My daughter was reading my last blog post. She stopped and said, “Why do you refer to yourself as partly handicapped?” Taken aback, I sat there with a blank look and said, “I don’t know”. She said, “Is it because you can use your hands?” I still didn’t have an answer for her. It got me thinking about how I think about myself. I’ve always been blessed with good health. Rarely ill, I never was in the hospital except to have 2 children and for gall bladder surgery. I was always overweight, and age, and osteoarthritis caused me to begin to use a cane and then a walker and now a wheelchair if I need to walk more than the length of my garage. I suspected the problem with my knees might be hereditary. I vaguely remembered my dad having knee replacement surgery.
My knees grew progressively worse and then I noticed that I could no longer straighten my legs. They stayed in a bent position. Walking became a modified squat. When I finally went to a doctor to get answers, I was told I had bone spurs in my knees which prevented me from straightening my legs and that I needed two total knee replacements.
I still work. I have an office chair on wheels to move around the shop. I have tools and most of what I need within my reach. I have handicapped bars in the restroom. With my ‘tools’ I never felt handicapped. But without my chair, I would be totally helpless. I can no longer walk the length of our shop or the length of my house. I have used a chair to move around for about 15 years now. Since I sat to work, the deterioration in my knees was gradual and I didn’t notice the extent of it for a long time. At work, I park by the back door. walk about 8-10 steps with my walker, turn around and sit down in my chair that is parked at the door waiting for me.Now that I know exactly how bad my knees are, and have become accustomed to the great difficulty in walking, and now that I need to use the wheelchair to go anywhere except work, I am more aware of my helplessness.
I have noticed I am more afraid when traveling in heavy traffic. When the weather is bad, I am more fearful driving because I realize if something were to happen, I would be unable to go for help and be trapped in my car. There are a lot of things I can no longer do and a lot of things around the house I need help with. Most things are out of reach, but that’s what hubby is for. It is difficult for me to cook, because I can’t reach all the burners and can easily burn myself trying to reach from my chair. It’s a good thing that hubby is a better cook than I am and likes to pick up take out often. I have a wii, remote controls, a Nook and a laptop and my chair. What else do I need?
Am I handicapped? All indications lead to the conclusion that yes, I am handicapped. Am I ‘partly handicapped’? I’m still not sure why I thought of myself that way. Perhaps because it was a gradual thing and not a debilitating condition that defined me. I’m not certain. Perhaps because I still could drive myself to work and still hold down a job that I felt I was still ‘normal’. But, without my ‘tools’ to help me, I would be helpless. Before I got my new chair, I was struggling with the old one, losing wheels and moving with difficulty. That was when I began to feel more helpless and realized I was handicapped. What did that discovery tell me? That handicapped people are like everyone else. They live, they move, they do, they work…they just need tools to help them function and move around in the ‘normal’ world. I guess now I will have to quit thinking of myself as partly handicapped. I’m just me.