Its name was Wheelie. Riding on slick, polished wheels, it was a 3-foot-3-inch-high marvel of technology. I never thought that my seven months constrained to it could expand and change my outlook of life so drastically. Then again, I never thought I’d be bound to a wheelchair.
One Monday morning of my junior year, the subtle but persistent trill of my faithful alarm clock wrenched me awake from my dreams and signaled the start of a new day. But instead of my warm, familiar room, I found myself staring into the stark interior of a hospital. The room was decorated with colorful wires, some of which connected me to the source of my query: a heart monitor that kept beeping in error. A nurse rushed in to check the noise, and upon discovering that I was awake, bent over and clasped my hand. With an expression that read somewhere between I am sorry and God, why is it during my shift that I have to be the one to break you the news, she informed me that my emergency heart surgery had failed. My cardiologist was much more forthright. “Sudden death,” she stated matter-of-factly. The failed surgery had structurally damaged my heart, and sudden death meant I could die at any time before the surgeons got a chance to correct their mistakes.
That’s when I met Wheelie.
I remember despising the wheelchair the first time I saw it–a palpable symbol of my newfound limitations. As time went on, less tangible but equally as impairing barriers arose. I was told to stop. Stop school. Stop activities. Stop sports. Because, as my cardiologist phrased it, “sudden death means - life stops.”
Not many people gave me much hope for maintaining my previous lifestyle. But, Wheelie reminded me that while the world couldn’t and wouldn’t wait for me to get better, I had the choice to move forward. Just as a wheelchair must carry its passenger, no matter the weight, I learned to roll on, no matter the obstacles.
If my legs didn’t feel up to moving, Wheelie helped me along.
If there was no school bell to force me to go to school, I’d force myself to wake up early anyway.
If they wouldn’t teach me ABC Calculus because there was no way I could succeed, I’d research integrals myself.
If they said there was no way I could run a regional conference, I made it a point to show that I could and I would with the support of my friends and Wheelie.
My efforts were not to prove my self-sufficiency. I did it as a way to get by, a method of dealing with what was supposed to be a monotonous wait for the Grim Reaper to knock on my door. In essence, by telling myself I could live, I found a way to live.
Another successful surgery later, Wheelie has retired in a cozy corner of my garage. As I walk past it to join my friends for another day at school, I will never forget the sturdy little wheels that taught me the definition of persistence and hope. Wheelie opened my eyes to the hardships that dominate the lives of the disabled–the barriers they have to overcome in performing quotidian tasks, the difficulties they have in staying positive. What is precious to them I had taken for granted. Wheelie didn’t confine me; it gave me the freedom of another perspective on life. I saw more from three feet, three inches off the ground than I ever did standing upright.