View From Here
By Katherine Veno
I had never experienced the unrelenting work it takes to be in a wheelchair
until my recent ankle injury. Of course, I was aware of mobility problems,
and had been around the chairs and other walking devices with my mother, but
I was never dependent on any of them. Now they have become constant
companions and I have learned how much is involved in manipulating these
devices with your body and mind.
I thought walking with a cane looked easy. Boy was I ever wrong. Managing to
hold one foot off the ground that is in a “walking” cast, and hop about with
the help of a cane, is extremely difficult. It did not take me long to
figure out I was in peril with that stick as I wavered about looking for a
place to fall over. I had steps up and down to and from my home. Ramps had
to be built in a hurry. I thought I could manage stairs and spent up to half
an hour just going either up and down, and crawling.
Then there was an attempt with a manual walker. After one week of lifting my
entire body on one leg, using my arms, and back, my hands were hurting so
bad I was using sponges on the handles. My non-stop whining was deafening
for my cat, Tuff. He prefers to stay outside on the porch or wander the
flower beds to avoid losing a paw to my ever increasing arsenal of wheeled
equipment that I can’t use very well. He takes huge chances when he walks
into the house to beg for his supper.
Even my cockatiel, Ricco Veno was imitating my pitiful sounds. He is missing
part of one toe that got caught in a piece of sewing thread, and he gets
around better than me. As I attempted to “hop” on one foot past his cage in
the kitchen, he was staring at me as if to say, “humans are inferior in so
many ways to birds.” Sadly, as I plopped down in my wheelchair in an
exhausted heap, I agreed with him.
I do not have to wait for this adventure to end to say I salute and am
humbled by people and their courageousness. Those who face a daily
entanglement with steel, spokes, rubber, handles that slip, and the
confinement of not being able to walk. They do not have a doctor telling
them they will get therapy and be walking again. There is no hope they will
walk on the beach, or if there is a slim chance, they cannot be sure they
will be able to command their legs to carry them.
I have been around wheelchairs all my life in different capacities. It began
at age 15 when I got a summer job at Fun Forest in Tyler. I worked the
summer weeks away as a counselor for the Camp Soroptomist. One of my
favorite campers was a boy named Gene who lived his entire life in a
wheelchair and could maneuver it up hills, down ramps – and spin. This was
before power chairs. The only motor was his arms and hands. He could play
the piano like a concert artist, yet he never had even one lesson. If he
heard a song on the radio he could just play it. He was amazing in his
artistry, but now that I reflect on the situation, he was a master of his
situation as well.
Every day all the campers who were severely handicapped, zipped about in
wheelchairs, and on walkers, and in leg braces as best they could. They
laughed and smiled all day long. At nap time they slept in their chairs, and
now I understand that better. They were tired after lunch from all the
activities of the camp because they could not move about like children and
adults without limitations. What a lucky teenager I was, and I did not even
realize it at the time. Legs, feet, arms, hands, and coordination to use
them, is a huge gift, and even if we have the gift, we can lose it in a
The independence I so enjoyed is compromised. I am dependent in many ways on
the generosity and kindness of others. I cannot drive my truck, and even if
I thought I could, I can’t get myself into the driver’s seat. Therefore
somebody has to offer to bring me things I need from stores. The essential
items I used every single day without a thought have become precious, and I
am afraid to use too much, destroy too many, eat it all, or drink all my
tea, as I may run out. I mark the days off my calendar like a prisoner doing
time for crime. This Wednesday was three weeks. I don’t know exactly when
the doctor will start my rehabilitation to begin walking again, so I just
keep marking off the days. I look forward to visits from neighbors and
friends more than ever. I also learned just how uncomfortable the seats are
in a wheelchair. I tried one pillow, then two pillows. My back and rear
hurt. I tried everything, then I went online and researched what other
people do. They purchase wheelchair cushions. Mine is like a mini-waterbed.
I know it sounds crazy, and each time I sort of plop down, I worry I will
flood the house when I break it, but so far it holds water. Who knew that a
water pillow would give my lower half so much relief.
Through this new experience, I have learned to value my feet and legs. I
have a new respect for them other than pink nail polish and skinny jeans
Also, I know now, that I will always open doors, hold doors open, and make
way for those who are trying to get out of the house and live somewhat
normally in a wheelchair. I will never be one of those rude non-humans who
values their precious minutes of haste too much to pause for a few seconds
to help somebody who is on the lower level of the shelves, and cannot
possibly reach above their head any further than their fingertips. I will
never let my day be too busy to offer some sort of assistance even if it is
just a smile or a simple compliment about what a beautiful day it is.
