First wheeled trial

Last week was big for me: I did my first jury trial in a wheelchair.  It’s crazy that I’ve been in a wheelchair for 2.5 years and it was my first one.  I say it’s because I am really good at pleading out cases (which is true).  But, I’ve also been hesitant.  The ones that I knew for sure were going to trial I was kind of pushing off.  And then the ones that I wanted to go to trial sooner ended up getting pushed for reasons beyond my control.  Such is the chaos that is the legal profession.

But last week, a case was ready, and away we went.  I was nervous.  Not for the case.  I felt as prepared as possible for that.  I had a whole other set of worries.  Would the jury be preoccupied with my wheelchair to listen to my arguments?  How was I going to take notes and address them at the same time?  I can’t use the podium because they’re wooden and set to a standing person’s height.  Not very wheelchair user friendly.  And things like standing as a way to show respect to the judge or jury.  Those were out the window.  Would they understand that I was still trying to be respectful?  Before my so called wheeled life, I would stand every time I addressed the judge.  And I would stand when asking questions.  It was professional.

But, I pushed all that aside so I wouldn’t be distracted from the main goal: winning.  The jury didn’t seem to react outwardly to my wheelchair.  They seemed to be focusing on the facts, which is exactly right.  Though, in my closing arguments, my investigator said a few of them were watching intrigued as I put my pointer and whatnot in my cup holder (I call it my “holster”).  Apparently they thought that was clever.  I hope they’re as amused by my arguments as they were by my cup holder.

Overall, it wasn’t that different from when I was walking.

Negatives:

-Couldn’t stand for the jury or judge

-Couldn’t use the podium

-Couldn’t bring in my normal wheelie bag to carry all my stuff, so I was limited on what I could bring in.  I have some big cases coming up with way more files.  I’m going to have to figure something else out.

Positives:

I love my job and I’m doing it.  Nothing can stop me.

Ladies and gentlemen, the positives win.  Now I go back to waiting for my jury to return a verdict.

P.S. Shout out to the hubs who taught me the difference between an ax and a hatchet.  There was one involved in this case and that was actually a pretty big difference.  I was able to educate the judge and DA.  So, thanks hubs!

Save the space

Handicapped parking spaces.  This seems to be a never-ending topic in the disabled world.  There seems to be four types of people who park in these spaces: 1) People who are not handicapped but are using someone else’s placard; 2) People who had an injury and had a temporary need for it, no longer need it, but still use it; 3) People with legitimate injuries or disabilities who technically are able to use it, but are able enough to park in a regular spot (read: don’t use wheelchairs, etc.); and 4) People who 100% need the space to get mobility devices in and out.

The first two categories are obvious violators.  You should know better than to use a disabled space.  They are not meant for convenience.  They are not just closer parking.  They serve real purposes, which you should know because a) you’re a rational human being; and b) you or someone close to you had the need for a space and know how hard they are to come by.

Number 3 is tricky.  I always hear people justify their use of disabled spaces because they have an inner disability you can’t necessarily see, so they are entitled to the space.  I get that.  I was like that before becoming paralyzed.  Toward the end (meaning, before my surgery) I could barely shuffle 3 steps without falling down.  It was bad.  So I would use handicapped spaces if there weren’t any close open regular spots.  But if there were non-handicapped spots close to the door, I would use that.  All too often I go places where there are plenty of open regular spaces, but people without mobility assisting devices jump out. If there are open spaces, please use them instead of the handicapped parking.

Number 4 is obvious.  Seriously.  If you need more clarification, then you probably should not be driving in general.

Let me explain something else: the sheer terror that I feel when all the handicapped spots are taken.  I need space to get my wheelchair out of my car.  If I’m with the hubs (or someone else), then a regular spot is fine, because they can pull the car out to give me room to get in and out and for them to take my chair apart.  The hubs has had to do this many, many times.  And that’s fine.  But if I am by myself, I can’t do that.  Even if I park in a regular space and give plenty of room, there’s no assurance that that car won’t leave and a new one will park in it’s place taking up my carefully planned room.  Then I’m stuck.  It’s not like I can ask a perfect stranger to move my car for me to get in and out.  I also can’t park on most streets, because there isn’t enough room to be able to open my door fully and assemble my wheelchair.  Call me crazy but I’d rather not end up roadkill.  The fear of not being able to park my car is overwhelming.

