Living in the Shadow of a Wheelchair
“I AM afraid that you will just have to accept that some people become confined to a wheelchair before they are 30 years old.”
I just could not believe it. “Look! I am 19, not 90!” I blurted.
“There is nothing we can do,” came the quiet reply. “You must accept it. There are people in this world who cannot walk by the time they are 30, and you are going to be one of them.”
Those chilling words from an orthopedic consultant were the first indication that a spinal condition I had been born with would eventually lead to permanent disability. In total disbelief I jumped onto my bicycle and quickly rode away.
Making the Most of My Time
For two years I had been sharing in the full-time ministry as a pioneer here in England, and what happy years they had been! My heart was set on continuing, but the consultant’s words kept coming back. Could they possibly come true? “Well, true or false,” I remember saying to myself, “there’s no point in giving up before the time actually comes, is there?” I would continue to pioneer.
During the next ten years the deterioration of my spine became progressively evident. That I was able to carry on in the full-time preaching activity was largely due to the encouragement and physical help of Elsa, my pioneer companion. We cycled hundreds of miles, witnessing in seaside towns, traveling the beautiful countryside, working in suburban areas and finally centering our activity in London’s inner city. What a deep feeling of freedom and satisfaction we had at being able to spend all our time in the work of preaching from God’s Word about his wonderful promise of a coming earthly Paradise!
Although my activities were interspersed with periods in hospitals where I underwent a dozen operations, I was able to continue pioneering. I began to use leg braces and eventually had to use elbow crutches. For the last two years of my pioneer service, this was how I managed to get around. People were really kind. One taxi driver would watch out for me and give me free rides between calls. Many other people offered their home for a rest whenever they saw me.
Then the consultant’s words painfully came true. My spine suddenly collapsed. After a long period in the hospital and many more months in a plaster cast, I was confined to a wheelchair. “I will wake up one day and find that it is not true,” I would tell myself. I somehow felt I was just marking time until that day.
Adjusting to My Disability
In the beginning I was resentful. I desperately needed the consideration and help of others but felt embarrassed, even demoralized, at having to accept it. But I resented it as much if no help was offered. Probably only those who have had a similar experience can fully understand how it feels suddenly to become so dependent. The smile I wore in public was a cover-up for my feelings of infinite sadness and uselessness.
As time passed I worked myself through the worst of these negative emotions. Looking back, the turning point came when a fellow Witness read with me 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 from The Living Bible, which says in part: “I am glad to be a living demonstration of Christ’s power, instead of showing off my own power and abilities.” The Witness who read me these words of the apostle Paul had himself been badly injured in an accident, and I could see that he had proved them to be true in his case.
I supplicated Jehovah God to show me something constructive that I could still do to help me always to be useful to him and to others, rather than becoming self-centered. My whole life changed.
The Joy of Helping Others
Looking around, I began to see that many people have limitations and are not free to do what they like. For example, women with large families to care for, men tied all day to a monotonous job, and persons who have grown old and no longer have the energy to accomplish much. I started to think about them, to watch how they coped.
After a while I was asked: “Would you like to conduct a Bible study with a lady who can come to your home?” How encouraging! She proved to be the first of several with whom I have studied in this way. It was a joy to realize that my physical condition made no difference at all in my ability to use my years of experience in disciple making.
I was constantly on the lookout for new ways to share in making disciples. At first this was done mostly by writing letters. I have as my assignment a block of flats where it is difficult to gain entry for house-to-house witnessing. When writing I try to imagine a different household for each apartment and use a different Scriptural presentation for each. In this way I keep my mind active, projecting myself into the public ministry of the Word of God.
Finally, I decided to overcome my last hurdle and share again in the house-to-house evangelizing. I am so glad I did. There is nothing as faith strengthening as the oral declaration of one’s faith. Now friends in the congregation regularly pick up me and my wheelchair, so I am even able to serve as an auxiliary pioneer from time to time.
It has been six years now since I last rode my bicycle. Some days I yearn for the freedom of movement I had then, for the fresh air and for the busy life I enjoyed so much. On the credit side, however, the active life I led in the pioneer service extended my years of mobility from the predicted 10 to over 15 years.
For the past few years I have lived alone. But Elsa and her husband treat me as one of the family. Their children are as dear to me as if they were my own.
I remind myself, too, that I have gained assets I did not possess before. Among the greatest of these is time. I am always available to listen to those who feel the need of a hearing ear. I have grown in compassion for those experiencing problems. Above all else, there is the growing closeness to Jehovah God, who has so lovingly taught me to enjoy life as it is and who has given me strength and purpose to continue serving him.