It happened. My personal nightmare.
Some rational adults fear irrational things: bugs, mice, dirt, farting publicly, having spinach stuck in their teeth, contracting rare and incurable diseases, etc. Not I. I was the resident exterminator when I lived in Fells Point; I disposed of dead mice caught on sticky traps, captured giant roaches under pint glasses and threw them out the window of my room, and even talked my old roommate off of the proverbial edge after she discovered a literal mouse house in her purse. (I know what you’re thinking, but we were clean. I promise.) My sole fear is this: falling out of my wheelchair in front of students.
(I have other fears obviously, but that is one that haunts me on a daily basis.)
One might think that falling out of a wheelchair is a nearly impossible feat but I, my friends, have turned it into a somewhat regular part of my repertoire. Let me see…
There was the time that, after one too many cocktails, I let my best friend Meli push me down Rainier Ave. in South Seattle at top speed at two o’clock in the morning. She would sprint until we were moving faster than manual wheelchairs are supposed to move, and then suspend her entire body horizontally in the air by pushing up on my handles while I leaned forward and steered. It was amazing. Amazing until the front wheels of my chair hit a crack in the sidewalk and got stuck. The chair then pitched forward, catapulting Meli over my head into the side of a concrete building and ejecting me onto the sidewalk face first. (We were both inexplicably okay.)
There was also the time that I was on a first date, and the two of us decided to walk from my apartment to Iggie’s Pizza. He was pushing and I was focused more on being cute than on the road in front of us. We reached a particularly unforgiving curb cut, my foot plate jammed into the concrete and I, before even realizing how un-cute it would be, sailed through the air and landed gracelessly on my freshly shaven knees. (He, to his credit, was undeterred.)
It was only recently, however, that I started falling without the assistance of a weathered sidewalk. I attribute this to the post-surgical deterioration of my core, and to my simultaneous stubborn refusal to ask for help. The evening after the first day of school I was getting ready for bed and taking my evening vitamins when I dropped one on the floor. Izzy was eyeing it from my bed, so rather than call Meg for assistance with yet-another inane task, I leaned forward to pick it up. About halfway down, my sock-covered feet slipped behind the footplate, my chair rolled backwards, and I fell on my face. Actually, I fell on my left eyebrow. And rather than land on an object-free piece of carpeted floor, my face landed directly on my surge protector. And though I am used to falling, I am not used to hurting myself. I thus let out a cacophony of expletives, sending my dog flying off of my bed to go get Meg. I turned to remove my head from the surge protector and saw a not insignificant puddle of blood on the carpet next to my face. Much like a toddler who doesn’t cry when she initially falls, but has a meltdown once she sees her knee is bleeding, I—upon seeing the blood—immediately lost it. Bruised knees are one thing, but a busted face on the second day of school is entirely another. At this point, Meg and Izzy were by my side, and Meg (who is not currently a nurse but most definitely should be) went into triage mode. She brought me a wet washcloth, and determined that I might need stitches. After I vehemently refused that option, she finished cleaning my face, threw me into my bed (with another washcloth) and took my car to a 24-hour CVS for butterfly bandages. Forty-five minutes later, bandages in place, I fell soundly asleep while Meg cleaned blood off of my carpet.
Incidentally, though my left temple was bruised the next morning, the bloody incision had scabbed over beautifully and was predominantly masked by my eyebrow. And though every adult in the building inquired as to the origin of my war wound, not one student so much as looked at me funny (most likely because it was only the second day of school). Still though, I was relieved. Explaining that I’d fallen on my face while reaching for a vitamin is a story my self-esteem is not prepared to handle.
Perhaps now you understand my fear of falling out of my wheelchair in front of my students is neither implausible nor irrational.
Friday my morning helper wasn’t in school; I was left to unpack my backpack, grab my laptop, attach the power cord and set up the LCD projector alone. As these are all things I felt relatively capable of doing independently, I didn’t ask anyone for help. Two minutes later, I wished I had. My backpack was on the floor, and as I leaned forward to reach the power cord, my feet slipped behind the footplate, the chair rolled backwards, and within an instant, I was on my face. In front of twenty-eight ninth graders. In addition to the two four-letter words that slipped out of my mouth on my way to the ground, within seconds I also contemplated feigning my own death so as to avoid the fall-out of my public descent.
I opened my eyes.
Every student in the class was huddled around me asking if I was okay. Two boys asked what they could do. I asked Larry to set the brakes and moments later he and Sekou picked me up effortlessly and put me back in my chair. My kids went back to their seats and I waved air towards my face attempting to return it to its original – less fuchsia – hue. It was then that I realized the most remarkable thing about my fall: no one had laughed. Not one goofy ninth grader.
And even more astounding, they didn’t tell my other classes. By 3:05 not one student had so much as implied that he’d heard about it.
(If you don’t find that amazing, you do not know fourteen and fifteen year-olds very well.)
So it happened. My number one fear. And I’m still here to tell about it.