I’ve noticed a lot of discussion within Facebook groups recently, around the topic of walking versus the use of a wheelchair. Many disabled people gradually lose the ability to walk over a period of time. Often it occurs in stages: from independent mobility to the need for walking sticks, then a frame and finally a wheelchair.
I appreciate that for the individuals affected, it is an incredibly difficult decision to make. Do I continue to walk for as long as possible, despite the struggle and restraints? Or, do I resign myself to the confines of a wheelchair?
Confinement or Freedom
I have noticed, from comments on social media, that this is how some view wheelchairs: objects of confinement and restriction. On the contrary, I see my wheelchair as an essential mobility aid, removing the limitations I faced when walking for only short durations. The powered chair I now use offers me freedom and independence.
Obviously, your condition and individual circumstances determine whether or not you have the option to continue walking. Personally, I never had a choice. I have Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy and lost the ability to walk quite abruptly at the age of 10. Not that I could walk very well or very far up to that point.
Nevertheless, the choice was taken from me. I had reached a stage where I literally couldn’t support my own weight. Grit and determination played no part. And so, I went from walking minimal distances whilst wearing leg splints, to using a manual wheelchair that I couldn’t self-propel due to a lack of strength and joint contractures. Sticks and frames were never of any use to me.
Roll with the punches
It was a difficult transition, of course. But not totally unexpected. As a child, I was offered little assurance of how my condition would progress. Doctors simply didn’t know. They couldn’t tell me if I would maintain my ability to walk or not. It was a case of, wait and see; roll with the punches. So that’s what I did.
To be honest, I was to a large extent relieved to be using a wheelchair, despite the fact I was dependant on others to manoeuvre me around. Even just a few small steps was a huge feat and physically laborious. That in itself was disabling me.
Committing to a wheelchair full time meant that I was free to roam with my peers. Kids at school used to squabble over whose turn it was to push me around. I was no longer exhausted, battling to stay on my feet or falling over and injuring myself. Being non-ambulant, I no longer had to wear those unsightly leg splints which pleased me no end!
I had recently started middle school and, within a matter of a few weeks, I found myself completely unable to weight-bear. However, less than twelve months later, I was fortunate enough to benefit from my first powered wheelchair. I can’t emphasise enough how much of a difference this made to my life. I could zip around at break times with friends, I could take myself wherever I wanted to go without the need for assistance, and I could venture into the local countryside. I was no longer confined!
It’s been eighteen years since I took my last footstep. And, I can honestly say I don’t miss walking. Naturally, I wish I could stand, walk and run ‘normally’. But I would never trade my wheelchair for my old leg splints, the bumps and bruises from falling so often, and the constant exertion to achieve a few small steps.
Have you had a similar experience?
How did you cope with making the decision?
Please share your story in the comments below!