Mike, Part 3

Nobody mentioned the wheelchair all through dinner. Mike noticed people taking pains to avoid it in conversation, and he wasn’t about to bring it up himself. His grandfather kept talking about how he should go back to college and take classes to get a job in computers (a desk job, of course). Mike nodded politely and tried not to be bothered by the fact that his grandmother wouldn’t look him in the eye.

The chair was mentioned twice over the course of the evening, after Mike’s conversation with Dennis. Once when Mike had to do a weight shift. His grandfather asked what he was doing and Mike explained about how legs weren’t meant to be sat on all day. Mike had learned this the hard way, when he got an angry red sore on the backside of his left leg. The doctor had told him that if a sore got infected, they would have to take off the leg, and that scared Mike into doing weight shifts to ease the pressure on his legs. The other time the chair was mentioned was when they had to reverse the process of getting Mike down the two stairs back to the den.

It was dark out by the time people started leaving. Mike’s family was usually the last to leave, but Mike told his father that his catheter was giving him some trouble and he thought it would be best to go home. A lie, of course, but Mike always hated staying at these reunions until the bitter end. An unexpected consequence of leaving early was that a larger number of relatives got to see him carried back down the stairs to the car by Fred and his father, as his mother followed with his wheelchair. Going down seemed harder than going up, and the trip seemed to take forever. Everyone was staring at Mike’s limp legs.

The driveway was still iced and Mike had the same trouble getting his wheelchair to move properly. His father had to push him over to the car and wound up helping him into the seat too. Fred watched the whole thing, not as pale as last time, and grinned at Mike when he was packed away into the car. “It was great seeing you again, Mikey,” he said. “Don’t be such a stranger.”

Mike smiled and nodded.

It was too dark to read during the car ride, so Mike stared out the window. He was mesmerized by the sight of the moon, which seemed to be following the car on its journey. “I want to learn how to drive again, Dad,” he said.

His father laughed. “Are you going to use a long stick to press the gas?”

“There are hand-controlled cars,” Mike said sharply. “They told me about it in rehab.”

“You just got home,” his mother said. “There will be plenty of time for stuff like that in the future.”

Mike blinked his eyes, trying to hold back tears, then looked back out the window. He rubbed his legs a few times. He needed a change. The way things were right now was bad. Maybe he needed to move out on his own. He could find an apartment when the kitchen was large enough for a wheelchair to fit inside. They had apartments out there that were modeled for the disabled, didn’t they?

Because he was disabled. He was disabled, just as much as someone who had been in a wheelchair his whole life. The sooner he owned up to that, the sooner his life would be…well, maybe not back to normal, but at least back to good.

Mike got back to his room and logged on to the SCI message board. As he expected, there was another barrage of replies to his Abe posting. He read them over briefly:

Okay, so maybe you’re right. Maybe we will not have the same life as an AB, but really…why are you pointing this out? Are you really trying to help or just bored with your perfect able-bodied life (assuming you are AB)? I admit I miss being AB sometimes, but should I spend my life dwelling on it like you dwell on NOT being disabled? Nah, I think I'll just live and have fun. But really—thanks for the intelligent discovery that I can't walk…

Come to think of it though...I didn't walk all that much before my injury. I liked to drive and sit at work like I hear so many AB's wishing they could do. Merry Christmas!

I have worked in the area of SCI care for 25 years. I have NEVER told a person with a SCI that life with SCI is going to be wonderful and something to wish for, but I also have NEVER had the totally unprofessional attitude that this guy has. I am straight with my patients—having a SCI is not something you wish for, but if you have one, it is possible to again have a fulfilling happy life with work, school, family life, recreation and enjoyment. It is hard work, but can be done.

You sound less like a professional and more like a patient, Abe. Listen, it may seem tough now but there is life after disability. I loved the part where you said that yes, disabled people can still enjoy life BUT it will never be as good as when they walked. This amused me because, really, what constitutes happy and fulfilling for one person wouldn't sit well with another. AB or disabled.

