An honest insight into being over 60 and wheelchair-bound 10



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Nearly a quarter of a century ago, the Gods of Fortune looked down on me, smiled, and said: “You have reached a state where we are going to let you enjoy the experience of a completely new way of life”…and dropped me into a wheelchair!

I didn’t smile right back at them; in fact, I don’t think that I smiled a lot for some time.

I sat around for some time trying to let someone know that I had been fairly happy, even looking forward to a new set of circumstances that I was going through.

“This will be better!”, I sensed someone muttering.

Well, I couldn’t change it so I sat and waited to enjoy the experience.

I had plenty of early support and training for a new life and assurance that if I worked hard that all would be so much easier.

Problem: being naturally conservative with my energy created some divergence from the proposed route. I did make an early observation that prolonged effort created a compromise between a workable bladder/bowel relationship and a rather more unpleasant alternative.

Answer: try and remain functionally capable and desist from being the fittest quad on four wheels.

Eventually I returned home to set about enjoying this new experience.

Since then I have found that most (nearly all) people are willing to help. This can, however, take a bit of monitoring. I recall being helped across a road and along a footpath by a young relative. As we travelled I observed that we were gradually getting too close to the edge of the path and I put pressure on one wheel to straighten up. A little further on and we looked suspiciously likely to take out an approaching pedestrian. A little more judicious pressure and we navigated around that obstacle and, safely past, I turned to offer a bit of advice to my young assistant to see her some 30 metres behind. I had been travelling solo and totally unaware of this small detail.

A little known fact is that wheelies, if polled, would fairly unanimously vote for replacing all carpets and grass (with the exception of bowling greens) with concrete at a minimum and preferably tiles.

This brings us to another area where support can be valuable: a line-up in a carpeted area (club, theatre). Once again, monitoring is imperative as it seems that the natural line for somebody pushing a wheelchair precludes them from being able to see the feet of the resident. This then, quite naturally, leads to burnt hands of said resident; rubber stains on the carpet as locked wheels forge forward; grunting and perspiration as assistant struggles with a very difficult task and pained, and lamed, people in front.

Onwards as we occasionally glimpse enjoyed experience!

People sometimes enjoy talking with us as realisation emerges that people in a wheelchair are sometimes capable of entertaining conversation. This can be a little dampened when the handles at the back are used to lean on during said discourse or, even worse, the wheel is used as a foot-rail for a listeners comfort. I recently became aware, from a friend attending a crowded chook-sale in an electric chair, that someone stood on his footplates “because I can’t see!” 

Although I would certainly not recommend life on wheels as a preferred option I have found it an experience that has afforded me many pleasures.

I have met many beautiful people in and beside wheelchairs.

I have had some wonderful experiences on a bowling green (perhaps a story for another time).

I have had some very emotional relationships with people who trusted me with personal photos for restoration and collages.

Next time you are near a wheelie, have a yarn with him/her. If they are not busy and you have the time it may well be a worthwhile experience.

Tell us, has this honest account changed your perspective or given you more understanding of ‘wheelies’?

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Kevin Bailey

  1. Well said Kevin, my husband was a wheelie when I met him & has been for 40 years, he is fantastic

  2. Iv been in a wheelchair for 5 yrs, and when asleep and dreaming, I still am walking.I wonder if this ever changes?? Im gratefull for the fact that I can get about…somehow.

  3. When talking to a person who is a wheelchair user I like to get down to their physical level so that we are on an equal. So good to communicate face to face with eye contact without that person having to look up all the time. It works both ways too.

  4. My admiration for wheelies knows no bounds! Never having really thought about it before suffering a compound fracture of my ankle, I was forced to acknowledge their skills at manoeuvring when I was placed in one and left on my own in the hospital. There I sat until tentatively placing hands on the wheels and moving forward an inch at a time. Eventually, picking up speed, I careered in a straight line out of the ward and into the corridor wall. There I sat with reddening cheeks until I saw someone approaching and sheepishly asked them to help scrape me off the wall. Steering is a skill only attained by the application of some logic – in which I’m not abundant.
    Thus, after some weeks in hospital, I emerged, still a wheelie but a wheelie with enviable pecs and no bingo wings!

    1 REPLY
    • Wheelchair users just want to be able to get out and about like everyone else. What that needs is everyone else who is in a position to do so, to make home designs and public environments suitable and useable for everyone. Words of praise can be taken as patronising.

  5. My husband John has been a wheelie since earley 1966 almost 50 years he has done lots of things but it is not getting any easer as the years go by

  6. Although I am not in a wheelchair, I can understand their frustrations and alarms. However I do use a gopher. I am amazed at the number of pedestrians who don’t look where they are going. Too busy looking at some device in their hands, listening to music or talking on phone with a faraway look in their eyes. Or they block the aisles with their shopping trolley. Or they step back suddenly unaware that a gopher is behind them, Or they race to pass in front of gopher instead of walking behind. Poorly maintained footpaths, broken up by tree roots, with drops between path and driveway, or no footpath at all. Needing toilet urgently only to find Disabled toilet has been occupied by an able bodied person. Etc.

  7. The “An honest insight into being over 60 and wheelchair-bound” what a terrible heading! Reading the article provides a valuable insight it life as a wheelie but his age is not apparent and why is that term “wheel-chair bound” used? this term should be banished alongside the equally unfortunate term of “bed-ridden”. I don’t see any actual ties provided by the Gods of Fortune. The general advice is to use the similar terminology to that used by your blog writer.

    1 REPLY
    • Totally agree about the language. Look up the late Stella Young’s TED talk to see where non-wheelchair users are going wrong with language. It’s a hoot!

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