Saturday, August 22, 2009

Wheelchairs: A Necessary Evil

I am not quite sure when Mom and Dad acquired a wheelchair for her use. I do know that they acquired two, one called a transfer chair for easy use within the house and the other for a more regular wheelchair designed to use on a permanent basis. They seemed to have simply appeared out of no where. I do know the exact day Mom started using the regular wheelchair. It was night time actually. I had been given a wonderful opportunity to perform with a semi-professional local orchestra as the second chair flautist. Although not worthy of this position, I was incredibly honored and flattered and to make it all the more exciting, I was to play beside my long time flute teacher who was now just a friend and a part of my past. I could not wait to tell my parents, but mostly I could not wait to tell Mom because she was truly my only fan and I knew she would be ecstatic. She was!

As I searched the crowd for my husband and my parents, I struggled to find them. I was expecting to see them in a usual proud-family location within the first few front center rows but this was not so. Instead I located them in the side balcony. My heart sank when I noticed that Mom was in the wheelchair, but she was beaming from ear to ear and I could swear she was sitting on the edge of her seat just like she always did when she was vicariously enjoying one of my accomplishments. It's funny, but I don't even remember the music that was played that night. I don't even remember where the concert was held or even if I was nervous. I only remember that this was the first time that my Mom had used the wheelchair in public.

At first, Mom was still able to walk and do simple tasks but as the brain damage settled in, she became very off balance and her left side was not cooperating with what she wanted it to do. She used a walker for a period of time, but this became a dangerous weapon in her hands since she was unable to pick it up and slide it while simultaneously taking a step forward. This caused it to catch and thrust her forward. She would have many near misses of tumbling down stairs or inadvertently keeling over sideways. This was such a hazard. Enter the wheelchair. Although obviously a necessary tool, wheelchairs have their evils. For Mom, it became a "crutch". No one is to blame, it is just what happens. She became weaker and her already weak left side deteriorated immensely. Her balance, when having to transfer her, became dangerously skewed. Her posture assumed the conforms of the wheelchair seat making her sit in a chronic bent, slightly drooping position. This, in turn, made her head hang down from her neck like it is an over sized Christmas ball hanging from it's decorated tree limb. Because of this, she started to drool and have increasingly difficult times eating properly without choking. It is a never ending vicious cycle that only spins downward. Now we are dealing with incontinence issues. Before the wheelchair, she could be transferred easily to a bathroom where she could still maintain her dignity by performing her duties naturally. Now, she wears a diaper because no one can get her there in the appropriate amount of time. It used to take one person to help her with the toileting, then it took two people. Now a wonderful piece of equipment called a stand-lift machine does the job. Damn that wheelchair.

Why is it that I melt into gooey mush when I see a sweet little baby or toddler sitting all slumped and cozily squished in their umbrella stroller? It is extra sweet to see their little heads painfully crooked to one side while they drool and sleep soundly like little angels in their chairs. Why don't I feel this way when I see my mother sitting, sleepily drooling in her chair? It is such a cruel turn of events. It is what it is and I cannot do anything about it. I have nothing more to say about the necessary evil of Mom's wheelchair.


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