Conquering dullness

Posted by Allen Rucker in Life After Paralysis on March 21, 2019 # Health, Mobility

Here is what happens to many of us as we pass through our 60’s and 70’s in a wheelchair -- we slow down. Much of this decreased output -- the two naps a day, the weekly roll to the corner and back -- is a good thing. When you become a little rickety or forgetful or increasingly distracted, as old people tend to do, slowing down is an essential step in avoiding falling, slipping, ankle-breaking cracks and holes in the sidewalk, or sailing over an unseen curb. Trust me, take a bad spill in your Silver Years and tear up your shoulder or knee and you’ll be plagued by pain and weakness for years to come. If you also have stage 4 arthritis in both shoulders, like some of us, you begin to count the number of wheelchair transfers in a day. You’ll soon insist on taking all meetings and family reunions by phone and begging off trips to Costco, though you love the free samples. Bed to chair. Chair to bed. That’s the last stage.

The problem is that this plays into the worst tendencies that an old crip already has. You turn inward and sedentary. No reason to go out to a movie – there’s Netflix. No reason to dine out -- there’s Grubhub. Take a long trip? Way too much hassle with aisle chairs and multiple stopovers. Sit and do crossword puzzles? There you go. It’s mildly diverting and no one gets hurt or hassled.

Follow this course of non-action and soon you will stare into a mirror and see a dullard staring back. People will whisper behind your back, “What happened to him?” “Sudden-onset dullness.” Your ambulatory friends in the same age group are flying off to Vietnam or Cuba or must-go-to places like Iceland, or dabbling in narrative poetry, or making a late-in-life run for the library board. You’ll become so mired in tedium that when they get back from abroad, you won’t even ask how they liked it. “Vietnam…cool…hey, let’s order some onion rings from Uber Eats.”

You are on the slow train to the nursing home, brother, passing well-known outposts like “Profound Skittishness,” “Entropy,” and a daily half-hour layover in “Jeopardy.” You can stop this somnambulistic decline, but you need to start now and really put yourself out there. Here are a few jumping off points:

  • Join the neighborhood watch group. It will give you the excuse to tool around all day in your chair day and cajole your neighbors into installing giant klieg lights to ward off intruders.Soon the whole area will look like Yankee Stadium at night and you’ll be made block captain!
  • Give a power point lecture at your local library branch on the Do’s and Don’t’s of Wheelchair Etiquette for Non-Users. Do: offer to retrieve higher placed items at CVS. Don’t: sneak up and shove a chair user across a busy street because you think he’s going too slow. Do: treat chair users as human beings. Don’t: pat them on the head and tell them they’re “just awesome.”
  • Make a wheelchair-buddy documentary. The form is very popular these days -- see “The Upside.” You and your ambulatory friend go to Vegas and risk all the equity in your home to get super-rich. If you win, you buy Mar-a-Lago. If you lose, you get to know the homeless people in your area. Either outcome is more interesting than your life now!

The point is, you have to take a risk, any risk, to get the juices flowing. Please, if you’re sitting around in a wheelchair, vegetating all day because you are old and people let you get away with it, give yourself a wake-up slap in the face and go outside in your pajamas and shout, “Who wants to go to Vegas!” Don’t let dullness win the day.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.