For the Disabled
Life Among the Walkies is an attempt to demonstrate my recipe for survival in the middle of a world that, at times, seems to be quite out to lunch. But what is missing here is The Important Other: the narrative of one of them who lives with, cares for, is intimately involved with one of us. In her moving, sweet, disturbing autobiography Tumbling After, Susan Parker tells of her day to day life. This chapter, we hope, will give you an inkling of why they say that the disablement of one in a family will change, powerfully, the lives of all.Ralph and I went to a couples therapist. She asked Ralph to apologize to me.
"What for?" I asked.
"For having a bicycle accident and changing your life forever," she explained.
Before Ralph could answer, I said, "Look, it was an accident. Ralph doesn't need to apologize to me. Accidents happen."
I turned to Ralph. "Ralph, you don't need to apologize to me. It wasn't your fault."
Ralph looked at me with his once-bright blue eyes, now cloudy from drugs. His salt-and-pepper hair needed to be cut and styled. His beard was overgrown and wild. The plaid cap he once wore so jauntily upon his head sagged sadly. "Suzy," he whispered, his voice hoarse. "I will if it's important to you."
"Don't bother, Ralph," I answered firmly. "It's not necessary.
The couples therapist kept digging. She wanted to know the level of intimacy between Ralph and me.
I tried to steer her away from the subject. "What's the point?" I asked sarcastically. "Ralph doesn't think about it. He's got far bigger challenges than sex. It's not important. It's not even possible."
"Oh, but it is," she chirped. "You just need to figure out a schedule and a new way of doing things. There are definitely ways to do this. We need to explore the options."
Lady, I thought, get a grip. What you read in psychology textbooks is not necessarily true. I touch Ralph and he goes into spasms. His breath smells ferocious. He's surrounded by so much metal and plastic on his wheelchair that it's impossible to get close to him. He has far more important things than sex to think about. And me, well, I'm just too tired. Leave it alone, will you please?
But the therapist was determined to help. She began a lecture. I looked over at Ralph. His eyes were glazed. He was in that space where he was neither conscious nor unconscious, neither asleep nor awake. I wished that I was there with him. I wanted the therapist to shut up.
"What is your day like?" she asked. "Tell me about it so we can work out a plan for you and Ralph. We need to get you back together in the physical sense." She chuckled nervously.
I hesitated for a moment. "All right. I'll tell you about yesterday, how's that? It was a typical day. Here's what happened after I came home from picking up a prescription for Ralph at the pharmacy:
"Jerry had the afternoon off so I washed the breakfast dishes, folded the laundry, paid an overdue credit card bill, and spread the paper out on the dining room table for Ralph to read. I leaned over him to give him a kiss on the cheek and as I did so, I smelled something foul. I put my hands between his legs and felt his trousers. His pants were soaked. I needed to change his clothes. I disengaged the gears of the wheelchair and pushed it into our living room, which is now Ralph's bedroom. I removed his glasses, his mouth stick, and the tray on which he rests his hands. I turned off the control buttons and bent the electric box and the joystick away from Ralph's face. I got down on my hands and knees, cranked up the hospital bed, and reached under the wheelchair to unlatch the footrests. I laid a rubber sheet on the bed, slammed the safety rails down, and yanked the armrests out of their sockets. I straddled Ralph's knees, unhooked his chest strap and belt, and unbuttoned his shirt. I raised his arms and lifted the shirt over his head. I pulled the thin cotton shirt off his body, one sleeve at a time. I reached for the wooden slide board, leaned Ralph as far to the right as I dared, and shoved the board under his wet buttocks. I sat him back down on the board, clenched my knees hard around his thighs, and rocked him side to side. Taking a deep breath, I slid him with all my might onto the bed. Practically on top of Ralph, I pushed and shoved his body across the rubber sheet until I was sure he was safe. I wound up sprawled on top of my helpless, wet husband."
I looked at the therapist. She was staring down at her notebook, chewing on the end of her pen. I glanced over at Ralph. He was sleeping.
"Listen," I whispered. "I'm taking care of this intimacy thing in my own way and I don't want to lie to Ralph."
And with that small remark, she quit being our therapist. She told Ralph and me at our next meeting that I had disclosed something that made it impossible for her to work with us as a couple. We went home discouraged. We had liked her and felt, for once, we were getting some help. But Ralph never asked me what I had confided to her. He was too busy with other, more pressing problems.