If you or your spouse, lover, or long term companion is disabled, you’re going to have problems. Big problems, for sure, if you or your spouse is severely disabled and are overwhelmed with the burden of care, constant threats to health, or the money it takes to fund all of that. For more common sorts like me, with your garden variety waist-level paralysis and generally free of life-death crises, the problems are much smaller, but they can still drive you crazy, apart, or cut into your enjoyment of life.
“It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.” Arthur Conan Doyle
I have been married for a long time to the same woman, Ann-Marie, both before and after paralysis, and I am still a knucklehead bordering on a dunce when it comes to the little things that drive her up a wall. No matter how many millions of times I remind myself that if I need something, get it myself, the words, “Honey, listen, could you do me a little favor…?” escape my mouth before I can stop them. We’re talking really, really little things here, like a glass of water on the nightstand. I will invariably forget it and invariably be laid out on the bed, wheelchair parked for eight blessed hours, when I realize this. Do I throw off the covers, climb into that chair, roll into the kitchen, get the water, juggle it on my lap all the way back, spilling some on the way, get back out of the chair, and call it a night? Or do I yell, “Honey, listen, while you’re up, could you do me a little favor…?”
One such annoying request is trivial. Ten times is irritating. A hundred times or more, marriages have been strained to the point of mayhem.
"If you take care of the small things, the big things take care of themselves. You can gain more control over your life by paying closer attention to the little things." Emily Dickinson
By the way, Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David have made Scrooge McDuck-level money writing comedy only about little things like close talkers, low talkers, and people who don’t move their arms when they walk. Me, I hate people on TV who mumble in English accents, all the more irritating since I now having trouble hearing people on TV who speak clearly with American accents. And asking my wife what they just said over and over only ruins the experience for her, too.
“Little things make big things happen.” John Wooden
But wheelchair behavior is the focus here, not hearing loss. For example: last weekend we went down to the LA County Museum of Art for an annual pie making competition sponsored by the local NPR station. There were 300 pies entered this year and the big attraction for the public is that you get to taste the pies as the judges are deciding who wins. If you stood in line and waited your turn, you got two tickets for two free samples of pie of your choosing. Knowing what I know now, I would have tried to scalp a few more tickets from small children. It’s hard to determine the best of 300 pies with just two tempting morsels.
We got in line early and I was immediately thirsty. I obviously could have had someone hold my place while I looked for water, but Ann-Marie, thinking from the tone of my voice that I was about to pass out, took off and returned with a bottle. Thirty more minutes in the hot sun (I could have brought an umbrella) and I then announced that I had “forgotten” about lunch, being so focused on the pie to come. Again, I could have wandered off to find some snack mix or something, but the gates were about to open, so I sucked it up. Then Ann had to push me all over a bumpy grass knoll looking for the right pie, and soon after, scorched from the sun, uncomfortable, and with only a smidgeon of pie in my barren stomach, I developed a major headache and hinted (loudly) that it was time to leave.
The post-game wrap-up back home was not pretty. Ann was upset that a) I didn’t bring water with me, an incredibly easy thing to do, b) didn’t eat beforehand or at least pack a protein bar or two, c) didn’t adequately protect myself against the sun, and d) insisted on leaving early. Believe it or not, I had a pretty good time despite all of this. She didn’t.
I felt stupid. In fact, I still feel stupid writing this. I did virtually nothing to prepare for this adventure and then had the gall to make it someone else’s problem by the insistent tone in my voice.
The simple point here, something a nine-year-old could easily grasp, is: Be more prepared and less demanding. In the same way that you are more likely to suffer a serious injury in a chair if you hit a crack in a sidewalk than you will being shot by a mass killer or in an airplane crash, you will cause much more stress in your life, and the lives around you, if you ignore the smallest details of self-management. Except in areas where help is mandatory, take complete charge. Of everything. Expect nothing from others short of mouth to mouth resuscitation or dialing 911.
You would think I would know this after seventeen years of paralysis. But I don’t. I guess I need to tattoo “be prepared” on my right forearm and “less demanding” on my left. It’ll make a good ice-breaker at parties.
I leave you with my favorite “little things” quote, though it has nothing to do with the above.
“…He was a multi-millionaire. Wanna know how he made all of his money? He designed the little diagrams that tell which way to put batteries in.” Steven Wright.
© 2013 Allen Rucker |
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The Best Seat in the House:
How I Woke Up One Tuesday and Was Paralyzed for Life