Through the disability services office, I accepted a third part-time job as a scribe for a Harvard senior with cerebral palsy. I typed while he spoke for a practice session, then the real thing for his essay tests and final exams. My typed words appeared on a large wall screen for the student to read. The young man impressed me and I learned about different subjects as I typed. Unfortunately, it was only a few hours each semester.
The job paid more per hour than my other two combined and I liked it the best.
The frigid months brought unwelcome lessons for Beth and me. In Ohio, I very rarely bothered with a scarf, hat, or mittens, but then I never walked long distances in winter. In Massachusetts, I bundled in layers for my early morning walks to the Quad. When new snow fell overnight, it transformed Cambridge to something clean and bright—at least for a little while. I appreciated the beauty of Cambridge even with dirty piles the plows left behind. The towers and steeples of timeworn buildings shimmered with dustings of snow.
After her injury in Ohio, Beth had limited her wheeling in the winter from buildings to or from a nearby car, with little exposure to the weather.
However, Harvard required extensive wheeling outdoors where even a light snow made pushing her chair difficult. No vehicles were allowed in Harvard Yard where Beth lived in the freshman dorm farthest away from the closest shuttle stop in Harvard Square. Health insurance usually paid for a motorized wheelchair for quads and I encouraged her to order one to use only in bad weather. Or special wheels with motors to fit her manual chair. She refused. Rakhi and I offered to push her to class or to the shuttle stop. Stubborn, Beth told us she’d ask only if the snow rose too high to wheel through.
We learned the hard way how even a small amount of snow and ice could be dangerous for a quad in a manual chair.
One bitter day in early December, Beth rode the shuttle from the pool to the bus drop-off in Harvard Square. From there, she wheeled across the Yard to her dorm. The six-minute walk doubled to twelve with light snow on the ground. Despite wearing wheelchair gloves, she ended up with white, numb, and hurting fingers.
Whenever Beth had pain in her trunk, arms, or hands—all areas with less than normal sensation—it signaled a serious problem. I pushed her to the student medical center, where a doctor treated mild frostbite in her fingers and suggested better gloves. Not an easy solution for a quad. Beth preferred gloves with open individual digits to get a better grip on the chair’s big wheels. They exposed her fingers to the cold and required a considerable amount of time to put on. Regular snow gloves or mittens soaked up moisture from the wheel rims. Bulky gloves that kept her hands completely warm and dry, interfered with wheeling.
I purchased new pairs of each kind anyway.
Next: Christmas in the City!
A mom with a story
to share about injuries that never heal and fortunate accidents. About guilt, disability, perspectives, and unexpected adventure.