Yesterday Liv almost passed out in my bedroom. She was standing, talking to me, bracing herself with her arms on the edge of my desk. She’s supposed to be on her feet for so many minutes every day as part of her physical therapy, though it’s hard to get them all in. I finished a sentence, and turned to look at her. She was gripping my desk extra hard, had gotten a sick look on her face, and was turning pale. I asked if she was ok, and she nodded dismissively. Liv and I share an intense dislike of being fussed over when we are trying to get through something (pain, discomfort), so I let it go for a moment, continuing on with the conversation watching her closely. It sounded a little like this:
“And then it depends on whether or not my boss decides that she needs me to and I know you said you’re ok but I’m coming over there just in case. I’m going to put my arms around your waist, ok?”
Liv had turned even more pale, and right when I got my arms around her was when she started to slump over onto the desk. Thankfully I was supporting most of her weight, and was able to lean her back against me, then slowly ease her to the floor. She sat there with her head between her knees for some time. I moved around the room getting ready for work, watching her out of the corner of my eye. After a while she spoke.
“I’m ok now.”
“Yeah. I’m just going to sit here for a while, though.”
“I think that would be good.”
That’s the most we talked about it until that evening when she told me she had called her doctor, and neither of them has any idea why she would have turned faint like that.
I don’t write much about the realities of living with a disabled roommate. This is partly because, although Liv is in a wheelchair, she is so phenomenally gifted that I don’t tend to think of her as disabled. She just has some extra challenges she has to face in her daily life. I know so many people with their own particular challenges (mental disorders, addictions, physical problems) that this almost seems normal to me. I myself struggle with a learning disability and sometimes near-incapacitating asthma. This is part of why we get along so well. Both of us know what it is like to live with suffering. We understand pain on a practical, everyday level. We take for granted the reality that there will always be one more challenge to face, one more wall to get over, one more thing to get through. It’s not something to complain about, and there’s no point in making a big deal about it. You face it and do what’s necessary to get through. Sometimes it’s alright not to be ok, sometimes God has a wicked sense of humor, and sometimes black humor is the best way to cope. If you can laugh at something, no matter how unpleasant, it becomes a little easier to bear.
At the same time, I know that Liv is vulnerable. I also know that her daredevil spirit doesn’t always want to acknowledge that vulnerability. Consequently I tend to watch out for her, especially when I see her standing or doing other things that are hard for her. We pick the places we park so that wherever she needs to go will be downhill. When we’re “off-roading” (wheeling over grass or similar) I get behind the chair and push. It’s not something special, just the way we work.
Liv looks out for me too. One of my disabilities is ADD. Sometimes I would forget my head if it weren’t attached. Liv reminds me of where we’re going (I tend to go on autopilot and start heading for, say, work when I meant to be dropping Liv off at the school library), the things I need to bring with me, etc. She asks me whether or not I’ve taken my medication, and helps me wake up in the morning. And she’s patient with me, knowing that while it may take me a while to get to things like, say, sweeping the kitchen floor, sooner or later it will be done. We take care of each other. It works out pretty well.