On his level

Sometimes it’s hard to think of positives about being in a wheelchair.  There’s clearly all the old jokes (i.e. the good parking, not having to stand in long lines, etc.).  But real positives, it’s hard.  I don’t fall nearly as often, so that’s definitely a big positive.  My knees send me a Christmas card every year since I became paralyzed as a show of gratitude.

But this morning, it hit me.  I’m on the same level as my kid.  Literally.  (Sometimes figuratively too cause I have a really juvenile sense of humor and a weird obsession with PeeWee’s Playhouse.)  Because I am about 3 feet tall when I’m in my chair, I’m much closer to toddler height than all the other adults in his life.  It’s easier for him to see some of the things that I am doing than it is for him to observe other adults.  This morning he was watching as I brushed my teeth and he grabbed his own toothbrush and started brushing too.  (His brushing is really just putting his toothbrush in his mouth for 3 seconds and then clapping jubilantly over what a good boy thing he did.)  But when he stopped, he still watched as I brushed.  So I exaggeratingly showed him how to brush all the teeth.  He was enthralled.  The hubs was brushing his teeth at the same time, but the hubs is 3 feet taller than Little Mister.  It’s not as easy to see what dad is doing as what mom is doing.

When I talk to him or try to teach him something, I don’t have to bend over or crouch down.  I’m literally on his level.  I think that’s a really cool thing now that his baby mind is learning nonstop.

So there you go: a way in which being a parent in a wheelchair is not a terrible thing!

Trust.

Today was a body part at the gym day.  (I honestly don’t know what part of the body we worked out today because somehow GunShow managed to make them all sore.  Maybe shoulder day?  Maybe bicep day?  Pretty sure it wasn’t leg day, though he did still manage to get them involved and they are now steadily twitching as I sit here typing in agony.)  He was a bit under the weather with a sinus infection and he decided to take his unhappiness out on me.  Ok, I don’t know that last part to be completely true, but it is a very likely scenario.  I told him to take the time off to rest.  He told me I wouldn’t work out if he weren’t there.  I told him I would.  He apparently knows me too well. I would have gone to the gym.  And I probably would have half-assed it in a virtual class.  I love the virtual classes.  But, I also admit that I don’t push myself in nearly the same way he does.  Hence my need for his services!

But, the conversation also got me to thinking.  I sometimes do weights when I’m not training at the gym with him.  Again, it’s not the same way.

wheelchair lat pull downwheelchair lat pull downI don’t do some weights because I would need help (i.e. a seated lat pulldown [I’m sure the “seated” ).  I need help pulling the bar down to even do the exercise.  Sometimes I lose my balance.  I’ve never fallen.  Or even come close to falling.  But it’s still a really scary feeling when you have no control.  And that’s why I like having him there.  I know GunShow won’t let me fall or hurt myself.  I trust him.

 

I know that I’m a different kind of client.  I need more attention because things that aren’t an issue for other people are possibly problematic for me.  Like sitting on a weight bench.  A normal client can just sit down.  I have to transfer off of my wheelchair onto a narrow bench.  I have to know that I’m not going to fall off equipment.  Or that I’ll be able to get back up if I get on the ground.  These are considerations that I think about nonstop when I’m at the gym.  And that’s why it has to take trust.  My trust in him has grown as our relationship has developed while I’ve trained with him.  I’m willing to try different things that push me way [read: WAY WAY WAY] past my comfort zone because of that.  If I don’t trust my trainer (physical therapist, doctor, whatever) I’m not going to push myself or let them push me.  I’ll play it safe.  It’s once we’ve established that level of trust that I’m willing to go out on the ledge (so to speak).  And I don’t trust everyone.  Or many people, for that matter.  And if I don’t have the trust connection with someone, I will completely shut down.  That’s why I left a couple physical therapists prior to joining this gym.  No trust = not pushing myself = wasting my time and theirs.  But you have to understand how scary it is doing things when you can’t feel that you’re supported on the ground by legs that are meant to stabilize you and having a core that isn’t quite up to snuff.  It’s intimidating and daunting.  Even though past therapists would tell me to trust that my legs are there and still supporting me, it’s nearly impossible to trust that when you can’t feel them.  So when I can’t trust my own body, I have to trust the person who is working with me.  I have to trust my trainer.  I have to trust GS.

