I’ve been wanting to read The Best Seat in the House: How I Woke Up One Tuesday and Was Paralyzed for Life by Allen Rucker for a long time as he has the same ailment I did/do, Transverse Myelitis, and I “met” him at the Transverse Myelitis Internet Club.
His case is worse than mine as he was paralyzed from the waist down and hasn’t recovered more than a bit of movement, but there were many things I could identify with. In fact, the first several pages were a little hard for me to read due to bringing back so many similar thoughts, experiences, and sensations (or lack thereof).
Allen details the initial paralysis and treatment, the clinging to hope that he would recover, the denial, anger, and depression in realizing that he wasn’t going to recover much movement, and finally acceptance and learning how to live with paralysis. He discusses the effects of his condition on his family and his career as a Hollywood writer. As he says in the introduction, “I became paralyzed and then had no choice but to get on with my life in ways that has eluded me before.”
He’s also quite honest with his feelings throughout the book, and that was the “meat” of the book for me. He writes of the first few weeks after coming home from the hospital:
I felt a bit like a wild animal that had been captured, hospitalized, and rehabilitated and was now going through the gradual process of being reintroduced to its native surroundings. I knew I wasn’t ready to bound back into the outback of human society. I was a little week from six weeks in a hospital bed, but that wasn’t really the problem. The problem was psychological. I was embarrassed, ashamed, and scared. I had been stripped of my dignity (p. 54).
Years later, he knew things were different in his own outlook when watching an episode of Law and Order in which a woman “wanted to exercise her right to die because she was a hopeless paralytic. ‘I’m weak,’ she said, ‘tired, in constant pain, incontinent, and I’ll have to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair.'” Allen’s response was, “So? What’s the problem?” (p. 174).
He tells of some of the bizarre things that happened to him, like the EMTs who first attended him thinking he was having a panic attack , a muscle spasm, or otherwise faking it and chiding him for taking up their time when someone might really need their help, or being pushed out of the way in his wheelchair during someone’s race to an elevator, or a somewhat stoned man who saw him in a line at Starbucks and then started pushing him to the front of the line to buy him some coffee “for everything this guy did for us in Nam” (p. 61).
The book is laced with Allen’s humor. I particularly enjoyed his idea for a daily flip calendar with the benefits of being paralyzed with maxims such as “You’ll never again hear the words, ‘Hey, while you’re up could you get me…..,'” or “You have to buy a new pair of shoes only once every five years” (pp. 176, 178).
He also discusses other people’s reactions to paralysis, from the awkward to the overly sympathetic to those who encourage wheelchair athletics and such. Of the last he says, “The problem for chair users is feeling pressured to do things you think are unwise, or just uncomfortable, in order to keep up a hearty appearance. If you are in no condition or mood to ski, bowl, or get down on the dance floor, just roll away. It’s your God-given right to just be paralyzed. You don’t need the stress of being super-paralyzed…You have nothing to prove. Paralysis isn’t a contact sport or a race to sainthood” (p. 211). He goes on to say. “This kind of thinking runs counter to the aggressive ethos of the ‘new disabled'” which might work well for those in the twenties, but “you just might find that operating inside your limitations could be liberating” (p. 212).
Most of you who read here regularly know I usually read books from a Christian viewpoint, and this book is not that. There is a smattering of course words and crass remarks, some philosophies I wouldn’t espouse, some views I wouldn’t hold to personally. But aside from that, I really appreciated Allen’s insight.
This book would be good for anyone with transverse myelitis, anyone who is paralyzed for any reason, or anyone who knows someone who is paralyzed or in a wheelchair or has transverse myelitis — or anyone interested in any of the above.
(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)