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Guest post: Oh, it must be awful being in a wheelchair
Most wheelchair users have probably been faced with the awkward situation when someone says "oh, it must be awful being in a wheelchair, I hope you're better soon". Usually I just mumble some remark and get on my way. Afterwards I think of all the ways that I could have responded...
For a start, you don't know why I'm in a chair. Was I born this way? Or was it the old favorite - a car accident? Did I do something stupid and break my spine? In my case it is spastic cerebral palsy coupled with a childhood autoimmune illness. No, it won't get better and I'd rather not hear the story of your aunt's friend's brother who either got miraculously better or who died of some hideous, undiagnosed illness. Nor do I know everyone in a wheelchair -contrary to expectations we are not members of some secret society.
I could sit there and explain all of this. I could tell you of all the hospital stays, the muscle biopsies, the hours of painful physio, the failed surgeries and the countless splints and other appliances that never quite achieved the intended results.
Wheelchairs are not the worst that can happen
Although I've got used to these types of conversations over the years, they still rankle with me. After all, I wouldn't approach a stranger and say "ooh I'm sorry you've got bad hair" or "I'm sure your dress sense will get better".
For me, being in a wheelchair is far from the worst thing that could happen. With my chair, I'm active, I can move around safely and most of all, I'm independent. My chair may be an extension of myself but it is most certainly not a definition of who or what I am.
I'm married and have teenagers. Until recently, I'd been in more or less continuous employment for over 20 years. I play wheelchair sports and I drive a car. But of course, you don't see any of that, what you see is the chair. You don't see the person in the chair and you don't see the full life I'm leading
Don't feel sorry that I use a wheelchair, I don't have time to feel sorry for myself, I'm too busy living!
Oh and as a footnote, while writing this article I had a spectacular crash in my chair due to a broken paving slab. After being catapulted headfirst to the ground I had to sit for 15 minutes until my wife could come to my rescue, thanks to all those drivers who went past without stopping to help. A visit to A+E revealed a broken bone in my wrist. Is this holding me back? No, I'm all strapped up and eager to get straight back to living my life!