Thursday was a fine Red Flag Warning day as I set out for the market in my upscale Permobil C-300 wheelchair. Humidity 6%, wind increasing towards a steady 25 mph, sun flickering in and out of high, thin clouds.
How was I to know that the expedition was about to bring me harshly to something I have dreaded about traveling by wheelchair?
As I rolled towards the market my meditative mind was clear, thoughts skimming along, at times just open spaces with no thought passing through. On automatic pilot.
I was stopped briefly when the words, “What if today is the day when the wheelchair quits in the middle of the road?”
Why entertain such ideas? … I got the shopping done, chatted cheerfully about my upcoming move and other things with a few people in the store, and set off for home — at times holding the string on my wide brimmed hat in my teeth as the wind scoured my face.
Hanging onto two heavy bags of groceries I flew across the smooth parking lot behind the library, then as I bumped slightly onto the crumbling surface of my street there was a very, very slight “tick” sound from beneath the chair. Hard to detect with the wind and traffic, yet that little sound caused my belly muscles to clench up with dread.
It was not a right sound. Rather like entering an empty room and finding your hair stands on end as you take in that there is a steady ticking coming from beneath a sofa. And you know something about bombs.
Yeah, I have a touch of PTSD in me.
A few yards down the road the chair just stopped. Me in the middle of the road, which is the smoothest part in the alligatored and potholed surface. It’s not a high traffic street, but there was something heading towards me and another something coming up from behind. So there I sat, feeling this and that wire, turning the motors off, on, running diagnostics, checking connections as best I could… Nothing.
A big red SUV passed me from behind… “Thank goodness there was clearance enough for that!” thought I.
The SUV plowed along… Slowed… Backed up. Out climbed a small, young, sturdy Latina with a look of determination. With the the merest exchange of words she began taking the back of the chair apart to reach some switches, and ran more diagnostics than I had access to while sitting there.
“It’s this, “ she said, tapping the joystick. The nice new joystick that Michael from HME installed for me just about three weeks ago.
My neighbor, David, came by. He asked if he could get me home.
“Oh, no,” said my new Latina friend. “We’ve got this.” Off went David.
“Uh….” said I, “I didn’t bring my crutches so without them I can’t even stand up.” She continued smiling as I observed that the chair weighs 330 pounds, and with me in it the total weight is over 460. Plus something for the groceries I was clutching.
About then the cutest curly haired girl of four years slid out the high window of the red SUV, ran up to say hi to me. Her mom scooped her up and dropped her back in through the same window.
Out popped a good looking man, Jacob, to see what he should be doing.
A conference between the couple determined that Suzie would push me down two blocks of poor paved road, and home.
Suzie had taken charge. The day had not been allowed to go sour!
And she did it, too. I was thoroughly awed and amazed at the goodness, the strength of this woman who appeared without needing explanations from nowhere just as and where she was needed.
When we got to my house Jacob took her place to shove me up the incline into my yard, then the ramp at the front door.
Elf and Opus were having fits behind the front door, having deduced that all was not well with the human. Not barking, but I heard their claws at a window, near the front door. Jacob and Suzie made sure the free spirited Opus did not get out the door and off for another of his races for blocks and blocks around the neighborhood.
When in the deepest of life’s doodoo it is humbling and astounding to me that people like Suzie and Jacob just show up. There was no reason, not even enough time, for me to succumb to the horror of my plight there in the street before they drove up.
So I got out of the broken power chair and into my small manual chair while Suzie put away all my groceries, the little girl romped around, and Jacob chatted with me.
I called HME, the folks who service the Permobil, as Suzie continued to fiddle with the Permobil. I put Kevin, the service guy, on speaker, and he suggested a few more things to Suzie. Nothing, nothing, nothing.
About then I was struck by the desperation of my position. Without the power chair there is very, very little that I can do of my normal activities. Especially — being scheduled to move in about two weeks — packing, sorting, selling things that are in places I can’t get to without the power chair.
It normally takes a few weeks for HME to be able to get a tech down here for moderately urgent repairs. I’m beyond the comfort range for travel south from Albuquerque. I pleaded shamelessly and almost — but not quite — tearfully with Kevin, who assured me that though service calls were booked solid well into next week, he’d see what he could do.
When I hung up Suzie said, “He be here today.” Kevin hadn’t said that, but she flat out said it would be.
And, amazingly, that is exactly what happened. And Kevin had been so affected by what I had said to him that he called me back later to tell me, also with some emotion, how hard it is to have to hold back so much of the time, due to certain company and Medicare restrictions. “But today, you see, we did move everything around, so Michael could get down there, for you.”
Suzie and family left, being sure that I was okay for the time being. I had her phone number, and the knowledge that this amazing woman who had come to my rescue had long been a care giver for people with serious medical conditions. That’s where she’d learned to troubleshoot power wheelchairs, put people’s groceries neatly away, hold panic at bay with her “let’s do it” attitude and speak as a peer with Kevin.
I blessed her and her family and sent them on their way. Within twenty minutes there was Michael on the phone, the wheelchair tech who mostly comes here. Seems he was rounding up a loaner wheelchair and would be along in an hour or so.
So I made tea and before I could finish it, there was Michael. He pushed my trash cart back from the curb to where he knew it belongs — the trash truck had come earlier. I had idly been wondering how I would ever get the big cart out of the middle of the driveway without my power chair.
Never before, it felt, had I been so deeply glad to see this tall Native man with his hefty bag of tools and wry humor.
“Oh, Michael, I love you,” I gushed.
Shooting me a look, he suggested we figure out the extent of the problems before getting carried away.
So while he took the thing to pieces — calling Permobil’s tech center in Tennessee twice in the process — we had our usual conversations about what’s most important in a life, how the little, loved and comfortable things are what we cherish around us — what more wealth could there be than that? Then the state of atheism and the Jesus road, Native ceremonies in hidden canyon places, the mother that Michael lovingly takes care of and so on. He’s an intelligent, perceptive person, is Michael. Has a degree in computer science, could move up in the company he works for or go elsewhere, but prefers to be free in his own spaces.
It was about 4 p.m. as Michael climbed back into HME’s big truck. Considering that my ordeal began around noon, four hours in the company of strangers, Suzie, Jacob and charming little daughter, and then familiar Michael felt like a precious reassurance from powers beyond me that there is nothing to fear, after all, when I am at last confronted with the thing that, for years, had been a dreaded possibility.
The problem: Deep in the recesses of cables, plugs and switches beneath the chair a small circuit board had shaken loose within a loosely lidded box called the Main Switch. This was due to the many bumps over which I have travelled in the three years I’ve had this chair. Luckily I had saved a small piece of equipment that hadn’t been installed into the chair, and which gave Michael the ability to run more diagnostics. With complex equipment it’s a good idea to be a packrat of spare parts.
And I remembered the Baha’i lines inscribed on a necklace I often wear: “Armed with the power of Thy name, nothing can ever hurt me, and with Thy love in my heart all the world’s afflictions can in no wise alarm me.”
I wish I would remember such thoughts when I am in the middle of an upheaval rather than when it’s over — but, I’m on a road here, anyhow.
And here’s a link to the Song of the Caged Bird, by the up and coming young violinist, Lindsey Stirling. It expresses very well the way it feels to be me, kind of locked into impossible circumstances but determined to move along anyway. It was inspired by Maya Angelou’s poem, “I know why the caged bird sings”.