Crippledom. The word is a noun that sadly connotes, promotes, and strongly encourages insignificant, ultra-provincial, minutely microcosmic, and chronically monochromatic negative imagery, but this ignorant connection of paralysis to lugubrious expectations is not, for me, a reality understood by my personal experience. My paralysis is almost always surrounded by ineffable thaumaturgy as that witnessed during every seasonal change. Life is merely the opportunity to react positively to the unexpected. And the choice is… everyone’s. Every now and then, I try to challenge a perceived veracity. Why can’t crippledom be fun?
Crippledom is rarely laughed at but is rife with comic possibilities. What if somebody confined to a wheelchair falls out of it? Depends on whether it’s a drama or comedy. My college professor, Dr. Steve Bluestone, once told me that the difference between a drama and a comedy can be demonstrated by a man’s tripping and falling to the ground. If the scene is a closeup, the pain in the man’s visage creates a dramatic event; the audience empathizes with the man. If the scene is envisioned from afar, the scene becomes more comic; the audience is purposely separated from the emotional connections; laughing is then easier.
It would be so groovy to watch a sitcom with the setting of a bustling city sidewalk: two characters are discussing the sundry aspects of their lives when a paraplegic navigates her wheelchair too close to the edge of a curb on the other side of the street, tips over, and falls (unnoticed by everything but the camera) into water that has stagnated in the gutter on the side of the street―the two characters continue their discourse without ever acknowledging the incident that in reality would cause as much commotion as two epileptic lizards dancing to Glenn Miller’s In The Mood. Now that’s funny! but you’ll never see it because of a fear quickened by demagogic pedagogy used to obfuscate unfounded christian and social dogma to sterilize our society, a herded skein of sycophantic ovine supplicants who graze hypnotically in pastureland programmed in life-like detail on electronic games that desensitizes the flock to graphic violence but a society that must, ironically, revert to calling a crippled boy physically challenged because the former appellation might offend moral sensitivities.
Yes, I have thus far in my life of paralysis fallen out of my wheelchair on two occasions and have fallen out of my Hoyer Lift twice. A Hoyer Lift (pictured on the left) is a tool with a hydraulic pump that uses chains connected to an extended arm and to a net that is placed underneath my fleshy hind end; the pump is then used to raise me up so that I may transfer from my bed to my wheelchair and visa-verse without causing permanent back damage to whomever is helping me. It’s really like a lift on the docks that transfers cargo to a ship but instead of bananas from Guam, the Hoyer transfers my fat ass.
The first time I fell from my Hoyer lift was when I was living in the infamous Columbia Apartments in Decatur, Georgia. I was getting ready for bed while, ironically, the Slam Dunk Competition for the NBA’s All-Star Weekend was on television. The person who was helping me was a really effeminate dude, but I knew him from my days at Shepherd Spinal Center, where he still worked; he was very personable, affable, congenial, and smartly dressed; most importantly, he was very concerned with my well being. He had come to me at a time when I was not having much luck with my attendant care, and we got along really well. Obviously, I was very fond of him.
After he pumped me up in the Hoyer lift so high in the stratosphere that I grew dizzy from the lack of oxygen, something happened and I came crashing down to the ground with the force comparable to the energy created by flatulent expulsion from an exceedingly corpulent man after his rapid mass consumption of a recipe that includes volatile chili peppers of varying sizes, colors, and heat intensity; greasy pork renderings; a five-day old burrito; and semi-chunky milk from the carton with a very questionable expiration date. It happened so quickly that there was no pain (the fact that I have no sensation in over 90% of my body is irrelevant!), but what was really unbelievable was that my friend was determined to try to pick me up without assistance―this really tiny effeminate man was carrying on like a hysterical woman trying to overcome what he had given his lifetime to proliferate, i.e. excessive feminine emotions. From the ground, I calmed him down and had him go get help from some neighbors, which he did. This was when Dominique Wilkins unjustly lost to Michael Jordan in the NBA dunking competition, and I can sympathize with Dominique; I didn’t receive appropriate recognition for my slam dunk either!
The second time I fell from the lift was when my father and I went, ironically, to Panacea, Florida. We enjoyed a little bar on Alligator Point that had an incredible ramp up to the front entrance that was ten or more feet from the sandy ground. Unfortunately, this bar no longer exists due to a hurricane; however, it had a beautiful back deck that faced the oftimes placid Gulf of Mexico from which I witnessed many breathtaking nocturnal vistas. It was the July fourth weekend, and this is where we decided to spend the three days; however, there were no hotel vacancies anywhere around to accommodate us. We ended up bedding down in Tallahassee then driving the thirty or so miles to spend our days nearer the ocean.
