Stepping Out and Crossing the Road

I was going to title this post “Why Did the Quadriplegic Cross the Road?” But I didn’t have a good answer and it would be a bit silly anyways.

This story is about the first time leaving GF Strong and the goal was to cross West King Edward Ave in Vancouver. King Ed is quite a busy road with a median and a pedestrian controlled stop light. Our goal was to go one block to King Ed, press the walk button and get to the median, press the walk button again and get across to the other side of the road and then decide what to do after that.

It sounds easy to go one block, but I was brand new to driving a wheelchair in a loaner wheelchair that was controlled with the sip and puff. Now for those of you who don’t know a sip and puff is, it is a straw that goes in my mouth that I use to control various devices. I use sips (or suck in or breathe in) and puffs (or blow out or breathe out) to control the wheelchair. A strong puff will make me move forward while a strong sip will stop the wheelchair or make it go backwards if I am already stopped. A soft puff will turn the wheelchair to the right and a soft sip will turn the wheelchair to the left. I know I could say it sounds harder than it is, but then I would be lying. It is aggravating. The worst part is what I would call the anxious puff. I would reach a point where I would have to turn right and as I got closer my soft puff wouldn’t work. Then I would become more anxious and I would puff harder. That would cause the chair to move faster. Not a good thing when you are trying to turn away from whatever obstacle is in front of you. Yes, there were a couple of incidents.

The sidewalk to go the one block from GF Strong to King Ed was long and quite thin. It didn’t leave much room for error. As well it was quite cracked and had some large rises and bumps due to tree roots. That means the drop-off on either side would sometimes be several inches. If I had a wheel go off the edge it could have caused a lot of problems. All this means that the trip simply getting to King Ed was stressful to begin with.

We finally got to the main road with our little entourage. There was myself, Isabelle, Nigel my occupational therapist and a student. No, I don’t travel lightly! This was my first attempt to try to cross and not block traffic and not leave the crosswalk. Someone pushed the button and off we went. We managed to get across to the median before the walk light turned red. Fortunately the city planned for this and there was another button to push for the walk signal at the median. So, my posse and I waited at the median for the light to turn again and off we went to the far side. Mission accomplished. I made it across a main road.

Finally, I was somewhere new. Nigel asked if I wanted to go to the corner to the store there. I was so exhausted from our little journey I looked at him and emphatically said no. So, we simply turned around and repeated the sequence and headed back to GF Strong. I’m pretty sure when I got back I had to go upstairs and take a nap. The first day out – going a couple of hundred metres and crossing a road exhausted me.

This was the first step of many. After that day we travelled down to the Skytrain stop and took the Skytrain exactly 2 stops to the big shopping mall. Again, when Nigel asked me if I wanted to go in I shook my head no and just wanted to go back to GF. It was exhausting to try to manoeuvre through the system even though it is very well set up for people like me. It was a 700m trip in my wheelchair just to get to the Skytrain. At that early stage in my recovery it was too tiring to carry on.

Since then we have traveled extensively. I go on my own to meet my friends for coffee. It is about a 2 km trip each direction. I do it all on my own except for pushing the walk button to get across the road. Either I wait for someone to come by and push the button or I text my friend and he comes out and pushes the button for the last step. We have taken the Skytrain several times over long distances now. It is no longer an issue to go out and travel.

Like everyone, for me the first step is the hardest. But hopefully everyone, like me, will take that first step and head out and try something new. It is extremely hard and sometimes very scary but then you never know what is on the other side of the road until you get there.