The Humble Sliding Board

Posted by Allen Rucker in Life After Paralysis on August 30, 2021 # Lifestyle

Allen Rucker in front of a pool wearing a blue shirt and hatWhen I became paralyzed many moons ago, I soon realized that appearances mattered. If I let people know how I was often feeling – weak, useless, scared, and depressed – no one would ever visit me twice. They’d run from the encounter going, “Jeez, that’s hard to take. Remind me just to email. He’s like a walking downer, except he can’t walk.”

No one likes a grumpy, woebegotten crip.

But they really like a chair user who is laughing and telling jokes as if being paralyzed is no big deal. This demands the time-honored technique of distraction. You never bring up all the things you have lost – walking, peeing in the woods, and other bodily functions. You talk about hospital food, the home nurse who talks to you like a four-year-old – “You had a bowel movement? Wonderful!” – or all the great TV shows you now have time to binge-watch. Keep it light and cheery, like you just broke your foot skateboarding. Learn to do a wheelie or constantly praise God that you are still alive. Relentless positivity equals positive returns.

You never, as you learn from day one, want to appear weak. Even though you’ve been wasting away in bed for weeks, you present the façade of vim and vigor and a mastery of all the tricks of wheelchair living. If there is a high curb, you just bound over it with aplomb. If you have to go from chair to car or couch to chair, you spring out of the chair and hit the seat like Simone Biles, sticking a ten-point landing. You want no help from anyone or anything. Dignity, or ego, demands you defy the image of frailness or fear.

That’s all well and good until you reach a certain age. It’s like your dad insisting on taking on the black diamond runs at Ski Mountain. You know he’s way past the age for such juvenile hijinks, and you can hopefully talk him out of it. When I boldly tried to vault from my chair to an examining room chair a foot higher, and it took three strong attendees to grab me when I missed my landing and was headed for the floor, I knew I had reached the age of no return, wheelchair-maneuvering-wise.

I needed the device mostly associated with paralytic newbies or enfeebled senior citizens: the humble sliding board, also known as a slide board or slide transfer board.

Everyone reading this has probably had experience with a sliding board. It demands no skill, strength, or aptitude. You just get on it and slide. To me, anyway, it signified fear and ineptitude, like training wheels on a bike. So, I soon ditched it and did arm-lift transfers like everyone else in my condition and years of experience. 80% of the time, they were easy. But, 20% of the time, they took more agility than I had brought to the party.

Reality finally weighed in. At 70+, why would I take any kind of unnecessary risk? What do I have to prove to anyone? The famous geologist/anthropologist, Jared Diamond, has often written on the real dangers of growing old. They are not terrorists or serial killers, or plane crashes. They are the low-risk activities you repeatedly do, like walking upstairs, hopping into the shower, uneven sidewalks, using step ladders. He calls his attitude toward these common hazards “constructive paranoia.” I’ve known about this insight for a while but only recently began to apply it to my own life.

To arrive at the point now where the percentage of falls or spills is zero, I embrace the sliding board. It’s crazy not to. Using it has added minutes if not hours to my life and reduced the threat of a serious injury on top of a serious injury.

I think they call it a sliding board both because of its actual function of sliding and because it represents a gentle slide toward a more circumspect life. Other “aids” and safeguards are not far behind. Anti-tipping wheels. Why fall backward? Get a baby ramp for every 8” high curb? And, as equally paralyzed contemporaries keep pressing me, “When are you finally going to step up to a power chair?”

Again, ego probably plays a part here, but I like the exercise and independence of a manual chair. I’m sure there is an endless discussion in the Reeve world on this subject. I am keeping my eyes on new developments in power chair technology, but it’s a way down the road for me. But maybe not a long way.

Allen Rucker was born in Wichita Falls, Texas, raised in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and has an MA in Communication from Stanford University, an MA in American Culture from the University of Michigan, and a BA in English from Washington University, St. Louis.

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.