Published on March 30, 2021

The View from my Seat

Stories from physical therapy

By Ernie Williamson / The Bulletin

Every hour people with disabilities arrive for their scheduled therapy at TIRR Memorial Hermann Outpatient Rehabilitation.

Some can walk in. Some need walkers. Many, like me, require wheelchairs.

Some arrive alone, often spending a good portion of the day waiting for specially-equipped METROLift vans to give them rides to and from the clinic.

Others arrive with caregivers. The fortunate have family members with them.

Some have arms that don’t work. Others, like me, have legs that won’t cooperate. Too many have neither legs nor arms that function.

But we all have one thing in common: We hope the typical one-hour sessions several times a week will help us get better… or at least not regress.

While waiting for my therapist and watching others arrive for therapy, I often wonder about individual cases. What cruel twist of fate has brought them to the clinic?

Were they born disabled or, like me, did they become disabled late in life? Were they in an accident, or did their health fail them? Will they recover, or is a permanent disability their destiny?

Here are a couple of their stories:

The doctor was scheduled to begin a week’s vacation with a Saturday round of golf with a buddy.
Just as the doctor was loading his clubs into his car, his buddy called and canceled. The doctor decided to skip golf and work around the house. A tree needed cutting.

The tree fell on the doctor, damaging his spine. When I last spoke to him, he was in a wheelchair, but hopeful about returning to work.

The doctor, of course, is not the only person injured by a falling tree. Talk about fate! On July 14, 1984, Greg Abbott, at age 26, was paralyzed below the waist when an oak tree fell on him while he was jogging following a storm. Like me, the current governor underwent extensive rehabilitation at TIRR Memorial Hermann but has been in a wheelchair ever since.)

Then there is the young truck driver who was hauling sand for use at drilling sites in the Permian Basin. He already had made numerous runs during the day, but his company asked for a volunteer to make one last run that night. Despite being tired, the young trucker raised his hand.

When the trucker didn’t show at the drilling site on time, a search began. Several hours later, the trucker was found paralyzed and almost dead. His truck had run off the road.

When I last saw him, he was learning to feed himself and worrying about what the future held.
One young woman’s story hits close to home.

She had finished showering. There was no hint of what would happen next. When she stepped out of the shower, her legs collapsed, and she fell to the ground. Just like that.

She was eventually diagnosed with transverse myelitis, the same rare inflammatory disease that put me in a wheelchair.

When I last spoke with her, she was hoping to buy hand controls for her car so she could at least drive.

You would think being at the clinic might be depressing. For me, at least, it isn’t. My twice-a-week visits give me a chance to see the human spirit soar.

I am often inspired by the resilience of so many disabled persons. Many struggle against the odds while carrying themselves with dignity despite the indignities thrown their way.

I admire the caregivers, particularly family members. Many have given up on their dreams to help a loved one.

Of course, there are the therapists. Most handle seven patients a day. They are dedicated and always offer encouragement.

Most of all, when I am going through therapy at the clinic, I am always reminded of a couple of things.

Although I can’t walk, I have upper body strength. I can think. I can drive. I can read. I can still go see my granddaughters and daughter. And I have a wonderful wife who supports me.

(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at williamsonernie@gmail.com. Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)