Suddenly I lost feeling in both legs from the hip to the floor. I was lecturing in the US, it was 10 in the morning, I knew something was very wrong. At breaktime I couldn't walk. To go to the washroom I had to put my hands on Joe's shoulders and have him slowly lead me there. The organizers, concerned for my health, told me to get in the car and go home. I didn't. I told them that I felt OK but it was definately odd about the legs. By two in the afternoon I knew that I had to get home. We drove for several hours home.
That night, I got up for a bathroom trip at about two in the morning. I forgot about my legs and stood only to promptly fall. I'm a very big man and it was a very big fall. I knocked dressers, television and side table to the floor. It was almost impossible to get up. The next day I decided against going to the hospital. Why? Because I'm a guy. The following day it was impossible to ignore that I couldn't really walk any more and I headed for the hospital.
I was put into a bed in the hallway and waited for a couple of hours. The doctor who examined me noticed an infection on my upper leg and blanched. He left and came back with four other doctors. They talked amongst themselves and then to me. I'd be in surgery within 20 minutes and I might not survive. Oh. OK. They let Joe into the pre-op holding place even though the sign said clearly, 'No Vistors'. We waited together.
Clearly I survived the surgery. But the ordeal wasn't over, I went into Intensive Care and was on this weird air bed with round the clock one to two nursing. I didn't really notice the days go by. It's amazing how small the world can get and still seem too big. It was day four when Joe came in smiling. He was pushing a wheelchair and he said, "Let's get out of here."
I plopped my butt down into the chair. Not realizing at that moment. That precise moment. I joined the disability community. I didn't see the chair as anything more than a devise to get me out of that room and downstairs for a cuppa tea. I had my blanket over my leg, a bag of urnine at my feet and a gentle breeze blew over me as Joe whipped me out of the room and down the hallway. I had never felt freer than I did at that moment.
Probably because of that moment, I saw the chair from the get go as a release from the captivity of legs that didn't work. I didn't feel confined by the chair, I felt liberated by it. I could move. Go where I wanted. Determine my own way again.
It was odd to me, then, that when people first saw me in the wheelchair that they said wierd things. "I'm so sorry you are in a wheelchair." is the consistent message. "But I almost died ... isn't the chair a step up from that?" I think. And it's been an amazing companion, my chair. As I lecture internationally. The chair has been all over the UK and Ireland, it's been through several of the United States, most of Canada ... and still people think of me as 'confined.'
I love my chair and the freedom it gives me.
But ... I really like my new community. I've discovered something that I haven't felt since the early days of the gay movement ... membership.
It is said, "membership has its privileges" but what I've discovered is that I'm privileged to be a member.
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