Abe, I can only speak for myself and tell you this: yeah, sure my life kind of sucks sometimes, but it sucked when I was walking too. By the way, since you seem to enjoy stating the obvious, I got some news for you: one of these days, you're gonna die and YOU'RE NEVER GOING TO BREATH AGAIN!!!!!

Of course the newly injured are going to be pessimistic! They had an ability that they no longer possess. Rather than pointing out that there are ways around most problems, you go out of your way to destroy them. That isn't realism, that's sadism (get your student dictionary out).

You either need some serious help, or you're an adolescent who needs some growing up time before being allowed into cyberspace without a net nanny program. Has the thought occurred to you, young man, that the reason people have taken offense to your comments is because you have surpassed the realistic and moved right onto stereotypical garbage? If you had actually known someone with an SCI before you were injured (and yes, I think that YOU have an SCI, and are between the ages of 16-21) you would realize that the problems are only a part of existence and not the sum of it.

As I said last time, get some professional help; preferably from a psychologist in a wheelchair (and yes, they do exist).

Mike closed his eyes after he read the last reply. He didn’t feel good anymore. He felt awful about the message he had posted and the things he had written. These were real people on this message board that had a stronger bond to him than anyone he had talked to today. Mike took a deep breath and began to write:

I thought about all that I did and said on this board and I decided that I couldn't continue lying to you all. I am ashamed for what I have done. My real name is Mike, and yes, I am a spinal cord injured individual. I also posted here yesterday asking for help with depression. In May, I became a T2 paraplegic from a car accident. I have been so down since my accident that I thought I could vent without using my own name, so I picked the name Abe and pretended to be a PT.

I never had a therapist tell me that kind of stuff, but I do still feel like my life is over and will never be the same. I am sorry that I lied to you all and got everyone upset. I just really hate the fact that I can't walk. I have been doing better until the last month, but with the holidays I just became really down. I just attended a family function and everyone cried and couldn't really treat me the same way now that I am disabled.

I am only 23 and what I expressed as “Abe” is how I really felt. My life is nowhere near as good as when I could walk. Maybe someday it will be, I don't know when, but as for now, I hate being a paraplegic. I hate wearing a catheter and a leg bag, I hate sitting in the chair and looking at my useless legs and feet, I hate all aspects of paralysis. I am ashamed of my body and what it now does without control (i.e. wetting my pants, crapping my pants, etc.). It’s more than I can bear some days. I have really not adjusted well to the fact that I have to rely on this wheelchair to get around. I get easily embarrassed and most days I have times when I don't want to go on. I want to be normal again. I cry a lot and I wonder why this had to happen to me. I never asked for this and would never want this to happen to anyone.

I wish I didn't relate to you guys—i.e. I wish there were no chair in my life. I posted on here as “Abe” because I wanted to let people know how much I hate being disabled. I was afraid my family might check this website and would see that I had posted here and become even more sad for my loss. I try to be strong for my parents, but it’s hard. I want my body back and I want to walk! Is that too much to ask?

For everyone that I have offended and made fun of, I am truly sorry. I would never wish life in a wheelchair on my worst enemy and I guess playing a silly little game was not the way to “relieve” some of my pain. In my dreams, I am whole and here on the internet I can be whole, but in reality I am confined to this wheelchair with no hope of ever walking and that is more than I can bear some days.

I want to be happy and thankful for what I still have and usually the holidays are a time to reflect and do this very thing. However, this year I am not happy and wish Christmas would just pass me by.

Mike sent the message out and simultaneously let out a deep breath. It was a sad message, he knew it, but it made him feel better to get all that off his chest. It seemed like lately he had been pretending too much. Every time he smiled or seemed happy, he was pretending. When he broke down into tears during dinner, that wasn’t pretending anymore.

Maybe part of the road to recovery was to stop pretending. That made sense. And to start picking up the pieces of his life. Okay, it definitely sucked to be in a wheelchair, but maybe Dennis had a point about silver linings. He had been drifting a lot before the accident, and who knows if he would have ever bothered to get back on track?

There were plenty of guys who had good lives from wheelchairs. Look at that Hawkings guy—he had more women than he could handle. So maybe there was some hope somewhere.

