Aah, push it (but don’t touch)

It is remarkable how quickly I became possessive of my wheelchair, especially considering that my brain has still not made peace that some of my original limbs are missing. The wheelchair has become an extension of myself and I get irrationally irritated when people touch it.

The rant

My friends and family usually ask me to move if I’m in the way or let me know that they are going to touch my wheelchair, which is ironic, because they are the ones less prone to annoy me. When it comes to strangers, however, I am always caught between rage and disbelief that they have no qualms about pushing me out of their way like an errant trolley in a supermarket. Not to mention the number of times I find able-bodied strangers taking their time in the disabled toilet, which they prefer because it happens to be more “spacious” … how much space does one need to go to the loo?

The humour

Speaking of toilets, a funny thing happened when I visited the disabled cubicle in Heathrow airport before my flight to South Africa. After finishing up I couldn’t find the button to flush the loo. I looked all around and there, right next to the toilet, was a Big Red Button. Now, everyone knows you should push a Big Red Button when you see it, right? So I pushed it, Sugababes-style (or Salt-n-Pepa-style, depending on your age). It wasn’t the flush.

Wheelchair Button Shows Physical Disability And Immobility

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

An ear-splitting siren screamed my error for all of Heathrow to hear and, as I later found out, a bright red light began flashing above the cubicle’s door. Most disabled toilets I come across have an emergency button in case one gets stuck, and I realised that must be what I’d pushed. As I imagined hordes of burly men in uniforms dashing to my rescue from every corner of the airport (I wish), my search for the flush grew ever more urgent, so that I could dispose of what I’d left in the toilet bowl before any of them could see. Eventually I found it, and the solitary airport cleaner who strolled sedately over to the cubicle long after I had finished, reset the emergency button to stop the alarm that had been ringing for a solid five minutes.

The rest of my voyage passed without incident and, thanks to all the medication I was taking at the time, I slept most of the way.

The moral

Although we have wheels, pushing a wheelchair-user out of your way is just as bad as pushing someone who stands on two feet. Hogging our toilets and parking spaces (that’s a different story for a different blog post) is just as bad as someone else parking in your garage or blocking your driveway. I know it sucks that you can’t get that close to the entrance when it’s raining, but try assembling a wheelchair in that rain. So the moral of the story: Be as courteous and respectful to disabled people as you would want us to be towards you, and we’ll do the same.

Introducing … me! (and my disability)

After I lost my legs in a failed suicide attempt, I was presented with new physical challenges on an almost daily basis. In some ways those first few months were easier, because I was so determined to overcome my new limitations and I was certain that life would get better. Learning to use my wheelchair, increasing my upper body strength and figuring out how to beat those odds was invigorating. Now that my life is normalising to the point that I can’t really do things much better, faster or easier than I am currently doing them, I have to get used to the still-unreal fact that I have a disability and I must finally face the depression that got me here in the first place.

During my physical rehabilitation at an amputee centre in London, all the other men in my ward had diabetes. Thinking that my newly incompleted body suddenly put me at risk of developing diabetes myself, I immediately visited the dietician’s office. She explained that it actually worked the other way around – all the men in my ward had lost their limbs because their preexisting diabetes reduced their blood circulation! Although I dodged that  particular bullet, I have had to make a concerted effort to keep fit.

MyCiti disabled bus trip | darylhb on Instagram

Before losing my legs, my fitness regime involved walking through the park or dancing in a club. Now that I spend most day in a wheelchair, I have had to adapt my diet and exercise regularly to prevent putting on weight. Maintaining my upper body strength is essential to my independence, ensuring that I can transfer from my chair to another surface and lift myself from the floor to my chair or bed or car. As long as I can get on and off the bus, I can go almost anywhere (this photo was taken on my first bus ride as a disabled person in South Africa).

I gave up on sports early in my life when I had no aptitude for it and no interest in learning. I took for granted the freedom I had for skipping (which I was prone to spontaneous outbursts of), jumping, walking and pole-dancing (don’t tell). Now that my physicality represents such an obstacle to me, I am determined to show my body who is boss. I have taken up paravolley (volleyball played sitting on the ground) and personal training. Although all my friends have been unfailingly supportive and inclusive of me since I became disabled, it feels wonderful to socialise with other disabled people and not worry that I am inconveniencing anyone or slowing others down.

The stumps remaining of my legs are too short for prosthetics. Perhaps in the future there will be a new solution that will enable me to walk again, but for now I am embracing the Professor X look. Being wheelchair-bound has placed limitations on my life, but it has also opened a world of new opportunities and introduced me to several amazing people that I would not have met otherwise.