The soul of a new pair of shoes—and a new wheelchair
By Stephen Trumper
I recently bought a new pair of shoes. They’re soft, foamy, lightweight—a sensory dream with laces and two tongues. They’re also yellow. Bright yellow. Highlighter yellow. Every time I look at them, I smile. They make me feel jolly. They’re certainly a marked contrast from the dressy, basic-black sneakers I’d been wearing for years.
The purchase of new shoes always brings to mind the question an able-bodied friend once innocently asked me about an even older pair of shoes, gleaming white ones: “Steve! How do you keep them so clean?”
My wonderful wife was with me at the time. She had a quizzical look on her face. If there’d been athought balloon above her head, it would have read: “Really? You truly haven’t made the connection?”
“Well,” I said, sitting in my wheelchair, my mind whizzing to fashion a diplomatic response that might minimize my friend’s embarrassment to come, “how do you think I keep them so clean?”
Then he realized: “Oh, jeez!”
“Yes,” I responded, giggling, “Shoes sure do stay clean when you don’t walk.”
The new yellow sneakers were a gift to myself, partly to offset the continuing gloom of COVID-19 and partly because, as watching a slew of Olympic soccer matches reminded me, I really like the vibrant colours on the feet of many players. At the time I was in the early stages of breaking in a new wheelchair. It hadn’t been going well.
The trouble was my old wheelchair. It is as perfect a fit as a wheelchair can be. I was reluctant to give it up. So I dithered. For months. My old chair has many virtues. It’s compact, as are my house, office and the many accessible cabs I take. My old chair has an elegant colour: opal black. More importantly, it has been my constant companion for more than a dozen years. It has seen me through a lot of life/near-death experiences, placing my wife in long-term care, a public salute to our daughter, accepting a major industry honour and much more.
It’s impossible to overstate how essential—and liberating—a good wheelchair can be for a person with a disability who wants to build as independent and meaningful a life as possible. The following two tweets highlight that tight bond between user and chair:
“Days like today make me so grateful for my wheelchair. Being able to go on a long walk along the river with my girlfriend and two dogs has helped boost my mood so much. A huge f*** you to the doctors who told me not to get a wheelchair because it would make me ‘too dependent.’”
“This day four years ago was my first time using my first wheelchair. It was my first day out of my bed in months and months. My mom took me to the mall after a doctor’s appt. I realized I could move without pain and with less fatigue, and my whole life changed for the better.”
Eventually, I did start venturing out in the new chair, mostly to health-related appointments, which can involve lengthy wait times. As I age, I have become increasingly aware of the sensitivities of the skin, of the dangers associated with pressure sores. As a result, to relieve pressure on my bottom and move it on to my back, I began tilting my old chair—a manual Quickie 2—against walls, file cabinets, sofa arms, even, in a pinch, the knees of my daughter or a PSW.
A tilted wheelchair always looks precarious, particularly to healthcare professionals. “Is that really safe?” they would blurt. I would try to reassure them but, still, there was a consistent chorus urging me to consider a chair that had a “proper” tilting function, giving me the ability to regulate just when, where and how much I wanted to tilt at any given time.
But, until recently, chairs with built-in tilting functions were wider than the doorframes in my house—and I wasn’t about to spend thousands to change them. Then, not too long ago, my sales rep told me that a new, narrower model had come on the market.
I agreed to trial it and, happily, quickly came to love my expanded tilting possibilities. However, the new chair, in fetching black cherry, is not as comfortable when I need to sit up straight. It’s also bulkier and taller, making it more awkward to move around in my compact world. I sometimes feel that I’m moving from the wheelchair equivalent of, say, an aging-yet-still-sporty Ford Mustang to the practicality of a Chrysler mini-van.
So, for now, I am a two-chair guy, sitting on the wheels of a dilemma: Keep using two chairs? Use only the new? Go back to full-time use of the old after a major tune-up? One thing is for sure: Bright yellow sneakers will look good with either.
Stephen Trumper serves on the board of the Canadian Abilities Foundation. He is a writer and a journalism instructor at a Toronto university.