|Brice Carroll, a retired accountant, lives in Hot Springs, Ark. He has limb-girdle muscular dystrophy.|
Some people probably think using a wheelchair is like being a turtle — slow and boring — and that excitement and danger are not at all related to wheelchairs. I wish it were so.
But it’s not. Especially if you like to take risks. I don’t like to, but sometimes I can’t seem to help myself. The following is an account of how to create wheelchair danger and excitement without really trying. An alternative title for this article could be “How to Influence Traffic.”
One day at work, the small front left tire on my wheelchair blew out. Of course that wasn’t my fault, unless you consider that the tire was worn through the tread and I’d been putting off getting it fixed. Being the macho guy I imagine/pretend I am, I decided to drive it with one flat tire for the five blocks necessary to reach a wheelchair supply and repair store.
To keep as much weight off the bad tire as possible, I had to lean hard to the right and backward. Which made me look weird. It also made it very hard to competently use my joystick, which caused me to lurch this way and that as I tried to control my chair. As I passed people on the street (they were on the sidewalk before they saw me coming), I had a strong desire to start singing “How Dry I Am” to complete the image that I presented.
As I cleared the sidewalk of potential human obstructions, I zig-zagged merrily toward the tire store without having to worry about hitting pedestrians. Which was the least of my worries.
Dips, rises, humps and cracks caused extra zigs and zags, one time almost causing me to zig off the curb into the street. Or was that a zag? Whichever one it was, if I’d fallen into the street at that instant, I would have butted heads with a bus. I’m very glad that I didn’t. I would have felt really bad if I’d damaged one of our city’s vehicles. My head is notoriously hard, or so says my wife, sons, brothers, co-workers, etc.
In addition, there were delivery driveways crossing the sidewalk, some with pretty steep inclines. Or declines. I’m not sure which. Inclines and declines must be related to zigs and zags. My wheelchair almost tipped over a couple times, and I temporarily went from three-wheelin’ to two-wheelin’.
If I could do controlled two-wheelin’ consistently, and jump a few cars, I could be a rich and famous daredevil at stock car races. I already was being daredevilish, but in an uncontrolled, non-rich-and-famous manner. Plus I can’t jump over cars.
The car-jumping ability would have been a valuable talent when, just before I reached a delivery driveway, a car unexpectedly pulled out of it. I learned that although I can’t jump cars, I am good at bumper cars. Or bad, depending on your point of view. My point of view was very, very close. But the almost-serious accident was no skin off my nose. It was mainly off my chin.
The real fun was when I had to cross a street. The automobile drivers probably thought that I was in a wheelchair because I was too tipsy to walk. Of course that wasn’t true, though it doesn’t necessarily mean I was sober-minded, either. (Or ever have been, per friends, relatives and casual acquaintances.)
When I crossed a street, I usually created some very cross drivers. It probably would have been easier on the drivers and on me if I had waited to cross at the proper time, and not when the sign said “Don’t Walk.” But I was in a hurry and didn’t have time for such civilized niceties. Anyway, I wasn’t walking, so technically I wasn’t disobeying the sign.
At one street crossing, I thought I saw an opening in traffic, and took it. I didn’t say I saw it, I said I thought I saw it. The apparent opening quit being apparent when I reached the middle of the intersection and a strong gust of wind hit me. The wind wasn’t the problem. It was the car that created it. Along with the wind and the car was a loud, long honking noise and the sound of the driver yelling urgently and unkindly. There also was a terrorized scream, but I’d rather not say where that came from.
I finally reached the tire store physically undamaged, although my dignity was in tatters. The tire was repaired, and I was able to return to my office in a controlled, sober manner, with no ill effects. Except for the nightmares, the waking up in cold sweats, the therapy sessions and similar minor issues.