Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Observations from Camp Randall: UW v. Michigan State 9/26/09

All in all a pretty stellar Badger game day on Saturday. It started with me getting the chance to take my brother-in-law Ryan to his first ever Badger game at Camp Randall Stadium. I always love seeing how in awe first timers are of the whole home Badger game day experience. Then it ultimately ended with a real solid win against Michigan State, 38-30 (what the final score doesn't reveal is that it was practically a blow out). Here are my observations in between:

Observation #1: The line for the elevator was fairly long once again. See the picture just below for my view from the back of the line. The main room for the elevator is up and around the corner to the right, just in front of the person wearing the red jacket.

As I was taking this picture on my phone I overheard this gentleman behind me say: “Jeez, is the line for the elevator always this long?” I muttered to my brother-in-law, “Yeah because too many people like you try and use it instead of taking the ramps or stairs like you should.”

Observation #2: The elevator itself is pretty spacious so by the time the it got back down to the bottom level everybody in front of me was able to pile in. But it was full by the time it was my turn to get on so I was the cutoff, which lead to this interesting exchange with the elevator attendant:

Him: “Sorry, no more room for wheelchairs on this trip.”
Me, looking in to see not one person in a wheelchair or with a notable disability: “Yeah, I see that.”

Everything that was wrong with his statement was completely lost on him and everyone else already on the elevator. Again, it’s become an ‘every man for himself’ mentality with that elevator so of course no one bothered to offer to give up their spot for me and wait for the next trip. I couldn’t get my phone up quickly enough to snap a pic of the full able-bodied cart before the door closed, but while I was thinking about that missed opportunity my brolaw sent me this text: “Wasted elevator trip not one person who actually need the elevator.” Indeed.

Observation #3: When the elevator came back down I was the first one to get on. So I went to the back and spun around quickly so that I didn’t have to face the back wall the whole ride up. Then another guy in a chair came on and followed suit right in front of me. But when he backed up he came back so far that he started to smash my foot. Since I couldn’t back up any more I gave my knee a quick slap from the outside to move my foot over a bit to unjam my toes without making a scene. I only point this out because I always have much more awareness about how close me and my chair are to others. I'm over-sensitive to it in fact. So that was intriguing.

Then as the elevator door was closing there was a call from the first floor attendant: “Hold the door, we have a few more walking people that can fit.” Again, a statement lost on just about everyone else involved. And on to the elevator came a couple and their 18 month old child.

Observation #4: Somewhere in the second or third quarter of the game I overheard the following exchange between two stadium concession guys. They were leaning on the pillar in the picture below, which is directly to my left about three feet (people lean there to watch the game all the time and the security guy assigned to our section is usually much more focused on chit chatting with passersby than telling the lingerers to find their seats):

Guy 1: “So we’ve got 72 buns but only 15 more hotdogs left. So my question to you is this: can we get some more meat?”
Guy 2: “Absolutely, absolutely.”
Then they walked away, easily making for the most obscure conversation I’ve ever paid witness to at the stadium.

Observation #5: My brolaw and I stuck around for most of the Fifth Quarter since it was his first time seeing such a thing. So when we got to the elevator we had it all to ourselves at first because there was no one else waiting, which has become a rare occurence. After I pushed the button I looked up and noticed, possibly for the first time, a sign on the wall just above it that read: 'Please reserve the use of this elevator for our patrons with disabilities.' As Ryan and I both commented on the sign that same couple with their young child got in line for the ride down again. So much for reserving for people with disabilities.

I rode down at the back of the elevator cart next to a young couple. Behind me there was a combination of a slow door close and more people trying to pile on. Presumably annoyed by the waiting period the girl said to her boyfriend, “Maybe we should have just taken the stairs.” He said, “Yeah.” Yeah, indeed. Then he said, “But the stairs smell like garbage.” Hmm, so is that that why nobody seems to take the stairs around here?

