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I don't remember much of what happened that day, I had been away for a few days on business and had just put away my braces and wheelchair in a locker that I rented for that purpose, and was on my way home when I stopped to buy a newspaper. I remember crossing the road to the median strip, then a blur and sort of a vague recollection of pain and flashing lights. I woke up in hospital. I was in some sort of cast from my chest down, I could move my arms and right leg, and I could feel my left leg although it was a bit numb and obviously restrained in a cast. The next few days were a flurry of events happening around me, but gradually it became clear that I had been hit by a truck, I had badly broken my left leg and suffered some suspected spinal injuries in the lower lumbar region. The doctor's initial prognosis was good. My leg would heal, although some nerve damage meant that I may not have full function. There appeared to be some superficial bruising of the spinal cord, but no obvious damage, although it was too early to tell until the swelling went down. For me as a person who had spent most of his life pretending to be crippled in secret, wearing braces and using a wheelchair, this event in my life was like a dream that had almost come true.
Out of intensive care, the stream of visitors began, a very concerned family, work colleagues, friends all wishing a speedy recovery, with me wondering if this was just another opportunity lost. As the first few weeks went by, and the functional tests began in earnest, I unconsciously at first then deliberately suppressed evidence of feeling in my lower body. The doctors were not overly concerned that I couldn't feel the implements they brushed down my right leg and along the sole of my left foot, I could feel something but it was a bit numb down there any way, so I pretended not to feel at all. I began to wonder if no matter how this turned out I could become to some extent the disabled person I had always wanted to be. The effects of a decision like this on my life, and that of my family were held back in the dim recesses of a mind that that was still a bit slow and drugged by the effects of shock, anaesthesia and pain killers, so the reality of facts remained a little blurred.
After four weeks and numerous X-rays, the upper body cast came off, there was still some swelling around the spinal cord and of course my left leg was still immobilized and would need some further reconstruction. The doctors were becoming a little concerned that my movement and feeling were not recovering as quickly as they hoped, but they explained that outcomes of spinal cord injuries were hard to predict, and healing may take a little longer. By this time I had made a decision to try to become disabled - at least for a while - to see what it would be like. Perhaps I could go through rehabilitation, have braces made, use a wheelchair at times and when I had enough, gradually get better.
When the full cast came off the leg I went into a spinal rehabilitation unit attached to the hospital. I could see the effect on my family was pretty devastating, but they were putting on a brave face to keep me going, I felt awfully guilty, but not quite guilty enough to stop the sham which I was enjoying immensely, despite some pain in my leg which I had to pretend I couldn't feel. I had read and learned enough to be able to fake my symptoms to the extent of some weak movement below the hips and in the lower legs which was very encouraging to the therapist who was I think, a little puzzled about my retained continence (I wasn't giving that much up), but spinal injuries are funny things...... I got my bilateral long leg braces metal and leather with ankle joints and tangs into shoe heels. They were fitted with a locking hip joint that I was told I could do away with as I learned to be a bit more stable and could control my upper body rotation. New lighter moulded plastic braces or possibly an RGO could come later if I needed them, but a wheelchair was recommended to me as my primary form of mobility. The hospital wheelchair was replaced by a fancy fixed frame sporty model, and I was ready to go home.
That in itself was a problem, but not as much as I had thought. My wife was quite accepting of the situation, better alive - in part - than dead. The house we lived in was quite modern, and on one level, few mods were required, the insurance was picking up most of the extra bills and my job as a an analytical chemist at an adhesives company was waiting for me when I was ready. The mechanics of it all were easy. The disabled labels for the car, the hand controls re-applying and being retested for a driving license for a modified vehicle. All the things that people who are traumatically disabled have to do. The difference was that I was the only one who knew I didn't really have to be like this. I was still continent, and sexually competent, I enjoyed my sex much more than before, I was really living my fantasies. That part of life was really good.
Some things were hard. Really hard. Things we did as a family - skiing, sailing and many other activities were out, or at least too hard to really bother with, although I did try para-sledding, but found it to scary and getting around in the snow just too hard on everyone concerned. Work went on as usual. I could do almost everything I did before and mobility between using a wheelchair or braces when needed, was not too much of a problem. Time went by very quickly, after a year of living in the real world like this, I realised I had not stood up unaided for nearly eighteen months and not really thought about it.
This all happened three years ago now, My family and friends have accepted me as I now am and it seems unlikely that I will ever go back to being able bodied. Sometimes the day-to-day mechanics of a major handicap whether real or self-imposed can be very frustrating, especially when I know that I really could just get out of bed and go to the toilet without transferring to my chair, sliding on to the toilet back onto the chair and dragging myself back into bed. It's very tempting when I am alone just to see if I can still walk. I have maintained my self-imposed discipline not to try to stand without support, I probably couldn't actually walk unaided any more anyway without building up some strength in my leg muscles. I know I can move my legs any time I want, but not using them has become so much a part of my life that for weeks at a time that I consciously don't even try.
This self imposed image of me as a disabled person has been with me for so long now that it seems to have become my natural self, justifying what I had always thought I should be like as a pretender and wannabe. I cannot ever actually imagine that I will recreate my former self although I am starting to worry about life as I grow older, less fit and able to manage the physical exertion that that mobility without using your lower body demands. Even my new superlight wheelchair is becoming heavier to lift out of the car, and I am seriously thinking about a van with a lift and an electric chair. This was never part of my fit, disabled and sexy image.
The only dark cloud on the horizon is a strange urge that has occasionally come upon me as I have started to travel on my own again for business reasons in the past few months. It seems particularly strange that that I have this nagging need to try to be an able bodied person in private, just to see what it is like. Maybe even a trip to a distant shopping mall, put my disabled parking label away, park in the normal area, hoping no one gets suspicious about why my car has hand controls and a chair in the back seat and get out of the car and just walk around the shops like everyone else. Its a tantalising thought, but it I am worried about being recognized. Would I be able to walk like other people, or would they know I was just pretending? I also worry that if I practice walking in private, I would lose the part of my life that I had built up so carefully over the past few years. I feel guilty as if I am cheating again.
Is this what its like to become a wananotobe?
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