So You've Met Someone in a Wheelchair

A Helpful Guide

So You've Met Someone in a Wheelchair


Hi. I suppose, being a paraplegic and in a wheelchair and all, that it’s about time that I invested some blog space and thought space into what that whole thing is like. I mean, it’s only been two years since I was shot, but oh boy have there been some learning curves and fun stories in that time. From grabbing onto the back of a motorcycle and subsequently spilling myself into the street, or having a friend jump into my lap and dump me over onto a packed dance floor (it’s like, I can’t double wheelchair myself, can I? Might as well have some fun with it!), or putting a hot plate on my lap for a few seconds and not feeling it and burning my thighs raw, there have been stories. Most of them do involve me falling.

But while I could regale you all with tales of my physical follies since entering the world of wheelchairdom, I’ve decided to dedicate this post to you, my dear friends and readers, to offer you a little bit of help. And why not? You guys always help me when I’m out and about, even when I scream “DON’T HELP ME, I CAN DOOO IT!” like Joe from Family Guy or something. And of course since the whole thing happened it’s kind of like well, not being born again, but definitely being introduced to a new way of life. It’s kind of like moving to a new country, or getting a new job, only your legs don’t work in that country or at that job. You get it, right? From getting around by plane and car and chair and boat and tuk-tuk, meeting new people, swimming, cooking, dating, going to a bar, or what to do when I fall out of bed, there have been learning curves. Not just for me I’ve noticed, but also for my friends, my dear mother, and those random strangers on the street that I sometimes bash into or yell at. So let this be a handy guide (see what I did there?) on how to deal with a dude or female dude in a wheelchair. I will provide a disclaimer in that there are a wide range of disabilities and disabled people out there in the world, and like a snowflake, none of us is exactly one and the same. I am a paraplegic, wounded at the T-7 (7th vertebrae at my thorax) level of my spinal cord, which generally means that I have no movement or sensation below that level. There are exceptions however, and I will cover that in the FAQ section below. So, while stuff I write here pertains to me and my experiences first (and remember, I’m still a relative newbie at this), I do hope that it can provide help and insight into others who may be living in similar circumstances.

So. These aren’t rules. I’m not that asshole who’s going to drop rules on people on how to deal with them. “Hey, don’t fucking talk to me in the morning until I’ve had a fucking coffee or I’ll rip your head off.” That’s a rule. It’s actually one that applies to me, but has nothing to do being in a wheelchair. No, I’m just, uh, spreading the knowledge. People ask me questions all the time. I don’t mind answering them, and people who know me know that I’m not shy, even when it comes to adding extra information that one might not want to hear (like that I’m convinced paraplegia has made my penis grow larger) but yeah,

“What happened to you?”

“Oh, I got shot.”

“Whaaaa?”

is starting to get a little old. Not that I don’t love the attention, but shit, it is a long story and I’ve told it so many times now (and yes, I will write about it here some day) that I’m starting to tell people that I just have whatever Richard Pryor had (Multiple Sclerosis) and leave it there instead. So as a service, on top of the ‘not rules, just spreading the knowledge’ section below, I’ve also included a FAQ section below that. Feel free to leave a comment in the comments section too, I’m not very sensitive about my writing but if you do have any suggestions GO TO HELL AND STOP TRYING TO HELP ME.

Enjoy 🙂

Spreading the Knowledge

These ones are nicer than mine

These ones are nicer than mine

Seriously though, that don’t help me thing? It’s pretty true. I remember when I was studying Recreation Leadership back in my Langara College days, and one of the courses dealt with working in the community with people with disabilities, and it totally prepared me for what was to come. No, not really. But thinking back, some of the things I learned before I was in a wheelchair definitely apply now, and I only wish others could have some of the insight I had then. “Rule”no. 1 was always say people with disabilities, not disabled people, to put the emphasis on ‘people.’ I don’t really care what people want call me, as long as you don’t call me late for dinner. Even if I am late. I will kill you. Rule no. 2 was don’t call them retards. Just kidding. But seriously, don’t. No, Rule no. 2 was don’t try to help, unless you are asked to. It’s a pretty good one, and boy was it ever ingrained into my psyche pretty much from day one, when I started to move around on my own in my hospital bed.

