The day I fell – Breaking Barriers – The Borneo Post – 26 April, 2014

The day I fell
by Peter Tan. Posted on April 26, 2014, Saturday

I FELL while transferring from a plastic chair to my wheelchair in the bathroom several days ago. A lapse in concentration saw me missing the seat of the wheelchair by a few inches. I pondered over my predicament as I half-sat and half-leaned on the wet floor. Being paralysed from the chest down, I have very little trunk control to enable me to sit up unassisted, and insufficient strength in my upper limbs to pull myself back onto the wheelchair without help.

The one thing I carry religiously with me when I am home alone is the mobile phone for unexpected moments like this. I called my wife Wuan in the office. There was no reply. It was lunch time. With nothing more that I could do except to wait for her to call back, I took a photo of the wheelchair from my position on the floor and uploaded it unto Facebook.

For someone who has been using a wheelchair for the past 29 years, there is a very high possibility that I already have osteoporosis of the lower extremities. This loss of bone mineral density is caused by a lack of weight loading on the bones, a common occurrence for people with paraplegia and tetraplegia. There is always a risk of breaking a bone when I fall.

As the minutes ticked by, my buttocks began to ache. The bony protuberances of my posterior were pressing against the unyielding hardness of the floor tiles. My legs, crossed at the knee, were getting numb. So were my shoulders, tired from propping up my body.

When Wuan finally called back, I told her as calmly as I could that I was sitting on the floor instead of falling off the chair. Telling her how it happened would not have changed the situation anyway. On her side, I could sense an alarm in her voice although she tried to sound composed as well.

β€œI will come back immediately,” she said and hung up.

It was raining heavily outside. The trains were slower than usual. On normal days, it takes her one hour to reach home. I wondered how long it would take in that inclement weather.

My main concern was whether the pain on my buttocks and ankles would result in pressure sores. That is a perennial problem that people with mobility impairments have to face all the time. These sores can develop from something as innocuous as sitting without a proper cushion. I did not fancy going through the pain and discomfort of suffering from one, having experienced a rather stubborn sore on the tailbone that took nearly one year and thousands of ringgit in medication to heal.

While waiting for Wuan to come back and rescue me, friends were posting messages on Facebook asking if I was all right and if I needed help. Answering their questions kept me occupied and entertained at the same time, especially the humorous messages. It is heartwarming to know that there are acquaintances, some I have never met in real life before, who could be so concerned with my well-being.

As I waited and continued to ponder over the situation I was in, I was overcome by a sense of vulnerability and helplessness. While I have always strived to be independent in my activities of daily living, I have accepted that there are tasks that are beyond my capabilities.

However, being down and out like that was a scary notion. I have come to realise how crucial the wheelchair has been to my mobility and independence. Without it, I was literally a sitting duck, unable to do anything to save myself even in the face of impending danger.

In the midst of all those thoughts swirling in my mind, came the sounds of the door being unlocked and opened. Wuan finally got home, and in record time too, despite the pouring rain.

β€œAre you all right?” That was the first thing she asked when she stepped into the bathroom.

I assured her that I was unhurt.

She spent the next five minutes helping me. I transferred from a lower stool to a higher one and finally back to the wheelchair. There were some minor wounds on my buttocks, most probably sustained when I repeatedly dragged myself on the floor to get into a more comfortable and upright position. Thankfully, I did not suffer any broken bone.

Falling is a risk I have to contend with each time I transfer. This was not the first time I had fallen and I am sure it will not be my last. I have fallen going up steep ramps. I fell when the front wheel of my wheelchair got caught in the crevice on the sidewalk. Some incidences could have been avoided while others not.

This is one of the many trials and tribulations that I am confronted with day in, day out, and something that I take in my stride. After all, everybody falls every now and then. The only difference is that I need a little more help in getting back up. With a loving wife and caring friends, the experience becomes less traumatic as was proven that day.

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Author: Peter Tan

Peter Gabriel Tan. Penangite residing in the Klang Valley. Blissfully married to Wuan. A LaSallian through and through. Slave to three cats. Wheelchair user since 1984. End-stage renal disease since 2017. Principal Facilitator at Peter Tan Training specialising in Disability Equality Training. Former columnist of Breaking Barriers with The Borneo Post. This blog chronicles my life, thoughts and opinions. Connect with me on Twitter and Facebook.