Swallowing a Wheelchair

When I went hunting in Africa last year, I did something that I’d never done before: I requested wheelchair assistance when booking a flight. I’d always gutted out airport walking, and with my wife’s assistance, it wasn’t easy, but it was possible. My wife wasn’t going to be with me at the end of my 17-hour flight to South Africa, and I knew that my legs would be tight from sitting so long. The wheelchair worked perfectly. I sacrificed my ego to save my legs.

This month, I did it again – not the safari, but the wheelchair. And this time, I didn’t borrow it; I bought it.

I can’t remember a more gut-wrenching buying experience. It took me more than six months to hit the “Buy” button, because every time I saw a wheelchair on my computer screen, I recoiled. Guys like me aren’t supposed to be in wheelchairs. I might as well have been shopping for a coffin, because my mind wouldn’t let me see myself in either.

It wasn’t my mind making this decision. Within the last ten years, my legs decided they needed a wheelchair for long or slippery walks. I was just too stubborn to listen. Instead of swallowing my ego, I sat at home while my family went to church and sporting events in inclement weather without me. In Las Vegas recently, I sat in a hotel room and watched TV while Lynda and the kids went exploring. My world was shrinking, and while I can accept that some things are beyond my reach, I have to make sure that my ego doesn’t handicap me more than my legs do.

So I bought a wheelchair.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. More than thirty years ago, I sat in a doctor’s office and heard him tell me that I would likely need braces, crutches and even a wheelchair as I aged, and my joints began to show the effects of my awkward walking motion. At the time, I was running hills and bench-pressing nearly 300 pounds. I heard him, but convinced myself that my physical regimen and resolve would prevail. That was the hope I clung to as my joints stiffened.

Ironically, I’ve never been stronger or more muscular. That part, I could control. Stiff, aching joints are a completely different story. Like the doctors said, you can’t walk like I do and not damage your joints. With further irony, all that running and bike riding I did hoping to play high school football likely accelerated the damage that slows me down today.

So I bought a wheelchair.

Now, instead of worrying that it might snow during one of my son’s football games or my daughter’s basketball games, I know that I’ll be there enjoying these irreplaceable experiences that are passing way too quickly. Neither snow nor my ego will keep me from that.

It’s still not easy. Riding in a wheelchair is a humbling experience. You feel apart from the world of the walking. Very few strangers give you more than a glance. You wonder what others are thinking. Riding in a wheelchair tests your self-worth, and I’m finally at a point where my self-worth trumps my misplaced pride.

So I bought a wheelchair.


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  1. #1 by Todd on February 18, 2014 - 9:11 am

    Great article and perspective Mitch. Gives one pause about what else our ego stops us from doing….Thanks for sharing…

  2. #2 by arkansasrose on February 20, 2014 - 1:17 am

    I can relate to the ego. I have the birth defect Spina Bifida. As I grow older my health declines. I have always been in a wheelchair but it was manual. In my mid-20s my body was screaming it could no longer handle the strain. I refused to listen. I felt like going into an electric wheelchair was defeat. Strangely, the idea of it made me feel disabled.

    One day I went to check the mail. When I turned around to go home the apartment suddenly seemed so far away. It took me a long time to get back and my arms, shoulders and back felt like I’d been beaten. Why I could make it there and instantly could not make it back, I can’t say. I do know that’s the day I decided an electric wheelchair was in my immediate future.

    The day I got my chair – I regained the freedom I didn’t even know I had lost.

    Like you, I opted to stay home on many occasions, missing out on life. Now, I had that back. I could actually go grocery shopping without having to stop every few minutes to rest or have someone push me. I also realize the gift I gave to my family and friends. They were sad that I was missing out on life and also upset that I was allowing my ego to lessen the quality of our time together.
    I had never thought about how it affected others. It was almost ‘me’ ‘my ego’ ‘my life’ ‘my feelings’.

    Swallowing my ego down and getting an electric chair was the greatest gift I could ever give myself and those who love me.

    I hope your new-found freedom and the joy you gain from being able to spend time with your family will make the transition easier.

    **Side note – I noticed you said you had to buy the chair. I don’t know your situation, and I won’t pry. However, I am surprised that you didn’t qualify for government or private assistance in purchasing it.**

  3. #3 by arkansasrose on February 20, 2014 - 1:30 am

    Ugh, no matter how many times I proof-read I always spot an error after I’ve posted. When I said “It was almost” I meant “It was always”. (If this post twice it’s because my computer is acting glitchy and decided it likes to repeat itself).

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