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How I made the transition from an active lifestyle to wheelchair

By Ernie Williamson / Special to The Bulletin

Seven years ago I was working full time, playing tennis almost daily and planning an active retirement.

I had all the bases covered, or so I thought. I didn’t smoke, didn’t drink, ate healthy, watched my weight and even suffered through annual physicals, including that dreaded prostate exam.

Today, thanks to a rare neurological disorder I had never heard of, I am a paraplegic.

I no longer work, don’t play tennis and my active retirement consists mostly of rolling around in a wheelchair.

Don’t worry. I am not writing this to gain sympathy or start a GoFundMe page. My goal is to introduce myself and to alert fellow Brazoria County residents that this newspaper has given me the opportunity to write a column that gives a voice to the disabled, their families and their caregivers.

I am not a doctor, therapist or psychiatrist. You won’t be getting medical or therapy advice from me.

I am simply a victim of transverse myelitis who has been on a 7-year journey through a world filled with neurologists, insurance companies, wheelchair companies, adaptive vehicle dealers, physical therapists, 4-hour MRIs, deductibles and pharmacies. I have been there and done that.

Most disabled persons have more than enough doctors. What we often don’t have is a place to share our frustrations, discuss our daily challenges, compare notes or just plain vent.

It is my hope this column will provide that place.

As mentioned I am no expert, but like many of you I have learned through trial and error to cope with my disability.

I have learned to dress myself, but I know it took many shoes being thrown across the room in frustration before I mastered the process.

I have learned to bathe myself, although at one point it was such a difficult and time-consuming task that I resorted to simply using a garden hose in the backyard. That ended come that first winter.

I have learned to perform wheelies in my chair in order to overcome bumps in the road, but I have also learned I can’t visit some friends because their homes don’t accommodate my chair.

I have learned to drive using hand controls, but I have also learned that being able to drive doesn’t mean you will find a vacant handicap parking space awaiting you at your destination.

Most of all, I have learned there is always someone worse off than you.

It is my hope to become more of a moderator than a columnist. I will write about my life in a wheelchair, but only to provoke discussion, inspire action or offer encouragement through examples. I want to include your stories about the challenges you have overcome and the obstacles still in front of you.

We all might not defeat our disability, but hopefully, together we can at least fight it to a draw.

Let me hear from you.

(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at williamsonernie@gmail.com)