Just yesterday, I had to park 3 block away from the courthouse, because all of the spots were taken.  And oddly, I didn’t see one person in a wheelchair or walker.  I had to call the courtroom and explain to the clerk that I was probably going to be late because I had to park so far away and roll uphill to get to the courthouse.  Having to park 3 blocks away meant I had to cross two very busy streets several times.  That’s always a worry, because I am low to the ground.  And people are careless.  I’ve almost been hit several times.  Now a non-wheelchair person may say they had to park 3 blocks away and walk and that’s tough for them.  However, there were still plenty of regular spots available where they could have parked.  The spots at this particular place were way too narrow for me to park, and the court was busy enough that I couldn’t take up 2 spots.  Sometimes I end up doing that: parking far in the back of a given parking lot and taking up 2 spots.  I hang my disabled placard hoping that someone won’t think I just want to take up unnecessary room.  But that still makes me uneasy too.  I know people in wheelchairs who purposely park at the far end of parking lots in 2 spaces so they get the added exercise.  That is all fine and dandy, but again I worry that I will get hit and that’s not a chance I love to take, especially now that I’m rolling with a baby.

There’s all this talk about changing the signs to take off the wheelchair guy because you don’t have to be in a wheelchair to be handicapped.  So true.  However!  If you look at the spacing between the spots, it is designed for wheelchairs.  The van parking is designed for ramps and lifts.  Wheelchairs need clearance!  We need to be able to get our chairs in and out of our cars.  It’s not just about being close to the doors, even though I joke about that all the time.

I can’t emphasize enough how overwhelming it is to worry about something so trivial as a parking space.  But, when it comes to being a disabled person, it’s usually the trivial things that end up mattering the most.  Please, please, please don’t take parking for granted.  And please don’t park in a handicapped space unless you 100% with no other options need to.

Wheelchair Gardening

I was never huge into gardening, even before I became paralyzed.  It was fun, but not something I would choose to do on my own.  As a kid, one of my chores was to prune the rose bushes.  That was fun because I got to make a bouquet and brightly colored, pretty smelling flowers.  It was positive reinforcement for my duties.  That lasted until I was about 13 and we moved.  Then I took a gardening hiatus until the hubs and I started dating.  He lived in a condo which had a patio with a few potted plants and a couple of trees.  About once a month we would tend to the plants.  The potted plants were my designated duty and he pruned the trees.  We would pick oranges off the tree and make fresh squeezed orange juice.  (Side story:  we once had so many oranges that we thought we could juice them and freeze them for later use.  Good idea, right?  We juiced them and poured them into bags and placed them in the slots on the door.  Oh.  Wait.  Frozen liquid freezes in the shape it’s in.  So if you put it in a door that has a little space on the bottom and the bag with liquid squeezes into crevices, it will freeze that way.  We found that out when we went to thaw the juice.  It was rock hard stuck in the freezer door.  We had to pour hot water and use blow dryers to get the juice out.  By that point we were so pissed that we threw it away.)

When we moved into our new house, it had the perfect area for a garden.  There is a slight slope on one side of the house where we built a small decorative wall to reinforce the hill.  Then we filled it in with more dirt to level out the remaining space.  Our gardener put in sprinklers.  And, voila!  A garden.  This past weekend we picked up a few plants: strawberry, tomato, parsley, cilantro and a couple variations of jalapeno.  (Yes, I have visions of salsa in 50-70 days running through my head!)

Where we planted those plants is next to dirt.  No path.  That part of the backyard has been off limits to my wheelchair since we moved here 2.5 years ago.  We thought about having our concrete guy come back to pour a path.  But, at the Abilities Expo 2 weeks ago, I picked up a FreeWheel.  This turns my wheelchair into a tripod by lifting the 2 small caster wheels. Those 2 small wheels are the ones that get stuck on the dirt and other small things in the way.  The FreeWheel is amazing!  It opened up my backyard to me!  I was able to go over to the garden area and actually plant the strawberries and cilantro at the sprinklers which were closest to the wall.  Those are my plants!  The hubs still had to plant the rest of the plants, but he loves any kind of outdoor activity like that.  While I didn’t really love gardening before, the ability to do it now when I didn’t think I would be able to, makes me so happy.  And very protective of my little baby plants.

gardening

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome baby boy

Holy crap, I’m a mom!  That was my initial thought when we were on our way to the hospital.  Well, it was actually “Hubs, what did we do?!”  He told me it was a little late for that.  From what I’ve heard from my friends who are parents, most new parents think the same thing.  I’m glad to know I wasn’t alone there.  But still.

