The first cast went on August 11th after the planned foot surgery. Having had ankle surgery many years ago, I knew in advance the challenges of a life in a cast and on crutches. I had made the necessary plans to accommodate this inconvenience in my life. However, the second cast, to accommodate the badly broken wrist, was totally unplanned. This went on September 4th for 8 weeks, with 4 weeks left to go on the leg cast. Though it has been life changing on some levels, more than anything, it has been eye-opening. I have been temporarily inconvenienced! My burdens will soon go away, and the new Bionic Mary will begin to emerge following some physical therapy, and as repeated by both surgeons — “time and patience”.
But I am human, and as one of my good friends repeatedly points out to me, it has been difficult to not only be in the wheelchair, but to BE SEEN in a wheelchair. It is the stares, the questions, the empathy, the “offer of a push”, “No, thank you, I can push myself!” I am still a strong and independent woman, I may propel myself slower than some prefer, but I am the one doing it. So I do have the occasional Pity-Party for Mary, and I invite only me to the party.
However the PPM comes to a dramatic end as it did last week, when I witnessed a mother pushing her young child in a wheelchair through the door to the Strong Orthopedic Department alongside me. Unlike me, it was obvious that this child had lived their entire, and very short life, in this wheelchair. Chances are this child will never experience their life outside of this chair, with the only change being to a larger chair. That encounter served as a reality check my situation is a temporary inconvenience.
While in the waiting room, an elderly woman was wheeled in. She looked absolutely miserable, and the scene was equally heartbreaking to the one I had experienced moments before. She was there with an aide from the nursing home; I was there with a good friend. Moments later I was called in for my cast change, and as the Cast-Masters have come to know me so well the first question asked was, “Good morning Mary, what color combination are we going for today?”
On the way home from the appointment, I had my first outing to Wegmans in many weeks! I had been there on my scooter with the one leg cast, and frankly, a scooter is a fun way to fly through Wegmans. But this time I was entering in a wheelchair. There were curious looks of empathy, and if we are friends on Facebook, you will know that I have grown tired of the question of “what happened?” from strangers, so I have adopted a much more interesting explanation of my dilemma. One that involves a big and inviting bannister, and the turn I missed resulting in two broken limbs. I entered hoping a stranger would ask the question.
As I went through Wegmans, it was from a new perspective, seated in a wheelchair. I had less than 20 items that I had to secure with the assistance of a friend. My friend was pushing the cart, as I had to be full-time focused on propelling my chair. With the left side in casts, I am only able to use my right foot to push the chair forward, along with my right hand on the chair wheel. My focus was on avoiding other shoppers, children escaped from their parents cart, and as I quickly learned my biggest fear quickly became dodging the elbows of shoppers to my face. Elbows are a very real threat to someone in a wheelchair as they are solid bone, and with the right angle, they can be a projectile to the eye that would make me look even more the train wreck that I already appear. I was wheeling through the vegetable section, when a large elbow on a tall guy was coming towards my face, fortunately, my left arm has a strong defense as I threw my casted arm up to block the elbow. He immediately turned, and apologized profusely. I grabbed my tomatoes and quickly scurried to a safer place. Once again, this is such a temporary inconvenience.
On my list was some fresh olives from the Meditarearan Bar, and though the mirrors are in place so that you can see your many choices, it is a tough angle to scoop from. Determined to do it on my own, I made a bit of a mess, dripping oil and sending several olives flying into the next olive bin. I received a dirty look from another shopper, instead of offering assistance, they scowled. What I said to myself was: “Really, come over here while I hit you with one of my casts!”
One of the debates following the second surgery was whether or not I should go to a rehab facility or be sent home. I think I overheard Aidan, son #2 say under his breath, “Preferably a place that is bubble-wrapped.”
But when I considered the risk to my mental health, I ended this conversation and began to advocate for home care assistance instead. Here is the kicker, I had been approved for several weeks in rehab, at a cost of thousands and thousands of dollars, but really had to fight, and push, for several days of home care visits from both an aide and a physical therapist. And even once approved, it was only for 3 hours a week. That is a whole other discussion with the insurance industry.
My life at home also has some temporary challenges as well. My dining room has become my bedroom as I am unable to get upstairs because of the two non-weightbearing casts. Friends that have visited call it “cozy and spa like”. It works, that is all I know. Fortunately for me, this two cast gig is exhausting, so I am one tired pup at the end of the night, sleeping is no issue.
When it comes to the “Feeding of Mary”, I have once again been incredibly fortunate. The thought of me turning on my stove terrified my family and friends. I have a gas stove and I am a dedicated coffee press user. I had to provide them reassurance that I will only wear a short sleeve shirt. “Mom, there is no room for error here, you cannot afford any more injuries at this point,” stated my oldest son, Brian.
On Tuesday, I made my first trip into the office. This took planning for a ride since I am not allowed to drive. A friend is always required to get me out of my house (with no ramps), then do the reverse of this step at the end of the day. Remember when I wrote about the battered sidewalk entrance to the Telesca Center.The pock-marked sidewalk in front of door was tough on the scooter, but I can tell you now, it is REALLY difficult in a wheelchair, which is how many of our TCFJ clients come to the Center. Now, I am even more determined to build a new sidewalk that really manifests what our universal message of the Telesca Center is–to improve ACCESS to justice.
The sidewalk should start in front of our main entrance. Please, look down next time you come in that door and imagine pushing your self over it in a wheelchair!
I have moments when I am a bit short with those that I love. It is not because I don’t appreciate them and all they have managed for me (laundry, meals, doc visits, simple visits, and the list is long).It is because I am just tired of it! Then I have my flashback moments to those living with these challenges daily for the rest of their lives, and I slap myself with one of my casts.
This has been an incredibly eye-opening temporary experience.
Thanks for checking in,