Regardless, as we were leaving the stadium I decided that I needed to figure out what University of Wisconsin official I could get in contact with to get this whole situation fixed before I go to the next game. Through its clearly posted signage the stadium itself has put people on notice that the elevator should be used primarily for people with disabilities. Yet over the last two seasons it’s become obvious both that too many fans without disabilities are frequently using the elevator and also that elevator staff members are doing a very poor job making sure that people with disabilities should always get near exclusive priority use. The fact that a wheelchair user like myself routinely gets bumped for a cart full of able-bodied folks, and that I often risk missing the start of the game because of it, has become a total farce. Enough is enough.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Happy Birthday, Christopher Reeve

Today Christopher Reeve would have turned 57 years old, so I thought it was at least worth a quick honorable mention here. He was a great man and a hell of an advocate for people with disabilities. When it came to spinal cord injuries specifically he was our torchbearer to raise SCI awareness and much needed medical research funding. His dream, like many of ours who live with SCI, was to one day walk again. So to that regard it is highly unfortunate that he did not live long enough to see that dream fully realized. But I think that he would very proud of the great work that his family and the people at his ReeveFoundation are doing in his stead. Read here about what the Reeve Foundation is doing to commemorate Reeve's legacy on his birthday.

To do my small part as a birthday gift in honor of Christopher I wanted to mention this cool thing I discovered through the Reeve Foundation Twitter page: a free Reeve Foundation search toolbar. Apparently, every time you search with this toolbar the Reeve Foundation makes a few cents that goes towards their work "curing spinal cord injury by funding innovative research, and improving the quality of life for people living with paralysis through grants, information and advocacy." So if you don't already have a search toolbar (e.g. Google) and feel philanthropic, this is an easy way to donate. You can get it here.

All that being said, happy would-be 57th birthday Christopher, you are missed.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Store workers build wheelchair ramp when customer's chair lift stolen

I just came across this story via one of my Twitter feeds and I had to share it here real quick. In short, it's about a lady who planned to move her brother, who suffered a stroke and had to use a wheelchair, into her home while he recovered. But shortly before he was discharged from the hospital their moveable wheelchair lift was stolen. (Who does that, seriously?) So she went to Home Depot to try and buy materials for a temporary ramp. After mentioning her issues to a few Home Depot workers, they offered to come over to take a few measurements in case they could help throw something makeshift together. Instead, and unbeknownst to her, they built her a full new ramp. A stunningly cool ramp, I might add, considering the impromptu planning involved. Just an incredible story and a great example of selfless generosity.

I myself have have had a few experiences with similar ramp building kindness. Of course, my parents built permanent access ramps for both their house and our lake cottage, but that was to be expected. But more specifically, one of my best friends built a pretty awesome, full length removeable ramp so that I can get in and out of his house pretty seamlessly. We still use it all the time, and in a lot of past instances he just left it down even during long periods of time when I was not scheduled to visit. And just a few summers ago, before my parents modified our cottage, our lake neighbor and family friend unexpectedly threw together a quick, temporay ramp in his workshop. It was very cool of him, and I used it that very day too because of an incoming rainstorm. In the past, by the time we got our other temporay ramps in place we were stuck in the rain a little bit. Thus, there were plenty of other times pre-permanent cottage ramps when the rain came in so fast and heavy that I just got in my van and waited the storm out there because it was the quicker and dryer option given the circumstances.

So I have a great deal of respect and appreciation for what those workers did for that lady and her brother. It was a very, very cool thing. Check it out, and enjoy!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Observations from Camp Randall: UW v. Fresno State 9/12/09

Other than the usual BS I encounter battling the masses of 80,000+ to and from the stadium I don’t have any Camp Randall observations to report this week that have to do with instances of accessible and disability dichotomies. I think that last week was unusual, even based on previous years of experiences, because I encountered so many in the same day. But going into a slightly different direction I am happy to share what was arguably the strangest encounter I’ve ever had leaving the stadium in eleven years of having season tickets.

To quickly set the stage, by the time the game hit the middle of the 4th quarter I started to get pretty hot, which meant that a cold drink was the best quick fix. But with only five minutes or so left in the game the kids that sell drinks had quit running around, and it’s not worth paying the $4 for a Coke at that point anyway. Ditto for the $4 water bottles of water they sell (ridiculous, don’t even get me started). Additionally, there are no water bubblers on my seat level and I sure as hell wasn’t about to go stick my mouth under a bathroom faucet that 1000’s of other fans had used all day. So I decided to just wait it out until we got back to my van. At that time it looked like we would be pulling out a tightly fought victory in mere minutes.