Another example: today we did timed bicep curls and I set the weights on my legs for very short breaks.  I had the weights resting on my hands because it’s scary putting weights on my legs and not knowing if they’re hurting my legs or not.  GS didn’t want me to cut off circulation to my hands by holding the weights.  I told him my fear of accidentally hurting my legs and not knowing and I could see him thinking about that.  I don’t think that’s something he had thought of before.  And I could literally see the wheels in his brain turning.  And then he said “Do you think I would let you do something to hurt yourself.”  It wasn’t accusatory like how dare I not trust him.  And it wasn’t feeling sorry for himself like he was sad that I didn’t trust him.  It wasn’t even really a question. It was a statement of strength.  I know he wouldn’t let me really hurt myself.  He knows that I know that.  And I moved my hands and let the weights rest on my leg.  And I did not get hurt.

Well, My legs didn’t get hurt.  My biceps are completely on fire.  But I suppose that was intentional.

Wyoming Wheelchair Accessible (is sometimes not so much)

It’s funny how different people perceive “wheelchair accessible”.  In California, people are quick to not label things in that manner because they don’t want to be sued.  (Ok, I don’t know if that’s entirely true.  What I do know is that California is too litigious and people want easy dollars.)  In Wyoming, it’s the opposite.  Blue curbs have no ramps adjoining them.  It’s like “Hey, we gave you the space designated.  Figure out the rest on your own.”  It’s just a different mindset up here.  People are tough.  They’re resilient.  Where I live in California, you have to fight for a handicapped parking space because every person over 72 has a placard and thinks that old = handicapped.  In Wyoming, cowboys are farming into their 90’s.  “I don’t need no stinking handicapped spot!” is the mentality of every weathered cowboy and nimble old biddy.  They’re tough.  They’re good people.

While I do love that mentality (because I like to think that I am a pretty tough chick) it does sometimes give me some concern.  For example, we rented a cabin for our stay.  We like to have a home base, a place where our dogs feel at home.  They’re not really hotel dogs because they like to bark at noises.  So cabins are good for us.  The cabin we rented didn’t have a picture of the front entry way, but the owner assured me that there was only a little lip that I could easily jump.  The rest of the house was easy access.  We were still going to bring my ramps, just in case.  Unless I can see that there are no steps, I get uneasy.  The owner told the hubs that they built a ramp for me to the front door.  (In addition to being tough, the people in Wyoming are so super nice!) The owners of the cabin we rented last year also built me a ramp.  (The people in Wyoming are also super handy.)

Cabin

When we got to the cabin, we saw the ramp.  It was really nice and sturdy.  I’m also glad they built it, because it was more than just a lip that I could jump.  It was a full on step that would have been pretty difficult.  The cabin was really nice.  The living room, dining room and kitchen were all very open and easy for me to get around with.  If the cabin had been only those rooms, then yes, I would agree that it was wheelchair accessible.

However, cabins are more than just the common area.  They’re also comprised of bedrooms and bathrooms.  [Do you see where I am going with this?]  I tried to get into the master bedroom.  I didn’t fit through the sliding glass doors leading to it.  Ruh-roh.  That’s OK!  There are 2 other bedrooms! I thought to myself.  Or, possibly said it outloud to the hubs, trying to reassure him.  I tried one of the other bedroom doors and it was easy to get through.  Problem solved!

Or, was it?  Let’s check out the 2nd bathroom, where the shower is.  Awesome…the door is about 2 inches too small for my wheelchair to get through.  So, if this bathroom is too small and I can’t get into the master, how the heck am I going to go to the bathroom?!  The hubs and one of our friends who had come up with us decided to try taking the sliding door into the master off of the track.  With the door gone, I was now able to get into the master bedroom.  (We just had to hope that the hubs could get it back on by himself cause our friends were only here for 1 week.)  Next came the master bathroom door test.  Score!  I can fit into that bathroom!  Everything worked out!

Or had it?  The master bathroom didn’t have a shower.  Only a tub.  A big, deep, jetted tub.  How the heck am I supposed to use that?!  I can’t fit into the other bathroom with the shower.  And this bathroom only has a tub.  So…my options were to either not shower for a month or channel my inner Wyoming resilience and figure it out.  Getting into the tub wasn’t an issue.  I’m able to transfer to the ledge, put my legs over and lower myself in.  (Luckily I have great upper body strength.  Otherwise, it wouldn’t have worked.)  Getting out is where the issue lies.  I had to prop up on my knees, hoist myself over the ledge (where I felt like I was going to fall head first into the toilet), then twist around to my back and sit up.  It’s so awkward and so hard.  But, I was able to do it.  (Again, so glad that I have upper body strength!)  (Oh, while taking a bath is nice, the tub is so big that you can’t even fill it halfway because the hot water runs out.  And to wash my hair, I feel like an original homesteader who has to use a bucket to pour water over their head.  When I get home, I’m taking an hour long shower just to enjoy the ease of it all.  Sorry California drought.)

