Wheels or Walking

In 1990, I had several part time jobs. One was being a companion to a young woman who was a quadriplegic and mute, caused by an overdose of strong medication. She had been a resident of the County Nursing Home for ten years when her mother published an ad asking for a person to spend two hours a week with her daughter.

I answered the ad and met with the mother who told me a sad story about her child. Evidently, always an unhappy girl, Kathy tried to commit suicide but was not successful. After much time, money, and rehabilitation, Kathy would spend the rest of her life in the nursing home. Her only communication was through her eyes. Blinking once meant yes. Blinking twice was no—and rolling her eyes meant—whatever I wanted it to mean.

The job really entailed taking Kathy for walks, reading to her and sometimes just sitting next to her wheelchair keeping her company. Her mother would spend the majority of her days with Kathy but this extra help was needed in order for her to take a break! I began my new job the following Friday after my interview.

A long time had passed since I maneuvered a wheelchair, so I practiced most of that day. Then upon my next visit, I would attempt to take Kathy for a real walk. However, pouring rain kept us inside the hallways for our first journey. Probably a good thing because I was learning to master turning corners and stopping without giving Kathy a jolt. I am sure it was a rough ride for her that day!

The third week of my employment presented an opportunity to walk outside. We pushed through the revolving doors and we were instantly bathed in the warm sunshine. What joy it must have been for Kathy! It was for me! The staff and I had bundled her up in a soft jogging suit and blankets. Only her head was exposed, adorned with a blue knitted cap made by her loving mother.

We were off on the first of many adventures!

I pushed her chair, careful to stay on the sidewalks that joined a smooth driveway. Hearing geese overhead, we went toward a small pond that was part of the giant property. When we arrived, I could hear voices hidden by huge cattails. The breeze blew softly, the smell of burning leaves permeated the air, and we came upon two other wheelchairs “driven” by two young men. They were evidently able to steer themselves!

Kathy and I arrived with me breathless but she had a big smile on her face. Closing her eyes, she seemed happy and free of the closed doors we left behind. I will always cherish that moment in time!

ducksThe young men, obviously frequent visitors to the pond, each had a brown sack filled with corn. When we joined them, they invited me to take some and feed it to the approaching brown ducks. I joined in but was met with ranting and raving from the wildlife. Beside themselves, they scooted back into the water. Perplexed, I sat down on a small bench.

The man sitting closest to us spoke quietly, “You know why the ducks are carrying on don’t you?” “No,” I exclaimed. He continued. “Well, it’s because you are the only one not in a wheelchair! Stay seated and let’s sees what happens.”

I did! Meanwhile Kathy kept still, watching everything. Slowly the ducks climbed out of the water. They approached, heads down, and very cautious. Looking all around they sauntered up to us first, then the two men. Appearing satisfied, they all began to eat squealing with delight.

“Wow, was that a surprise,” I called out. This was the first time in my life that walking seemed to be a disadvantage. Future walks always included visiting the pond. I remembered to sit once Kathy was safely settled. I think we all enjoyed those moments together with nature. She became a very special part of my life and I think she gave to me as much as I gave to her.

Those happy times lasted for two more years. Then, before Christmas 1992, Kathy went quietly to sleep never to wake up. When I think of her in heaven, I know in my heart that she is running down a lane toward a flock of ducks. No longer wheelchair bound, she will not only feed them but also swim with them too!

God bless you Kathy!

About the Author

Maryann Hartzell-Curran, a retired educator and counselor, has written a personal account of her journey through the first year of grieving the loss of her husband in her book, “From We to Me,” to help support those who have suffered the loss of a loved one. Maryann founded a successful family therapy practice and taught in the public and private sectors. She also founded and directed a church-based preschool in Lombard, Ill., and gained experience working with the elderly as director of a senior dining center. She has a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Wisconsin and a master’s degree in counseling from Illinois Benedictine University.

Comments (1)

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  1. John T says:

    Simple yet powerful story. Another example of the simplicity of life; one small change in our demeanor can play a major impact on the outcome! Well written.