Power Up!

I’m a 33-year-old mother of two in the process of getting a power wheelchair, and contrary to popular belief, it’s a wonderful thing.

During a recent day out at the zoo with the family, I rented a motorized scooter to see if it helped with my pain levels and mobility. At a steep $40 price tag for the day, I hopped on and almost immediately burst into tears behind my big purple sunglasses. Barely a moment of relief passed before my husband and mom both say, “We need to get you one of those.”

I feared this day for so long that I never imagined I’d actually embrace it with a huge grin on my face. Funny how life works that way sometimes.

We had a lovely day at the zoo, and for the first time in a long time, I felt like I was able to really be in the moment with my kids and not focused on pain, fatigue, or keeping my balance. The following day I had much more energy and less recovery was required than usual. It was obvious that incorporating the use of a power chair in my day-to-day would improve my quality of life greatly.

I also knew that there would be another adaptation required of me, and that is to embrace my own joy as a woman with disabilities in a new way.

I know that for some my decision to use a power chair will be viewed negatively. I’ll have “given up” or be thought of as an attention seeker. As my disability has become more visible in recent years there is no doubting the fact that I’ll be looked upon with pity and sadness at a young life impaired so greatly, it already happens every time I leave the house with an aid.

I get it. It is sad. It was a terrible thing that happened to me and yes, it impacts every second of every day of my life.

But know that I am grateful for it.

I view my disability as a positive thing. It’s mine, it’s part of me. It’s opened my world to compassion and an appreciation for love and life I would not have had otherwise. Getting a power chair is simultaneously a small part of that journey but also a huge moment of empowerment for me.

Now, the process of getting a chair has been arduous. Our healthcare system doesn’t make things easy and I’m grateful for the privilege, education, and access I have to quality care. I am trying to make use of that privilege for the betterment of others by documenting and sharing what I’m learning so that others might have an easier time getting their own mobility aids. If it weren’t for dear friends who did the same for me, I would’ve felt completely unprepared for such a complex process.

I look at all of the steps required and the potential pitfalls for patients in the process of getting a wheelchair, and my mind can’t help but wander to the needs of other people in my position, especially my neighbors in underserved, rural areas of South Carolina. Are they getting the tools they need for mobility and access to proper healthcare? How can we improve this process so that everyone receives what they need to thrive? I’m a storyteller and pretty creative, and I want to use those skills to help change the conversation around mobility aids, particularly for younger people.

The one thing that has remained constant throughout this process for me personally is the emphasis on how a power chair will improve my life. I can’t view getting a wheelchair as an inherently bad thing because it’s already bringing so much positivity and access. I feel understood and supported by my care providers, too. I really can’t wait to see where my chair takes me, quite literally.

As we prepare our home for new equipment and accessibility needs there have been many conversations with my husband Joseph on how this change will affect our lives. I asked him how he felt about the whole situation at the beginning of the process. Would he want to be seen with his wife in a power chair? In his typical compassionate manner, his response reminded me why I married him in the first place. He said, “I am excited for you to get the power chair.”

We’ve also been preparing the kids to have the new aid around, so I pulled up a photo of me trying out a flashy red power chair at physical therapy. I asked my three-year-old son, “What do you think Hamilton? Does mom look silly in her power chair?”

Hamilton replied, “You look happy momma, and I love when you’re happy.”

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