My Fight with Stairs
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Profile photo of Kelly Mack

I have no memory of stairs being easy. They tower in my mind as diabolical obstacles. Instead of stairs as a means to get to another place, to make room by using vertical space, or even as a benevolent architectural choice—they are steep, evil obstructions bent on my destruction.

Even as a child, stairs were difficult. I had a method of going up that involved throwing my left leg up and hoisting myself violently one step at a time because I lacked the bend in my knees to properly climb them. Going down was easier as I would sit on the top and slide one step at a time.

After I learned to walk again following my first joint replacements, I spent hours practicing stairs. My physical therapist gave me a crutch to help hoist myself. I placed my left foot up, pushed on the crutch with my left arm and on the railing with my right arm to lift my other leg. Then do it all over again for each step. After the surgeries we feared sliding was not safe, so I learned to descend the stairs with my crutch backwards and a spotter behind me.

It was wonderful when my parents purchased a stairlift for the home. After my surgeries, climbing the stairs with my crutch was workable but not practical for every day, and probably not all that safe.

The stairlift is wonderful!

I sit on the seat and push a button to make it ascend the track as I watch the stairs roll by. So much easier and less tiring than climbing and descending the stairs! And I imagine that it’s handy for carrying laundry or anything heavy or bulky up and down, even when I am not visiting the house.

As I have aged, my dislike for stairs has probably only increased. Stairs became gradually hard to manage and rarely seemed worth the effort of struggle and exhaustion. And I think I have often underestimated the danger. One slip of my foot could result in a devastating fall—injuring myself or a loved one trying to help me.

As a young adult, I did pull out my crutch sometimes to visit people and climb their stairs. I always needed additional help, but wanted so much to go to parties and see homes of dear friends. Other times I have made visits in my manual wheelchair and have been lifted by strong, adventurous friends over stairs.

These were treasured times—being able to visit friends at home, go to parties, and enjoy the temporary defeat over another staircase. But it was not to last. I have to admit that I really cannot safely use the crutch anymore to climb stairs. I do not trust my strength fully for this activity and fear the risk of harm. I also feel that lifting my manual wheelchair over stairs should be only used in rare cases for the same reasons.

I have come to appreciate flat surfaces, single-levels, elevators, and ramps.

They are precious and greatly practical for someone with severe rheumatoid arthritis who has trouble climbing stairs. While I am sad at times about the places I can’t go, especially visiting friends in their homes, I am grateful for whatever accessible locations I can visit and use them frequently.

It was difficult to come to terms with my fight with stairs. I must admit that I cannot defeat them, as much as I may want to. But I can outwit them with elevators and navigating the world I can access from my wheelchair.

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