If you are in a wheelchair, it has most likely happened to you. What am I talking about exactly? Only the most embarrassing and somewhat terrifying experience to happen to us wheelchair dwellers; The Dreaded wheelchair fall. I thoroughly congratulate you if you have managed to escape this predicted fate that befalls (pun intended) most of us wheelchair users. Call it what you want; a fall, a tumble, a nosedive, a plummet, or a plunge; it is an unavoidable occurrence that happens to those of us who reside in those rolling contraptions they call wheelchairs.
Now, there are those that have fallen out of their wheelchair and then there is me; the self proclaimed fall-aficionado. I am a fall expert and have taken the plunge so many times that I have probably earned my stunt double license and could be working on Hollywood movie sets.
I could write a full novel on the multitude of ways a human being can fall. I have fallen on hard surfaces and soft ones, in private and in public, at night and during the day. I have toppled forward, sideways and backwards. If there was a way to fall upwards, I would have been the first human being to conquer that incredible feat. Yes, I have even managed to collapse to the cold, wet tile floor while buck-naked and soapy in the shower of my college dorm. Luckily, I was able to hoist myself back into my shower chair with the help of my roommate and friend and avoid the humiliation of an attractive young firefighter seeing my naked behind.
Over my many years of tumbling, I have pondered two possible theories as to why I suffer from a severe affliction to falling. Either I have been blessed with an extreme case of clumsiness or I have an abounding adventurous spirit in which I have no conception of fear. I like to think the real reason is the latter, but I must shamefully admit that I have always been a little bit of a klutz.
I lost my “fall” virginity three months to the day after suffering my spinal cord injury. Although I had just suffered this devastating injury, I was still the same 12 year old girl with an outgoing personality and a fearless attitude. I was a warrior in physical therapy wanting to do anything and everything to better my condition. I would push myself to the limit, sometimes to the disagreement of Jen, my physical therapist. Jen would often compare me to the Energizer Bunny; I would go go go until I collapsed from utter exhaustion. This would become both an advantage and detriment to my physical therapy process. Although, 14 years later I can say it proved to be more of a pro than a con.
The week of my fall I had accomplished quite a lot and became incredibly cocky with my increased strength. I achieved the all too important milestone of being able to transfer myself from bed to chair. Anyone who is paralyzed knows this is a vital step in acquiring complete independence. Let’s just say I thought I was the best thing since sliced bread after accomplishing this important feat. Never settling and feeling completely satisfied with my achievements, I always challenge myself to better my previous accomplishment. If you looked up perfectionist in the dictionary, you would see my picture. I couldn’t just settle for only one victory that day, I HAD to do better! Can you just envision my stubbornness and competitive spirit rearing its ugly head? I decided I wanted to increase the height from which I transferred; going from a lower mat to a higher chair. Although my physical therapist strongly tried to dissuade me from this lofty endeavor, my intense tenacity tuned out her plea.
No one could convince me that this feat was a little too premature for my strength level. Isn’t it a karmic rule that something is bound to happen when one becomes too proud and full of themselves? Well, Karma came back and bit me right in the pants. Yes folks, while feeling all confident in my new superb transfer skills, my fatigued arm slipped on the mat and I plummeted to the linoleum floor. It was as if I had belly flopped into a pool, only instead of making a splash into refreshing water, I made a huge SPLAT on the cold, hard, marble floor. I landed on my stomach and resembled a squished daddy long leg spider, with my limbs facing every direction. To further my embarrassment the therapy gym was especially crowded on this particular afternoon and as the shock of what just happened to me began to wear off, I lifted my head to see the entire gym staring at my sprawled, limp body. With my booty in the air, my fellow gym goers got a pretty good view of my little mermaid underwear peeking out the top my sweatpants. Remind me again why I had to wear those underwear on that particular day? What a blow to my over confident 12-year-old ego. My therapist helped me back into my chair and I wheeled back to my room with a pathetic “woe is me” expression that couldn’t be ignored. Anyone who passed me in the hallway probably thought to themselves, “There goes a Debbie Downer,” or “What a Negative Nancy she is”.
After feeling defeated and sulking over my mistake for awhile, I began to see the bright side of this embarrassing incident. This was not the end of the world; in fact this first fall signified a pivotal moment in both my physical and emotional recovery. Yes I had fallen, but I was OK. I suddenly realized that I was not as fragile as I thought I was; this injury may have massively altered my life, but it had not broken me. In suffering this routine fall, I learned to not take things so seriously and to not be afraid of taking risks. Most importantly, I learned that you’re not a failure if you fall, you’re only a failure if you choose not to get back up. With each fall over the past 14 years, I have always chosen to get back up. This fall allowed me to become even more adventurous in trying new things. I have gone scuba diving in the ocean, zip lining through the mountains and kayaking over rapids. With each new experience I have become more confident and have learned that in order to live life to the fullest, you have to be open to participating in each new experience that comes your way, even if it scares you.
So don’t feel like a loser or a failure for falling many times in life, consider yourself a winner and a fighter for always getting back up. Don’t be afraid of trying new things, you can NEVER fail if you give it your all.
So, fellow wheelchair users, I want to hear your fall stories. Tell me about your most embarrassing fall, your most terrifying fall, your most humorous fall. Its amazing how one routine fall can provide so much perspective on life and can teach us so much.