By Ernie Williamson
I have been sitting in a wheelchair for 10 years.
They have been years filled with challenges, indignities and setbacks. They also, however, have been years that have shown me there are a lot of decent people out there.
Here are memorable moments from my wheelchair life. Some were quite traumatic at the time, but I now realize they were typical of what thousands of disabled folks cope with every day.
WORST MOMENT: It all started when I came down with the flu and suddenly couldn’t walk. My primary doctor referred me to a neurosurgeon. The neurosurgeon and an assistant examined me, reviewed my MRIs and then left the room.
The assistant returned and uttered life-changing words. “There is nothing wrong that a neurosurgeon can fix,” she said. “You have myelitis, and you may never walk again.”
No sugarcoating from her.
I didn’t believe her, of course, and at the time resented how matter-of-factly she had spoken.
I now realize she had done me a favor. She made me confront the situation realistically.
Although other doctors have tried various treatments, and I haven’t given up trying to walk, her words keep me from getting my hopes too high.
FREEWAY FIASCO: Several months after diagnosis, my wife picked me up from work in our newly-acquired, wheelchair-accessible van.
We were in rush-hour on the Pierce Elevated downtown when the hand-controlled brakes failed.
She turned the ignition off, and we escaped to the shoulder. We were, however, up against a wall, and I was unable to deploy the ramp that lets me roll in and out of the van.
The police arrived and stopped traffic. We moved the van away from the wall and into the middle of the freeway.
As a burly wrecker driver lifted me into his vehicle, I could see the huge traffic jam I had caused. Hundreds of commuters were late for dinner that evening.
HORROR MOVIE: I told the girl at the concession stand that I wanted a medium-sized popcorn, but I asked that she put it in a large bag. I asked that because it is hard to roll the wheelchair without spilling popcorn. I spill less if the popcorn is in a large bag that I can fold at the top.
She said that was against company policy. I stressed that I didn’t want more popcorn, just a larger bag. She repeated that she couldn’t.
Next thing I know, all the people behind me are yelling at the poor girl. Some yelled at her to ignore company policy. Some, not understanding what I wanted, offered to buy me a large bag of popcorn. Others just offered money.
Embarrassed by the commotion, I got things calmed down and eventually told the young lady I was fine with a medium bag.
I rolled away toward my movie, leaving a trail of popcorn.
THANKFUL: Despite the trials and tribulations of the last 10 years, I do have reason to be thankful.
Unlike many with severe disabilities, I had 65 years of good health before becoming wheelchair-bound.
Also, I live close to the Texas Medical Center. Despite not achieving the outcome I wanted, I have no doubt I am receiving the best care from the dedicated doctors, nurses and therapists at TIRR Memorial Hermann.
Almost daily, I have complete strangers asking if I need help. Some open doors for me. Some help at the supermarket by grabbing items I can’t reach. Some even offer to pump gas for me.
I am also thankful that we have the Americans with Disabilities Act. I can’t imagine life before cutouts in curbs or accessible bathrooms.
Lastly, but certainly not least, I have a wonderful wife who has stood beside me while being burdened with more responsibilities.
(Contact Ernie at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, write to The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)