Friday, January 4, 2008

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Why do perfect strangers feel the need to ask me how I "ended up in a wheelchair"? I'm no Miss Manners, but I think that it's rude. I am also not a big fan of the phrase "ended up in a wheelchair". It seems so negative and suggests that if I'd just tried a little harder I wouldn't have to be on wheels.

How I answer this intrusive question depends on my mood. When I'm feeling deviant and/or morbid, I like to tell people real conversation stoppers like "horrible car accident. I was the only one who made it out alive" or "it was a skiing accident. The last thing I remember is seeing that tree come out of nowhere." I make sure that my delivery is my best imitation of Wednesday Adams, deadpan and grim. Hopefully, these people will think twice before they ask another person in a wheelchair how they got there. I also have found that the answer "I'm lazy and would rather be pushed around" confuses people. They have to think about it for a moment before they actually realize that I'm being sarcastic.

I am not fond of telling people what is actually wrong with me, that I have MS. The reason I don't like to share this information with strangers is that are always leads to some kind of discussion. Tell somebody you have MS and inevitably they know somebody with the disease, either a friend or family member or a celebrity (that they don't really know of course, they just know of). Regardless of who it is, this person they know is either doing much better than you are or a lot worse. It's a real treat when they say something like "my uncle has MS but he goes sky jumping and runs marathons." Obviously, I must be doing something wrong.

Sometimes when I'm up for it, I take this opportunity to educate the person about the wonderful world of MS. I tell them how the same disease affects people differently, how you can have invisible symptoms, that there is new research going on constantly and exciting new drug therapies on the horizon. The role of reluctant ambassador is not my favorite, but we all have to do things we don't want to do sometimes. I feel obligated to admit and discuss my disease if I happen to be wearing MS Walk paraphernalia.

So if you happen to see a woman in a deep purple wheelchair, my suggestion to you is to just say hello. You really don't want to know how she "ended up in a wheelchair."

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