Well that had to be the day that we couldn’t close it out, Fresno state tied the game late, and on to overtime we went. By the time the team won in thrilling fashion after two full overtime periods about a half hour later I was in desperate need of a cool breeze and a chilled beverage. Because there was another big line for the elevator we just decided to take the ramps down instead. As I mentioned previously, I'm at a stage in my life where it’s worth waiting in line for the elevator to reduce wear and tear on my wheelchair. But on hot days like Saturday even waiting in line for more than a couple minutes gets me agitated because of the extra body heat floating around a closed area. Kind of makes my heat issues worse. At least when you take the ramps you often get a strong cross breeze, which was a welcome thing at that moment.

Of course that decision was proven to be a loser when we got caught in the crowd one ramp level down. The breeze was still welcome but the foot by foot slow trotting got frustrating because it gets hard on my chair – it’s either a lot of clicking in and out of gear or barely rolling which I assume gets hard on the drivetrain.

One ramp turn downward and I noticed another gentleman in a wheelchair coming down behind me on the ramp level just above. We exchanged a polite head nod, not unlike how my dad salutes fellow Harley dudes when he’s on his motorcycle. Behind him I noticed a woman in her mid 30’s on a blue scooter and thought nothing else of it. But with each ramp level we went down I noticed that she kept getting closer and closer. About halfway down she was a dozen and a half feet behind me on the same level, aggressively weaving her way through the throngs of people. Now I was trying to execute the same strategy, albeit much more politely, except I was stuck behind a group of senior citizens and was much more focused on not getting hit by the seat cushions they were swinging with each step.

The next thing I knew she was pretty close behind me. Another turn to the next ramp down and she was right on my hip. Barely worth giving a second thought to at first. Then it got weird. At the time I was towards the middle of the aisle but she started forcing me to the inside toward the wall so she had enough room to pass me on the outside. I tried to stay true to my current line but we almost banged wheels so I had to turn it in slightly to avoid collision. And so this went for a little while. Ridiculous. Not sure why passing me was so imperative. Proper etiquette in that situation typically dictates that you wait your turn. Instead she turned it into some wheelchair/scooter version of NASCAR. Which incidentally I can’t decide if it would be the kind of ├╝ber lame sport you’d only see at 3am on ESPN2 after World’s Strongest Man or a YouTube nation ratings blitzkrieg. I'm inclined to lean toward the latter.

Anyway, we damn near trade paint for about a hundred more feet until she makes another series of aggressive moves and shoots her way past me and through the crowd in front of us. By the time I popped out at the bottom of the ramps I saw her across the way rolling full tilt, weaving through traffic, and cutting people off.

Bigger picture what this whole scenario did was further exacerbate this unspoken rivalry I feel like I’ve always had with scooter people. And my main premise for that rivalry can best be illustrated with a question/answer that I might have seen on my high school ACT exam: wheelchair is to permanent mode of disability mobility, as scooter is to mostly temporary mode of disability mobility.

Now that is not to insinuate that all scooter users have temporary disabilities because many folks do rely on scooters for their primary mobility purposes. But what I am saying is that in the vast, vast majority of instances where I have seen people in scooters they have pretty substantial use of their legs and can even walk certain distances without their scooter (e.g. a lady in my building used her scooter and mostly effortless walking ability interchangeably). People that have significant, permanent, physical disabilities that effect their every day all day ability to walk and move around are going to be seen using a wheelchair for their mobility device because wheelchairs have custom accessories (e.g. seat cushions, backrests, individual foot rests) designed to maintain all day support and body integrity. Most scooters I’ve seen come with a standard foam seat like you see on the captain’s chair on a pontoon boat, a flat floor surface for the feet, and steering handles. Everything about it screams ‘temporary ride.’

