Monday, January 5, 2015

The Wheelchair

On September 24, 2014, our youngest son was admitted to Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City with inflammation along his spinal cord. He spent eight weeks in the hospital, undergoing IV steroid treatment, plasmapheresis, and in-patient occupational and physical therapy. One of 102 kids in the United States diagnosed with Acute Flaccid Myelitis, he continues to receive intensive daily therapy to help him regain his strength and, hopefully, get back to where he was before his illness. Our fingers are crossed that this plan will work. For more on Billy's story, please feel free to visit his page.

The wheelchair sat just outside the hospital room, in the adjacent vestibule that visitors passed through on their way in to Room 9. Its bulky figure greeted passers-by with an outstretched handle or misplaced footrest. Impossible to ignore, the chair kept its watch over Billy day and night, reminding him of his weakness and the resulting loss of mobility caused by his recent mystery illness. 

The chair reiterated Billy’s dependence on contraptions and machines to help him perform his day-to-day activities.

We hated it.

In the beginning, Billy utilized one of the hospital’s full reclining wheelchairs. This contraption, which reminded me of a nineteenth century apparatus for the infirm, offered full support of his neck and head, since he was too weak to support them on his own. We placed moldable gel pillows under his arms to keep them from getting caught between his torso and the wheelchair’s armrests. Levers located on the chair’s handles allowed us to lower Billy’s upper body into a fully reclined position in order to keep him from getting pressure sores along his back and bottom. Too large to keep in the hospital room, we parked the chair just outside the inner doorway between the room’s linen closet and visitors’ sink. Every time we kicked an outstretched leg rest or hit a hip on a protruding handle words like BLOODY HELL,TALLY HO OLD FELLA, & SHIT escaped from our lips, demonstrating our exasperation.

Billy told us to give it the finger.

We walked into Room 9, paused to raise our middle finger at the waiting chair on our left, then continued into the hospital room. A nurse knocked on the door, entered the room, and Billy sent him or her back out into the vestibule to flip off the chair. While the physical therapists refrained from condemning the device that allowed Billy to leave his hospital bed for limited periods of time, the psychologist waved her one finger salute toward the chair with gusto. 

Our ritual continued when Billy graduated from the fully supportive, recliner-with-wheels to the less bulky, more traditional wheelchair. Although Billy’s neck had strengthened enough to support his head, he still needed assistance transferring from bed to chair and back. He still was unable to stand up without full support from a trained therapist.

And we continued to hate the wheelchair.

The wheelchair allowed us to take Billy on day outings away from the hospital. It also drew stares of curiosity and pity (mostly pity) from bystanders at the mall. Too weak to propel himself with his arms, Billy depended on one of us to push him from place to place. One Sunday a friend from home visited and accompanied us to the mall for an hour’s respite from Room 9. When the friend returned home with his parents, Billy shed a few tears over his inability to cavort with his peers in the manner he was formerly accustomed to.

We hated the illness.

Over time, Billy grew strong enough to leave the hospital. The day before his discharge he walked using a walker for the first time. His therapist told him he would, indeed, eventually get to return the wheelchair.

All of us breathed a collective sigh of relief.

The wheelchair accompanied us out of the hospital with its new friend, the walker.

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