’re not walking, but we can cover as much distance as any able-bodied person. And since I tend not use my motorized chair, the constant pushing on the wheels has made my arms like a couple of pythons. I think nothing now of rolling two or three miles at a mall in a manual chair or even rolling up the road from my house to visit friends and relatives. It took a full year to become perfectly comfortable in my chair doing transfers, for example, from my chair to my truck. (Yes, I drive every day. I just use my hands instead of my feet.) And even now, my wheelchair sometimes misbehaves, but I just give it a scolding and tell it to get back in line. We get along just fine. I’ve embraced my new normal.