You see, when I’m in my wheelchair, or in bed, or lying on the floor and doing one-arms like no tomorrow (knees down, of course) or I’m just home or out and about, it feels pretty damn good when I challenge myself, do shit for myself, or do shit that I thought I maybe couldn’t before. Going up a hill is a workout for me. It let’s me pump my already fantastically sculpted arms. Jumping a curb or a gap in the road is fun, it’s like, ahhh, achievement unlocked. It’s just like a video game (which is also what I imagine what I look like when I’m speeding down hills and trying to dodge people and dogs and pot holes and baby strollers and left right and center). So when I’m pushing myself up a hill, or trying to edge over a curb, or jump down a stair, or even reaching for something I dropped (I tend to drop shit a lot, especially my phone. I should probably stop stuffing it in my crotch. Beer bottles too), when someone comes along and gives me a push without asking, well, two things happen.

The first thing is that I turn green and my muscles rip through my clothes and I fly into a wheelchair bound rage, looking to destroy the thing that ruined my workout by unceremoniously shoving me from behind. Seriously, can you imagine if you were wearing uncomfortable shoes and walking a bit off, or breaking a little bit of a sweat on a jog, or stopping to take a rest on the street, and someone came along and just started pushing you from behind? Without warning? Or what if they asked you if you needed help? I mean, if you were on the ground and seizing or hyper ventilating, it would be alright I suppose, but otherwise, what would you do or say? “Uh, no I’m good bud. Just trying to do me here. Thanks? Do, uh, you need any help?”

I remember the first time I tried to get into the passenger side of a truck. It was in Thailand. I threw my feet in first and then grabbed the handle thingy inside the door to pull my self up, and voila, I was able to get in. But then three dudes, who were super nice and only trying to help, put their hands on me and tried to help shove me in. Well, they must have thought I was kind of a dick after I screamed at them not to fucking touch me and that I was totally fine without them. Ah well.

Another thing that happens is when a friend or a stranger decides to give me a helpful push over a bump or a balcony track or something without asking and I end up flying face forward and eating shit. I mean, granted, it is funny when it happens, especially to me (as said friend panics and screams, I’m on the floor laughing my ass off), but don’t worry, the ground isn’t lava and I won’t die, though now would be the time to help me. The thing is is that when someone is pushing me from behind, they often can’t see the other sharp crack in the street or the protrusion just at my feet, so when they give that little push that I didn’t need, I might end up hitting it and bailing out. Point is, when I do need help, I’ll ask, otherwise you may be putting me in… moorrrre dangerrrr!

But I get it, I’m in a wheelchair and sometimes it looks like I’m struggling and too proud to ask. But actually no, I’m just jogging. I’m biking. I’m checking something out and seeing if I can do it. I’m breaking a little sweat. You wouldn’t push or ask someone on a bike or a board if they needed help, or someone who slows down a bit when they are jogging, would you? If you did, you would definitely get the WTF look, or maybe worse. So that’s why I give the look. It makes me feel that I look like a shit bag and that I desperately need an adult all the time. Then the second thing happens. I feel bad for getting mad at the person. They’re just trying to help. So I’ve started smiling and uttering an earnest ‘but thanks anyways!’ after I’ve already said “what the fuck are you doing, don’t touch me, did I ask for your help, I will murder you where you stand.”

But none of this applies if it’s like, Rhianna or Alison Brie who is offering help. If Rhianna or Alison Brie started pushing me from behind or offered me help, I’d be all theirs.

"Well, just to let you know, I could totally do it myself, but since you’re here, I guess it will save me some time. Thanks Rhianna, you’re the best! Got lunch any plans?"

