** Full disclosure- I haven’t talked to a lot of my family or friends about the wheelchair situation, so this blog post is a little tough.
There was a time about a year ago that I realized that I was no longer to participate in life. Every time Joe (the husband, I feel like you probably know that by now, though) wanted to do something, I couldn’t. You see, I have this thing called POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome- for reliable info about it to satisfy your curiosity, here’s a great link- Click me!) that makes standing up or walking for more than a couple minutes pretty much impossible. So, I had essentially become a bystander in my own life . . ., and I wasn’t a fan of that. In an effort to become a participant in life, I talked to my doctor about a wheelchair. Fast forward a month (because anything that involves insurance takes at least that long), and I went to see the awesome people at the medical supply store- yes, I’m there enough that I have personal relationships with the med supply people. It was there that I first met my new wheelchair. She was small- typically used for pediatric patients actually (I’m 4’11”; don’t judge me), and she folded up easily and tucked into the trunk.
Pretty much, I loved my wheelchair and all the freedom she represented from the second I got her. She was definitely a girl (so little and cute!), and she needed a name. So, I named her Snooki. Don’t misunderstand; I’m not really a Jersey Shore fan. But there are three things to be said about Snooki from JS she’s small, cute, and definitely an attention grabber. The same could be said about my new wheels, so the wheelchair was christened “Snooki”.
Snooki’s first trip was to a University of Tennessee football game. Joe and I buy season tickets every year, but the season before I had only made it to one game, and it was pretty miserable. So on the morning of Snooki’s maiden voyage, I was super excited. I dressed in my UT orange (it’s an obnoxious color, I know), put on a new UT cap, and set out on the first adventure of Snooki.
Observation #1- It takes a little practice to maneuver a wheelchair.
I climb into Snooki, and Joe is pushing me. Our first obstacle was small downward slope. No worries; Joe handled it like a pro. I kept my hands on the wheels in case I slipped out of his grasp, but there were no problems. Until we reached the second obstacle . . . you see, at the bottom of the slope was a ramp onto the sidewalk. The ramp had a slightly raised border. When a wheelchair (traveling at a decent speed, because we were traveling downhill) hits a bump, the person sitting in said wheelchair really needs to be paying attention. If not, the rider lurches forward out of the wheelchair in a sprawling fashion on the sidewalk. Nothing stops a crowd of football fans more effectively than the spilling of a wheelchair bound woman face first on a sidewalk. Fortunately, I can walk enough to stand up (and try to look totally nonchalant about being dumped on the sidewalk) and plant myself back in Snooki.
Observation #2- Most people assume (and they’re typically correct) that a person using a wheelchair cannot walk at all.
Obviously, this is not the case with me. I walk in my house (some days more effectively than others); I walk when I visit my husband at work; I always, always, always, choose to walk if I can. (Trust me; walking is way simpler than maneuvering Snooki.) So after the ‘Great Tiffany Spill’ on the sidewalk, Joe and I went to a restaurant before the game. If you’ve ever eaten in a restaurant near a football stadium on game day, you know how absolutely packed beyond capacity it can be. Joe was able to take me in a back door of the restaurant (because it would have been a task of Biblical proportions to part the crowd to get me in the front entrance), and we found a table. All went well until I decided to go to the restroom. This restaurant is just not wheelchair friendly, so I decided to walk the short distance to the restroom rather than roll. Upon standing, I realized my mistake. People stopped eating. Some gawked. It was as though they expected me to give a speech about my sudden ability to walk. Finally, as I stepped toward the restroom, a man who was sitting along my restroom route yelled, “Demons be gone!” Sheesh.
Observation #3- Being in a wheelchair somehow encourages people to touch you.
As we rolled into the stadium (with no more Tiffany spills along the way), I started meeting lots of friendly people. Grown women would walk up and pet my head (I’m not exaggerating- the exact motion you use to show affection to a canine). They would tell me that I had “such a nice hat,” or “you’re just so pretty,” or some other bit of kindness all while petting my head! I assume that since my head was at hand-level it seemed like an appropriate thing to do, but it just wasn’t.
Observation #4- Handicap accessible seating is way better than standard seating.
I don’t have much to add here, other than my husband insists he could hear the players pads hitting, and he knows which players have especially filthy language. Major shout out to Neyland Stadium for giving my mobility challenged friends and I incredible seats!
Observation #5- People equate a wheelchair with mental handicap.
This was the most awkward thing of all (and perhaps relates back to #4). I felt like I had to constantly prove to people that I was, in fact, an otherwise normal 29 year old. During half time of the game, a lady came to visit me. Joe was gone (obtaining snacks, probably), and I was sitting there minding my own business when a lady walked up and put an arm around me. She then introduced herself as the mother of a former UT player who now plays in the NFL. She said she wanted to personally thank me for being a fan, because she and her son appreciate their “special fans” the most. I was completely dumbstruck. So, I just stared at the lady in total confusion. Then she petted my head (What was it with my head, anyway?) and moved on to her next “special fan.” Once she left, the gentleman (also in a wheelchair) looked at me, rolled his eyes, and said, “Yeah. She’s at every game.” At the end of the game, she came back through and hugged me and said, “God bless all our special fans!” Joe saw that part and thought it was quite possibly the funniest thing ever. I’ll be honest; I didn’t laugh until much later.
Here’s the thing. Snooki allowed me to join in my life again. It’s a different way of living, but at least I’m able to get out of the house and live. I decided before the acquisition of my Snooki that if I let people’s actions and reactions to the wheelchair bother me, I was just adding one more disability to a growing list. So, I’m going to laugh at the absurdity (and there are many more Snooki stories to come), shake off the embarrassment, and enjoy doing things I enjoy with my husband.
Peace, love, and health.