Independence on Wheels

Have you ever been truly afraid of the one thing you really wanted?

I have. I wanted my independence, but fear crept into my psyche in an attempt to keep me from my desires.

I wanted the independence in mobility which a mobilized wheelchair could offer yet I was afraid to go down my ramp  and out into the world alone. Besides the few practice sessions with the therapist, I haven’t been on a ramp and into the world alone in twelve years.

At the tender age of 43, rheumatoid arthritis invaded my body, racking my joints in pain and leaving them practically immobile. The only treatment for the symptoms was for me to sit and be pushed around.

Several years passed and the disease progressed. It continued to destroy my joints and mobility, resulting in my inability to push myself around. The doctor suggests a mobilized wheelchair as a solution. I resisted at first believing that the mobility in my arms would return if I worked hard enough, yet years went by and the disease continued to exasperate my limbs. Finally, I began to see the benefit that a mobilized wheelchair seemed to offer, a benefit that all my therapists, doctor, and friends repeated so often; a benefit that through my trying to wheel myself around I failed to see, the benefit of independence.

The therapist decided that I needed a mobilized custom-built wheelchair. The sales representative told me, that it would take several months to design the chair. However, it took, a little over two years. Finally, after long months of waiting, she arrived with the chair and the ticket to my independence!

Driving a 400-pound wheelchair around the house was a cinch, and shortly after mastering that feat, I figured that it was time to move to the next level and drive the chair outside. I really wanted to go outside because I hadn’t ventured out alone in twelve years, and I adamantly wanted to change that part of my life. I wanted as much independence as possible, and I knew the wheelchair would give it to me.

I rolled into my family room and approached the ramp in the front door. I wanted to go outside, yet I was hesitant…okay scared.

In crossing the threshold onto the ramp there is a small bump which makes the chair pop up a fraction of a centimeter onto the ramp. I thought about the pop and wheeled away from the door.

My mind pondered the many times I went down the ramp with my therapist and ended up being fine. I prayed, “Lord give me the courage to wheel down this ramp,” when I finished praying I visualized myself rolling down the ramp safely. I then took a deep breath, placed the speedometer to “turtle,” the lowest speed, and I grasped the joystick. Holding tightly, inch by inch I moved slowly down the ramp and into the street. Yes! I was ecstatic, in fact so ecstatic that I decided to drive midway down the block—I moved so quickly and easily that I decided to go the full block. The sky was clear and a cool breeze surrounded me.

I was confident, thrilled, feeling adventurous and enjoying my independence—I turned the corner.

Moving along, singing and greeting everybody on the streets, I cranked up the speed from “first” to “second” to “third” out of the five speed range my chair offers. I decide to go around the block. At the end of the next block there was a cul-de-sac; I traveled to the end turned around and turned up the next block. I spoke with everyone I saw along the way.

I had so much fun that I turned around and continued heading south. Who would’ve known that the next street was a cul a sac as well? I sing and move the speed gear up to “rabbit,” top speed.

Moving toward the end of the next block, I spotted a bridge. I remembered seeing the bridge a few years ago when my aide and I ventured out for a tour of the neighborhood. I remembered that the bridge takes you to the opposite side of my house, yet I remember we didn’t cross it but I couldn’t remember why.

I rolled up to the bridge and pondered for a moment: I looked it over and proceed to move up the bridge—everything was fine until I got mid-way. Oops! The bridge descended into a slope, resembling the ramps in the kids skateboard park. It was too steep.

There was no way I was going to attempt to traverse the abyss below. I blew my horn and began backing up. I was doing quite well until…Oops I met a tree in an unfriendly manner…Bang! “Oh heck,” I said as I pulled the joystick forward.

The chair didn’t move; it didn’t even wiggle. I pulled the stick to the right and then back to the left—nothing. My neck is practically immobilized as well, but I turned my head as far as I could—no one in sight. I watched the ground, hoping for an advancing shadow—nothing. Next, I listened closely, hoping for the sound of approaching footsteps—nothing. I called out; “Help” several times, but there was no answer.

There I sat struck in the mud against a tree, a huge oak nonetheless. If someone were to walk by, they would never see me. I came to the conclusion that there was no one on the streets. Fear was trying to enter my psychic—you can’t be independent—now what? I had a little self-talked; Diane stop focusing on the circumstances. Independence is your desire and God is your source—seek Him. “

Instantly, my mind reflected on the scripture, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Deuteronomy 31:6 (TNIV).

I called out “God help” and I closed my eyes, visualizing myself being rescued, I then opened my eyes and yelled “Help, Help.”

A woman appeared. She looked as if to be in her early thirties, fit and toned standing about 5’8 and weighing approximately 140 lbs. She was wearing a neat pair of khaki pants, matching top and sneakers and as she approached, asked in a calm patient manner, “What can I do to help you?” I explained to her the function of power release bars. She attempted to reach them, and reported to me that the tree was blocking her access to them.

“Darn it!” I say aloud. Meanwhile, the woman looked at the wheelchair, rolled up her sleeves and placed her keys on the ground. “Don’t worry,” she said confidently, “I’ll help you,” she squatted down and gave me directions. “Turn the chair on. Now move the joystick to the right. Okay, now to the left” she said as she moved the chair, “Now go forward.” I followed her directions and the muddy wheels rolled onto cement. “Hallelujah!” I shouted. She smiled.

I put on my reporter hat: I introduced myself, and in turn, she introduced herself as Michelle and explained that she happened to be checking on her grandmother when she heard my call for help.

I asked if she happened to be a physical therapist… she smiles and offers to walk me home. I thank her for her gracious invitation and dash away full speed ahead alone. I travel home singing all the way, enjoying my freedom…independence on wheels.


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