My Poop Can Kill Me: 6 Weird Truths About My Wheelchair
Want an Oscar? Play a disabled character. Old white people are suckers for an inspiring story. This isn't going to be one of those. I didn't learn any profound lessons from my disability. Mostly, I learned that everyone is an asshole, including myself. But let me back up and tell you how I got here ...
It All Happens So Quickly
About eight years ago, I was working as a delivery man for the local newspaper when my driver and I got into an accident. We were driving down a dirt road when we hit a patch of gravel, started swerving, went into a ditch, and rolled three times. It happened at 4 a.m., and the ambulance didn't get to us until 7. The driver broke his ankle and didn't have a phone, so he ended up walking on that broken ankle to a farmhouse about a quarter mile down the road. By the time the ambulance arrived, my core body temperature was 85 degrees, because it was May in North Dakota. They're not known for their comfy springs.
Any North Dakotan day not cold enough to summon White Walkers is considered "shorts weather."
I didn't yet know how badly I was hurt. According to the police report, I said, "Hey, my back hurts a little." When the doctor came in to break the news to me, he asked, "Can you feel your legs at all?" I said, "Oh yeah, I feel them just fine." I reached down and touched my legs. "Yep. They're there."
Hey, you gotta have a sense of humor about these things.
You Have To Relearn Every Simple Thing
After you've lost all feeling in the lower half of your body, they don't simply stick you in a wheelchair and roll you out the door. It took 71 days in rehab to transform me from a bed-bound invalid to the fully-functional individual you see not standing before you. You have to relearn pretty much everything. For example, putting your pants on as a wheelchair-bound person is a whole different process. You can't put them on one leg at a time. You get in bed, put your pants on both legs, and then slide them up as far as you can, which is to about mid-thigh. Then you roll to one side and pull them up to your hip, then roll to the other side and do the same thing. You usually have to do this a couple of times to get them up all the way, rolling back and forth like a pill bug.
Even putting on shoes isn't simple: You have to grab your leg and put your ankle over your knee, put the shoe on, put your leg back down, and repeat. It's like Riverdance in slow motion. Which is about the only way Riverdance could get any worse.
You never miss your legs more than when you're watching a pair squandered on absolute bullshit.
But it's not all terrible. You do get learn a bunch of awesome new stuff.
We had a special class in rehab, called a para-chair class, where you learn how to do practical stuff like get down stairs. The way I do it is to line up on a set of stairs backward, grab onto the handrail with one hand, grab the opposite wheel with the other hand, and roll down them one at a time. But that's not all you learn; the rest of the class plays out like a third grader's dream. For example, one of the requirements was learning how to pop and hold a wheelie. This wasn't (just) for doing sick donuts in the parking lot -- it's something you use on a daily basis. You have to do it constantly to get around cracks, bumps, and curbs, because sometimes there's not a curb-cut available.
You also learn how to do 360s, and there's even a cripple obstacle course: five spins left, five spins right, and once around the whole gym in a continuous wheelie without touching your castors down. So sure, you may never walk again, but who needs it when you get to be half stunt bike?
So no stairs, but apparently, kickass homemade bike ramps are still on the table.
Boning Still Works -- It Just Looks A Little Different
Men, I know what your first question in a hypothetical paralyzation scenario is:
"What about my dick?"
"Shut up, I'm asking him already."
Because that is always your first question in literally every scenario. You'll be happy to know that getting your spinal cord crushed doesn't always mean losing all sensation in your little buddy. I did, but it's not as big of a problem as you might think. It's a perfectly average-sized problem, thank you very much.
Like, this big of a problem, if I had to get specific.
But rest assured that this dog still has some fight in him. Even though I can't feel it, I can and do still get boners. My dick is basically a dildo attached to my body, but that's fine, because the nerves from your penis up and move camp when they get the eviction notice. My nipples, for example, have become much more sensitive, and I can almost orgasm from stimulating them alone. The same goes for the inside of my elbow, for some weird reason. So it's still possible to have a totally fulfilling sex life. You just have to keep an open mind, start licking things, and see what happens. Much like how all sex works, really.
You Can Die From Poop
There's another side effect of having no feeling in my dick: If there's anything in my bladder, I'm peeing. If I don't want to be rolling axel-deep in my own special lubricant, I have to use a catheter. For men, that means sticking a 14-inch tube down your dick. I can use what's called a condom catheter, which goes over your dick, but some people have what are called supra-pubic catheters, which is where they punch a hole in your abdomen to get straight to your bladder so you can go around all that.
This. They do this.
I haven't had to go that route yet, knock on the relevant wood.
Taking a shit has its own special procedures, too. A lot of them involve suppositories or mini-enemas, but what I use is called DIL or DRS technique. It means putting on a glove, lubing up, sticking your finger in your ass, and swirling it around to kickstart your butthole. You have to do these things not only to prevent embarrassing situations, but also because having a full bladder or a full bowel can actually be really dangerous and even deadly, thanks to a condition called autonomic disreflexia. If that happens and you don't get to an ER right away, it can kill you. That's right: You can contract a terminal shit.
Handicapped Parking Isn't Always About Being Closer To The Entrance
You know how handicapped parking spots have those white lines on their sides? Those aren't for decoration. But it's not just dickheads in Audis taking those up; even other handicapped people park on them, and all the time. That's a big deal -- we need those three feet of space. You ever tried to back a giant honking van out of a parking space without legs?
Try parallel parking a tank and you'll start to get the picture.
It's such a hassle that sometimes I'll skip the handicapped spots altogether and park in the back, simply because I know that nobody else will park back there. That's a big misconception about handicapped parking, at least as far as wheelchairs are concerned: I don't need to be closer as much as I need the extra room. There is nothing stopping me from wheeling my happy ass across the lot, popping a wheelie and doing sweet-ass tricks the whole time.
We Are Not Helpless, And Your Help May Be Hurting Us
For some reason, people assume that all the disabled are on welfare, but the reality is that many of us have jobs; sometimes pretty well-paying ones. I've got one friend who recently passed the bar exam, and another who retired after 30 years as an electrical engineer. I've met very few people who don't work or aren't in school for something. We don't want to stay at home all day. There's only so much Netflix you can watch before that little "continue watching?" warning pops up and makes you realize you're wasting your life.
Surviving a crash, spinal injury, and nearly freezing, only to spend your days
marathoning Hemlock Grove kind of seems like squandering your second chance.
As with employment, little everyday things may be a bit more difficult for us, but we can still do most anything. Yet strangers still step in to help constantly. Which is great, but 9 times out of 10, their help is actually hurting us. For example, when people try to open doors for me, they open it from the inside. That means they're blocking it partially. I need the whole door open, so my options are either to tell a well-meaning stranger to fuck off or to run over their toes. If I'm going up a ramp or something, people will try to push me, but the problem is that my body is in a position where I'm balanced. If you come up to push me, it throws me off-balance and I'll fall over forward. A lot of us don't have push handles on our chairs for exactly this reason.
Feel free to try that on someone on a skateboard or bicycle if you aren't sure why wheels and surprises don't mix.
I know people mean well, but the best advice I can give someone is to ask first. When you see a little old lady at a crosswalk, you offer her your arm. You don't run up to her from behind, whip her into a fireman's carry, and sprint through traffic Frogger-style.
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