Now I have over thirteen years worth of experience in the disability world and thus a much more sophisticated eye when it comes to spotting the intricacies of other disabilities. So I could quickly assess that this particular scooter woman appeared to be mostly able-bodied due to the fact that she had full hand function and because one of her feet was casually cocked up on the right front of her scooter (i.e. she could move her legs). But I would venture to say that if your average person with no experience with disabilities whatsoever looked at me in my wheelchair and then another person in a scooter right next to me they would probably see that we both were sitting, we both weren’t walking, and we both were riding four wheeled mobility devices and they would no doubt just surmise that we both have the “same thing going on” disability-wise.

So when I see what under a pretty objective set circumstances appears to be a mostly able-bodied person on a scooter, coming from the wheelchair section, weaving people aggressively down the ramp, rudely saying ‘excuse me’ (she wasn’t but I’ve seen plenty of people do that before), forcing me inside so she can pass me, running full tilt with lots of people around, cutting people off, etc. and catching looks from “average” people that range from an eyebrow raise to an angry ‘what the heck?’ it always bothers me because I feel like she’s giving those of us with significant, permanent disabilities a bit of a bad wrap as well without being “qualified” to do so.

For the record, I do not subscribe to the tenets of this wheelchair-scooter rivalry alone. And according to a fellow quadriplegic blogger I follow occasionally I'm even involved in a quadriplegic-paraplegic rivalry I was previously unaware of (in short, they can grasp stuff with their hands, we cant; they can fully care for themselves, we can’t; we’re lazy because most of us use power chairs, they push themselves with manual chairs; etc.). But the bottom line is that as long as the “scooter chicks” of the world want to get all DAYS OF THUNDER on me as I leave the hallowed halls of Camp Randall Stadium, my place of personal catharsis and sanctitude, then the rivalry will continue to reign supreme!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Observations from Camp Randall: UW v. Northern Illinois 9/5/09

If this blog were a late night talk show then this would be the part where I would say "And now we're introducing a new segment." This one being called "Observations from Camp Randall," wherein I briefly delve into the funny, interesting, aggravating, etc. things that I encounter as I make my way to and from my seats at the stadium on Badger football game days.

Observation #1: As I was rolling down one stretch of sidewalk on my way to the stadium before the game I passed a few college students sitting on the brick steps in front of their house. As I went by I overheard one drunken guy say to the girl next to him “Should that guy get a ticket for driving on the sidewalk?” Regardless of whether he was being cleverly inquisitive or ignorantly intoxicated, that was one of the funniest wheelchair-motorized vehicle lines I’ve ever heard. Good stuff.

Observations #2 and #3: First a little background. Since the completion of the stadium renovations a few years ago Camp Randall now has an elevator that takes patrons to all seating levels. But as nice and convenient as it is for me to have the means to avoid taking the multi-level spiral style ramps, one of the most frustrating things about every game day experience is waiting for the elevator to take me up to the 72nd row where my seats are (they’re awesome, by the way). It’s not just that there is a wait, it’s that the more people that have discovered the elevator each year, the more people that use it. And I would say that on average roughly 80% of the folks that I wait in line with are able-bodied and appear perfectly capable of walking up either a few flights of stairs or said ramps. It’s also clear to me that the stadium personnel tend to do no disability screening to assure that only the people that truly need it use it, as intended.

The other aggravating thing about it is how entitled many of these people get to using the elevator, even seeing themselves as equal to its use to mine. Thus no one ever lets people with wheelchairs or others who deserve “priority” usage go to the front of the line, as should be proper elevator etiquette. So more often than not I end up waiting for the second or third cart load to go up to my section. In many past instances, if me and a buddy are running behind, and the elevator line is too long, we’ve just taken the ramps. But starting last year I decided that my chair was too old to keep chugging up the ramps, so a little extra waiting time is worth less abuse on my wheels.

All that said, observation #2 is that while waiting in the hallway outside the room that houses the elevator (approximately 30 people in front of me) I overheard a completely able-bodied man in his 40’s chatting with another able-bodied person barely a senior citizen say: “Well we may have to wait a bit, but at least it’s better than walking up the ramps.” Ok sir a) if you’re perfectly capable of walking up the ramps then you and your crew of four shouldn’t be snaking a ride in the elevator when people with physical disabilities are also in line, and b) the next time you make such a triumphant declaration stop, think, look around, notice the gentleman in the wheelchair five feet behind you (i.e. this guy), and keep your mouth shut. For me elevator use is a necessity, not a privilege.