While I’m able to figure it all out with minimal some complaining, the point is that I did figure it out.  I usually don’t mind when things are an inconvenience for me, because I figure such is life.  I hate being an inconvenience on other people though.  Case in point: we are actually sleeping in one of the spare rooms because the bed in the master is also too high for me to get into alone and the hubs had to hoist me up into it.  Not bad when we go to bed.  But, when I have to go to the restroom at 1am and then wake him up to get back into bed?  That’s an inconvenience.  Mind you, he doesn’t complain.  He helps me with everything very willingly.  But, I still feel bad.  (Last year’s cabin was the same, so I always ended up sleeping on the couch after my early morning bathroom break.  I suppose I could have done that this year too, but it was just easier to switch rooms.)

The other point is that just because someone says a place is wheelchair accessible doesn’t mean it is, because until you’re actually having to navigate in a chair, you really don’t know if things are all that accessible.  Until I was in the chair, I wouldn’t have thought of some of these problems.  Now they’re obstacles that I can’t avoid and am forced to tackle.  At least I try to do it with humor, because what other option do I have?

Starting JB’s trial

When I was in the hospital, working kept me going.  Most of my clients had no clue that I was in the hospital.  I didn’t want them to worry as I still had everything under control.  It kept me from losing focus on life.  It was like, be bummed about my situation or focus on the fact that I still have responsibilities and people who need me.

After 6 weeks in the hospital, I got back to court as soon as I could.  I think I was back in a courtroom 2 weeks after I got home.  I was right back at it, and it kept me alive.  (Not literally, just figuratively.)  There was only one client whose case I got off of because I didn’t think I could do enough for him.

JB was the one client I kept from my former employer.  My mentor.  The greatest defense attorney I have ever known.  He had passed away a year and 2 months prior to my becoming paralyzed.  And out of all the clients who asked to stay with me, I kept 1.  JB.  I had always felt a very maternal instinct to protect JB.  When I first met him, not many people were there for him.  He was practically estranged from any good influence in his life.  So I wanted to stay with him.  To protect him.  To save him.  It was a weird mix of wanting to help him and my one last remaining tie to my mentor.

After I ended up in the wheelchair, I suffered anxiety that I wouldn’t be able to do enough for him.  How could I be an effective voice in trial when I could barely even hold my body upright (I was pretty weak in the beginning).  I am not a confident person by nature.  If I seem it, then it’s a pretty good front.  I second guess everything, which is why I thrive on constant validation.  The difference between his case and my other cases is that I knew the other cases wouldn’t be going to trial right away.  And I was confident that I would get stronger and even start walking again soon.  But JB’s case was almost 2 years old and would be pushed to trial quickly.  I felt like I was abandoning him, but I had to hand him over to the public defender’s office.  I felt it was in his best interest.

Cut to almost a year ago when I get a call from a mom who wants a lawyer for her stepson who she loves as dearly as if he were her own.  “He’s not a bad kid.  He just needs help and I hear you can help him.”  I respond “Sure, what’s his name?  I’ll go see him in custody tomorrow.”  She tells me his first name, which is a very unique name.  “Don’t tell me it’s JB [insert last name here].”  She’s shocked that I know her son.  Apparently she had no idea that I had previously represented him.  They end up retaining me and I make them promise to not tell him so I can surprise him.  The look on his face when I rolled into jail was priceless.

In the 2 years since I had given his case over to the PD’s office, he had not only not gone to trial but picked up several new cases while he was out on bail.  Now I was back on his case and in his life.  I was stronger for what I had gone through and he was more willing to really open up to me because of his path.  We were a much stronger, better team now.  He actually told me recently that no matter what happens on his case, he has never felt more comfortable with anyone because he knows I truly care.  And I do.

So, tomorrow I start trial on the first of his many cases.  I am scared to lose his trial.  Not because I think he’s innocent like with some of my other cases with defendants that I’m close to.  But, I’m scared because it’s my one last tie to my mentor and if I lose, I feel like I’m letting him down.  And I feel like the universe brought me back to JB for a reason.  Maybe my mentor had something to do with that, I don’t know.  What I am confident about is that my wheelchair does not prohibit his defense.  It won’t stop me from being the best advocate for him that I can be.  It won’t stop me from arguing until I can’t argue any further.  I wasn’t confident 3 years ago.  And maybe I’m not the most confident now.  But I am dang sure that I am a fighter.  And that’s what he will get tomorrow.

But, winning would be nice validation.

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