Stares and stairs

Posted by Amber Collie in Life After Paralysis on November 25, 2019 # Mobility, Caregiving, Relationships, Lifestyle

Being stared at in public was something I was not used too. After my son Zack became a quadriplegic and was all of a sudden in a wheelchair, we found out what being stared at really feels like. I can remember those first trips out and the awkward reactions we would experience. You'd get the overly eager to help (which I know they meant well) running to open the door or standing in the doorway waiting for him like a doorman. I would notice people staring at Zack then they would look away real fast when they saw me looking at them. Then we'd have the bolder people come up and ask “what happened" or “what's wrong with him?" I had lots of people talk to me instead of asking Zack the question, making no eye contact or talking extra loud (after I say you can ask him directly). We would encounter nervous people, awkward, pity looks, etc.. In the beginning I always felt like I needed to explain his injury, how he's not supposed to be in a wheelchair! He was an able-bodied teenager just a little bit ago. How he was a super active kid and was not born this way, that this terrible accident happened. I was processing the change of life, and it showed I overly talked to everyone, telling Zack's story I came into contact with interested or not. I must have looked crazy.

As time went on, Zack and I would laugh about people's reactions, especially when we were in a large crowd like a music concert, and it would feel like the “waters parted." People would see Zack rolling through and sometimes quite literally jump out of the way! A few times, we had one person would notice Zack and start to follow me, moving through the crowd telling random strangers to get out of his way. These people were fun, cool and made us smile. I know some paralyzed people that don't like attention drawn to them or help offered and want to do for themselves, but Zack doesn't seem to mind. We are usually grateful for the help and view it as it allows them to feel good about themselves like they did a good deed for the day.

Then there are the flat out jerks. Maybe they're having a bad day, but those people we try our hardest not to let them get the better of us, or I should say me. Zack has this amazing ability just to let things roll off him, I take things much more personally than he does. Like the time people were sitting in the handicap seating area at the movie theater. They see Zack wheel in, and they look the other way. We say this area is for wheelchairs, and they look at us with such annoyance, get up as slowly as possible, grumbling the whole time. Or people sitting in wheelchair seating at a hockey game and flat out wouldn't move, so had to go get security. All part of life in paralyzed world. You'll come into contact with all kinds of personalities.

Zack and JamieThen you meet those amazing people who go the extra mile! We had a guy about 10 years older than Zack reach out to him, while in the hospital after reading his story. Jamie had injured his back and neck in two separate accidents. Both with no spinal cord damage. He had long recoveries but was spared from paralysis. He felt grateful and wanted to help Zack out in any way he could. Zack and Jamie became fast friends. They would hang out, go to dinner, movies, concerts, and other places together. He even threw a successful fundraiser for Zack. At one point, Jamie had to move and ended up in an upstairs apartment. Zack could no longer just roll in and visit with Jamie. I was very disappointed because getting out of the house was very important and needed for Zack's mental health. Jamie thought so too and told Zack to come to his new place, I said, but you live upstairs. He says, so we'll lift him! In hindsight, definitely not the safest idea, but at that time in Zack's life it was just what he needed. So here was this good friend and his mom lifting Zack up an entire flight of stairs! We would leave his wheelchair at the bottom and literally lift him (body only) get him in the door and onto the couch, where he'd stay and then back down he would go. Since then, Jamie has moved back to a downstairs house, making it much safer, but I will always remember his willingness to find a way for Zack to come over still and hangout. What a true friend.

Stares and stairs lots of different encounters, stories, and emotions with SCI, I'm trying to be more like Zack and stay focused on the good ones.

About guest writer Amber Collie
My life has had many parts, I could write a book just on that section but let's fast forward to when I married Adron Collie. Two weeks after turning 20 (yes, very young!) I had Zackery at age 22, Levi at 24, six years later Kaden, and 18 months after that daughter Laila, making me a busy mother of four. At that time, I also ran a photography business. The year Zack was injured I had a child in Preschool, Elementary, Jr. High and High School. Four kids in four schools! I thought I was so busy, just getting their drop off and pick up times correct was a challenge. I have to laugh now thinking back on that because little did I know my life was just about to turn upside down.