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My Wheelchair and Me: A (Temporary) Love Story for the Ages

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One day you are a reasonable active middle-aged woman who keeps her house clean, walks to the post office to mail regular packages to her daughter in college, and takes long hot baths at the end of a productive work day. The next, you are a virtual hostage in your own house, the dimensions of which appear to be shrinking on a daily basis. Sounds grim, I know, but it does have its upside: You join a club of people for whom mobility becomes a challenge rather than a guarantee.

I had put off foot surgery for years, but my number came up on November 1. I liked the symmetry of 11.1 and besides, my doctor's office told me to stop procrastinating. Like any good former Girl Scout, I stockpiled supplies and did endless loads of laundry. I researched and bought a knee-roller on the advice of my surgeon. It's a zippy little scooter that you propel with your good leg while resting the bad one on a padded knee rest. I even decorated it with zebra-patterned duct tape. It was important for me to demonstrate that this wasn't some age-related disability, but a blip on my health chart.

I was buoyed by the efforts of my dear friend Cindy, a financial planner, who contacted all my friends and developed a spreadsheet detailing who would visit me when and for what purpose (a meal, to feed the cat, to take out the garbage...) By Halloween, my freezer was full of frozen meals and I was ready to climb aboard my knee-roller.

But, as we all know, medical stores rarely end with "and everything went according to plan." I awoke from the fog of anesthesia to discover that my surgeon had done a bone graft as part of the surgery, using bone from my knee. My knee! Even with fentanyl clogging my brain, I knew that was going to put a huge crimp in my plans to ambulate. But Dr. X, whose bedside manner apparently has been borrowed by some other doctor, never showed up to explain his decision or about Plan B.

So I returned home looking like an urchin out of Oliver Twist, foot and leg bound in ribbons of gauze and leaning on a crutch. The first ten days passed excruciatingly slowly: I could hear the minutes ticking by even though all my clocks are digital. The pain in my foot was equaled only by the throbbing in my knee and its ever-present reminder that it was not up to the job for which it had been assigned. My knee-roller sits in abject misery in a corner, willing and able to help, but suitable only as a magazine holder for now.

My friends and family have been wonderful, bringing in delectable meals and keeping up the spirits of my bored cat. And, for the record, now that I've spent ten full days and nights with the cat, I truly understand what a boring existence she leads. I had put lots of films in the Netflix queue but only one managed to hold my attention until the end. I have stacks of untouched books. I managed to watch the election results over and over until I could quote verbatim how many electoral votes each of the states offers.

Which brings us to November 12, Veterans Day (observed) for some and Liberation Day for me. Having finally given up on the dream of my knee-roller, it occurred to me that a wheelchair might provide access to the outside world. After all, I have two strong arms and one good foot. Isn't that currency of a sort? And I discovered the Golden Ticket in the folder my doctor's office had provided -- an order for a wheelchair with a diagnostic code. Perhaps he knew all along that he was going to excavate my knee and encouraged me to get a knee-roller because he was thinking of another patient named Tamar? It didn't matter. I could get a wheelchair! Like a woman marooned on an island who sees a ship on the horizon, I was lured from my home for the first time in 11 days. It didn't matter that I was wearing a sweatsuit that made me look like Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous. I even spritzed on some perfume to distract from the bird's nest that was once my hair. My crutches and I hobbled the nine steps to the door of my car and I was in!!!!

Pulling out of the driveway, I looked back to see if someone would try to stop me. But I was out! I drove toward the medical supply shop, even stopping at my bank to use the ATM machine. I was giddy with my own power and mobility. What other kinds of shops have drive-throughs, I was wondering? Could I buy a purse or new sweats from the seat of my car??

Entering the medical supply shop (slowly and painfully) was like being admitted to an elite club for the first time. I'd driven by it dozens of times and never noticed it was there between a bike shop and a chicken take-out place. Inside was a wheelchair nursery, wheelchairs of every shape and size stretching the length of the showroom. They beckoned to me. The motorized ones looked smug and unattainable -- like BMWs in a Mazda dealership. I didn't need that anyway. I would go for the simple one that my strong arms can propel. And so it was that my lovely Everest & Jennings wheelchair and I came together. He's a workhouse, agile but not sleek or beautiful. Certainly not a head-turner like my abandoned knee roller. But he will get me where I need to go. We will bond over the next few months, EJ and I. I will come to know how hard I can push him, how quickly I can take a turn, how to lean into the wind. We will become one as he allows me to return to my office and to the occasional restaurant or theater.

I never imagined I would be so grateful to bring a wheelchair in my life, nor could I have predicted that having friends visit day after day would be such a source of laughter and joy. I'm more accustomed to caring for others than to requesting help. So, on day 12 of my entry into the world of restricted mobility, I am learning humility and resourcefulness. Always pragmatic, however, I can sense boredom lurking in a corner, just out of sight. I hope we will not have to duel to the death.