Saturday, August 29, 2015


There's another woman in our home and her name is Bertha.

Bertha is formidable and powerful. And despite her unfashionable name and appearance, she is a dominant force to whom my husband is quite attached.

She occupies much space, although she's fairly nimble and capable of great destruction.

I don't mind the space she occupies in my husband's affections but I resent the real estate she occupies in my home. Did I say she's huge?

I loathe Bertha.

Until this week.

Bertha is a six-wheeled motorized wheelchair, capable of doing 15 mph on a wide stretch of roadway. She's powerful, having bent the steel frame holding a sliding glass door when our grandson decided to take her for an unexpected ride down a hallway.  She's capable of mowing down children and beast with a single push of her sensitive toggle control. She has gouged the woodwork around this house illustrating her strength and recklessness when not properly managed.

Bertha arrived at our home over my protests a couple of years ago when Ken returned home following a lengthy hospital stay.  In the logic of Medicare, it made sense to order this $36,000 piece of equipment now rather than the inevitable later because Ken's ability to walk even with a walker had dramatically diminished. Physical therapists said his limitations would only increase given his condition and approval was certain now and incomprehensibly might not be as assured later. I worried that a motorized wheelchair would exacerbate the situation. Given the option of walking or riding, riding would win and Ken's muscles would deteriorate faster. Then there was the presence of this beast in our 1,700 square foot home. Sight unseen, I named her Bertha.

I like to think we've grown to accommodate each other, Bertha and I.  I snarl less. When she regularly sideswipes the Belgian Linen paint finish on our walls and takes a hunk of wood from the crisp white door frames, I paint over them without whimper or wail. We share a small kitchen less begrudgingly and an even smaller master closet by unspoken routine. First you, then me.

And I've watched, with no satisfaction, that I was right. Her presence has made him dependent. When once he parked her in the hallway and used canes to walk into our bedroom, he now drives Bertha to the bedside. (She ripped the Pottery Barn bedskirt within two weeks of its arrival.) But our grandchildren vie to sit on their PapaKen's lap to ride up and down the hallway.

When I arrived home the other night and found Bertha parked in the middle of our patio looking forlorn, my heart stuttered. She had inexplicably died. She and Ken had been outside gardening and Bertha had simply quit. A jump start hadn't brought her to life. She was too mammoth for either of us to be able to roll her inside. Storm clouds, although welcomed in the desert, were building and rain seemed imminent. I swathed her in plastic. And stood inside and hoped that the storm would pass.

I imagined life without her.  And for a minute I was inconsolable. Bertha made our life work.  I forgave her the bed skirt, the woodwork, the $500 repair bill for the bent frame, the square footage she consumes and the endless tire marks she leaves behind on our wood floors.

Like hearing the vet recommend costly treatment to keep your pet alive, I would have joyfully paid the price to restart Bertha with no hope of Medicare reimbursement.  But Clarkson said it would only cost $480.  We had dead batteries. (Bertha, of course, has two.) Batteries don't last longer than two to three years, he said. Bertha, always ambitious, had ones that lasted four.

God bless her.