Recently, I was in Lowes, wavering about in my chair, looking at things at
my eye level, when I got tired. A gentleman, who was also an employee,
approached me, and asked if he could help me, and then he offered to simply
push my chair to the checkout line. He told me he had been in my position
for three months, and learned all about what it is like to be “down” for the
count. I will be just like him, because this is something I am not likely to
By Emily Gail Lundy
Most of my life has been lived in East Texas, or is it North East
Texas or maybe Western East Texas. With the fancier weather reporting, I’m
in confusion. Besides, I made my mind up long ago about where I live. It
depends on who is listening to the conversation I’m in.
I consider East Texas from Louisiana to the Trinity River. Then Deep East
Texas is somewhere past Tyler and don’t argue. The West doesn’t really begin
in Fort Worth. People out west (I was once) heard over and over how Fort
Worth was the gate to WT. It’s really only the first sign. When mesas form
and mesquite trees dominate, somewhere past Abilene and near Sweetwater, the
West begins and goes on to El Paso. Or a side trip can be made to beautiful
Lubbock, maybe even Borden County, with one town, Gail, and one school,
Borden County ISD.
Going north, Paris, Dallas, Fort Worth and to the Red River is North Texas.
South Texas begins when traffic on 35 gets worse, every town is looped, and
the driver begins to like the complexion of cities – maybe Austin, San
Marcus. Then there is deep South Texas.
Sometime the color of the dirt beneath our feet indicates directions or
regions. When I lived in West Texas in the ’60s, sand storms came in every
color of dirt imaginable except coastal.
Unfortunately, deep East Texas can be a waterloo for me and a certain
destination. It must be the thickness of the trees or the frequency of
towns. I find deep East Texas a difficult area to find what I want, the
Waterloo of trips. A friend and I went to Kilgore to see a good friend in
Assisted Living. Highway 31 led us, but in Kilgore the road turns sharply
and can be missed like the time I went by myself and ended up coming home,
no mission accomplished. When I kept going straight and not making that
turn, a few miles north the thick evergreen foliage and narrowing of the
road convinced me of a big mistake, and I felt road fear.
In Kilgore, streets and landmarks can lead right to the assisted living
building. But, roads in this city can be worked on; detour signs send
visitors elsewhere, landmarks disappear, and stopping for answers or
directions leads to new mistakes. “If you see the college main building, you
are going right.” Prove it. Sometime the road crew knows best and gets lost
nearer to the destination. That is where we sought information next, and it
helped tremendously. We walked in the building, found the correct room and
dear friend; all else was forgotten.
Then my spouse and I needed to attend the funeral of my mother’s last living
cousin with a daughter my age. “Elysian Fields,” with legendary ties, came
with the place we sought. We reached a town past Kilgore, maybe near
Marshall, found a forenamed overpass and began to realize time was against
us. There was a community, a street, and a town called Elysian Fields. Our
stops for help sent us entirely different places. A street, a few stores,
and a town in proximity all were named Elysian Field.
Soon, we began using common sense, as though we could depend on it, and saw
a nice highway going south, new to us. We made the turn, saw a funeral home
out by itself, stopped, and I asked about my relative. “You’ve missed the
service and the burial, but a small church, the first one you see in the
next community, is serving lunch for you.” We found it and met some new
people, even connecting one lady there with a man living in Trinidad,
promised my cousin we’d share old pictures later, and I still wait.
If you can stand one more run-around trip, we headed east again, bypassed
Tyler, came upon Carthage, looked up old friends, and I used their phone to
call the mortuary we were to find. A man said, upon my request, the services
were 15 minutes into the program and gave us simple directions to the
service. So did our friends we would come back later to see.
The two sets of directions collided. But each had a overpass for us to go
under. With only one turn around, we found the building as the family was
loading up for the cemetery. I found my late friend’s wife and was blessed
with warmth between friends, making our search worthwhile We made the
burial, drove back west, and had a lovely meal and renewed acquaintances.
All I’ve learned from these trips is a GPS could help us if we knew enough
about where were going. We’ve used computer printouts that have the driver
turn on every block and do not take in detours. Then, I realized I could
never be a homing pigeon; I need to study Texas maps more; we must take a
third party of experience with us wherever.
But there’s more to that Kilgore trip to assisted living upon returning
home! In Tyler the driver turned from Highway 31 onto a street to go east
and connect on Broadway to take the loop. “Where are you going?” I asked in
panic. She said, “I’m going to the loop to connect to Highway 31 as I always
I told her had we stayed on 31 coming into Tyler, we’d be on a straight road
home, all the way Highway 31. I’ve never thought the traffic any worse or
Now, why wouldn’t someone believe me.