Mike backed his chair away from the computer and went to watch television.

Mike checked the message board before going to sleep. To his surprise, he saw that several people had already responded to his latest post. He read each reply, more carefully this time.

The SCI that called wolf, and now no one believes it…

And just why should we believe this latest post? It sounds just as far-fetched as the rest of your BS. I know it's almost Christmas, but it's a little too much to expect us to believe your latest post and to get all mushy about it. I have a lot of Christmas spirit, but I've seen too much crap on this board to be taken in by this.

Mike, you need to fact the facts: you are alive and one hell of a lot luckier than many, many SCI's. Stop pondering on the negative and start working on the positive. But first, tell your family to stop the pity act—that’s not helping you or them. Life may not be the same, but with time, acceptance, and a positive attitude, you'll do better, be better, and your “new life” will become better. You can prove the “manhood” you think you've lost by bucking up and moving on.

Hope your apology was sincere, because this small amount of advice is meant to be. Best of luck.

I see you’re struggling with your disability and it seems you've gotten worse at dealing with it. You should seriously seek some sort of counseling. It really can help, just having someone to talk to and maybe you can get on some antidepressants. I don't have all the answers but I do understand a lot of things you are going through and I'm willing to talk with ya if you need. Best of luck, Mike.

I'm glad you finally ‘fessed up. I can relate to your family situation. You’re trying to do your best when someone starts bawling “for you.” Sometimes I think I dealt with my SCI better than my family did. I felt I should be touched by their concern, but I always wondered why they were crying when I was the injured one. I’m still teaching my family about SCI and how to deal with me.

Anyway, keep pluggin' away. Accept that you'll have bad days and allow yourself to, but learn to get over it and back to it all. Learning to rely on others now, not just for physical help, but mental help too, is important to getting better.

Luckily, when I got my injury, I had an incredible set of friends and a great family that was always there for me. They didn’t allow me to feel sorry for myself or cop-out on life. Your family won’t accept you as a disabled person and that is having a negative effect on you. Face it, your life will never be the same again. There is nothing you can do to change that. The thing you can do is accept that you have to do things at a different pace than before. You have to be conscious of what you eat, when you go to the bathroom, what you drink, how much you drink, when you drink. These are things you should have gotten a handle on by now. I think your family has done you a great disservice by allowing you to piss and moan about life as a disabled person. The thing I would suggest you do is to try to do something to build your self-esteem back and take control of your life again.

Go back to school and restart your life with a good career. And most importantly, move out on your own and experience life alone for a while. By constantly letting other people be responsible for your well-being, you are acknowledging that you can’t do it by yourself. And you CAN do it by yourself. Maybe you can’t do the things you used to do, but that doesn’t make you any less of a person.

Everything you talked about, I have been through. For the longest time, I was severely depressed. But as time goes by, things slowly get better. If you want a pen-pal or just want to chat, feel free to e-mail me.

Mike logged off the website. He had a lot to say, but he was tired and wanted to go to sleep now. He was pleased with the response he had gotten and considered emailing some of the people who had offered personal help.

He looked up at the grab bars over his bed. He remembered that in the first two weeks he had used them to transfer to his bed, he had slipped twice and gone crashing to the floor. His parents had to come and help him into bed. He had slipped a couple of times since then, and he always felt that anxiety about falling and needing to call for help.

Tonight he thought about it differently though. He pretended that he was in his own apartment and he was all alone and there was nobody there to help him if he fell. So that meant he couldn’t fall and he wasn’t going to fall.

Mike wiped his hands on his pants to make sure they weren’t sweaty. He reached up and took firm hold of the bar. He kept this hold when he undid his belt and lifted himself into the air. He didn’t let go until he was certain his hips were over the bed.

He lifted his shirt over his head and placed it on the dresser by his bed. He examined his gut critically, grabbing a big hunk of it with his hand. He had to work on reducing it—there was no reason to let his body go to hell just because he wasn’t using it. Maybe tomorrow he could start doing crunches. He did five crunches now, just to verify that he could.

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