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A glimpse into daily struggle of wheelchair life

By Ernie Williamson

The Bulletin

It seemed to come on so suddenly.

I was sitting in my wheelchair trying to put on my socks in my usual paraplegic way: Put right arm around right knee. Lift knee as close to chest as possible. Grab sock with left hand. Reach across body and, with one hand, put the sock on the right foot. If the heel of the sock is in the wrong place … so be it. That’s good enough.

Do the reverse for left foot.

The procedure had worked for the 11 years I have been in a wheelchair. Dressing myself is important to me.

But as hard as I tried on that April morning, I couldn’t get those dang socks on. My leg felt heavy and resisted being lifted. My left arm couldn’t reach far enough to put the sock on.

I feared that I was suffering from one of the hazards of wheelchair life: My muscles were starting to contract, and I was losing range of motion.

I am fortunate that I have managed to live relatively independently since coming down with a rare spinal cord disorder.

I have been able to bathe and dress myself. I drive a van. I can even do my own grocery shopping when needed, although I frequently ask fellow shoppers for help getting my favorite cereal off the top shelf.

Things I don’t do well - like cooking - are things I wasn’t very good at anyway.

As I huffed and puffed trying to put that sock on, I wondered if my inability to put on my socks was the first sign that the days of doing things by myself were coming to an end.

Would this be the start of the next phase of dealing with the disorder?

Would I have a wrestling match with my socks every morning?

In addition to all the other chores she has assumed, would my wife now have to help dress me in the mornings?

Were all those hours of stretching exercises and aquatic therapy in vain?

As I was struggling to get my socks on, my wife came in and saw my frustration.

She reminded me that we had purchased a device that helps the elderly and disabled put on their socks. There are other devices that help with shoes and clothing.

I had never used any of these aids, but I was so exasperated that morning I reluctantly gave the sock aid a try. It worked.

I used the sock aid for several days but never gave up on putting my socks and shoes on unassisted.

Finally, after several days of new stretching exercises and of experimenting with new sitting positions in the wheelchair, I found a way that enabled me to put socks on myself.

It was harder and took longer than the sock aid, but I take satisfaction in fighting off an attack on my independence … and my self-esteem.

At least for the time being.

(Contact Ernie at Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)


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