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When I Realized It's OK to Use a Wheelchair Part-Time

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This past week, I had an appointment with my pain doctor for my quarterly Botox injections to my back, left hamstring, and my calves. At this appointment, my doctor asked me if I went to the State Fair.

When I told my doctor I don’t go to things like the State Fair or Summerfest or museums because I don’t have the walking endurance, he had a simple, yet complex solution. He suggested I get a wheelchair to have for these activities and sent in a referral.

At age 29, I never thought I’d be getting a wheelchair, even if the main purpose is to allow me the endurance to spend an afternoon out with family. I’ve never used a wheelchair outside of adaptive sports and after surgery, so all I know is a life of walking everywhere in pain.

A wheelchair is a simple solution in that it allows me to sit all the time instead of constantly searching for places to sit or ending up sitting on the floor due to pain and fatigue from walking and standing.

Getting a wheelchair feels like a complex solution too, because I will need to work out a balance between when to walk and when to use the wheelchair so I can maintain my independence and keep my ability to walk when necessary long into my future.

In addition to balance, I need to wrap my head around the idea that using a wheelchair at times now may be better for my body in the long run.

Let’s face it, our society thrives on independence. Many people push themselves to use as minimal assistive devices as possible even when something else may be more effective and provide better safety. Think about the person struggling with a cane when a walker may be more appropriate, or someone using a walker when a wheelchair would greatly alleviate pain and fatigue.

Our society puts value on looking as least disabled as possible. So that has me thinking. Just because I am able to walk, does that mean I always should?

Should I force myself to walk a 1-mile loop in the neighborhood with my mom when I’m able to push myself in a wheelchair just the same? Should I walk around a sports arena or conserve my energy to cheer on the team?

While the prospect of getting a wheelchair feels daunting, I do know this. Ever since I started playing adaptive sports, I’ve realized that my endurance using a wheelchair far outlasts when I walk. For instance, I recently pushed in a wheelchair 4.8 miles in an hour and a half and felt fine after, whereas going on a 20-minute walk is painful and fatiguing.

I don’t want to feel held back by pain and fatigue or the fear of pain and fatigue anymore. I know pain and fatigue are the number one drivers of my depression and suicidality. I’m at the point where I’ve had enough of that. I want to live my life, not whatever my body’s agenda is for me.

So, I’m in for a significant learning experience to find a proper balance. But I feel like I’m ready for it emotionally because of the difference I’ve seen in my abilities through adaptive sports. I’m not afraid of using a wheelchair because to me, it represents the freedom to do whatever I want.

Getty image by Westend61

Originally published: December 8, 2022
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