Surromom called us to say she was in labor around 8:30 on Tuesday night.  The hubs and I drove the nearly 2 hour drive to the hospital to meet her.  The length of the drive gave me plenty of time to freak out.  We got to the hospital after receiving a few “hurry, they’re going to break my water soon” texts and calls.  My mom was there, so I felt better.  But I didn’t want to miss his birth.  (Well, to be fair, I thought that wouldn’t have been the exact worst thing in my mind due to my hatred and fear hospitals and all things medical after all my time spent in them.  Special shout out and thanks to my medical history.)  The hubs drove like the wind, as best we could on a night where it seemed like every cop was on the freeway, thwarting our attempts!

We go to the hospital just in time!  Well… just in time to wait.  And wait.  And wait.  And not sleep.  And wait.  We got to the hospital at 10:30pm.  They broke her water the next morning at 10:00am.  The baby was born at 12:54pm.  So, in retrospect, we could have stayed home and gotten one more good night’s sleep, had a hearty breakfast, pet the dogs a little longer for their last one-on-one time and taken a shower.  All of those things sounded wonderful at 4am when we were still awake!

Sleepiness in the hospital hallway at 2:35am

Sleepiness in the hospital hallway at 2:35am

My parents stayed at the hospital all night with us (something they’re used to do, thanks again to my wonderful medical past), though my dad did abandon ship and go to sleep in his car.  But my mom, the dependable trooper, stayed with us.

Funny side story: around 3:30am we tried to go down to the lobby where they had loveseat couches to sleep.  We all chose a couch and laid down.  The security guard immediately came over and told my mom and the hubs they couldn’t put their feet up, but that I was ok.  Hey wheelchair, you finally paid off!  I get to lounge while the others have to be upright!  Score!  Screw you equality, I’m using this to my advantage.  Well, about 10 minutes later, another guard came over and said to put my feet down.  “But, the other guys said it was OK!”  I said, in more of a sleepy stammer than my normal Italian bluster.  “Put them down.” He repeated.  I was too tired to argue.  But security guard 1 then shouted across the room that it was OK.  Not wanting to cause a scene in a hospital lobby,  and sensing that my mom was getting riled up to protect my right to lounge, I I just said it was OK.  It was loud and cold anyway, and not like I was sleeping.  We gave up and went back up the room.

Another side story: Around 12:20, our surromom’s nurse went on lunch break and there was a replacement nurse tending to her.  She noticed a weird noise from the monitors which we had all been annoyed by but at this point, had become background noise.  The nurse called IT to fix the problem.  At the same time, the anesthesiologist had come to check on her epidural.  The IT guy disconnected the monitor to replace the unit, when Surromom announced that she felt pressure and that the baby was coming.  You’ve never seen an IT guy move so quickly installing equipment before, as I’m sure witnessing the miracle of life was way outside of his paygrade!  The anesthesiologist told Surromom that he didn’t want to give her more medication if she was about to deliver, which he should know better than to tell a woman who has been in labor for over 14 hours.  Suffice it to say, she got her meds and he escaped with his life.  I was texting my mom to hurry, as she had been down in the cafeteria to get some rest and give us some space.  At about 12:50, the nurse was back, the doctor was there.  The nurse made room for me and my wheelchair (which felt huge and awkward and space consuming at that time) next to the incubator.  It was go time.  And I started crying.  Holy crap, I’m about to become a mom!

And then he was here.  All 8 pounds 2 ounces of him.  And they placed his tiny, goopy body on me.  And there were no more tears.  It was just this overwhelming sense of “I’ve got this, little man.”  Well, I had that feeling until the first time he tried to move his head and I shrieked to the nurse “What do I do?!”  And she showed me how to hold him and that he wasn’t all that fragile (something I’ve heard but didn’t quite believe).  Then, the calm came back over me.  The wheelchair disappeared.  My fear disappeared.  And I realized, that I do have this.  Little Mister and I will figure this out together.  He’s never been a baby before and I’ve never been a mom.  So we will figure this out together!  Plus, it helps that the hubs is such a naturally amazing dad.  So, what I can’t do, or what is hard, he is there to help with.  (I’m mostly saying this now because last night I was exhausting and he took 2 of the 3 night feedings and got up with him this morning so I could get more sleep.  Such a good dad and a great hubs!)