On the way down after the game my friend Jason and I turned the corner on the way back to the elevator just in time to see an embittered woman in her 50’s, wearing earmuff style radio headphones and holding a cane, say to the (cute) stadium courtesy staffer just in front of us: “Can you do anything about getting this elevator up here faster?!” Right, like stadium personnel have some magic ability to make elevators appear much faster. (She is no doubt one of those people that think pushing the elevator buttons multiple times makes the cart arrive faster as well.) I love able-bodied people that get annoyed when the elevator is slow. Again, if you can walk and you’re tired of waiting then take the stairs or ramp and get out of my way.

Of course, within seconds the elevator doors opened. My friend and I were the last two to get in the cart, with grumpy lady sandwiched next to us. On the ground floor Jason got out first, then it was my turn—at least it should have been but she tried to take a small step out at the same time I started backing up, then she stopped. I noticed that she was wearing open-toed leather sandals so as I started backing up I said “Watch your toes” which is something I typically say to people as a humorous warning. The vast majority of the time I do that I get a smile out of folks but when I looked up to meet her gaze she was fuming. Apparently she thought that she was supposed to get out before me—even though there was no room to do so. First she was mad at the supposedly slow elevator, then because the guy in the wheelchair supposedly blocked her exit. Maybe she was a Northern Illinois fan.

Lastly, observation #4: As we traveled up the sidewalk towards my parking spot people going the opposite direction were entering the sidewalk between concrete barriers. When you’re in my position you just have to find the openings and weave between the people. As I passed the last concrete barrier I saw a middle-aged couple ready to step out onto the sidewalk. The wife stepped in front of me first but the timing was off for the husband’s effort. Nonetheless he tried to shoot the gap and took a half step, so I quickly stopped, then he stopped, then he resigned a bit, then I just kept going. And as I passed him he looked at me with visible frustration, as if I got in his way, or he was bothered to have to give way. To the contrary, sir.

People in wheelchairs experience this kind of exchange all the time in busy public settings. It seems like able-bodied folks, especially those trying to keep pace with their group, always think that they can do a quick step in front of me even though there’s not enough time or room. I don't get it. Just wait one second and go around! Because it’s not just the mini panic of someone crashing into my chair or onto my lap, but the fact that I have to come to such an abrupt stop, then start again to regain the lost momentum. It was much worse when I used my manual chair because stopping so abruptly and using the full force of my arms to restart my intended path took their physical toll. So to the gentleman frustrated that he couldn’t shoot the gap: I had the right of way.

But hot damn do I love going to Badger games regardless! The Badgers won 28-20, by the way.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Weekend Quotes

I have season tickets for Wisconsin Badger football and I'm blazing a trail for Madison tomorrow for the first game of the season. Kickoff is at 6pm Saturday night which means a plethora of tailgating beforehand to start the season in proper fashion. This is my favorite time of the year, and I often refer to Camp Randall Stadium as "my church." That prime event will be sandwiched by a relaxing weekend at my parent’s cottage on Lake Wissota. That said, the exciting conclusion to my ‘Beware the Rehab Doc’ trilogy will have to wait until next week. But in its stead I offer up few more interesting quotes that I came across recently:

The first quote is via Michael J. Fox: "One's dignity may be assaulted, vandalized and cruelly mocked, but cannot be taken away unless it is surrendered." I found it very apropos for anyone who lives with a disability.

I also saw this interesting quote by Matthew Reeve (Christopher's son) in a New York Times blog interview. This fall will mark the five year anniversary of Christopher’s unfortunate death and Matthew decided to run the New York City marathon this year to both raise money for spinal cord injury research and to honor his dad’s memory. He was asked why start running now, to which he said: "I’m constantly grateful and appreciative of being able to do the simplest, most basic functions, and the fact that I have good health and can move normally. That’s something I’ve been more aware of and grateful for since the age of 15 than most people. There is a sense of, well, I can and I should." A sense that I can and I should – that’s good stuff, folks.

Happy Labor Day weekend y’all. Go Badgers!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Beware the Rehab Doc (Part II: The Unique Breakdown of the Tests)

Picking up where I left off in the previous post, to get my FES bike groove on my new rehab doc’s marching orders were for me to get a bone mineral density (BMD) scan, blood work, and a creatinine test – the latter two “as long as we were at it.”

