As you can imagine, my injury has brought about a significant change in my relationship with Jo Anne. I like to compare our new relationship with that which existed between two golfers. Early one morning Jack's friend took him out golfing. It began to get late and the friend's wife began to get worried about her husband and Jack. Finally, she heard his car coming into the driveway and ran out to meet him. He was disheveled and looked exhausted. His wife wanted to know why he had been gone so long and he said, "Well, on the first hole, Jack had a heart attack and all day long it was hit the ball and drag Jack!" That pretty much illustrates our lifestyle and marriage relationship. Jo Anne hits the ball and drags me around.
A while back I foolishly let Jo Anne talk me into buying a new modified van—ha,ha. We aren't rich -- just stupid I suppose. Not knowing my life expectancy I told her I would like to go out in style when it was my time. She thought it was a very good idea. I must admit however, I was a tad disappointed she agreed so readily to any plan I had regarding my demise.
In our new van, we seem to float effortlessly, and silently I might add, down the freeway. In our old van, as we drove down the same freeway, it was like traveling in a noisy, creaking, covered wagon with iron rims on the wheels, and no shocks.
Our new van is the fourth one we have purchased since my accident. Thankfully, each one has been a little bit better than the one that preceded it. These are modified minivans with a ramp that automatically lowers itself out of the side of the van when the door is opened. Jo Anne then backs up my wheelchair into the van and locks it into place next to the driver's seat.
The first three vans had a suspension system that was extremely unreliable. It consisted of airbags which, at the most inopportune moment, would pop and make it impossible to drive the van. We never felt confident we would make it to our destination without having a problem. On one occasion traveling from Las Vegas to Southern California, one of the airbags exploded just outside of Barstow, California. Jo Anne was able to maneuver the van to the nearest off ramp and to a fast food restaurant, which was the first establishment we came to. While our youngest daughter, Jackie, watched over me, Jo Anne began the arduous and frustrating process of trying to get the van repaired. Because of my physical condition and size of my wheelchair, it is impossible for me to be transported about in just any ordinary vehicle, so I'm not good for much in these kinds of situations. Nobody in Barstow knew anything about how to fix these modified minivans, but the company in Arizona which modified the van finally agreed to pay for us to be taken to Southern California with all of us sitting up high on the back of a tow truck. I must admit it was the safest trip I felt we ever took in that van for a number of reasons -- one of the biggest was that Jo Anne wasn't driving. Thankfully, our newest van has a wonderful suspension system and we actually feel we have a good chance to reach our destinations without having a harrowing and dangerous experience.
A while back Jo Anne loaded me into our new van and we drove over to the neighborhood car wash. I always have mixed feelings when we go to get the van all spruced up by our Hispanic brothers. I'm happy that the van is going to look so nice, but there is also a definite downside to the experience for me. When we get to the giant vacuum cleaners that emit a sound similar to that of a wild and tempestuous tornado, Jo Anne lets the ramp down, guides me carefully to earth, and then the humiliation begins. She takes the larger-than-life vacuum hose and begins vacuuming me and my wheelchair. I always hope nobody will be around to observe the spectacle, but inevitably a few curious onlookers gather around to see whether I will get sucked up into the giant vacuum tank along with the other dirt and debris. The thing that kind of bothers me the most is that they seem to enjoy watching me suffer, and I even suspect they are making bets as to whether Jo Anne is going to send me through the car wash as well.
This particular day after I had been thoroughly cleansed by the "Moby" vacuum cleaner and the van was all shiny and clean, I started driving my chair toward it anxious to be welcomed into its safe environs and away from public scrutiny. I was going about as fast as my chair would go and when I gave it the command to stop, it didn't stop! I was helpless, panicked, but could do nothing to save myself, and worst of all, my shiny new van. I hit the passenger side front door full blast. There was a sickening, wrenching, noise. The right leg rest on my wheelchair was crushed and fell to the ground; of course my leg was all bruised up but not being able to feel anything that was the last thing I was thinking about right then. The only thought in my mind was, "What have I done to my van?"
Well, it could have been worse -- I had just left a big mark on the door that looked like the mark of Zorro. I was relieved it was not worse but it was the first ding on the new van and wouldn't you know I was the one that put it there.
One of our best friends is Tony, the car body repair man. He always has a big smile on his face when we drive up -- I wonder why? I hate to admit it but we have given him lots of business over the years. I am not bragging, but in 20 years the only damage I have done to our vans was at the car wash that day. All the business we have brought Tony's way has resulted from Jo Anne's unique brand of driving by the braille system.
It is always a great adventure having Jo Anne drag me about in our van. Just think of being paralyzed from the neck down, sitting right next to the driver's seat, unable to cover your eyes or face with your hands, or protect yourself in any way. Every lane change on the freeway is a heart stopping experience. It got so bad I had to have a pacemaker implanted in my heart to survive our excursions.
Now, I have a lot of patience and am quite a pleasant person to be around most of the time, but Jo Anne's driving can at times get the best of me. We were driving along in a peaceful neighborhood one day looking for an address when she made a dangerous maneuver that about cost us our lives. The natural man got the best of me and I barked at her. She looked at me with a hurt and pained expression on her face and said, "Ronald Reagan would never have talked to Nancy that way." I agreed with her, but then added that Nancy probably never drove the way she did.
One time we were late in arriving at a speaking engagement. Jo Anne was going at least 40 mph as we entered the parking lot and didn't notice the huge speed bump. We hit it hard; I came up out of my wheelchair, hit my head on the ceiling, both of my shoes came off, and as I came back down I almost slid out of my wheelchair. Two young teenagers were standing there watching the entertainment and Jo Anne enlisted their help to hoist me back up into the chair.
One afternoon Jo Anne borrowed our youngest son's old Toyota to drive over to the local market to buy some things. Our son's car was banged up, dents everywhere, and not pleasant to look at. In the parking lot Jo Anne made some interesting maneuver, almost hit the car of another driver who rolled his window down and hollered at her, "Hey lady, no wonder your car looks like that!"
However, it does add some zest and excitement to my life to be dragged about in our van. I think all of us enjoy taking a ride and having that kind of mobility. Recently, an Amish man wrote me a letter. Somehow he had read about me in Pennsylvania and wanted to tell me about his situation. He is the father of nine children and several years ago he rented a minivan and a driver to take them on a longer trip than feasible with their traditional horse and buggy. An unfortunate accident occurred as they were coming home and his little nine-month-old daughter lost her life and he was injured like me. The Amish community gave consent for him to bring electricity into his home so that he could be on a ventilator. They also permitted him to purchase a computer with voice recognition software which he uses as a typewriter. He doesn't use the Internet at all. In his letter he described how his buggy had been modified with a plywood ramp that drops out of the back of the buggy so he can drive his wheelchair up and into that conveyance. In my mind's eye I can see this wonderful Amish quadriplegic on life support being pulled about in his modified horse and buggy.
When you can't do anything on your own and are mobility impaired, what a joy it is to be married to someone like Jo Anne who is willing to hit the ball and drag Jack.