It was Austin’s tenth lap around the block and he was getting tired. He felt the wind evaporating the sweat that had accumulated on his brow as his wheelchair raced down the street. Austin wore leather gloves with the fingers cut off to protect his palms as he wheeled himself. His legs bounced slightly as he rolled over imperfections in the sidewalk.
Austin slowed as he neared his parents house, which was now his own house too. He wheeled up the ramp that his parents had built leading to the front door. He had been feeling keyed up all day, so he had thought a couple of laps around the block in his chair would ease the tension. After those couple of laps, he still felt antsy, so he kept going. Aside from his legs, he was now in the best physical condition he had been in since college. The muscles he had that still worked were very well-toned.
Tomorrow he was supposed to go back to the elementary school and resume teaching his old class. Even thought it was the same thing he had been doing for the last four years, he was quite nervous. And the laps around the block didn’t do much to make him feel better, although it caused him to form a vee of sweat on his T-shirt. As he wheeled inside the house, he debated whether there was time for a shower before dinner. He couldn’t do a five minute shower anymore like he used to.
Austin had come a long way in the last few months. He felt that he was a lot more comfortable with his disability now, although he was still a little awkward about maneuvering in public places. He was certainly much better at using the wheelchair and he was able to care for himself almost completely independently. He did depend on his mother for meals, but only because their kitchen wasn’t accessible.
Unfortunately, Austin’s relationship with Heather had deteriorated since his accident. They were unofficially separated now and Austin was growing less optimistic about them getting back together. As he had expected, Heather’s work got in the way of their meager time together, sparking several tense arguments. Austin remembered during his fourth week of rehab, Heather had come into the gym while he was working out. Maybe it was the adrenaline rush from lifting the weights, but Austin had become suddenly furious that she had not shown up for over a week.
Nice of you to drop by, Austin had said, continuing to lift weights as if she wasn’t even there.
Heather had tried to touch his shoulder, but he had shrugged her away. Austin, I’m sorry. I had a lot of work to do...
It’s good to know what your priorities are.
Austin’s anger didn’t fade and Heather finally left when she couldn’t talk him out of it. The next day, Heather called him on the phone and suggested they “take a break” from each other. Even though Austin wasn’t surprised after his outburst and he agreed that they probably needed that break, the words sent a shiver down his broken spine. Of course, he was broken up over the possibility of losing Heather, but even more than that, the fact that his wife was leaving him so soon after he became disabled made him worry that no women would ever be interested in him again.
His parents, at least, still loved him. They told him that he could live with them as long as he needed to. While Austin was grateful for their offer, the last thing he wanted was to be a paraplegic dependent on his parents to support him, which was why he jumped at the chance to return to his own teaching job. He’d probably stay with his parents for at least another couple of years (assuming things didn’t work out with Heather) until he’d have enough money saved up to get a place of his own.
As Austin wheeled into the dining room, he could see his mother setting up the table for dinner. “Smells good, Mom,” he commented. “Do you need any help?”
She smiled at him. “Go call your father. I’ll have the food out in a minute.”
Ted Chandler was in his bedroom, watching television while lying on the bed. Austin wheeled over to the room, but stopped short of the doorway. His parents had spent a lot of money to widen some of the doorways, but finances had limited them from widening the entrances that he wouldn’t be using much. The doorway to his parents’ bedroom was too tight a squeeze for his wheelchair to fit through.
“Dinner, Dad,” Austin said.
Ted nodded and struggled to his feet. Ted Chandler suffered from arthritis in his knees for many years and Austin had always worried he’d inherit his father’s affliction. Now it seemed silly that he had ever worried.
Dinner was pasta and vegetables. Austin’s mother Janice served them the food, then returned to her seat. Austin remembered as a kid they had always said grace before eating, but that practice seemed to have been abandoned.
“You know where we go tomorrow, right?” Ted asked. He was giving Austin a ride in the morning.
“Yeah sure, same place as usual,” Austin said. “I’ll give you directions.”
“You nervous, honey?” Janice asked.
“A little,” Austin admitted. It was an understatement.
“Nothing to be nervous about,” Ted said. “The kids will probably be thrilled to have you back.”
Austin shrugged. Talking about it just made him feel more edgy about the whole thing. He wished they’d change the subject.
“Did Heather call at all last week?” Janice asked him.
Austin winced. That wasn’t what he had been hoping they would change the subject to. Heather had been giving him a call once a week since they “separated”, just to connect, but she had failed to call last week. Austin had tried to call her last night, but she hadn’t been home.
