Each Wednesday I went to occupational therapy before work. On this particular Spring morning, it was cool but dry. When I finished my hour-long session, it was pouring outside. I waited in the lobby until the Paratransit bus driver lowered the lift. As the lift descended halfway, I made a break for the outside door. Maybe with some divine luck, I would roll between the raindrops.
As I traveled down the wet cement ramp, my left hand brushed up against the beaded cold wetness of the coarse black railing which caused me a slight bruise and an interruption of my flight to the bus. I went down the ramp, which seemed to last longer than usual, and made a sharp left a few feet to the lift. Wheelchairs are supposed to go in backwards so their weight is properly and evenly supported and distributed. However, since it was a torrential downpour, I just drove straight in forward instead of dealing or negotiating driving in reverse.
Something happened where my wheels got stuck to the sides of the slippery steel lift. The driver tried to forcefully move my chair. Consider that, between me and the chair we weigh over 500 pounds. There’s no way he could maneuver it. But somehow he lodged the chair in deeper and more treacherous.
The driver, Angel, (ironic name-but true), started cursing at the situation yet continued to shake my chair in vain. Once he saw that approach wasn’t working, he directed me to try and move it from side to side. It wasn’t moving no matter what direction I tried. It got to the point where it made the chair burn itself out. Great! Now I’m stuck halfway on a slick lift with a cursing driver in a deluge. I’m aggravated, soaked and worried about my chair being overcooked and being hit with a huge repair bill. Right now, all I’m worried about is getting into a dry and warm bus.
There is nothing left to do except put the chair on manual instead of power. In order to do that, Angel goes in the bus and has to shift a lever by my left foot rest. Bear in mind, the lift is about half way between the ground and the bus, (about 2′). The lever had given me problems a few months ago and I had to have it taped to the frame so it wouldn’t come loose. I never needed to change it over to manual mode except during this rainstorm.
As he fumbled to unravel the black electrical tape, all the while cursing, understandably, he was trying to understand how to toggle the lever. I explained to him, LOUDLY, that all you had to do was gently lift it.
Viola! Eureka! Finally!
He started pulling me persistently into the bus and then going behind me and pushing me tirelessly inside the warm, comforting bus. As he positioned my chair to its proper spot, I wiped the raindrops off my slimy face with nothing but my clammy fingers. If I’m not mistaken, I recollect me shaking my wet hair and head like a dog shakes its body when it’s wet.
How was I to directly go to work? I’m soaked to the bone. How was I to spend the rest of the day in wet clothes in an air-conditioned office? So I called out sick. I then called my wife, who happened to be home that day and told her of my mornings’ escapade. She brought up this distressing point. “If the chair is on manual, how am I going to wheel and push you? They’re both too heavy for me.”
I thought quickly and said “call the fire department and they’ll come over to push me in and around the perimeter of the house and then pick me up to transfer me to the manual wheelchair.”
I told the driver to take me home instead. So he immediately called the dispatcher to inform them of the change of route.
It took about a good long hour to get home. One usually it’s only about a 1/2 hour. When I arrived there ironically and miraculously it had stopped raining! And there were three burly firemen who greeted me. When I got off the lift I sarcastically thanked Angel for helping me get stuck. One fireman pushed my chair from behind while the other two followed.
Now, to get into my house, I have to go around its perimeter to my 20′ metal ramp. They pushed me off my ramp, turned me into the kitchen door and rolled me into my dry, wooden floored living room. This is one of those moments when you want to kiss the ground of your own house. My wife had gotten the manual wheelchair ready for me to be physically transferred into. They parked me next to it securely. I instructed them on how to lift each armrest for a smoother transfer. One fireman took my left underarm and knee, while the other took my right. The third spotted them and made sure the chairs were secure and still. My wife just watched halfheartedly and apathetically from the remote corner of the room.
On the count of three they lifted my 200 pound soaked body and I squished into my manual wheelchair. Yuck!
I got myself situated comfortably, the firemen rolled my lifeless power chair off to the side and asked how I was feeling. I reassured and thanked them that all was good. Then they left to do whatever firemen do after a search and rescue operation.
And there I sat wet and cold. Now a new situation arose.
Let’s pause for a minute while I explain something here. I live with my wife of 25 years in an unconventional and sometimes uncomfortable relationship. Meaning, she helps me with my living conditions and issues since I’m incapacitated. But, it’s not your customary husband/wife relationship. We live together for reasons of my living needs, financial obligations and raising our kids who still reside with us.
And now that that’s understood, back to the un-drenching.
She then went back to typing her homework on the computer while I thawed out. I sat there for a good 10 minutes until I had to ask if she could help me change my clothes.
Yes, I had to ask. It was a stressful ordeal that I went through and you would think that it would be second nature to either offer a towel, blanket or to oblige someone who is drenched to get out of his wet clothes to be comfortable and warm so you’re not susceptible to colds. She could be self absorbed at times. She then yelled at me for suspending and interrupting her writing. Of course, this caused a loud argument.
As she undressed and dressed me in silence, I wondered how to spend the rest of the day and night. Since I was totally dependent upon her moving me about, feeding me etc., how was the day and night going to transpire? After that incident, the rest of the day went along uneventful.
The next order of business was to get my power wheelchair fixed.
I called my wheelchair repair company to come over and look at my chair. They couldn’t make it that day but promised to come over first thing in the morning so I could go to work the next day.
Upon diagnosing my power chair, the repair man, Jerry, said “all you needed to do was press the white and red reset button in the back of the chair and it would have restarted.”
Boy did I feel like an idiot.
And he didn’t even charge me a service call.