So in sum, holy crap, I’m a mom!  I will get through this.  And I look forward to sharing tips and stories of what it’s like to be a mom in a wheelchair!

mom in a wheelchair

Get Over It!

I recently read this article “15 things wheelchair users hate hearing.”  I found the article to be so much more annoying, more than I found any of the 15 things to be.  People in wheelchairs this goes out to you: get over it.  We aren’t a common occurrence.  There are far too many of us, but we aren’t common.  Most people aren’t around paraplegics, quadriplegics or any other type of wheelchair user.  They are curious.  They are trying to be nice and relate.  Why can’t you just acknowledge that people who ask questions or start conversations are trying to be polite.  They’re trying to make you feel comfortable or trying to understand better. Start a dialogue.  Don’t shoot them down.  Kylie didn’t hurt you by posing in a wheelchair.  The nice woman at the grocery store didn’t try to piss on your parade by telling you she’d pray for you.  Get over yourselves and pass on knowledge instead of more judgement!

Here is my 15 responses to those 15 things the author claimed bug all wheelchair users:

 

1)      “I’ll pray for you”

 

Why would this bother someone?  I pray daily that I will walk someday.  I pray for a cure for paralysis.  I talk about cures for paralysis.  Why would it be offensive for someone else to pray too?

 

 

2)      “What happened to you?”

 

If someone is genuinely curious why would that be bad?  If it’s too personal, then say that.  I like sharing my story so I would never mind.  This especially cracks me up when reporters and bloggers complain about this because you’re publically putting yourself out there!  Get over it!

 

 

3)      “Congratulations”

 

Thank you!  Life in a wheelchair is hard.  And I’m out there conquering life.  A little acknowledgement and support is awesome!
 

4)      “How fast does that thing go?”

 

Whenever I can, I am racing around in my wheelchair.  If it’s level and there aren’t too many people, I’m flying.  I think it’s funny when people ask this or when they challenge me to a race.  Heck, I challenge other people to a race!
 

5)      “Stay positive”

 

Again, life in a wheelchair is hard.  And overwhelming at times.  It does take work to stay positive every now and then.  Why would I not want encouragement?  That’s not offensive!

 

6)      “I’m so glad I don’t have to be in a wheelchair.” I’ve never heard anyone over the age of 11 say this.  But, if they do, then yes, I’m glad you don’t have to be also!  It sucks.  I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else.
 

7)      “Is your significant other in a wheelchair too?”

People always ask me if my hubs is a lawyer too.  They ask him if his wife is a teacher.  It isn’t uncommon to be with someone who has something major in common with you.  That’s not a weird question.
 

8)      “You are too good looking for a wheelchair user”

Thank you, I think so too.  And I take enough selfies to show that I agree with you.  But I’m in this darn thing (for now) and I will rock it to the best of my abilities and make it look good. 
 

9)      “It’s good to see you are so productive”

 

SO many people in wheelchairs aren’t productive, so I get why this is a stereotype.  I’m out there killing life and it’s good for people to take notice of that to break stereotypes. 
 

10)  “Do you know Brian?”

 

No.  Is he cool?  No need to be annoyed by that question.  The way support groups and online forums work, maybe I do know him. 
 

11)  “Can you be cured?”

 

If it’s too personal, then tell them. But some people aren’t permanently in wheelchairs. And some people do have things that are fixable. Wanting to know if it’s a permanent thing shows concern and compassion, so why would you not like that question? 

 

 

12)  “I had to use a wheelchair once”

 

If a person is trying to find common ground, then who cares.  I’m sorry that they had to use a wheelchair at all.  And they’re better now, so tell me what you went through or what you did because maybe that will make me feel better.
 

13)  “You are inspirational”

 

Thank you.  I am inspirational.  I lost the ability to walk at 32 years old, 4 months after getting married.  And I didn’t fall into a pit of despair.  If I can help just one person get through the same thing, then I will be happy! 

 

 

14)  “I don’t know how you do it?”

 

People think they can’t get through something life shattering.  They are genuinely impressed.  A lot of people don’t make it through and give up.  I usually respond with “what other choice do I have?”
 

15)  “My grandma uses a wheelchair”

 

When I was 10 and used a walker, I used to think everyone would tease me because only grandmas use walkers.  Then I grew up.  If you have a family member in a wheelchair, even an elderly one, then you probably know some of the issues I face and we can chat about it.  They’re not calling me an old lady.  They’re relating.  Not offensive!

If anyone has questions about my wheelchair, why I’m in it, or wants to race, I welcome you!