Still independent, thanks to the help of strangers

Posted by Michael Collins in Life After Paralysis on February 26, 2018 # Assistive Technology, Caregiving

A benefit of sitting at home by the heat register and looking at the icicles outside is more time to reminisce and consider things I might have overlooked in the past.

Despite having written numerous articles and blogs about the family, friends, caregivers and other medical professionals who have kept me healthy and living independently all of these years, I realize that the many unpaid individuals who have assisted me and were not doing it for compensation are a pretty special bunch of people too. In most cases they gladly stepped in to assist and helped me out of a situation that had no other alternatives at the time.

They weren't always complete strangers but in some cases were neighbors I consider casual acquaintances who stepped up when contacted to assist, if they happened to be available.

For me, three decades of living with paralysis means that there have been plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong. There is never a good time for things to break, drop out of reach or require some other type of outside assistance. If the calendar was compressed and everything that has happened to me occurred in a single month, or even a single year, I might be considered careless. That is a risk I need to take in order to express my thanks to those who stepped in to help assure that those instances did not have a dire ending.

Falls are those things that seem to happen when least expected. For someone in a power wheelchair that usually involves tipping over in some direction. For me, I have had several occasions to test out the kindness of random strangers who helped set me back up, or at least called someone else strong enough to do so. If they weren't paid by me to do that, I consider them to be "strangers."

In no particular order, here are a few of the adventures I have had that are considered to be falls:

  • Trying to maneuver up one of the rolled curbs in Sacramento that passes as a driveway required nearby neighbors to set me back up on two different occasions.
  • One late Friday night working alone in my office I spent well over an hour on my back still strapped to my wheelchair until the janitor, who did not speak English, found me and called 911. The firemen were paid to do what they did, but I am also grateful to them for arriving before he had hung up the telephone.
  • Two store clerks came running to rescue me when they saw me slide off my former van's raised wheelchair lift due to the heavy rain and land on my face on the asphalt.
  • More recently, the two restaurant cooks who a customer called to assist me when my front wheels dropped off a curb in a dark, rainy shopping center parking lot; someone had blocked the access aisle so I could not use that ramp to reach my van.
  • The security guard and passing shopper who assisted me by reattaching the front axle of my first power wheelchair when both front wheels fell off in a shopping mall. I didn't actually fall over at that time, but I couldn't move with only two rear wheels remaining on the chair.

Far more common are the instances that don't find me lying on the ground. Because the release levers for my wheelchair leg supports extend out to the side, it takes only a gentle touch from some inanimate object like a waste basket for the leg support assembly to release and swing out to the side. That often results in the leg support becoming completely unattached and dragging on the ground. That is when a neighbor out to walk their dogs or pick up their mail comes in very handy; most of mine are willing to help out whenever they see me stranded; I even keep a couple of their phone numbers on speed dial, for real emergencies.

Fortunately, I have not run across that emergency situation yet, but with my track record it is bound to happen as long as I live independently. Even so, I would not trade this for any other living situation.

© 2018 Michael Collins

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.