"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
December 30, 2013
Building the Wheelchairs of Life
by Kathryn H. Kidd

When I was still in the hospital and being fitted for my first wheelchair, I might as well have been fitted for a space suit for all the hoopla I had to endure. Every possible measurement a person had to be measured for, I was measured for. Twice. Maybe three times. Maybe more than that. It was a big, big undertaking.

For one thing, there was the width of the seat. I was one large person in those days. Pre-coma, I was a behemoth. After the coma, I was a somewhat smaller behemoth. Wonder Woman, the physical therapist who measured me, was delighted when I was able to fit into a 24-inch seat.

Even so, a wheelchair with a 24-inch seat did not fit through standard doors, and our bathroom door had to be widened to accommodate that wheelchair. When I needed to leave the house, I had to be temporarily put into a narrower “transport wheelchair” that would fit through standard doors so I could get from the house into the garage. Oh, the joys of being a fat person!

That was only the beginning of the measuring, though. I had to be measured from the underside of my legs to the floor so they could see how high to make the seat from the floor. I had to be measured from the back of my calves to the back of my back so they could make the seat deep enough. I had to be measured from my seat to the bottoms of my elbows to see how high to make the armrests.

You get the picture.

It took the wheelchair technician two visits to assure Wonder Woman that I was getting the Rolls-Royce of wheelchairs. Then, when the wheelchair was finally delivered, she almost had apoplexy because things had not been done to her specifications.

“Do you understand that this woman [she pointed dramatically to me] has to sit in this chair for up to eighteen hours every day of her life?” she said. “I will not accept delivery of this wheelchair until this and this and especially this have been fixed.”

The man scurried off, wheelchair in tow, to make the necessary adjustments. When he returned with my improved chair, it had a padded seat, a seat belt, a contoured back, and was perfectly adjusted to fit my body and keep me comfortable for long periods of the day.

Alas, it did not stay that way. After I left the hospital, I kept shrinking. The 24-inch seat that was picked for me kept getting bigger and bigger as I became smaller and smaller. Soon the wheelchair that had been fitted for me was big enough to hold me and another person, albeit a small one.

Nobody wants a 24-inch wheelchair seat unless it is absolutely unavoidable. For one thing, every time I needed to leave the house, I had to transfer into a smaller wheelchair in order to fit through the back doors, go down the ramp, and get in the car.

Meanwhile, Fluffy had to disassemble my big wheelchair, put it in the car, and reassemble it once I reached my destination. When we got home, we had to use the little wheelchair to get me in the house again, and Fluffy had to reassemble the big wheelchair once I got inside. It drove Fluffy crazy.

Someone who worked in hospitals eventually said to us, “You know, your insurance will pay for a smaller wheelchair.” Why don’t you get a wheelchair that will actually go through doorways? When she said that, the light bulb went on. Oh, did we want a wheelchair that went through doorways!

Our friend was absolutely right. Our insurance was more than happy to pay for a smaller wheelchair. There was only one problem. Maybe it was just because we no longer had Wonder Woman to beat them into submission, but the medical supply company we had used before just didn’t seem that excited about getting us what we needed.

It has been three months since we started negotiating for a new wheelchair, and I am still rolling around in the wheelchair Rolls-Royce waiting for a suitable re placement. There have been two smaller wheelchairs delivered to our house, mind you, but they have been two wheelchairs that were not built for Kathy, Queen of the Universe.

The first wheelchair was laughable. It looked as though it had been designed for a dollhouse. Yes, I did fit on that 20-inch seat. But that was the only measurement that had been taken for me. For the thirty seconds I sat on that new wheelchair, I felt like Queen Elizabeth sitting on a teeny tiny chair that was perched on the tippy top of a twenty-story wedding cake. It was clearly a recipe for disaster.

When you only take one measurement, there are so many other measurements to be wrong. For one thing, only the back half of my legs were on the chair. The front half of them — the underside of my lap, if you will — had no support whatsoever.

And my arms hovered inches and inches above the armrests, which were armrests in name only. When you only measure the seat, the only thing that’s going to fit is, well, the seat.

Fluffy looked at the delivery man and said, “This is not going to work. Take it back.” So we went on vacation for a week, and when we returned, a change had been made and there was a different medical supply company to deal with — a company we affectionately call the Acme Rickshaw and Wheelchair Company. If Acme doesn’t make its products in China, it makes them somewhere even worse.

These people were even less responsive than the last people. The only thing they cared about was my weight, which we can’t measure because I can’t stand on a scale.

They finally sent out a wheelchair, just last week. It came wrapped in cellophane, and that’s how it stayed. Fluffy looked at it, and his apoplexy was almost as dramatic as Wonder Woman’s had been, back in the hospital. Even in wrapped in cellophane, he could tell that this was a wheelchair he wasn’t going to allow in our home.

