The house was a split-level townhouse with six steps between each room. This room had been our rec room with a 10 foot bar and a wall full of wine and liquor bottles, and statues of Laurel and Hardy with each holding a beer mug. A few non alcohol related knick knacks also adorned the shelves. All of this was gone, moved out or packed up by friends. Instead there was a single bed, a microwave, and a small kitchen table. There was a bathroom attached to the room, so the therapists had added a special crank to my wheelchair that would pull in the sides of it squishing my legs, so I could get through the narrow doorway of the bathroom.
Shortly after we arrived home, Jodi decided she needed to go out for awhile, so I was left alone in this room watching tv. I wasn’t use to being alone and confined to what felt like a very small place. I had been used to roaming the halls of the hospital, visiting with other patients, and harassing the nurses and therapists. This room was a closed in, lonely place.
I didn’t like that feeling, and no matter how much tv I watched, it would not go away. I looked over at the steps and wondered what was beyond in the rest of the house. Had anything changed? And I remembered there were windows that weren’t overshadowed by the roof of a carport up there. I longed for sunshine. If only I could walk up those stairs. So I pulled together all of my strength and courage and got up out of my chair and walked up those stairs.
Sorry to disappoint you but that last sentence did not happen. It was going to take a lot more time and work before I would be able to stand even with crutches. Instead what I did was not miraculous, but I do think it was pretty cool. I grabbed my transfer board which was a 10 inch wide piece of wood strong enough to hold me with tapers at both ends. I wheeled over to the steps so my chair was sideways to the steps. I pulled off the side of my chair, slid one end of the transfer board under me and the other end on top of one of the steps. I slid across the board onto the step so my back was to the next step going up. I pushed the transfer board onto the wheel chair. From there I put both hands on that next step up and pushed until my bottom was on that next step. I did it again and was at the top of that staircase and in the living room. Not satisfied with just sitting on the top step and being in the living room, I rolled over and belly crawled to the next staircase. I flipped back onto my bottom so my back was against the first step and continued the process of lifting myself to each step. By the time Jodi arrived home my wheelchair was empty and I had pulled myself onto a dinning room chair and was talking on the phone. For some reason, Jodi didn’t find walking into the house and finding an empty wheelchair amusing.
So why tell you this story? Is it to toot my own horn? No, even though I am proud of what I did. It is to raise some questions about overcoming obstacles. The assumption by everyone was that the only way to overcome the obstacle of the staircases was for me to be able to walk. We were wrong. It took some thinking out of the box to overcome the obstacle of those staircases. But even that out of the box thinking wasn’t going to overcome some other obstacles: concrete and stone steps were not going to be climbed using my method. When faced with obstacles, we sometimes need to think outside the box to overcome, breakthrough, or climb over them. And there are some obstacles that take a long time to overcome. It would be months before I would actually walk with crutches and braces, and many more before I could walk with just braces. And if you don’t know, I still need the braces to walk with stability.
The other thing I’d like you to remember is that my pride in doing this is tempered by my gratitude for all those I harassed at Good Shepherd who pushed me to get stronger and keep hoping for improvement. We don’t overcome obstacles on our own. There are always people helping us push to the next step even when we don’t realize it.
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