Monday, May 30, 2011

Being Pushed

I had a deep and meaningful conversation the other day about how I feel when I am being pushed in my chair.

There a number of situations in which I am not strong enough to secure my own, independent mobility.  That was true before I injured my arm; it is even more so now.  Some of those moments are about the surface we are on; others about gradient; some are about needing to move faster than I can; still others are about an injury.  Some, breath, are about stamina; I don't have enough of it, apparently.  In these situations, I do accept help.  I even willingly accept help -- sort of.  But this doesn't always mean being pushed in my chair.

I hate being pushed in my chair -- more on that in a second or two -- I avoid it as much as I can.

If I think the person with me is fairly strong, I proffer a hand.  We share a grip; we solidify our shoulders in their sockets and breathe down.  I use my body and my chair as resistance to my extended arm, and the other person pulls me.  We walk almost side by side, as friends.  If the person is not that strong, they push on the back of my chair, but I keep a firm hand or two on my wheels.  I keep pushing my wheels.  In both cases, we move as a unit, and we work as a unit. 

I'm struck by how hard this is to write and by how hard I am working to phrase this pushing, this movement as a joint endeavour.  I am getting the assistance I need, yes, but I as I write this, I keep seeing how much I am doing to avoid thinking of "assistance" as "help;" I keep stressing -- want to keep emphasizing -- how much I retain an active role in how I move.  I see it even in the way I have written this description.  "I proffer," "we share," "we solidify," and "I use."  My words reveal my deep ambivalence about not pushing myself.

The Wizard is the only person whom I allow to push me on a regular basis.  I have taken assistance from medical personnel, and, albeit rarely, I accept a push from other close friends such as members of the dance company.  That's different, though.  Accepting a push from the Wizard is deeply complicated and very intimate.  How he pushes, and how I feel about it says a lot about us and our relationship.

On the complicated side, I have to say that I really don't like the way he pushes.  When I move, I move swiftly, powerfully, on the momentum of the stroke and the wheel; I swerve, turn, carve, swoop.  I go first; people should move out of my way.   I move -- even when I am just going down the street -- I move with a keen sense of power and of the purity of the movement.  I love just pushing/stroking/rolling down the street.  This thing, this unity, this oneness is mine.

When the Wizard pushes, my chair feels like a wheelchair -- in the negative sense.  Part of that is that he assesses things differently.  He doesn't pick the same part of the pavement that I would.  Over the years, he has learned to see and shout out warnings for the impacts and bumps -- that's actually very cool (proud happy tone of voice) -- but then he doesn't handle them the way I would.  He waits for other walking people; he is gentle, careful and respectful -- of me and of everyone else on the path. (eeek!) He pushes with love and care, but not with the same joy in movement.  (Wait for the comments that say how ungrateful I am ... yeah, yeah).  


When the Wizard pushes, he comes down from his great height; his face is close to mine; he breathes over my shoulder; he sees the world from my point of view.  We are close.  Sometimes, I don't want this closeness -- the default positioning of our bodies means that everything we do is now close and intimate.  Sometimes, I just want to go up the hill; I need him to be just a pair of arms pushing.  In these situations, he invariably wants pushing to be an expression of our connection.  And he is able to do that; he can turn an instance of mechanics into a moment of connection.  He has been fabulous at not transmitting the bad parts of our relationship into the pushing.  Even when we are pissed at each other, he can push gently.  I appreciate that: the act of pushing is so deeply personal and intimate that I feel I could trust no one else with the project of moving me.

Over the years, I have learned to take my hands off the wheels and place them on my lap.  Sometimes, I lean from side to side and play airplanes.  Sometimes, I gesticulate; sometimes, I point.

Sometimes, I close my eyes and ride.


  1. I despise being pushed. For the most part I would genuinely rather not leave the house if I had an injured arm than give up that much self-control.

    When I'm clearly struggling over rough terrain like gravel people seem especially perplexed by my refusal of their help. They can't grasp that I'm more aware of the terrain than they are and how my chair relates to it thus less likely to tip myself out.

  2. Due to shoulder/wrist pain, I had to move my joystick to the other side--the same week as we got the ramped van (oops, off the side of the ramp!). Much easier to navigate into the seat area with joystick on the left.

