For 18 years I tried –
unsuccessfully – to get Frank to the dentist for a
cleaning. He felt that cleaning his teeth was a
paltry undertaking when you considered the
significance of his bigger problem, being paralyzed
from the chest down.
Only after suffering for
several days with a tooth ache did he finally allow
me to make an appointment, but under one condition.
The dentist would have to treat him in his
wheelchair without being transferred to the exam
chair. The Yellow Book saved the day and led us to
Dr. Bob who was ready and willing to accommodate the
special needs of my somewhat stubborn husband.
The big day arrived and we
packed up for our trip to the dentist. I say packed
up because any excursion with Frank is a major
undertaking; but that’s another story. It was a
beautiful sunny day in the middle of June and our
spirits were high. The office was easy to locate,
but parking very limited. The only public parking
had an underground entrance with a clearance too low
for our van.
We decided to take a chance and
parked in a lot across the street, despite signs
warning that violators would be towed. Once parked
and unloaded, we walked two blocks to the office,
thankful for the lovely weather.
The building was completely
accessible and, as Dr. Bob promised, Frank did not
have to leave his wheelchair. The culprit tooth was
painlessly removed after several shots of novocaine.
We made a follow up appointment and prepared to
leave. Little did we know the fun was about to
Frank uses an electric
wheelchair with a sip-n-puff control system. He sips
or puffs into an air tube straw that essentially
“drives” the chair; hard sip to go in reverse, hard
puff to go forward, soft sip to go left, soft puff
to go right. (You can imagine the result with a bout
of hiccups!)Well, the novocaine had done its job.
His mouth – so numb you could painlessly pull a
tooth – was also too numb to feel the air tube straw
that controls the chair.
Not a problem. I could drive
for him. I flipped on the attendant control and
carefully navigated him through the exam room, down
the hallway, and out the front door.
Once outside, I noticed a
glitch. The chair was not responding properly. I had
to push and steer with both hands on the handlebars.
At the same time, I had to keep pressure on the
attendant toggle switch located eight inches away.
In theory this would work fine, if I had been born
with fingers like ET.
Frank and his 250 pound wheelchair with all my
strength as we crossed the intersection and started
up the incline of the sidewalk. The beautiful sunny
day had turned hot and humid, 92 degrees without a
trace of shade between us and our van.
I was giving myself a private
pep talk when suddenly I felt the distinctive
sensation of an ill-timed hot flash.
Any woman who’s been there
knows exactly what I’m talking about. (You guys, and
more fortunate ladies, imagine wearing a down
jacket, mittens and polar boots – in the Sahara.) I
pictured myself passing out from heat stroke, my
pinky finger caught on the attendant control with
Frank dragging me slowly up the sidewalk.
In my exhaustion, I stopped
pushing. “I have to stop and rest,” I told Frank. My
husband – the eternal optimist – had what he thought
was a brilliant idea. His mouth was too numb to
puff, but he might be able to sip, which would move
the chair in reverse. I agreed without hesitation,
swinging the chair around so fast the Lindy Hoppers
would have been proud.
My husband, the mechanical
wizard, was correct again and with a simple sip, the
chair began moving slowly in reverse. I was able to
steer from behind with little effort and Frank was
delighted that he could help.
We continued moving backwards
slowly up the sidewalk as I turned my head from left
to right looking behind me for obstacles in our
path. Keep in mind we were on a fairly busy downtown
street after 4:00 pm with traffic picking up as
people headed home.
I noticed a few cars slowing,
the occupants looking in our direction as they
passed. I heard a beep-beep from one car. Someone
waved from another.
Only when two very sweet ladies
actually stopped and asked if we needed help, did I
realize how utterly ridiculous we must have looked.
Of course I declined their assistance, assuring them
that we were fine and had everything under control.
(The truth: I was ready to jump in Frank’s lap and
drive the chair myself.)
I thought things could get no
more absurd, but they did. Without warning, every
puffy white cloud in the sky turned gloomy gray and
buckets of rain came pouring down. Within seconds,
we were drenched. I must admit the rain was
refreshing, so I whispered a half-hearted prayer of
thanks to God for helping me out with that hot
flash. Still, I couldn’t help wondering how the rain
would affect the electric units on Frank’s
“Can you go any faster?” I
Frank nodded his head and with
another sip we were in second gear. I had to pick up
the pace while moving in reverse – a little hop,
then a skip.
My fancy footwork reminded me
of the Clark’s Teaberry gum commercial. Flashback to
1968: Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass are playing
that cute jingle. Could I remember the steps to “The
Teaberry Shuffle”? I bet that would stop some
traffic. Fortunately, my grown-up brain kicked in:
“Micki, you’re 50 years old, not 10!” I resisted the
nostalgic impulse and tried to act like a big girl.
As we neared the parking lot, I
spotted our van. Hooray, it hadn’t been towed. Then,
just as suddenly as it started, the rain stopped and
the shining sun returned to a clear blue sky. The
sensation had returned to Frank’s mouth enough for
him to puff his way forward and steer for himself.
Our adventure had come to a pleasant end.
We continued to our van with a
sigh of relief, a prayer of thanks and a little
I am a mother, homemaker, and
full-time caregiver to my husband who sustained a
spinal cord injury in 1990 and was paralyzed from
the chest down. We share a 40-acre farm in northwest
Missouri with two horses, three dogs, seven cats and
my parents who live next door. Living with
disability has forced us to deal with depression,
overcome obstacles, accept the circumstances, learn
to laugh, be grateful for our blessings, and
anticipate the future. I would like to give a
message of hope to others in my writing.
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