As much as Dave delighted in every opportunity of independence and adventure in his life, our parents not surprisingly were determined to smooth out every speed bump possible. There were so many oddball experiences while attending Caring for Dave University that planning for the unexpected required such an elevation of thought as his was a separate plane of existence than everyone else in our house or anyone we had ever known or heard of. It was just another ordinary day to come home and hear of an obscure challenge that Dave or our parents wrangled with on his behalf beyond the physical that were scary, funny, weird, and impossible to plan for. Dave rolled with them better than our parents by far because his “what is the worst that can happen?” credo was deeply entrenched in his being.
Dependability of equipment is a significant additional layer of difficulties navigating the world in a wheelchair on top of whatever health issue has landed them there. Well, it gets better. No, not the quality or dependability of wheelchairs, but the harrowing stories, and I am all about the stories.
Our parents maintained things properly in general; our cars, the house, the yard, things. Wheelchairs can get flat tires, and an electric wheelchair has to be charged after every use typically overnight; maybe that has improved, but at the time of his departure in 2011, his most modern wheelchair required overnight charging. These two components are the obvious things one can see, quickly evaluate, and act accordingly. Tire flat or low? His charger (a separate device from his wheelchair) had a battery status indicator, so if his batteries were on their way out, it would be obvious when they didn’t fully charge overnight.
Dave had a handful of wheelchairs over the 38 years he lived beyond the day he became paralyzed. He could get himself just about anywhere, as you have learned. His last wheelchair not only had a feature that could raise or lower his seat so that he could enjoy almost eye-to-eye conversations, but he could reach a top speed of 18 MPH when he needed to get somewhere fast.
I have written about him joining anyone for a walk or ride-along bike ride, but he also would regularly go out cruising on his own and take our dog, Jessie, a Golden Retriever and later Misha a German Shepherd for exercise. Both dogs were good dogs but vastly different as their breeds may reveal.
On this occasion, Jessie was attached to his chair by her leash for a nice long trot as he headed to visit his friend Karen in the north end of San Bernardino. Our house on 25th street, the mid-town area, was on flat ground, anything above 40th street was on a gradual hill. Above the 5500 block, the streets were definitely on an incline as the city melded into the foothills, ending at 59th street and the San Bernardino National Forest. For those unfamiliar, don’t get excited; the parameters of a National Forest include many zones, beginning with the lowest foothills, which is where San Bernardino terminates, land covered with rough, dry, and not that lovely scrub brush, not lush green pine trees as its title hints.
Dave was in the 5500 or higher block range of streets heading uphill as he had successfully done many dozens of times before when a fuse in the chair blew, causing him to lose power, basically the chair turned off, inoperable. The chair ever so briefly stopped its uphill climb, but as gravity would have it, he began rolling backward down the hilly street, along with Jessie. The chair followed the curve of the crown of the road and began to follow an unsafe arc as the chair gained speed. Jessie was not a special needs trained dog, and as the mellowest dog in the world, I did not perceive her to be remotely aware of Dave’s unique circumstances, but as soon as the chair began to roll backward, she tried to help him stop rolling backward by turning herself around and throwing her weight opposite his behemoth chair. The combined weight of him in his chair was no match for the tug of war Jessie attempted, and as the chair flipped heavily over on its side, she was jerked off her feet from the front of his currently backward-facing wheelchair to the opposite side of him.
When they landed, Dave and Jessie were nose to nose in the street. She couldn’t really move because there was no slack in her leash; it was in some manner of tangled up under them. They lay there in the middle of a not very heavily traveled residential street waiting for who knows to come along and help.
They lay there a short time before Dave heard a car approaching, and thankfully instead of running them over or passing them, it stopped. A kind older gentleman who lived on the street stopped to offer help. Dave asked the gentleman to call our dad, who came, and the two of them were able to right the wheelchair. My dad replaced the fuse and took Jessie home. Dave headed on to visit Karen.
That evening as we, my mom, dad, and I sat at the dinner table with Dave in his wheelchair beside us in our kitchen, I noticed his elbow looked huge; it was bright red with swelling, like five times the normal size. It wasn’t abraded or bleeding; it was just lobster red. I could not imagine what in the hell could have happened to him, so I, of course, asked. He initially brushed it off as nothing with an, “Oh, I banged it.” Of course, my interest antenna was all the way, piqued, “What on earth did you run into?” “The street.” “WHAT?” He offered a brief explanation of, “My chair blew a fuse, and we went over bass-ackward.” I questioned for clarity as I momentarily inwardly freaked out while envisioning what he was saying, “You and who else, we(?) had a rollover, WHAT?” “Not a rollover, more of a, I fell over.
Before I could outwardly freak out, he quickly deflected to Jessie’s heroic action, “Jessie was with me, we were on our way to visit Karen when I blew a fuse. Jessie hurt herself by throwing her weight against me and the chair as I started to roll backward.” I hadn’t noticed that Jessie wasn’t with us in the kitchen. I could envision everything as he finally opened up and unpeeled the layers of details as they occurred. He never just offered a story without being asked. After he covered everything, I returned to his very swollen elbow, “Your elbow looks awful. It is probably broken, it looks like it hurts really bad, does it?” “NA” “So, it’s a good thing you are paralyzed, but just this one time.” He nodded.
