Actually, I guess it ought to be three wheelchairs, since I now know three women on Pine Ridge Reservation who require wheelchairs to move around. There are many more but I am not personally acquainted with them. But I know two different “types” of wheelchair-bound women.
When we returned home from our trip to the reservation earlier this month, I had a phone message waiting for me from one of the women to whom I refer. When I had spoken with her a month or so earlier than the trip, all was well — and she did not have to rely on a wheelchair to get around at that time.
This woman is a grandmother who cares for a teenaged granddaughter (who has a serious chronic illness) and a grandson. She lives in a home with her spouse, an adult daughter, several other grandchildren and an adult son. But she is definitely “in charge.” She is the glue that holds the family together, as one of the children’s sponsors told me.
I returned her call and asked how she was. “Pretty good now that I’m home from the hospital,” was her reply.
The hospital? She had been unexpectedly hospitalized because of gangrene in her foot, a complication of her diabetes. It has just been a toe that looked “a little dark” when she went to the doctor. But it was more than that, apparently. They brought a helicopter in to fly her to Rapid City Regional Hospital, where she spent the next two weeks. During that time she had a leg amputated and got her wheelchair.
When she was leaving the hospital, they gave her a narrower wheelchair which she tells me fits through the doorways in her home. Since she already had significant arthritis, they had already added a ramp to her home in the years before. If she needed any further accommodations made to help her mobility, I had no doubt that this feisty Lakota grandmother would ask for them.
We spoke about the adjustment from two legs to the chair. She told me that she is not “happy” about the change, that it can be frustrating at times but that she would manage. She laughed when she told me about the groups that have been calling her with “support” for the depression she must have. She told them she wasn’t depressed, but that she would contact them if she needed them. She won’t, I’m sure. She’ll “manage.”
The real reason for her call? Not her own woes — at least, not directly. She had heard from her long time sponsor who had told her she would only be able to sponsor her until the fall. The sponsor, who had major heart surgery just a couple of years ago, was now fighting a battle with cancer. She was worried about her. Oh yes, and could I start looking for a new sponsor for her so she would have one when this sponsor stopped in the fall?
I wonder if need always trumps concern. Probably.
The second woman is also a grandmother and diabetes was also the cause of her need for the wheelchair. The first time I spoke to her she told me that she liked to sew and read.
We visited her on one of our early visits to the rez. At that time she was living in an old FEMA trailer. There was no room to get around in the wheelchair, with the worn, overstuffed furniture she had in the trailer. There were no closets to speak of, so clothing and other items were stacked and strewn throughout the trailer. She had adult nephews who were there at the time but did not seem the least interested in helping her get around in the cramped space with the wheelchair.
Now she lives in slightly better “digs” for a rather sad reason. Her adult daughter, who has four children, was sent to jail. I don’t know the reason and I did not pry. The children needed someone to care for them while mom is away. So this grandmother moved into her daughter’s small house to care for the young grandchildren. It is now a bit easier for her to get around. But she is not the type to ask for anything for herself and so she is not likely to have a truly accessible home.
The third woman in the wheelchair is very different from the two grandmothers. She is younger. She is not in her wheelchair due to complications of diabetes.
It was about 15 years ago that this woman was in a car that was rear ended by a drunk driver. I’ve written about her before. She was paralyzed from the waist down and has been in her wheelchair ever since. We first met her in her apartment, which is incredibly small. The kitchen fits a small kitchen table and her chair with little room to walk around it.
The last time I spoke to her, she related that she has never been able to use her bathroom. She cannot get into it with the wheelchair. She must do all her bathing and toileting in her bedroom. Of course, the bedroom is not much larger than her mattress, so it is difficult.
It saddened me to think of living like that.
It is very difficult to be handicapped on the reservation. Most of the living accommodations would not “pass” ADA muster. There are many unpaved surfaces.
Yet there are many handicapped persons on the reservation, diabetes probably being chief among the causes. How do I know this? One of the things I noticed on my last visit was how many homes have ramps to the front doors. I guess it’s good that the handicapped person can enter his or her home, even if they can’t get around in it very easily.
I have yet to see anyone with an electric wheelchair, though I am certain there are some who would benefit from that convenience. Especially someone like the last woman I wrote about, who has had to be in the chair for so long already.
I was in a wheelchair once, for six weeks. I am unable to use crutches due to my fibromyalgia and I broke an ankle that required surgery. I had to use a wheelchair. Even in my 5 room ranch it was not easy getting through doors. It was not easy getting in and out of buildings. The toughest task was getting up a ramp in an arena when I attended a hockey game one time. Obviously my husband wasn’t going to push me into the Ladies’ Room. So I was trying to push myself up the ramp which was steep enough to make me struggle. Thank goodness it was “Girl Scout Night” and a few scouts came along to assist! They truly did a good deed!!
So who does good deeds for the folks on the rez?