The fine art of dogging it

Posted by Allen Rucker in Life After Paralysis on December 07, 2018 # Health

There is a conundrum built into the life of aging while paralyzed, one of many, for sure, but the one on my mind lately. It has to do with calibrating your daily actions to conform to your age and condition. Every baseball pitcher knows that if he is going to last in the big leagues past age thirty-five, he has to first, pitch fewer innings, and second, change from a fastball pitcher to a curveball/change-up pitcher. Same with getting old in a wheelchair. Time to change your pitching style.

I have a left shoulder that is a constant, often excruciating, source of pain. I injured the rotator cuff a couple of years back from a hard fall, plus I exercise and move around a lot, leading to what one doctor diagnosed as “weightlifter’s shoulder,” or inflammation where the collarbone meets the shoulder (the AC joint). The third factor: garden-variety osteoarthritis in older people, at least this older person, causing pain, stiffness, limited range of motion, and loud cussing when you lift that arm over your head.

I’m in the middle of an ongoing search to mitigate this pain and stiffness -- stretching and more stretching, PT, CBD, posture exercises, and off the shelve analgesics. Nothing works for very long but by far, the greatest remedy is rest. When the shoulder is limber but not under stress, you feel genuine relief.The idea is to only use it when it is necessary to live a workable life.

This is especially true when it comes to transfers. Read any guide to reducing shoulder pain for chair users and you will find the dictum: reduce the number of daily transfers. Every time you leave the house in the family sedan, you’ve committed to at least four transfers. At only one trip a day, plus all the transferring you do around the house, and you could be up to 90-100 transfers or more a week. That’s a lot of weight-bearing pressure – the weight of your whole body -- on your poor shoulders.

Which brings me back to changing your pitching style. You need to slow down and carefully pick the transfers and other movements you want to make, but inevitably, sadly, most other people won’t get it. Especially younger people. They will see any form of slowing down as a sign of the onset of fragility and the long downward slide to uselessness. If you are still working, as I am, your younger, non-disabled workmates will expect you to show up for every breakfast meeting and business conference, no matter how perfunctory. Any sign that you don’t have the same manic pep that they do, the same addiction to constant busyness, is distressing to them. This leads to unconscious age bias. “Poor guy, he can’t do the job.”

How to deal with this problem? You lie. You never announce that you want to cut back on any physical task and for sure never announce that you are tired or just want to take the day off to rest. Unless you are sick with something everyone gets sick from, like the flu, you are never sick. The easiest form of forming of lying is to say you have another activity that conflicts with the activity they have in mind when, in fact, you don’t. Doctor’s appointments are always a good lie but you can’t have too many of them – then you have “health issues.” “My wife has to visit a sick friend and we only have one car” has worked for me more than once. “Family crisis” is surefire.

It’s all about learning the fine art of dogging it, though you are dogging it for a very good reason -- pain-free longevity. If you were truly lazy, which I’m sure you aren’t, you could come up with all kinds of excuses to avoid needless movement. Be clever and convincing. No “the dog ate my wheelchair.”

Just like that veteran pitcher – play the game on your terms and you’ll last a lot longer out there on the mound.

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.