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Wheelchairs Make You Look Fat




A totally unscientific survey completed in the lab of my mind reveals the unpolitical truth we dare not admit out loud. If I ask you to picture in your mind a person in a wheelchair, what would your image look like? See, I told you! You imagined that the person sitting in a wheelchair is fat....er shall I say, "weight challenged." But as we hear in the TV ads for bariatric surgery, "It's not your fault." There is a lot at steak stake here people. We can't possibly let Mayor Bloomberg and his "Too Tubby to Fail" campaign gain traction. But I digress.


Why is it that the able-bodied have such poor perceptions of how people in wheelchairs look? Even those who are a little porky themselves! What is it about their eyesight that only allows them to visually remember the people they see in wheelchairs who might be packing an extra pound or two, and completely miss the image of people like Rick Hansen, the Canadian Para-Olympian? I think studies need to be conducted about the relationship between image creation and image retention in the minds of able-bodied people. How else do you explain the horrific images you imagined during the simple exercise at the start of this article? It can't possibly be the 79 ounce soft drinks served at restaurants everywhere, can it?


I think I'm the perfect poster child in demonstrating this. When I checked out of the hospital in December 2008, I had lost 70 pounds from my able-bodied, physically, well conditioned body. That in and of itself should tell you that the problem is in the mind (or body) of the able-bodied, not in the belly of the disabled. During the past five years, that image has given me a bit of a superiority complex, knowing I am on the right side of this argument. Until yesterday.


I was at a doctor's office, and my doctor told me she thought I had gained a little weight. I gently dismissed her remarks by saying it was the wheelchair's fault. After all, I am strapped into the darn thing and can't get out to exercise. Besides that, they make it so easy to drive that I can do it with my chin – why on earth would I want to make that anymore difficult. She smiled in a way that made me a bit nervous. The smile was too confident, she wasn't buying my arguments. "We have a scale that you can roll your wheelchair onto" she said, that confident smile now looking more like a smirk of superiority. "After we're finished here we can weigh you, it's just down the hall." "That's great," I lied. In reality, I was a bit nervous. The last time I was in a facility that could accommodate my wheelchair and weigh myself was four years ago, and I was secretly concerned that my 2/meal peppermint Patty desert might have had a "Bloomberg effect" on my waistline. Following my appointment, the doctor had her assistant lead the way down the hall to where the scale was waiting. It was like a scene from a movie and I had the distinct feeling I was a "fat man rolling." I rolled onto the scale as the nurse prepared the machine. I could feel the veins in my arm recoil. Then she pressed the button. The output screen of the scale looked up at me, sighed slowly, shook its rectangular disproportionate face and said "Ruh ro Tubby, this isn't 2008 anymore." I felt like slapping it. Then my face brightened. It would be five months before we saw this doctor again, so that meant five months until my next weigh in. I had plenty of time to make any needed corrections by then. Then I heard my wife say in a voice that was almost giddy with anticipation, "That's perfect. I will bring the chair over by itself on Saturday morning and put it on the scale, and we will know how much Joe weighs." Not good. That meant I only had two days to live it up, before learning the grim prognosis and experiencing the resulting calorie deprivation that was sure to follow. A vision flashed through my mind of myself sitting in a circle with other people in wheelchairs, facing a moderator and hearing these words come out of my mouth. "My name is Joe, and I'm a fatty." I guess I have some work to do. Meanwhile, all you able-bodied out there need to work on your mental imaging problems!


2019 Update

Since that day five years ago, I started utilizing My Fitness Pal as a tool to monitor both my caloric and nutritional intake. I have no doubt that has helped improve my nutrition, and since that time I have dropped 25 pounds. I highly recommend finding the system that works for you. As far as those able-bodied people are concerned, their image of us isn’t what matters – what matters is our image of ourselves!


Slice of Life series articles are those that share the special experiences of those living in a wheelchair in a way that is witty, informational, poignant and even inspirational. Do you have a story? Share it with us at info@unitedspinalusa.org.