But hey, let me take a break to thank all of those who do help me when it’s needed. All the friends who have hauled me up and down countless flights of stairs so I could watch the game or be at the party. Or when they rearrange the furniture in their own houses so I can have a clear path. People who have come over to help put me together my furniture, hang a piece of artwork, change a light bulb, or put up the curtains. And shout out to the boys who helped me in and out of the pool last year in Mexico. And yes, the times when that hill is just too big, or I can’t pop up the curb by myself, and I do need a little push. The people who are there for me when I say, “Hey, can you help me pleeeeeease?” Boom. Love.

Back to the griping. Another thing strangers tend to do is tell me the story of their friend who’s in a wheelchair, or that time that they broke their leg and they were in a wheelchair themselves. It’s totally fine to try to relate I guess, but I had a guy outside a bar go “dude, I know how you feel. I was in a wheelchair for like three months. Man, I was so happy when I could walk again!” I was like, “Dude, I’m right here. Stop bragging will ya!” It’s totally cool that you know someone in a wheelchair, and yeah, I’m sure he or she is a nice person, but uhhh, do you watch hockey? How about that Bernie Sanders? I know I look pretty cool in this thing, but can we talk about something else for a hot minute?

One funny thing that happens is when drop something and three people around me jump up to pick it up. I’m like ‘hey guys, you’re awesome, but I think I got this” and deftly reach down with my perfectly working arms to pick up my phone, my quarter, or that dang cellphone.

Ah, and then there’s handicapped washrooms. Hey, I get it. Before I was ever disabled, I used to use them when needed. They are private, spacious, and usually very clean. They are the perfect go-to when you need to take that unfortunate quick (or long) public dump, say, if you are caught at school all day or get an attack of the poops at the mall or the airport. And what are the chances a person in a wheelchair is going to show up when you are in one anyways? But look, if you are in a handicapped washroom and someone knocks on the door, and that someone is me, you better come out faking a stroke victim as best you can, because there is nothing worse for me then having to take a piss and waiting for you outside MY washroom, only to have you come out and see me and look ashamed and offer a ‘sorry,’ while I then go in and have to smell your latest dump. Gross. At least light a match. Note to people who use handicapped washrooms to do a number 2: carry matches or a nice air freshener with you, preferably ocean breeze. That shit lingers, and my face is closer to the bowl than yours.

Okay, I won’t harp on too much longer. One last thing: People often tell me “Man, you have such a good attitude!” or “Dude, you’re an inspiration!” and I’m like, well, yeah I guess, but I don’t always have a good attitude (as you have read here 😉). You haven’t seen me screaming bloody death when I’m at home and I’ve spilled coffee allover the kitchen floor and when I try to clean it up and I drive over it with my wheels and make a bigger mess trying to double back and clean the coffee tire marks that I keep making behind me every time I move. “Fuck you floor! I hate you!” Or when I fall in the bathtub and I’m cursing the gods because everything’s wet and I’m slipping and sliding allover the tub and pull myself out, and then I’m on the floor (Fuck you floor!) trying to drag my legs like the not walking dead and pick my ass up and get back in the chair. “Almost theeeere…woops!” Splat. Fuck. Pretty inspiring stuff. No, but really. I’m just doing me, I’m not really trying to inspire you. I’m not your hero maaan and I never asked to beeee. I mean, it’s nice that I do inspire you, but it feels weird to inspire someone just because I went out one night and happened to be in the way of a bullet. I mean, truth be told, I thought I was a pretty inspiring person before I was in a wheelchair, but nobody said it to me then. Pffft.

But no, really, thanks. I guess I do work pretty hard making this look cool, and it is nice when I get some encouragement. I’m not being a complete asshole here, am I?

So that’s about it. If I think of anything else I will be sure to let you know. Thanks for reading, and now feel free to peruse this:

FAQ’s

Can you feel your legs? Can you move them at all?

