Seven-month sentence

Spend time in a wheelchair, get an attitude adjustment

Wheelchairs are not for sissies.

Wheelchairs are not for sissies.

James Cameron is a freelance writer, abstract painter, business consultant and Midtown resident

It began with a sore heel, was identified as a ruptured Achilles tendon and culminated in a three-hour surgical procedure. I was then sentenced to seven months in a wheelchair, an enforced servitude that became prime time for reflection and adjustment of perspective.

Before this, I’d never had a serious injury in my life. Suddenly, little things became major obstacles that could only be overcome with bristling indignation or outbursts of profanity. “Oh shit” suddenly became an important phrase in my vocabulary. To paraphrase Betty Davis, life in a wheelchair is not for sissies.

Life’s lessons were continually served up.

The old adage “Patience is a virtue” was put to the test again and again. Everything seemed difficult. Pulling my trousers on over my bad leg while balancing on the good one was an adventure, at its best humorous, at its worst a depressing, gloomy affair. Showering with a leg wrapped in a plastic garbage bag in a bathroom rigged like a poor man’s workout room was an epic encounter with a system seemingly designed to induce loss of dignity and one’s concept of self.

Coping within the safety of the home was one thing; on the street, it was something else entirely. I began rating restaurants on the ease of entering, exiting and using their bathrooms. In one Midtown building, a patron, openly angry that he had to wait while I clumsily moved my wheelchair out of a stall, looked at me in disgust and muttered obscenities. A largish man, clearly contemptuous, waited until the last possible moment before allowing me to squeeze by a party walking four abreast and blocking the sidewalk.

But for all of the unpleasantries, there were hundreds of kindnesses.

Both men and women opened doors, stepped back to give me the right of way, asked me about the injury, offered condolences and, in general, displayed an abundance of humanity. People left their restaurant tables and walked 30 or 40 feet to open a door I was struggling with. A man with a prosthesis for a leg left his seat to help me with access to a heavy waiting-room door.

Waiters, seeing I was heading to the men’s room, hustled ahead of me to open the door, turned on water faucets and handed me paper towels. And I discovered that a kind of club exists among those who are less fortunate; others in wheelchairs invariably waved, gave me a thumbs up, proffered a pleasantry or offered to race—entreaties I wisely declined.

Three essential truths emerged from my seven months in “the chair.” The courage displayed by people who cope daily with permanent disabilities is astounding and offers a lesson for all of us. There is an innate decency in most members of the human race. And life, whatever its shortcomings, is a beautiful experience. Oh yeah!