I made the BMD scan appointment first because it was the most involved. In its simplest terms a BMD scan, for the purpose I was getting one, consists of hopping up onto the exam table and laying on your back while the scanning mechanism takes BMD pictures of your hips and lower spine. That’s how it breaks down normally at any rate. I was told that wrist scans can sometimes be supplemented if doing a scan on the core of the body is too challenging.

But when you’re a c-6/7 quadriplegic who uses a wheelchair full time the terms aren’t so simple, and what’s “challenging” takes on a whole new meaning. In general, any exam that involves getting from my wheelchair up onto an exam table can get hugely challenging. A lot of times in the past I’ve asked my mom to tag along just so I have an ally who I'm very comfortable with to help out if we need to start throwing my body around. If I'm lucky the exam table is wheelchair seat height, or can get lowered to my wheelchair height so that all I need to do is tuck a slide board under my butt and slide over onto the table in similar fashion to how I get in and out of bed. But rare are the instances where exam tables can be lowered to about 2 feet off the floor. Sometimes, with some assistance, utilizing the slide board to transfer can still suffice if there’s less than a half foot height difference between my chair and the exam table. Of course, it was much easier to pull that off about 30 pounds ago. In the vast majority of cases, though, the height difference is between a half a foot and a full foot (or more), which means some sort of lifting is required to get me up there. Moreover, most often the lifting involves a tag-team job because paralyzed lower limbs are very heavy (i.e. dead weight).

So in the case of my BMD scan all that was factored in, as the table was at least a foot and a half higher than my sitting height. So that was a major hurdle right off the bat. Another slight challenge was that I showed up by myself. I didn’t think that it was worth my mom’s time, effort, and expense to drive the two hours from Eau Claire to Minneapolis to join me. And I wouldn’t want to subject my almost 60 year old mother to some significant muscle or joint injury by taking on a brunt of the lifting duties. I don’t have that go-to-my-medical-appointments-with-me relationship with my PCAs, nor do I choose to go that direction with them (Do they ride with me? Follow me there? Do I pay for their parking expenses?), even though if I asked I'm sure they’d be fine with it. But in this instance neither of my regulars would have been any help with the heavy lifting anyway.

Thus for the first time in my post-SCI life I just made the appointment, enlightened them ahead of time as to my physical situation, and let them deal with it. And it was a bit of a calculated risk in doing so. Too many lessons learned from too many times in the past where the medical staff looks at me in my chair and either assumes a) I can just do a little hop step (huh?) or b) they panic (or in at least one past case get mad) because they don’t know what to do with me has always led me to bring someone as a backup. So making things clear before I arrive is always a good tactic to employ when I fly solo, not to mention crucial to my own sanity in those situations.

As is common in many medical facilities these days they had a ceiling lift attached to a rolling track to cater to overweight patients, etc. for this very set of circumstances. Again, in typical fashion utilizing this piece of equipment involves putting a hard cloth sleeve thing under one’s butt, clipping it onto a rack that looks like a clothes hanger, which is in turn attached to a belt, lifting the person up, rolling them over onto the exam table, and lowering them back down onto the table. But once again, with someone like me simple execution was not so simple.

As mentioned, the first step was getting that hard cloth thing under my bottom to cradle me from below as I get lifted. The best way to describe it is if you picture an open palm of a hand with only two fingers making the “devil/metal horns” or a stretched out “peace” sign, then the “palm” goes under my butt and the two “fingers” go under my thighs from the outside and come up in between my legs. Two loops on the back and a loop on each of the “fingers” gets clipped to the “hanger” rack. What that typically involves in this kind of situation is that I lift up on my wheelchair armrests while others work the cloth (towel, graduation gown, what have you) under me bit by bit. It doesn’t give us too much more room underneath but at least I get a clean lift off my seat cushion. What always aides that process quite a bit is if someone helping can lift my legs one at a time while I lift up so that the cloth thing can get worked from back to front a lot easier and with a lot less effort (factoring in heavy dead leg weight, recall). The immediate challenge in that regard though was that both the BMD scan technician and her assistant had back issues. So relying on them, as planned, for even some of the necessary, small lifting duties was out the window. That made placing the hard cloth thing under my butt much more difficult. After about a dozen lifts, not to mention a nice triceps and shoulder workout later, and we were mostly set with that part of the process.