Yes and no. I get hot and cold sensations and tingles up and down my legs, from toes to hips. Sometimes you will see my legs moving on their own, this is mostly do to spasticity. You see, even though I don’t do it myself, the muscles in my legs still flex on their own all the time. This is cool, because it keeps them strong and oh so shapely, so that if the day comes that I do start walking again, they won’t be entirely wasted away. Moreover, I’ve recovered some sensation in my hips, my junk, and yes, my, uh, butthole. Sometimes you will see me stretch my legs out in front on me, this is partly due to spasticity, but also partly due to effort on my part. When I do stretch my legs, I can feel it in my hips a little, and it feels good. Sometimes the sensations I get are on delayed reaction. I have a running joke with friends: Often when I graze or sit uncomfortably around my uh, nether region, I won’t feel it until half an hour later. So if you see me doubled over and looking like I’m in pain, chances are that my underwear is too tight or I’ve been sitting on my balls for an hour, only to feel it later. Again, not every paraplegic or quad / tetraplegic is the same, and some have more sensation and movement than I do, and some do not.

How do you use the washroom?

How do you use the washroom? No really, if I am going out to drink a lot of coffee or out with friends drinking beer and etcetera, I wear a condom that attaches to a tube and a little pee bag on my leg. Simple and easy. Otherwise, I use a disposable catheter and pee straight into the toilet or a receptacle. True. Yes it hurts, but I’m pretty tough. The other option is to pee my pants, but that gets awkward in social situations (it’s actually awkward in non-social situations too). Number 2’s? Like I said above, my body tells me things, and I can feel them when they are coming, but I can’t stop them! So if you ever see me abruptly leave the conversation and dart towards the men’s room with a look of sweat panic on my face, it’s probably because I have to deuce.

Do you play wheelchair sports?

I just started to actually. I play floor hockey, which is not as hard to do as it sounds in a wheelchair. Of course there’s basketball, tennis, and a wide variety of adapted sports that I can play, but I grew up playing ball hockey, and it’s just as fun in a wheelchair. I’ll get into other sports later, I’m sure. I swim pretty well (as I found out last summer), and I’m dying to try a kayak out or maybe some sledge hockey. People always ask me if I play Murderball (wheelchair rugby), and truth is I would love to check it out, but it was actually invented with quad / tetraplegics in mind, so they kind of dominate that sport right now. There are a ton of orgs in BC that put together sports and events for people with disabilities, including SCI BC, and BC Wheelchair Sports. I also work out go at an adapted gym and research centre called PARC (Physical Activity Research Centre) in Vancouver.

No, I’m not joining the Paralympics just yet, jeez. Just because I’m in a wheelchair doesn’t mean that I’m going to be the next Chantal Peticlerc.

This one of course comes up on dates:

Can you have sex?

Yes. Hope you like being on top most of the time. 😉

Do you live with your parents? Who takes care of you? How do you shower and get in and out of bed and change your clothes?

I live alone in an apartment in downtown Vancouver. I take care of myself just fine, other than when I need the light bulbs changed. Paraplegics like me and quadriplegics (tetraplegics) are more often very fit, independent, and able to live normal lives. I get into bed or on my couch or a chair or the by using my arms to to grab said piece of furniture and using my awesome and considerable power to swing my butt over and transfer. It’s pretty easy. Sometimes I fall, especially when my legs are kicking. I have a little shower bench in my bathtub that I can jump onto from my chair. I put on my clothes by just putting them on. Pants: one leg at a time! Lie down in bed some time and put on your clothes, but without moving your legs. Come on, you can do it. 🙂

What does it feel like to get shot?

It felt like I got punched really really hard in the sternum. I was in shock. It didn’t really hurt, but it didn’t really tickle either. I imagine it would have been more painful if I took it in the foot or the kneecap, but might have turned out a bit differently.

Thanks for reading. 🙂

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