Walking is an advantage as a human because the world is set up for walkers. I walked until just past 30, when I decided that using a wheelchair would benefit me much more than what was left of my walking ability would give me. This is the quandary: At what point is it better to use a wheelchair than it is to keep walking?
I see people struggle to keep walking or set their hopes on walking again some time in the future. I must say that unless it’s a full-blown normal type of walking that includes being able to walk quickly, go up stairs, and not fall down often then I don’t really want to walk. When it was difficult, walking was a huge negative in my life.
First, doing anything involving walking became stressful. I didn’t want to get run into by a frenzied kid. I didn’t want to trip and fall in the middle of a parking lot. I didn’t want to have to explain to people that I wasn’t drunk when I got into my car to drive home.
Second, my walking was slow. I get extremely impatient when things are slow — slow walkers, slow drivers, slow lines. I was tired of taking an hour to go through a grocery store when it should have taken 20 minutes at most.
Third, walking limited what I could do by myself. I couldn’t really travel when my walking was bad. Getting around in a new city, much less in an airport was extremely difficult once walking became a challenge. Running errands, particularly to unfamiliar places where parking might have been limited became frustrating and inconvenient.
Most importantly, perhaps, walking became unsafe. Falls became more frequent and although I was never seriously injured I started to feel it was only a matter of time before something bad would happen.
Walking does have its advantages. If you can stand and walk, you can reach things that are higher up. You can maneuver up and down stairs. You can get into bathrooms with narrow doors. I am actually struggling to come up with any more examples, which is exactly my point about this article — our society is designed for walkers but I’m not convinced the advantages of walking are worth crying over once you’ve lost it.
There was a stretch of about five years when I could have benefitted from having a power wheelchair at my disposal but the thought never crossed my mind. Instead I let my limited walking ability keep me at home — rarely going outside or doing anything interesting. Going grocery shopping was the most exciting thing I could do at a moment’s notice because I could latch onto a shopping cart for balance. Aside from that, unless friends were going along or planning something, I usually stayed home.
All this time, I could still walk! A lot of good walking did me. It turned me into a hermit!
So that’s why when I see those news stories and Youtube videos about paralyzed people “walking” again with the help of an exoskeleton, I think to myself, “Meh…I’d rather have my wheelchair.” Not only to they have to strap the big honking thing on their legs, they only walk inches at a time and still have to use crutches to balance! What good is this if you can’t even carry something while you’re walking?
I do understand that these rudimentary “walking” devices are a step towards something better, but until then I’m fine using my wheelchair. These days I get in/out of the grocery store in ten minutes or less — faster than most people. And unlike most people, I can even sit while I am waiting in line.
I don’t regret starting to use a wheelchair full time even though I could probably have kept up some sort of walking for a time. Once I weighed the advantages over the disadvantages, it became an incredibly easy decision to give up on walking. And this is what I recommend: If using a wheelchair will make your life better overall, then use it.
Once you get used to it, you’ll discover that despite it’s drawbacks, using a wheelchair can have its advantages. I’ll write more about that in another post.