Jan Reid,

Jan Reid,

A weeklong electronic journal.
July 9 1998 3:30 AM

Jan Reid,

VIEW ALL ENTRIES

       My first wheelchair was a one-armed bandit. Standard wheelchairs are designed to be propelled by both hands, but my left forearm had been broken by a bullet smashing through it. All I could do with a standard model was to send it in an endless left turn. Therapists at the rehab hospital in Houston mentioned the existence of a chair that could be driven with one hand. I told them to find me one of those--I wanted the exercise. But the only one available must have been of World War II vintage, for it handled like it had the tonnage of a tank. People in the corridors raised their gazes from mine because I crept so painfully and pathetically along.
       The therapists took pity on me and delivered an electric-powered model. Soon I was zipping all over the place, never late for my appointments, steering with my index finger and thumb. Then a patient who had more legitimate need of my hot rod entered the hospital, and abruptly one night it disappeared. Left outside my door instead was a standard wheelchair. My arm was still in a splint. A nurse told me I could help in the steerage by throwing out my heels, digging them in the tile, and pulling the vehicle along. But the seat was set too tall for me. I flailed, kicked, and cursed, and when I finally came upon the responsible party, it's a good thing I didn't have a cane.
       Now I'm home with a rented, standard, rather sleek model. My arm is tender but healed, and I've made a sort of peace with the mode of transportation. I sport a pair of mountain bike gloves, made in Sri Lanka, that look stylish and give me needed grip for the ramps in my yard and house. I'm mobile. Thanks to the wheelchair, my working life goes on. But the dogs and cat recognize the vehicle for what it is--a small car in the house that can veer out of control. Our Austin home sits on a geological fault, and if you drop a ball in the dining room it will roll through the kitchen to the living room wall. Now I don't find that eccentricity quite so funny. In the kitchen I'm always spinning around, hitting a brake, as I try to move a chicken breast from chopping board to skillet. To clean the sink or load the dishwasher, I have to parallel park. Tonight I fed the dogs and made a simple, cold avocado soup for dinner. Nothing to it on the cookbook page, yet the two light chores consumed more than an hour. Afterward I looked at the water faucet and glasses in one cabinet behind me and the whiskey bottle and refrigerator full of ice at the higher end of the kitchen. How much trick driving do I have to do to make myself a drink?

Jan Reid is a free-lance journalist and a founding writer at Texas Monthly. He recently returned from a trip to Mexico that went awry.