    With this change, I can do okay with basic steering but have problems with tricky pavement areas, large bumps/hills, and backing up in complex ways (several maneuvers). So my husband's been driving some from the attendant joystick I have. It does feel really different!!

    And it is hard to put my hands in my lap--for me, I feel a loss of independence and some embarrassment. But if it's really crowded, it's easier, as I don't get as many microaggressions for just being there. (Some lady yelled, watch out!, aggressively at my head at the aquarium this weekend--I'd have had to slide my wheelchair 18-36 inches sideways (not possible to do that!) to be at risk of hitting her or her child, which I wouldn't do anyway.)

    It is very different. I don't generally like it and experience much the same as you but when I'm very tired/in pain, it can be helpful.

  3. Hi

    I've linked to this post on my blog. I hope you don't mind. It's both enlightening and beautifully written. Thank you.


  4. THIS! This is exactly how I feel!

  5. Anonymous4:02 PM

    I have been disabled for 51+ years, and have been walking all that time with a cane (and crutches sometimes). Lately, however, it's been getting harder and harder, and I'm considering getting a chair or scooter or something for shopping, museums, and other activities involving acreage. I have imagined that (a) my arms are not strong enough to push a wheelchair far or for long, (b) that I will hate being pushed, and (c) that I will probably not be able to tolerate being pushed by anyone other than my husband.

    Thanks for sharing with me a little of what it might be like. I was feeling kind of neurotic, especially over (c). Now I understand why I was feeling that way--it's not just about control, it's about relationship.

  6. I agree. I hate being pushed. I ask for assistance when and only when I really need it. I can do it on my own, but when "he" holds my hand and swings me through the hall it's us and I can love that.
    People who simply assume I need help and grab my chair make me nuts...

  7. I like pushing myself because I enjoy the workout but one days when I am spoonless I don't mind being pushed either. It does feel different when a parent does it (or any older person for that matter) to a when a friend does it. I guess it's a part of my body and everyone's particular about who touches that and in what context ;).

    When I had my first job, part of my day was spent on reception and there was another girl in the office who also used a wheelchair and she had this awful habit of grabbing the handle of my chair as she turned the corner next to my desk. I asked her politely several times not to do it, but she ignored me. So one day I put the back down on my chair. She went for the handle and ended up sailing past me at quite a lick and crashed into the filing cabinets. I LOL'd profusely.

    Hair washing and drying is the big one for me. I need to wash and dry my own hair for myself, somehow self care just feels too personal to surrender the task to someone else. If I had a partner and the occasion was given a more intimate connotations then I would be really intersted to know how I felt about that.

  8. This is one of the most beautiful pieces I've ever read. There is something that deeply resonates with me about the idea of being with somebody who allows me to take my hands off the wheels, close my eyes, and ride. (metaphorically... I use a powerchair, so it's rare, and never good, when someone else is actually pushing.) I have a hard time giving up control of anything. Trusting somebody so much that you can completely let go, is... beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Hi Wheelchair Dancer,
    Thanks for sharing this post.
    So difficult to not have control, I have an electric wheelchair but as my ms has progressed and is taking away my arm function I often have to let my darling Richie steer my wheelchair, this is very difficultr I hate it but would rather go out than stay home all the time.
    Thinking about you.

  10. Your a very good writer

  11. I feel EXACTLY the same way, and only allow my Bestie and my spouse to push me, but they still, as you say, pick different parts of the pavement than I would, etc. I hate it so much, and I can't seem to explain to people exactly why I hate it so much.

    I also, if I'm not pushing as well, find myself turning off. Slowly turning inward and kind of pretending I am not there. It's kind of horrifying.

  12. Every candystriper in a nursing home (such as I once was) should be required to read this; every bit as important as the training on the Heimlich maneuver and fire safety.

  13. I am the pusher for my best friend/roommate, and we are quite the team. I recently pushed an acquaintance at church and had to remind myself not to go fast, or swing around the corners, or lift up the back to make a sharp turn. It's funny how you get used to particular movements with one another. We have such confidence in each other that we often intimidate people. So many funny stories- the time I accidentally launched her, the time I rolled her into a freezing cold lake (at her request) and the people on the beach admitted later that they wondered whether to intervene...