The F-word

When I was nine, my younger sister asked my mother, “What does f*** mean?” Mother asked me to leave the room while she explained its meaning, but I listened. (Inquiring minds need to know.) That was the first time I had heard the word.

I have since read various postulations of its origin: An acronym for the King of England’s consent for a married couple to procreate, an acronym labeling a prosecuted prostitute, or an acronym for an unlawful, sexual attack. Most probably, it arrived in the 15th Century from the Dutch or Low German language, fully formed, and not from the swearing Irish.

Less sensational than this four-letter word’s questionable etymology, but equally misunderstood, is the F-word I’m talking about: Flexibility. It isn’t a vulgarity, although many consider it a dirty word.

Before my disability, I did things when I wanted, where I wanted, how I wanted, with whom I wanted, and because I wanted to. If I wanted to explore, I searched country roads to discover their secret destinations or strolled through secluded graveyards imagining the mysterious deaths. When I wanted to socialize, I gathered with friends, went shopping, danced and listened to music, or participated in sports. All of these are spontaneous freedoms. Once confined to a wheelchair, I had to learn to be flexible.

In living with a disability, I consider flexibility to be my lifeline.

Merriam-Webster defines lifeline as 1:“a line…used for saving or preserving life…to keep contact with a person…in a dangerous or potentially dangerous situation” and 2: “something regarded as indispensable for the maintaining…of life.” The way I see it, hired caregivers or family, friend, and neighbor volunteers are our lifelines assisting us in maintaining our health and preserving our quality of life.

I live independently, but I happily anticipate the weekly and bi-monthly help from my girl Friday and housekeeper. (Learn about the village that keeps me independent in the “It’s a beautiful day in my neighborhood” chapter of my upcoming book Views From My Chariot: A Wheelchair Oddity.)

My “village” helps me with miscellaneous errands, grocery shopping, pet trips to the veterinarian, keeping a clean house, etc.; they sacrificially work me into their schedules. And yes, there are times that their availability interrupts my schedule. Beggars can’t be choosers. What is a little inconvenience when it is my needs (or wants) being met? For that matter, being flexible is a consideration of someone else.

Knowing that I am clay in His hands keeps me malleable. I can’t be broken if I am adaptable and pliable; and gratitude insures my flexibility.

Have you been rigid and staid in your time table? What are your thoughts on the F-word? (the one with eleven letters)

Off The Cuff

What’s with laughing gas? I had heard about it for years and been offered it in dental offices. It sounded a bit drug-ish, and drugs don’t like me. I don’t have one prescription. Mainly because a little of anything goes a long way with me, and I need to maintain my wits (and balance) living from a wheelchair. My memory has a short wick, and my bladder has a slow leak; I need to remember my schedule!

Anyway, I was anxious about having something major done by an endodontist or oral surgeon—can’t recall, so I accepted the offer with the contingency that I receive the lowest dose.

The assistant strapped this Hannibal Lecter-like mask over my face—assuring me that its cool hissing mist was on #2. Dimming the lights, she patted my arm with the instruction, “Call if you need anything.” She exited the operatory as James Blount piped in on the Musak, or Pandora, or who cares? I cried, and cried, and cried….

Laughing gas?

Wheelchair Exercises

What to do when we want to stay in shape but aren’t physically able to enjoy Zumba fitness, or stretch with yoga, or go for a cardio work-out in spin class? Whether we are disabled from SCI (spinal cord injury), spina bifida, CP (cerebral palsy), an illness, disease, or stroke, there are options for retaining flexibility and maintaining as healthy a body as possible.

I believe we are what we eat, so I’m not a proponent of fried or fast foods, soft drinks, or sugar-laden anything. Not that I never indulge in KFC’s chicken livers (maybe once a year), or a Sonic Jr. jalapeño burger with a small order of onion rings (maybe once or twice a year, and I’m overdue), but I know that my body thanks me with excellent health and more than sufficient energy by eating responsibly.

Until you experience the benefits and are sincerely given to healthy choices, it will require discipline and serious denial to the dictatorial cravings. Aren’t you so-o-o encouraged and just can’t wait to be healthy? It’s like when fasting all I think about is FOOD or that recipe I anticipate preparing.

Diet aside, let me mention a few simple warm-up exercises to stretch and encourage blood flow to our masterful muscles and Mensa minds. Make sure you have adjusted to your new body, know its idiosyncrasies, and check with your PT or doctor before enbarking on new techniques.

By far, one of my easiest exercises for stretching Achilles tendons, calves and ham strings is by using the OPTP strap. It is 72”L x 1”W, sewn together at 7” intervals, rendering 10 loops—perfect for any height.

I place my feet on my bed (any furniture wheelchair height will suffice), wrap one loop around the ball of my foot, wrap my wrist through the loop reaching my upper thigh, then pull. After a few stretches, I lean forward over my lap to increase the stretch. Make sure you are balanced so not to fall forward or sideways. This strap is $17.95 and is available at 1-800-367-7393.

I have an unconventional method for stretching my back, but it pop, pop, pops—just right. I back up against an open door, center the door jamb against my spine, and push my wheelchair tires backward as I press my back against the jamb. For a horizontal lying-in-bed position, I simultaneously press the back of my head and my bent elbows against the mattress (no pillow).

For a simple yet ingeniously engineered devise that relieves stress, increases blood flow to the musculoskeletal system, stretches, and realigns vertebrae, I have a True Back.

By their description, it is “…a non-powered orthopedic traction device.” and it is my favorite. (I include a complete chapter in my book, Views From My Chariot: A Wheelchair Oddity, on assistive aides, equipment, and such devices. It weighs 4 pounds and measures 24”L x 10”W x 4”D, at its deepest. Each end has a different angled incline; one is for less traction, and the other is for more.

If you are ambulatory, you can put it on the floor at home or, if you prefer, at the office; I put mine in bed with me.

While sitting up with legs outstretched, I slide one end against my buttock—centered for my spine to rest between its two undulated rails–then, slowly lie back over its length. I place a pillow under my head to protect it from the uncomfortable, hard wood and to lessen the stress on my neck.

There have been slight changes made in its design since I bought mine (They now offer a vibrating version.), but it can be purchased for $69.95 (with a free comfort pillow) at or call 1-800-630-3372.

Does this help? What works for you?