The attaching, lifting, and rolling over the table part was pretty smooth. But it was a bit daunting looking up at the mostly plastic lift mechanism and skinny belt wondering if it will hold my weight or come crashing down. “I assume this will hold me,” I said. The assistant replied, “Don’t worry, we’ve had people bigger than you on this thing before.” Which is one of those things where at first you go “Whew, good” but then a second later you’re like, “Hey wait, what does that mean?” You trying to say that I'm fat but not “fat enough” to be concerned about equipment failure? Nice. I’ll just assume she meant that I was in the weight class that had nothing to worry about.

So up we went with me clutching the hanger, my bottom drooping, my legs dangling, feeling like a human jockstrap, trying not to think about if “my boys” were getting squeezed out from down below in an “impolite” display, staring at the ceiling and studying the tiles for any signs of distress. Thankfully we only had to go up about two feet and over about three, so from start to finish it happened pretty quickly. A pretty decent little ride I might add.

Going back over and down off the table again after the scan was easier, if not a little fun by then due to the fact that I am very rarely out of my wheelchair, let alone swinging around over top of it. I made a comment about how interesting this all must look and the assistant replied something about if only I had a picture of it to show others. I then added that I had a camera on my cell phone and we could snap a good pic pretty quickly, but the technician had no sense of humor about it whatsoever. And I don’t blame her either, as it was probably much wiser to get me safely back in the chair with little delay. Getting the cloth thing out from under me was much easier than shoving it under was as well. But in doing that kind of maneuver it always gets a little tenuous when they’re trying to yank from behind because if they rip it out too hard and fast then I could faceplant forward; it’s a simple matter of physics and gravity. After a few slight personal adjustments it was all over with and out the door I gladly went, hoping to never have to be a part of all of those shenanigans ever again (I was wrong: more on that later).

My next stop was the hospital lab and on to the creatinine test. For those unaware, a creatinine test is a urine test. At this point some people may be saying “gross, why in the heck would he dish the dirt on that?” Well the answer is that it provides another example of me having to work around what would normally be a menial task for others. Now when my doctor prescribed this test she said that they would give me a can that I would take home with me and have to urinate in throughout a one day period. Still in her office at the time I thought, “Ok no big deal, a little tinkle here, a little tinkle there, throughout the day, whatever.” Like if Old McDonald had a farm, and on his farm was sporadic urine samples. That kind of action. However, what she failed to mention, and what I didn’t realize until I showed up to pick up the “can” was that the test involved me collecting ALL my urine over a 24 hour period. Jaw dropping surprise. So instead of picking up what I thought was supposed to be a smallish sized collection can I left with three 3500 milliliter canisters, which are a little bigger than a gallon jug of milk.

Why so many jugs you may be asking? Well the simple reason is that I drink a ton of water. In general. But in the summer my average water intake is typically increased incrementally. With my specific level of spinal cord injury I don’t sweat so it’s real easy for me to get overheated, sometimes without realizing it. So along with sitting in front of a fan or air conditioner, drinking cool water is the most effective way for me to keep my core cool and keep me properly hydrated on hot days.

Now on that particular week the weather was between 80 and 90 degrees every day so on average I was putting down around 1.5 gallons of water per day. So when the lab staffer gave me one canister I quickly recalled how many trips to the bathroom I made each of the few days prior and said “That won’t be enough.” A little surprised she said “OK I’ll give you another one then.” I said, “Yeah…better make it three just to be safe,” which according to the look on her face was even more surprising. I just shrugged and muttered that I drink a lot of water in the summer. Then she said, “Do you think you’ll need four?” I replied, “I should hope not.” Taking three was embarrassing enough as it was. And out the door I went cradling my three huge urine sample jugs in my arms.

