My Disability Inability To Accept Offers of Cordiality
An Aversion To Assistance
Confession time: My name is Gareth and I am terrible at asking for help from strangers. I haven’t always been this way however, this little aversion being a definite mental side effect of my injury. I’m not sure what exactly it’s rooted in; whether it’s a combination of pig-headed pride and stubbornness, or whether it’s because I always used to be the person others would come to for help when it came to physical tasks and hate the thought that I’m now somehow less able than I was. Either way, for the last 14 years I’ve struggled to shake the feeling of defeat when having to rely on a random person to help me do something, especially if it’s something I could have done with ease before my injury but am now entirely incapable of doing myself.
The thing is, I know exactly how ridiculous this all is, especially as a person in my firmly seated position who realistically should be requesting and accepting help far more than your average bipedal human. The most common example of this bizarre phobia can be found in the supermarket where I have zero problem asking for something to be passed down from a high shelf if I’m with a friend or family member, but if I’m on my own then I’ll sit there, sizing the challenge up and judging whether I can get my fingertips to the item without causing a “clean-up on aisle 3” alert! If there’s no chance of me reaching it and it’s something I absolutely need then sure, I’ll bite the bullet and either find a member of staff to help me or awkwardly camp out under the shelf and wait for an appropriately sized civilian to pass by. But countless other times, if it’s something I’ve wanted but not necessarily something I’ve been in urgent need of then, rather than bite the bullet, I’ll instead bite my tongue; aborting the mission rather than seeking out help. And that’s weird right…I’m weird?!
When Helping Hinders
Without doubt, one of the biggest pet peeves since my injury is people who won’t take no for an answer, the insistent assisters. These people, although well-meaning, don’t so much offer help as insist upon it. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve declined an offer of help as I’m pushing up a bank, only to hear the familiar follow-up of, “don’t be silly, I’ll give you a hand!” And suddenly I’m whisked away, whether I like it or not; eyes glued to the ground in front of me for any potholes or other potential death traps. Similarly, when leaning out of the car and dismantling my chair, I’ve had people ask if I need help whilst simultaneously scooping the chair up and out of my grasp. Every time this happens, the same thought goes through my head: “well, I didn’t need help before you did that…!” Oh and please, taxi drivers, I am begging you, if a person is transferring out of your taxi and into their wheelchair, do not grab them under the very arms that they are currently using to lift themselves with! We essentially become a sack of potatoes when you do this. But even after myself and/or my chair have finished being manhandled, what do I do? I say thank you! Granted this is more of a begrudging politeness uttered through gritted teeth, but what else can you do?! They’re not doing this out of malice, but rather out of a misjudged kindness; I’m their good deed for the day!
Sometimes however, no matter who you are or how awkward you may feel, sometimes you genuinely need to ask for help. For me, those moments arise whenever I inadvertently nosedive out of my chair and onto the floor, more often than not in a bewildered heap. In those moments I know that, barring some kind of a miracle, I’m going to have to yell, call or buzz someone for assistance. But even then, I’ll still give a few gung-ho attempts at recovering the situation, and a comical montage of desperation unfolds before finally admitting defeat and slumping into a pile of C6 frustration. The one time I actually managed to drag myself from the floor to the bed exhausted me so much that I needed an immediate recovery nap!
The Big Bathroom Blunder
A perfect example of this stubborn desperation occurred earlier this year when staying at a Travelodge in Glasgow. A few years prior I had posted a blog entry about the proud moment I figured out how to get myself in and out of the bath, and as of January this year I had a 100% completion record in this feat…
I guess it was always going to happen and alas, this was the day. I drained the water, popped my legs over the side, pulled myself forwards and upwards onto the edge of the bath, went to place my hand on my chair for support, completely missed and somersaulted forwards, out of the bath and onto the floor, naked as the day I was born!
It’s safe to say I was somewhat aggrieved at the circumstances I now found myself in, but this was virgin territory for me; I’d never fallen out of the bath before and as such, I’d never attempted to get myself back in either. So I swung the lower half of my legs back over the bathtub, pulled my torso up against my thighs and for a solid (no joke) 30 minutes valiantly attempted to haul myself back into the bath, failing miserably of course. But do you know what, there were a couple of times where I thought I had it, a couple of times where I was desperately grasping for the bath rail, wishing I had an Active Hands aid with me so I could actually get a firm grip on what kept slipping through my fingers. Hell, the new Hook Aids would be ideal! Sadly neither were on hand, therefore, off I shuffled into the bedroom to roll around on the floor and get some clothes on, coming face to face with all the secret stains and smells hidden in the Travelodge carpets; truly a bucket list item was ticked off that day!
Once dressed, I did what any sane person in my position would do and spent a further 30 minutes
valiantly stupidly trying again to get myself back into the bath, because jeans would surely provide less friction than skin against the tub, allowing me to glide up and over…to victory…to independence…to a panting pile of prostrated paralysis on the bathroom floor!
Aching and overcome, I reached out a quivering hand and for the first time ever, deliberately pulled the emergency cord dangling by the bathtub. And I waited…and waited. After 5 minutes had passed I figured that particular cord must be faulty; after all, every time I’d accidentally activated an emergency button in the past, within seconds the door was being eagerly beaten down by staff members. So I did my little butt shuffle from bathroom to bedroom, where another emergency cord hung, and for the second time ever I deliberately gave it a yank. And I waited…and waited…and waited. Eventually, after more minutes had passed, I accepted the fact that my calls were going unanswered and so telephoned the reception on my mobile, explaining my predicament. Seconds later a couple of very helpful and very apologetic staff members came in, scooped me off the floor and plopped me into my chair whilst explaining that they assumed it was the cleaners who had set the alarms off and definitely not the wheelchair user occupying the room at that time! Still, they were very nice and helped make me feel a little less sheepish about things, so it was all good. I’m just relieved I was able to get myself dressed first, for their sakes as much as mine!
Anyway, for several days after “the incident”, the muscles in my arms and shoulders ached fairly intensely, so I’m going to say the moral of this story is; if you end up in a heap on the ground, then swallow your pride and get someone around!
A Gradual Acceptance of Assistance
I think what I’ve come to realise through all this is that, no matter how prideful, embarrassed or stubborn I may feel, and no matter how much it may pain me to do so, sometimes you just need to ask for help. And that’s okay. Nobody in the world, no matter how able they may be, goes through life without asking for assistance at various times. And inversely, nobody goes through life without being of assistance to others; after all, help doesn’t always have to be physical.
I’m sure I can’t be sitting here alone in my little assistance aversion bubble though, I can’t be the only stubborn S.O.B. out there, right?!
In the meantime, I shall leave you with a brief synopsis of an instance in Rio a few years ago when I did actually ask for help, having fallen when transferring into my shower chair late at night. On this occasion I’d had to haul myself down the hallway to my friend’s room and knock on the door for assistance, only to be greeted by a bewildered Brazilian lady in a nightgown. It was at this moment I realised to my utter horror that I had my hotel layout all wrong and had in fact knocked on the wrong door. Late at night. Whilst sat in just my pants. After sharing several seconds of mutually horrified eye contact with the poor lady, I began slowly shuffling my-largely-naked-self backwards down the corridor, like something straight out of a Japanese horror film…
…and we shall never speak of this again!