I felt so bad for Jessie. I went to give her some love, where she lay sleeping on her bed. Her feet did not reveal any injury, so I am not sure if she hurt a muscle or the pads of her feet. “What a good dog!” She enjoyed her pets like it was any other day it seemed. My dad was all choked up, as Dave described Jessie’s actions. He had already heard all about it earlier and cried at the first iteration, at how our lovely dog instinctively tried to help. Great news she didn’t limp the next day, so that was a huge relief.
My niece Jaclyn as with many people asked me what I was currently writing; I told her I was in the middle of writing about all the breakdowns. Her response was, oh, ya, like that time he was hit by a car!” I clarified, “You mean the time he tipped over, going to Karen’s house?” “Uh, NO. I am talking about the time he was taking Jessie to grandpa’s shop, and a car came around the corner while he was in the street waiting to cross and clipped one of his feet with their bumper and dragged him… and Jessie.” He was dragged a short distance until his wheelchair came loose, and he was tipped over in the middle of 23rd street. The car never stopped.
Jessie was obviously stuck there with him, and she started barking like crazy. My dad’s shop was located right across the street within a hundred feet of the corner and where Dave ended up. Our dad heard a dog barking in an urgent way, stepped outside to see what was going on, and saw Dave flipped on his side with Jessie next to him barking incessantly.
I mentioned earlier that Jessie was not a special-needs trained dog, but she had, in a brief former life, been a glamourous show dog. At some point when she was about two, she escaped her yard for a walkabout and had herself been clipped by a car. She was disqualified and devalued as a show dog because her hips were no longer pristine for breeding. We excitedly acquired her; she was a sweet and mellow, full-grown, well-mannered dog, perfect for our family. She had been trained well with all the typical, come, stay, heel, commands, she had also been trained to not bark. Like most show dogs, she spent a great deal of time in her first year of life in a crate, and it is common for a dog’s crate training to include not barking. In this situation, my dad nor Dave had ever heard her bark. My dad just responded to a dog barking urgently and went outside to see what was going on, to find it was his dog alerting him that help was needed.
I can only assume that my dad got help from his friend who worked next door to lift Dave and his behemoth wheelchair. None of the witnesses are alive to provide these details, so I am going to have to make some assumptions.
We had had Jesse for years before I moved out, and later when I moved back when Sven was born. He was under a year old; I was nursing him in Dave’s room on his couch one evening when Dave was out of the house. He had returned home, and the process of returning him to bed was imminent.
I normally left the room when he was being helped back to bed, which meant undressing him. No one was ever made to feel uncomfortable during his transition back to bed; I always just left for the obvious reason that my brother was going to be naked at any moment. He indicated it was not a problem that I stay on the couch and continue nursing Sven. Sven was almost asleep, so I decided it was easier to stay and just not look.
Dave’s was a large room, a ground floor master bedroom in an older home that had generously sized rooms, to begin with. He had a full-size couch, a small table in front of the couch, his hospital bed, a bedside table, another table for when he ate, a stool that held his water thermos, shelves, a reading machine, a gurney, another stool and probably other stuff I may have forgotten. It was tight, adding his wheelchair in there, which was laid out flat in the process of my parents getting him back to bed, like another gurney. I KNOW! It WAS a boatload of furniture.
This transference was a complicated series of almost acrobatic maneuvers. Too complicated to explain, but trust me, at some point in the process, his head was momentarily at the edge of the side of his bed before he was undressed and laid on his back. I had not noticed, but Jesse was standing in the doorway, not lying down on her bed, tucked out of the way when things were happening. The moment Dave was placed in that position with his head near the edge of the bed, without invitation, Jessie ran from the doorway, threaded her way past his laid out flat wheelchair, through the ridiculous amount of necessary furniture, my parents’ legs, around the bed to the other side and began wildly licking his face like he was covered in peanut butter. I had never seen her interact with anyone else like that. Ever. I found the entire exchange hilarious and asked, “What the hell is she doing to you?” Between greeting her with, “Hi Jessie, Hi Jessie, Hi girl,” He responded to my laughter while he dodged her sloppy French kissing dog tongue, “Oh, you’ve never seen her do this?” “No, I never stay when you are getting undressed, but OH MY GOD, THAT IS AWESOME! What a good dog!!!”
Jessie didn’t ask anyone for attention with pets like just about every other dog in the world. She had no interest in chasing balls, and I really tried to get her to be interested in playing ball, fetch, whatever, she was just not into any of it. But this? I could not believe how she lit up like a Christmas tree the moment Dave landed on his side in bed, how she made a mad dash for his face. I can still picture her purposefully trotting around the bed, making her way to him as he partially attempted to dodge her licks, definitely enjoying the very special affection for him.
We acquired Jessie when she was pretty young, maybe a couple of years old. We had her until she was 18. She was happy, active, and a healthy protector of, barker when strictly necessary and sloppy French kisser of Dave up until the last month of her life. All the right people always ended up on Dave’s path, but so did the right dogs. We were so lucky to have Jessie with us as long as we did. Until witnessing her strong connection to Dave, I hadn’t thought she was aware of anything other than when it was chow time because, like anyone dog or otherwise kept on a strictly glamourous show dog diet, she really, really enthusiastically loved to eat food, but she was in tune with Dave like no creature I have ever seen, and I would like to think she knows she was a very good dog.
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