Logistically, the 24 hour collection thing was a major issue for me to do properly. First, it’s far from easy for me to collect every drop of my urine during the day because I can’t just stand up and take a leak in a sample canister like normal. Second, I had to somehow keep those huge jugs of pee cool at the same time. It took me like five days to figure out how to get it done. I’ll save you the details, but I cleared room on the top shelf of my fridge and I collected it on a day I knew I wasn’t leaving my pad, and also knew that I would have no visitors to stave off the awkwardness. (Although fun fact: the night that I got stuck by my desk in my new wheelchair? (see my Permobil, We Have a Problem post) It was that same night.) The punch line is that I filled two jugs to capacity, which for the record is a lot of piss. And technically I could have filled almost a quarter of the third jug too but decided enough was enough. I was going to have enough trouble delivering those two big specimen jugs back to the hospital lab as it was.

Which leads me to the more intriguing part of the story, wherein I, a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic, executed the successful delivery of two, full, heavy, milk gallon size jugs of urine to the hospital lab by myself. That took some thoughtful planning too. Sitting them in the back seat of my van was out because they’d possibly roll around, and worse, spill. Approximately two gallons of pee soaking into my backseat? No thanks! I thought I could possibly seatbelt them in the passenger seat but a) I can’t connect the passenger seatbelt myself, b) my PCA leaves in the morning so I couldn’t have her help because they’d sit down there until I left for my afternoon appointment, and c) that way I’d have to make multiple trips to the lab to deliver them – assuming I could carry them on my lap one by one – which wasn't an option if I could help it because my chair is too old to make unnecessary and lengthy extra round trips.

So I needed something secure, capable of containing both jugs, and easy to transport solo. Thus relying on my Eagle Scout skills I devised a transport module consisting of my empty laundry basket stuffed with one of my pillows to keep all the jugs snug and secure. See the picture below for visual evidence of this handy device. (Note how I mindlessly tossed my water bottle in with them. Oh well.)

It’s in those moments that I definitely feel much more handi-capable than handicapped, and more abled than disabled. Off to the hospital I went very carefully pulling the whole, heavy thing onto my lap, very carefully sliding it off my lap into the back seat, very carefully making sure I didn’t break too hard on the drive there, very carefully pulling it back onto my lap again after I parked. As I toodled down the hallways with my pillow basket full of pee I was grinning quite proudly of my quick fix ingenuity. The fun part was the variety of looks I got that ranged from curious to surprised to dismissive – clearly a total package of a scene rarely seen each day. By the time I got to the lap the exterior jug condensation started to make the label droop and blur my name. I couldn’t tell if they were surprised I filled two full jugs or not. It was just nice to get rid of them while having avoided a whole series of spills and other related disasters.

As for the bloodwork, no big deal. First, I’ve never had a problem with needles, contrary to my sister who is fully entrenched in the freak out category. I worked at a Boy Scout camp in northern Wisconsin for two summers in high school and she tagged along once when I drove up there to get one of a series of three required shots for hepatitis or something like that. While they prepped my arm and were getting ready to give me the shot I was filling out some paper work and was pretty much paying no mind. I remember my sister was wide-eyed that I wasn’t bracing myself for the horror to come and she slid closer to me, grabbed my hand, and said “Do you need me to hold your hand?” because she always needed that done herself. I found it unnecessary and didn’t but it’s a quick, fun story to demonstrate our different outlooks towards shots. She still hates them but it's worse now because she has to take my one year old niece in for her shots as well, who not unlike her mother screams and cries the whole time; they're both wrecked emotionally afterwards.

But I became practically desensitized to needle pricks when I was in post-accident rehab because I used to have my blood drawn every morning between 5 and 6am for like 4 straight months. I quickly dubbed them “the vampires” because they gladly took my blood every morning and always left needle pricks behind that resembled little fang bites. Although when I transferred to Craig Hospital for more extensive rehab, on my very first morning vampire visit she asked me if I preferred that she draw my blood from my arm or my foot. I was like, wait, what, you can do that? Why wasn’t this option ever presented to me in the previous two plus months of daily early morning needle prick torture? My arm where I could feel it, or my foot where I couldn't…hmmm...yeah let’s go for the foot please! Thus I had much less condescension for the Craig vampires.

I’ll get into the surprising results of the bone mineral density scan in the next post.