My Pushy Wife

“Pushing you feels like we’re walking together," my wife said.

Author and his wife Courtesy Of Author

This was it: I would die at the hands of a taxi in Istanbul.

My wife, whose nickname is MeK (me-kay), inched me out as we strove to cross a car-clogged street in the city where Europe ends and Asia begins. This apparently offended the drivers of yellow cabs who refused to cede to us. Sitting in my wheelchair — which had made the 5,644-mile trip (as the crow flies) with us from Tennessee to Turkey’s largest city — I felt out of control as the notorious traffic bore down. At the last nanosecond, MeK snatched my chair backward, saving me.


My Pushy WifePhoto by author

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The ancient world — Istanbul was founded as Constantinople 1,800 years ago — wasn’t built for people with disabilities like me.

In the city of 15.4 million, my wife maneuvered me as she struggled down ripped-up sidewalks and brutally bumpy cobblestone streets. She carried the wheelchair up the railless stairs to the second-story apartment where we stayed. She hefted it into the trunks of taxis whose drivers were suspicious of a handicapped American.


Still, together with my wheelchair, my able-bodied wife and I rolled through the Hagia Sophia (which dates from the 6th century), back when it was a secular museum and not the working mosque it now is. Thanks to helpful young Turks and a lift, we were able to weave through the Basilica Cistern, an underground reservoir with 336 columns, two supported by partially submerged Medusa heads. We braved the Spice Bazaar, where disaster nearly struck again. At one point, we encountered a downhill grade. My wife used every bit of her 115 pounds to hold back her 200-plus-pound husband from mowing down a group of women in burkas.

Over the years before and since then, MeK’s willingness to push me has opened up more new adventures than my health should allow.

She has become an expert at sussing out accessible places — state and national parks with paved trails, nature preserves with boardwalks, and beaches with concrete pathways to the sand. She looks out for me, always scanning ahead to what’s coming. She has become an expert at turning the wheelchair backward to get over large humps and cracks in streets and sidewalks. Seeking accessibility, we often discover new places even locals don’t know.

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I have a genetic condition called Multiple Epiphyseal Dysplasia (MED, pronounced M-E-D), with which I was diagnosed at age 6.

Its main effect is that the ends of the bones that come together to form my joints grew deformed. Picture broken gears grinding against each other, wearing down with age. As you’d expect, this causes me crippling chronic pain. As a result, I’ve had both hips replaced (twice on each side), both shoulders replaced, and both knees replaced.

When I was just 53, I was forced to retire from my career in journalism and marketing when both my feet became frozen at 45-degree angles to the ankles, causing me to walk, when I could, on the outside edges. Another pair of procedures corrected this condition.

I had seven operations in seven years, the last a gastric sleeve to curb my ballooning obesity, which was hard on my failing joints. Another reason: My petite wife increasingly had trouble with handling my hefty weight in the wheelchair, particularly when we went uphill.


All the while, my wife propelled me — figuratively and literally — to recover.

She wheeled me to physical therapy appointments and physician’s offices. She emptied the urinal when I was laid up from the joint replacements. She weighed my food and gave me protein shakes after the bariatric surgery, as I lost a more wheelchair-manageable 80 pounds. My wife of 37 years has been there through all the ups and downs of the hospital stays, rehab, and opioids.

When I couldn’t walk, she didn’t walk.

Now 65, I walk with a HurryCane around the house and for short distances, often using MeK’s shoulder to steady my gait. We break the wheelchair out of the back of our Acura SUV when we get out and about.


To cope with my disability, I spend my life trying to stay in control. Each step and movement is fraught because of the pain they can cause. I spend my days anticipating physical and emotional danger. I like to think that if I can just control my environment, I can fend off the worst parts of being a crip. (Hey, I own it.)

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But in the wheelchair, I have no control.


When we travel, I depend on MeK to have my back, literally. Like that day in Istanbul, I’ve had to give up control and trust her implicitly to get me safely where I need to go.

I fret that I’m imposing on her too much, that I am somehow forcing her — the old “in-sickness-and-in-health” vow we made back in the ’80s — to give up a part of herself to care for me. Would she, I often wonder, be better off not pushing me around? I usually repress such feelings, but I asked MeK about them recently.

“I love pushing you,” she responded from the kitchen as I sat in in my La-Z-Boy in the living room. “Pushing you feels like we’re walking together. It’s made me more conscious of my surroundings. I have such great memories of exploring with you.”

The only thing she dislikes about pushing, MeK adds, is that unless she puts her Apple Watch in her pocket to capture the motion of moving, rather than her wrist resting on the wheelchair handles, she fails to get credit toward the 10,000 steps she shoots for every day.


Sure, sometimes Mek pushes my buttons. I get defensive when I perceive she’s judging me. That comes from a lifetime of being embarrassed by being different and trying in vain to control my image as a “perfect” person. I get ashamed of being in the chair and unable to walk on my own two feet. I hate it when strangers on the street judge me as being an invalid. I cringe when I have to ask them to step aside to let my wheelchair through.

MeK never makes me feel bad about being disabled, however. I know that minding a handicapped person is hard on her body and emotions. When I get upset, I try to remember that pushing the wheelchair and other acts of caregiving is her love language. She does it for the life we’ve built over 40 years of knowing one another and being best friends. We are bonded by the barriers we’ve faced.

One of my favorite quotes, from U2’s Bono about his long marriage with his wife, Ali, sums up our symbiotic relationship: “A shared life gives you a shared memory. She’s my witness. I’m hers.”

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Randall H. Duckett is a journalist with decades in writing, editing, and entrepreneurship. He is the author of Seven Cs: The Elements of Effective Writing.