Driving isn’t for everyone but I always knew it was for me. Growing up I was just aching for the age when I could finally get my license (so were most people that I knew). I was 16 and it was exciting and liberating; it was freedom! Eventually, this huge milestone that I’d waited years for came and went. The excitement diminished and the independence became ordinary.
When I became a mom, driving took on an entirely new meaning…I had to get my kids to appointments, lessons and to school. Most importantly, I had to get them to GG’s or Grammy’s house when Mama had hit her limit. But in all seriousness, driving was something I totally took for granted, as if it was as innate as my ability to walk.
After my injury, one of the million things that went through my head was driving. I had three children who would still need to get places: school, piano, basketball, dance, birthday parties, play dates (you get the point). The thought of not doing this, especially because this was the ‘mommy life’ I had imagined, was incredibly painful. What I didn’t know initially was that there was a possibility of driving without the use of your legs. I had no idea things like hand controls and adapted vehicles existed. Really, I was still trying to understand what ‘adapted’ actually meant. I have since figured it out…I’m smart like that.
When I was told that driving would be something I could do, I was incredibly grateful (albeit skeptical and nervous). It was definitely a process and there has been a lot to learn. One of the things that I’ve had to figure out is how to get my chair in and out of the car. I was really nervous about it at first and wouldn’t go out alone. But eventually that had to change so I made an attempt to go out by myself. At this point I had a lift in my car that put my chair in and out after I transferred to the driver’s seat. This first attempt at real independence resulted in my chair wheeling away as soon as it hit the ground. It literally hit the ground rolling (I’m sorry for the bad joke but my mom will love it). There was no catching it.
I sat in the front seat of my car on the verge of tears and my jaw wide open while I watched my wheelchair, my legs, take off down a hill in a parking lot. As soon as it bounced off of a shed and started to spin around and around at the bottom of the lot, I was laughing. It was too ridiculous not too laugh. I snapped a photo and sent it out to a few friends. My husband responded instantly, hoping that I would see the humour in the situation as I had with so many things on the journey up to that point. I’m sure he was also hoping that I wasn’t going to be mad at him for the encouragement he gave me to go on my solo endeavor. Thankfully I was heading to an appointment and they were happy to come help me retrieve my chair. If nothing else it was a good story and a really great lesson in ‘why we apply the brakes EVERY time the chair goes on the lift’.
I decided the lift wasn’t working out for me and had it taken out. The seat behind the driver’s seat has been removed and my wheelchair sits there now. I’m still getting confident with my new system but it’s mostly worked out. Until Saturday…Saturday it didn’t work so well.
I was going out to a girl’s night that I was already a bit nervous to attend. I only really knew a few of the ladies and tend to think I’m much more fun on paper than in person. Also I knew the parking at the pub totally sucked. So for multiple reasons I was happy when my friend agreed for me to pick her up; she could help me navigate parking and it meant I wouldn’t get there alone…until she got a headache and cancelled on me five minutes before I was leaving. I’ve chosen to believe the headache was real because women are too smart to try a fake headache story on another woman – only men fall for that one…every single time.
So I was all set to leave my house after finally finding something to wear that passed the ‘it looks okay sitting down’ test (as if I have any other option) and she bailed. I decided I would still go. Don’t be impressed because I called my other friend first to make sure she was still going too. But I went. When I was about half way there, it started to rain. The only thing more annoying than being in a wheelchair is being in a wheelchair in the rain. I called my husband to complain that it was pouring some sort of horrific wet/icy mixture from the sky. I have the dramatic thing down pretty well at this point but he’s clearly immune as he told me to ‘suck it up buttercup’. Thanks babe.
As I got to the pub it was dark and wet. The one (yes I said one) parking spot for disability was taken and so was every other spot I could see. I was about to finally just give up and go home when one spot right by the door opened up. I figured that was a good sign. I parked and then took a deep breath while I watched the rain accumulate on my windshield because I knew at that moment that there was literally no reason for doing my hair that evening. Then I started to get out of my car. I opened my door, I opened up the sliding door and I put my transfer board down and slid over. As I pulled my chair out of the car it completely flipped over onto the wet road (like the photo below).
Just picture that for a moment. Pouring rain…dark night…girl sitting outside her car looking somewhat like a drowned rat with a wheelchair flipped over in front of her. Would you stop your car? Someone almost did and I just kept looking down and avoided eye contact. I could figure this out.
I did manage to reach down and flip my chair back up without falling. Just as I almost had it right side up, my seat cushion un-Velcroed and fell into a puddle. I couldn’t quite believe that this was actually happening but I threw my cushion back on and got on my wheelchair…I was soaked to the bone everywhere else, so I decided I might as well sit on a rain-saturated cushion all night. It’s not like I really noticed anyway.
While the entire ordeal was a bit scarring, it did break the ice for me at dinner and gave me a fabulous story to guilt my girlfriend with if, in fact, she was really faking her headache. And I got to meet some great women so I’m really glad I stuck it out. When I left I did ask someone to come out with me just to make sure I got my chair in the car without incident because, by that time, it had snowed and the only thing more annoying than being in a wheelchair in the rain, is being in a wheelchair in the snow. However flipping my chair in either scenario sounds like something I’ll try to avoid in the future.