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Published July 2, 2019

THE VIEW FROM MY SEAT

Wheelchair conquered – with help from my best friend

By Ernie Williamson / The Bulletin

II spent four days home alone.

That may not sound like a big deal to you, but it was the longest I have been alone since transverse myelitis left me a paraplegic seven years ago.

My wife’s well-deserved trip to visit a friend in California gave me a chance to reflect on how much more independent I am now than after the spinal cord injury first struck. For that, I can thank my doctors and therapists. But most of all, I thank my wife, Kelly.

Although Kelly’s hopes and dreams were shattered along with mine, she has stood beside me. I could write a book about the challenges she has helped me overcome and the sacrifices she has made … but I only have a column.

Our nightmare began with us living in a two-story house in Clear Lake. You couldn’t find a worse house in which to be disabled. But who buys a house thinking they are going to be stricken with an out-of-nowhere disease?

The house had no bedrooms downstairs. With Kelly’s help, I would get my 6’5” frame up and down stairs by sliding on my backside. After a while, it just became easier to rent a hospital bed and stay in a room downstairs.

The house had no wheelchair-accessible bathroom downstairs. Kelly set up a portable commode in the sun room. That was not fun for either of us. For a shower, Kelly would wheel me into the backyard and turn on the hose. She also had to put up with my anger and frustration as I learned to dress myself. More than once, shoes went flying across the room as I struggled to put them on.

I also couldn’t drive at first. She would transport me from doctor to doctor, from test to test and from therapist to therapist. At each stop, she had to take the wheelchair apart and put it back together and help me transfer in and out of the passenger seat.
I was admitted to TIRR Memorial Hermann for a five-week stay. There the worst was confirmed: I would probably never walk again. To make matters worse, Kelly’s father passed away while I was in the hospital. She managed things on the homefront and visited me in the hospital, all while grieving over the death of her dad.

I was independent enough to return to work after leaving TIRR. For several weeks, Kelly drove me downtown and picked me up. She did that until I had enough confidence to drive myself in a van that had hand controls and a ramp for the wheelchair. Of course, Kelly had done all the work finding the van.

When fall arrived, we knew we had to get out of the Clear Lake house. It was getting too cold to shower outside. Kelly not only found us a new house in Pearland but dealt with the movers and worked with a contractor to make it wheelchair friendly. Carpet was replaced with tile. Front steps were replaced with a ramp. A bench for sitting was added to the shower.

Although I am more independent today, our lives will never be normal. Kelly has to carry more weight in the household since I have difficulty performing even simple tasks, such as taking out the trash, carrying in groceries, cleaning the cat litter or reaching the top shelf. And there are activities we used to enjoy that are no longer possible.

One relatively new task is that Kelly, a former space program tech writer, edits this column before I submit it. So I know she will read the following: Kelly, I love you. You are truly a special lady.

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