The Great Fall

wheelchairYes, I know it sounds exciting to spend some time in a wheelchair; the primo handicap spots, zipping downhills, boarding a plane first, getting moved to the front of the line at Disneyland, etc. Oh, the perks. Maybe it’s been a dream of yours but being a disabled person for over thirty years it’s not all fun and games.

Earlier this year I somehow fell out of my chair. That’s always a bit of a predicament, curled up on the floor wondering “now what?” When this happens, and it has too many times, I must call the fire department and they send over a few husky fellows to scoop me off the floor and put me back in my chair. When they come in and see me lying on the floor, to avoid embarrassment, I begin kissing the rug and saying, “I don’t know what it is about this carpet, but I just love it. I simply love it. Okay, that’s enough of that. Can you guys help me into my chair?”

So, being in a wheelchair is not all fun and games there’s ups and downs. This year, one of those downs cost me a broken foot. I’ve been lucky throughout my wheelchair years to not have broken more bone on falls. The only time I did was when I once went skydiving. We discussed everything from jumping out of plane to opening the shoot. The only thing we didn’t talk about was what the hell we were going to do for a landing. I’m still wondering how that part, the most important part, was overlooked. Anyway, as the ground rushed up towards me, I remember thinking, “Hey, we never talked about the landing, the most important part.” Somewhere in the tumble and roll and grunts my femur bones snapped. I chalked that up to “my bad.” Since then, I really haven’t had urge the fly through the friendly skies. Besides, I always look at the bright side, my chute opened.

Last Saturday, I was getting in my van and I had just made it to the top of the ramp then fate reared its ugly head. Suddenly, my hand slipped, and my chair flipped backwards. While in that falling state, I remember thinking to myself “This one is going to hurt.” You know what? I was right, for a change. Anyway, luckily, I was able to think quick and use my head… my head to cushion my fall. Yes, my head hit the warm gentle hard cement driveway. Fortunately, my head is harder than the warm gentle hard cement driveway. I laid there dazed in the hot sun listening to the sweet sounds of the birds chirping, only to realize they were just imaginary ones circling my head, like the cartoons. As I laid there groaning two words kept popping up in my head and I couldn’t shake them no matter how much I tried. Those words were “now what?”

A little way a way my wheelchair sat peacefully in the driveway glistening in the sunlight. I wanted to whistle, slap my thigh and say, “Come here, boy. Come here. Go get help, boy. Tell ‘em I’m trapped in a well.” But I knew I didn’t wheel around on Lassie. I had no choice but to go catch it my myself. I wasn’t planning on pulling myself back up on that thing. Oh no, I only know how to go down. I’ve yet to master going up. Getting to the chair was going to be hard enough, but it was imperative, cause that’s where my cell phone was. I just prayed I could remember the number for 9-1-1.

I felt like I was on the clock, not because I was gushing blood, that would come, but it was close to 100 degrees out and I was starting to feel like a shrimp on the barbie. Laying in the hot sun too long makes me anxious. Laying in the driveway in the hot sun too long makes me dead. I was hoping to flag a car rolling by on the street or catch a neighbor walking his dog but, of course, not a soul was around. And, if by chance I did see a neighbor walking his dog knowing my luck he would probably run up to me and bite me or poop on me… then who knows what the dog would do. My busy neighborhood had somehow turned into a ghost town. I was thinking the gardener might be around using the loud leaf blower but then I remembered it wasn’t seven in the morning and I wasn’t sleeping.

I flipped and flopped doing my best to position myself for the crawl. It wouldn’t be a long one, but I knew it wouldn’t be a fun one. After many falls, I eventually made a habit of keeping my cell phone in the front pouch of my wheelchair. A crawl from bedroom to the kitchen could end up being an all-day event. But it’s dealing with aftereffects that really suck. After a good crawl my elbows become raw and bloody then take a month to heal since I rip them back open every night in bed. This crawl would be on hard cement and not carpet. I just wanted to take a nap.

Anyway, I was able to make the crawl to the wheelchair although I was hoping some neighbor would hear the loud profanity blurts reverberating through the air and come outside and see what the ruckus was. No dice. Maybe I didn’t swear loud enough or just didn’t use the right words. Maybe they just figured I was drunk and couldn’t get up the ramp or get my key in the door. Not the first time.

Luckily, my phone wasn’t dead. A profanity laced tirade would’ve been heard… all the way to Boise, Idaho. When I called 911, for some reason it seemed more embarrassing telling them I was lying in the driveway then on the kitchen floor. When they got on the phone, I just had to say it, I couldn’t help myself. “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” That’s just comedy gold you can’t leave on the back burner. It’s not the first time I’ve fallen and had to call the firemen to come throw me back in my wheelchair. My only beef with them is… why do they have to put the sirens on? It’s humiliating. It tells the neighborhood I’m clumsy. “Sounds like ol’ Jerry Lewis fell out of his wheelchair again, Marge.”

The fireman recognized me, and we chatted like old friends.
“Hey Bob,” I greet the boys. “How’s the wife and kids? Timmy still playing Little League?”

“Yup. Hit a dinger last week,” Bob responds, positioning my wheelchair. “You hurt anywhere? Any cuts or bruises?”

“No, dodged another bullet,” I reply.

“Ok, let’s get you up off the ground.”

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“Sounds good to me. Can we turn the siren off first?

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There’s a crowd gathering around,” I sheepishly ask.

Later that night my elbow swelled and hurt. I thought my arm was broken. Damn, I’m running out of limbs here. I couldn’t get into bed that night. No arm strength so I stayed up the whole night and watched things on TV like a guy selling rare coins, a blender infomercial and Gilligan Island reruns. (Spoiler alert: Gilligan ruins their chance of getting off the island… in every episode.) Once football came on, I was good to go until I started losing my bets then my arm and head started really hurting.

My arm continued to hurt the next few days, but I refused to get it x-rayed believing any broken bone would just go away. (I could just take a Flintstone vitamin and some ginger ale.) Eventually, I did go and get it x-rayed. I prayed that, for once, God would not give me a break. They took two x rays; one showed it could be broken around the elbow and the other showed there was no break. The doc says they typically take that to mean no break. Finally, I get a break, at least until I get the bill.

There ought to be some universal law of nature that if you’re in a wheelchair no worse can happen. Falling should be outlawed for the disabled. They already have enough crap to deal with. They should only have to contend with the trials of cutting their toenails. The ironic thing was that I was on my way to church. Really, God? I could see Him bushwhacking me if I was heading on out to the strip bar but Father Mahoney’s Saturday sermon? I wonder what that was on “How God Always Watches Over Us” or “God Can Get You at Any time For Your Sins.” Well whatever, I took it as a sign that I had God’s blessing to stay home and watch the Auburn football game, which I lost twenty-five bucks on. Thanks again, God. I’ll be taking that out of the collection basket next mass.

Unfortunately, every day in a wheelchair is not a day at the beach. I am thankful that the falls are few and far between. There’s only so much metal they can put in my body. I think the worst thing about the whole ordeal was there was no excuse for it. I was perfectly sober.

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~ Jeff Charlebois

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