Having contracted polio as a small child or baby, one has to undergo a wide range of treatments and long and seemingly unending hospitalization. One would have to use braces, crutches or many other orthotic devices, which at that time are the only options that can keep the person mobile. These can also be removed with time as and when deemed fit by the doctors. We may start walking unaided. One almost forgets the entire psychological trauma suffered at the time of contracting the disease. But a day may come after some 25-30 years, that we might start having a feeling of exhaustion, fatigue and weakness in muscles. Post Polio Syndrome comes now to stay there in one's life. Life now becomes all the difficult. We may face declining activities with reduced energy levels. Unwantingly we have to sit back at home and show reluctance to go out. We tend to become isolated due to decreased mobility as one has to stay indoors all the time.
The doctors at this point recommend using a wheelchair. It is quite understandable that the decision of transitioning to wheelchair is difficult, painful and angst-ridden.
I can relate very well and understand all these experiences since I too am a polio patient.
Patients with Post Polio Syndrome or any other debilitating illness might have to use a wheelchair for their mobility as some point of time.. There can also be an acquired disability like spinal cord injury, due to an accident or some chronic illness, that may leave no other choice than using a wheelchair for the rest of the life. Let us see the example of Christopher Reeve, who after his spinal cord injury, became Man in Wheelchair from a Superman. Nobody knows what is in there store for him.
Physicians may recommend us using a wheelchair. There can be some initial hesitation and we may think a lot before deciding in favour of a wheelchair. It would help us in conserving our limited energy apart from preventing us from falling and tripping, saving us from further agonies.
Although it can make our lives easier, yet the decision is very agonizing, complex and emotionally disturbing. Why is it so?? Why is that the very thought of using a wheelchair is mentally so upsetting? Why do people dread to be seen using a wheelchair in public? Why the phrases “wheelchair bound” or “confined to wheelchair” are used?
Rational needs of using the wheelchair is now overpowered by the irrational negative attitude towards it. The last option available for mobility is seen with so much repulsion!! There are negative emotional overtones towards that object which is the only means of “Our Liberation”. The whole credit of our being mobile and our outings should solely can be laid on a wheelchair.
The factors contributing to this resistance not only depend on our psyche but also on the reactions and attitudes of the people around us, our family and our society.
We may have got much praise for “walking” with the help or braces and crutches or sometimes unaided after our rehabilitation. So we may not want to let those praises turn into comments like “you have now become lazy and so don’t want to move!!”
Society gives “special and inordinate value” to walking. Sitting on a wheelchair we look different! No one can ignore us or I may say no one can resist from “staring” at us. So it becomes virtually impossible to be a “passer”. We then tend to see ourselves from the eyes of others.
All this is due to the fact that a wheelchair is the universal symbol of disability! So the thought of sitting on a wheelchair becomes one with idea of getting marginalized or stigmatized. It divides the world in two groups “have’s and “have not’s”. That the equation becomes unbalanced now….on one side there are able-bodied people and on the other there is a disabled person! We then are not part of the “popular crowd” Again the reason behind this is that since ages, persons with disabilities are regarded as burdensome without any dreams and desires of their own.
So our view of ourselves becomes unwanted. We become the victims of age old prejudices. Rather than thinking in a positive and rational manner we find ourselves tied in the shackles of our own thinking. We then prefer to be “walking” even if there is 90% risk of falling down and hurting ourselves sometimes fatally rather than moving around in a wheelchair and enjoying almost 90% mobility.
There is no harm in accepting that “I am person with disability”. I am using a leg brace or a pair of crutches doesn’t make me an able-bodied person. Wheelchair too is an assistive device like a brace. All that we need is mobility…which may sometimes be provided by a leg brace and with the changing conditions of health it can be provided by a wheelchair!
There needs to be a trade off between negative irrational beliefs and positive rational thoughts. We were paralyzed by polio…let the attitudes of society not paralyze us more and more each day!
We need to be moving and for that we need to be liberated, though not physically but mentally!