He was right. This was a wheelchair that was so shoddy it would have given the words “Made in China” a bad name.

Everything about that wheelchair was plastic. Everything about that wheelchair was cheap. There was no cushion on the back. There was no cushion on the seat. We were told we could buy those at our own expense. The wheels were plastic rather than rubber, and they looked like cheap plastic rather than rubber. There didn’t appear to be a seatbelt. The chair appeared to be miserably uncomfortable.

Oh. And it didn’t fit through the back door of our house, which was the whole purpose of getting a smaller chair. When we refused the chair, the delivery person who took it back said, “Oh yeah. I don’t blame you. This company really does things on the cheap.”

So here we are, at the cusp of another year. I’m still riding around in the Rolls-Royce of wheelchairs. (If I ever see you lost in one of the hallways of our house, I can give you a ride next to me.) We started the process of getting a smaller wheelchair in October, and things are no closer to finding a solution than they were then.

The only good thing I can see is that we were renting the Rolls-Royce to own, and our last payment was in December. We now own the Rolls-Royce. When I get the new wheelchair, I will have two wheelchairs — one for the upstairs (when I get upstairs) and one for the main floor. That will be a real blessing when I finally get upstairs again.

It has gotten to the point where we are leaving the Rolls-Royce wheelchair at home altogether unless we are going to church or the temple, and Fluffy takes me out in the smaller transport wheelchair. This is a dangerous proposition, because the transport wheelchair has no seatbelt and no brakes. It is rickety and unsafe, but it goes through doorways so we use it.

In fact, we’re about to use it as soon as I finish writing this column.

But before I finish, I just want to ask — what kind of wheelchair builder are you? When you build a wheelchair, figuratively speaking, do you slap four wheels on it and call it good, or do you outfit it with all the bells and whistles and make sure it’s comfortable and safe?

Not all the projects we undertake deserve our best effort. The cupcakes we bake for Johnny’s third grade class don’t have to look beautiful, for example, and they don’t even have to be from scratch. The only two things that matter are that Johnny feels loved, and that nobody dies from eating the cupcakes. If you fill those criteria, you can call it good.

Other assignments, however, deserve the best we can give. Being a husband or a wife, parenting, serving as a teacher or a mentor to youth (or even to one’s peers) — these are things that are sacred trusts. Holding another person’s life in your hands, if only for a minute, has the potential to change that person’s life forever, for better or for worse.

I hope the wheelchairs I build are Rolls-Royces. I want to leave things behind me that will last and that will be a credit to God. I don’t want it said that my wheelchairs have no brakes or seatbelts or that, heaven forbid, I forgot to put wheels on them. Life is hard enough for the people around me without having Kathy put obstacles in their way.

From building wheelchairs to building lives, we need to determine what deserves our finest effort, and then give those things no less than the best we have.

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About Kathryn H. Kidd

Kathryn H. Kidd has been writing fiction, nonfiction, and "anything for money" longer than most of her readers have even been alive. She has something to say on every topic, and the possibility that her opinions may be dead wrong has never stopped her from expressing them at every opportunity.

A native of New Orleans, Kathy grew up in Mandeville, Louisiana. She attended Brigham Young University as a generic Protestant, having left the Episcopal Church when she was eight because that church didn't believe what she did. She joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a BYU junior, finally overcoming her natural stubbornness because she wanted a patriarchal blessing and couldn't get one unless she was a member of the Church. She was baptized on a Saturday and received her patriarchal blessing two days later.

She married Clark L. Kidd, who appears in her columns as "Fluffy," more than thirty-five years ago. They are the authors of numerous LDS-related books, the most popular of which is A Convert's Guide to Mormon Life.

A former managing editor for Meridian Magazine, Kathy moderated a weekly column ("Circle of Sisters") for Meridian until she was derailed by illness in December of 2012. However, her biggest claim to fame is that she co-authored Lovelock with Orson Scott Card. Lovelock has been translated into Spanish and Polish, which would be a little more gratifying than it actually is if Kathy had been referred to by her real name and not "Kathryn Kerr" on the cover of the Polish version.

Kathy has her own website, www.planetkathy.com, where she hopes to get back to writing a weekday blog once she recovers from being dysfunctional. Her entries recount her adventures and misadventures with Fluffy, who heroically allows himself to be used as fodder for her columns at every possible opportunity.

Kathy spent seven years as a teacher of the Young Women in her ward, until she was recently released. She has not yet gotten used to interacting with the adults, and suspects it may take another seven years. A long-time home teacher with her husband, Clark, they have home taught the same family since 1988. The two of them have been temple workers since 1995, serving in the Washington D.C. Temple.

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