Heather was probably busy at work, as usual, and it had just slipped her mind. But Austin was nervous that it was more than that. Heather was a very attractive woman and Austin wasn’t blind to the way other men looked at her during her office parties. Maybe Heather had started seeing someone else. He wouldn’t have been shocked.
The thought of Heather seeing another man was almost too painful for him to bear. Despite the fact that their marriage had been riddled with problems from the start, he loved Heather desperately and he didn’t want to lose her. He still had a naïve hope that their marriage might have a chance, but if she was seeing someone else seriously, he’d have to give up that last hope.
“Heather’s pretty busy at work,” Austin said.
He could see his parents exchange looks. They had never been crazy about Heather and had always hinted to Austin that she was the wrong woman for him. But ever since he had been sentenced to life in a wheelchair, they had been pushing to make the marriage work. Austin knew it was probably because they thought he’d be single forever if he didn’t stay with Heather.
After dinner was over, Austin headed straight for the bathroom to cath himself. He found that if he was careful about what he had to drink and cathed himself consistently after eating, he didn’t have any accidents and didn’t need to wear a condom catheter and legbag. He hated the condom catheter because it was very difficult for him to put on if he didn’t have an erection and it often fell right off, despite the questionable adhesive material on the condom that always seemed better at sticking to itself than to his penis.
Austin used the all-in-one catheters from the hospital, which drained right into a bag so that he didn’t have to transfer to the toilet. The catheter tube was contained within the bag to keep it sterile, and he had to slide it out of the bag into his urethra. He couldn’t feel it at all, which he supposed was a blessing. Austin had no sensation whatsoever in his genitals and he never would. He could occasionally get erections when he stimulated his penis with his hand, but that happened only sporadically. Even the most arousing thoughts weren’t enough to get him hard anymore.
He hadn’t had sex with Heather since his accident (or with anyone, for that matter). They had never had enough privacy for the act and the arguments between them kept them from making any attempts. At this point, Austin was pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to have sex without some pharmacological help. He had attempted to masturbate a few times and wasn’t able to climax or ejaculate. Getting hard at all was a rare event and it usually didn’t last very long. He supposed the fact that he hadn’t discussed his impotence with his own wife was symptomatic of their marital problems, but he figured if they got back together, he’d see a doctor and they’d figure it out. And if the worst happened and it didn’t work out with Heather... well, it seemed like his next opportunity for sex might be years away. Anyway, he wasn’t holding his breath.
As Austin was washing off his hands in the sink, he heard his parents turn the television on in the living room, which was their usual routine. He wheeled out to join them.
After he got out the hospital, Austin had purchased an EasyStand 6000 Glider. This was a piece of equipment that would allow him to stand up with support and passively exercise his legs. His father had set up the EasyStand in front of the television, so that Austin could use it in the evenings while they watched TV.
Austin transferred into his EasyStand while his parents sat on the couch next to him. He pulled his wheelchair up alongside the machine and locked the brakes. He grabbed the side of the machine’s seat with one hand and hoisted his butt into the seat in a relatively smooth movement. One of Austin’s legs was still in the legrest and the other had fallen out. He moved them both into the footplates and strapped them in.
Once he was sitting in the EasyStand and his feet were secured, Austin secured the straps on his legs and waist so that he didn’t fall out. He then pumped the seat up so that he was in a standing position. Austin noticed that he had started feeling a slight twinge of vertigo recently when he stood up, but it usually faded quickly. He reached for the glide handles and began moving them back and forth. This gave his arms a workout, and the handles were linked to his legs, so they moved back and forth as he moved the handles. Austin usually did this for up to an hour before he was completely worn out.
He had to admit that he liked the machine a lot. He really enjoyed being able to stand up again, even if he was being supported by the frame. The machine was good for his body too and would likely prevent ulcers in the future. He always felt a little disappointed getting back into his wheelchair after a workout in his standing frame. Most of the time, he didn’t think much about walking, but the EasyStand brought back some of his old urges.
Despite the fact that Dr. Spector had told him at the hospital that he wouldn’t be able to walk again with braces, Austin had been reading about some individuals with similar level injuries to himself that were able to walk on a very limited basis with extensive bracing. He couldn’t imagine how it would work, but the more he thought about it, the more eager he was to make an attempt to walk again a little bit. Even if he could walk only in his own home for under an hour a day and it took braces up to his waist, he was interested in giving it a shot.
Austin was tired from his exercise on the EasyStand and he decided it was time to shower and go to bed. After all, he had a big day tomorrow.
To be continued....