Luckily, we found a motel in Florida’s capital city, and it provided beds under which the Hoyer’s base could fit; many beds I’ve used in various motels have a solid base which forbids the use of my Hoyer Lift. When this happens, a two-man transfer must be employed for me to get into bed. Since my father was the only person from whom I was to receive assistance at this time, it was rather fortunate that the Hoyer could be used. My father pumped me up and swung the Hoyer around so that I was floating above the bed, but something happened and I felt the effects of gravity as I started free-falling toward the bed. In those few infinite seconds neither of us got excited; I was, after all, falling toward the soft bed, but when I hit the mattress, I bounced back upward… towards the oncoming Hoyer Lift, and it came crashing down on my head with the force comparable to the energy created by an exceedingly corpulent man… wait… I’ve already used that metaphor… let’s see… the Hoyer came crashing down on my head with the force comparable to the aromatic energy created by underwater flatulence the morning following an evening of late-night, hasty Krystal hamburger consumption after hours of excessive imbibing. (Now that was a bit too detailed!) Anyway, after my liberal use of a more vitriolic nature, we started laughing. It was, after all, funny… well, after the pain subsided.
The two times I fell out of my wheelchair involved my next door neighbors when I lived near Lake Bottom Park in Columbus, Georgia, the Fountain City. I rented a house from a simoniac Baptist preacher who coveted the greenback and used his interpretation of Christianity to buy many houses that he could rent out at exorbitant fees… but I digress. My friend Tom Perry, with whom I attended high school, was cooking out in his backyard, and I strolled over in my wheelchair to experience the elevated testosterone that accompanies my gender and barbecues. As I came through his gate, I noticed holes in the yard that his dogs had excavated for reasons known only to the canine species but probably deriving from some instinctual preservation for prehistoric mating rituals used by the ancestral male to attract his potential bitch-mate by showing her what a nice hole he could dig, or maybe Tom’s dogs just liked moving dirt. I pulled back on my control lever so that my wheelchair would reverse direction, but the ground was sandy and my wheels lost traction, spinning ineffectively and almost pleading with my chair to back-up out of danger, but my front left wheel found the hole, and I, once again, felt the effects of gravity as it pulled me toward the earth.
“Here I go!”
It was all I could say, and I said it with such insouciance that the crash must’ve shocked Tom, but he quickly put down his cooking instruments and made me more comfortable on the ground, then he got his wife Diana to help. The really wonderful thing about the whole experience was that they got me back into my chair, arranged my clothes to help me appear less disheveled, and Tom never burned the meat! Tom shall remain evermore in my mind the consummate outdoor gastronome.
The second time I fell out of my chair was at the house that I rented from the cupidinous Baptist preacher, but this time only Tom’s wife Diana was with me. My high school coach and his brothers had built me a long straight ramp that led to the front porch, a front porch I really enjoyed. I was talking to Diana as we approached the ramp, but I missed it with my left wheel, and the wheelchair careened off the lip of the sidewalk, sending me like Icarus to the soft carpet of grass. I remember reading that the definition of flying is to throw oneself at the ground but to miss it. I didn’t miss the ground, so I guess I wasn’t flying.
“Here I go again.”
Diana straightened out my body so that I’d be more comfortable on the ground then phoned my uncle for help. It was a beautiful early spring day, and the sun was graciously warm. Diana went inside and got a blanket and a pillow to make me more comfortable. So there I was, laying supine on the blanket with a pillow under my head, and I was absorbing the sun’s warm embrace, talking amiably with the wife of my good friend. After about twenty minutes, Gary Gotterby and a friend of his pulled into my driveway. Gary and my uncle had coached together at a local high school, and it was through my uncle that I had met him. My uncle was tied up with work when Diana had called him, so he called Gary and asked him to check on me. Gary and I affably embarked on the casual conversation that spontaneously quickens on almost perfect days such as we were experiencing when Diana asked what method Gary and his friend were going to use to get me back into my chair.
Gary was taken aback because he wasn’t informed that I had fallen; he merely thought I was sunbathing. After the laughter died down, Gary and his friend lifted me into my chair and life was again chary (pun intended). It was then that I realized there are times I don’t look crippled.
Peace Through Music