New Wheels

After getting a prescription for a new wheelchair in September and a series of fittings, emails, and prayers, I have news on my wheelchair. I am sitting in it, and it fits.

Friday morning as my students were walking to school, I hopped into Hunter’s car, and he loaded both of my wheelchairs into the back (we brought the old one as a precaution). We drove into Basel, and I headed into the Orthop√§die blind as all my previous appointments had been at the REHAB Basel hospital. Fortunately, the nice lady at reception was able to find my name on the schedule and show me to a curtained off cabin where a technician soon came to take my new chair into the back workshop and magic all the parts together with the newer wheels.

I had transferred to a bench, and sat waiting patiently for this next major step in my journey to be resolved. I’ve been trying to get this chair sorted for over six months at this point, and I’m ready for the saga to be completed. Unfortunately, I knew Friday was a major hurdle but not the end – I’ll still have to get the bill and hope my insurance follows through on their promise to pay it. I sent a selfie of me waiting to a few friends saying, “Getting new wheels unless I learn how to walk in the next ten minutes” as I swung my legs on the therapy bench and stared at the orthopaedic shoes lining the wall next to me.

When I posted the week I got my new wheelchair and that it had the wrong sized wheels, I wrote here that there were a lot of big emotions related to that left to process – and then I heard about Bryce passing away just a few days later. Those are separate emotions, but I’m the same person dealing with them, and I’m honestly struggling. There’s also a couple other things heavy in my life that aren’t appropriate to share on the internet.

What I do want to share is my absolute gratitude that I do have my new wheelchair, finally fit with the right sized wheels and smaller, lighter frame. The same day I got my new chair fitted, I also had the joy of spending a couple hours sharing stories with Bryce’s mom. She came over for tea, and sat where Bryce sat years ago when he would come for tea. Friday was a full day for me, and I maxed out and then didn’t give myself space to deal with everything fully. Saturday didn’t have much space for me to process either, and I had another chance to own up to mistakes and apologize. A couple chances, actually. By the grace of God, the people I was interacting with Friday and Saturday for the most part are my safe people.

I can’t change the life I’ve been given, but I wouldn’t even if I had the chance. I’ve said this before, and I want to emphasize again how grateful I am for the opportunities I’ve been given in life, and many of them through the wheelchair I currently have. Nine months ago someone said in front of me in a conversation, “I don’t know what Laura has to learn about suffering and lamentation before God will heal her.” That person didn’t know me. That person didn’t know how those words landed. That person didn’t understand the implications of that damaging theology of a God who punishes people and teaches lessons through trauma. That person straight up denied saying that when I called them out on it six weeks later (after the denial, I asked the third person in the conversation who confirmed I had the words verbatim). That person looked at me as a victim because of my wheelchair. In our follow up conversation, I had the chance to say that my wheelchair isn’t a source of suffering for me. Sure, my disability sucks, and I absolutely want to be healed, to walk again, to pee again, and to not have to deal with leg spasms and insurance complications.

Honestly, a lot of people think of my life as limited because of my wheelchair. They think I’m held back. Here’s the truth: the wheelchair allows me access to places I wouldn’t otherwise be able to go post accident. Getting my new wheels means I can navigate more places independently and even more places with the help of others willing to be patient with me. My new wheels speak of God’s grace and provision that there is a whole segment of society willing to prioritize accessibility and include me. My new wheels make visible my limitations, but they also do not tell the whole story. I’m not defined by this wheelchair. Sadly, a lot of people have defined me by it and patronize my ability when they see me stand up and walk for the first time. Some people otherize me and consider my personality as completely wrapped up in my disability. Others don’t even try to engage with me and cut me off from their social gatherings.

My apartment building currently has this incredible grouping of people who see me for my full humanity without defining me by my wheelchair nor ignoring the reality that my disability does have a noticeable effect on my life. The neighbors on the top floor this year moved in during the summer and knew I’d had an accident that left me using a wheelchair most of the time. It wasn’t the first thing they asked me about. I’d had several life on life moments with David before one day – well into a conversation – he asked about the limits of my disability because I’d mentioned something about it. It wasn’t prying, and it wasn’t morbid curiosity. He’d seen me using the sticks to get into someone’s car and phrased his question from the stance of affirming that I could obviously do more than he had seen. It was a healing comment after I’d had a few recent ones that came from the opposite direction – shock that I could do any steps at all and personal questions out of the blue about the moment and details of my accident.

The family that lives on the floor above me has two young kids, and their older son is one of the best recent examples of seeing my wholeness and meeting me in my shortcomings. First of all, he’s one of the friendliest kids I’ve ever met, and he always greets me and often will have chats with me when we’re both enjoying the outside area. Some people are awkward in conversation with me, but this kid never has been (that’s just his personality). What really stands out to me about him though is his willingness to help but never overstepping. The other day I came home to find something left at my doorstep, and this kid saw I wouldn’t be able to carry it in easily; he immediately offered to bring it in for me. He offered. He waited to hear if I would receive the help, and he put the item exactly where I asked. He didn’t assume, and he didn’t decide what was best for me. I was recently struggling to explain to someone how offensive it is when people step in to help me without knowing what my needs are. My friend was telling me I shouldn’t get mad when someone is just trying to help, but I lacked the words in the moment to explain how the interactions often left me feeling. I’ve had people start pushing my wheelchair without my consent. It’s offensive; it’s not kind. It’s robbing me of my autonomy, and it’s invasive of my body and my personal space. It’s asserting control over me without my consent, and it’s incredibly upsetting to have happen in public spaces when I am already vulnerable in so many ways. When my neighbor kid helps, he jumps in to needs I’ve identified or confirmed.

Next door to me this year are two of my best friends in this community, and they’ve hosted me at their place on multiple occasions. They also let me ask for whatever I need when I’m in their space, or if we’re hanging out and my legs are spasming too much to make the short walk, they both come over to my apartment. Our conversations cover the full spectrum of life, and I can be honest when I’m struggling with a disability related issue, and I can process when a spiritual concern has nothing to do with my disability, but I wonder why my leg spasms are so bad that day. I can also have blunt conversations with them about the words they use and the words other people use when talking to me or about me. I value the reciprocity as they call me out in how I talk or behave. Both of them have been influential in me learning to speak more kindly about the people who patronize me because of my disability. When they look at me, they see Laura, and Laura currently uses a wheelchair.

I don’t know how many people in your life have a visible distinction like mine, but I hope you’ll see the person first and instead of pretending the disability doesn’t exist, learn about who the person is and how they engage with the world in light of their limitations. A wheelchair isn’t an opening to ask someone about their disability, but it’s an opportunity to include someone into your community. There may be a chance to learn about their story related to the disability, but be sensitive to when and how you ask those questions.

Please hear me, there is a delicate balance. I’m asking you to use discernment and to be kind to others. I’m trying to learn to be kind to those who don’t know how to interact with me well, but I also want to use my platform here as a teaching opportunity to prevent hurtful comments or actions in the future. What was said to me about God teaching me a lesson was damaging and wrong. People invading my space by pushing me without consent or using my wheelchair as a foot or armrest is uncomfortable and rude. People who express shock at my ability to tie my shoes or take any steps at all let alone make it up stairs without knowing my actual diagnosis are patronizing and hurtful. No one who has done any of these things in ignorance is a bad person. I don’t want to demonize anyone who’s made a mistake. Rather, I want my readers to have the opportunity to learn here and now how to behave more kindly to people you don’t know well.

Leave a Reply