I was criticized by letter writers in the last three issues of the Daily Planet for stating that my husband Ralph is confined to a wheelchair. Brian Hill of Albany said he didn’t “mind being called crippled or lame” but “confined to a wheelchair” implied Ralph was “chained to it, with padlocks.” Ann Sieck seconded Brian’s opinion and said she, too, was “good and crippled.” Ruthanne Shpiner stated, “Language and its use or misuse is critical in forming how the public perceives everyone. Such terminology as ‘confined to a wheelchair’ is not only inaccurate, it is offensive.”
I’m surprised she didn’t find the terminology lame and crippled politically incorrect, but it doesn’t matter. I can easily substitute the word “uses” for “confined to.” Ralph uses an electric wheelchair. In order to do so his attendant and I empty his leg bag, pull down the sheets and blankets on his bed, put on his slacks, slip the catheter tube into a makeshift hole in his pant leg, stuff a sling underneath him, attach the sling to a Hoyer lift, crank him out of bed, roll socks onto his feet, swing him into his wheelchair, detach the sling from the lift, wrestle a shirt over his head and tuck it into the elastic waistband of his pants, secure a seatbelt around his belly and a chest belt across his chest, lock a tray in place over the armrests, place his hands on the tray, Velcro plastic protectors onto his feet, place his feet on the footrests, pull the joy stick over his head and adjust it around his neck, tilt the headrest behind his head, comb his hair, put on his glasses, turn the wheelchair on, put it into gear, open the back door and the gate, help him navigate down the ramp. We pull the van lift down, help him wheel into the car, lock the chair into the floor, turn the chair off, and drive him to his appointments.
When we return home, we reverse the process: take his clothes off, raise him out of the wheelchair with the Hoyer lift, haul him over to his bed, place him on the mattress, cover him with sheets and blankets, re-situate the hospital tray and the computer screen in front of him, place his mouthstick in his mouth, turn on his computer and the TV. We put the bars up on the bed so he won’t fall out, give him his medications as needed, make and serve dinner, brush and floss his teeth, readjust his body, flush his catheter, turn off the television and the computer when he is ready for sleep.
In the morning we give him additional medications and breakfast, floss his teeth, clean his ears, help him blow his nose, re-flush the catheter. If the next day is a bowel program, we hook him to an oxygen machine and insert suppositories. In the morning we put him in a sling, attach the sling to the Hoyer lift, and assist him with the bowel movement. Then we lower him into the shower chair, push him into the bathroom, rinse him off, wash his hair, dry and powder him, return him to the living room, put clean linens on the bed, reattach the sling to the Hoyer lift, crank him out of the shower chair, place him into bed, roll him over to remove the sling, and get him ready for the rest of his day.
So, yes, Ralph isn’t confined to a wheelchair. He’s not confined to a bed. He’s not confined to a shower chair, and he’s not confined to the house as long as he has help.
I remember when, before his accident, he was the most unconfined man in the world, able to do whatever he wanted to do whenever he wanted to do it. Now there are limits. But I won’t use the word confined in this column again, I promise, unless it’s referring to me.