Wednesday, January 9, 2013
[Note: I promise I do know what day it is; I just wrote this last Friday night.]
John is spending his Friday night tonight fixing our friends' toilet. And not the "change out the flapper ball" kind of fixing, but rather the "remove the entire bowl and replace the wax ring and bolts" kind of fixing. He's handy like that.
Meanwhile, I'm sitting here in the quiet house, listening to the wall clock tick and debating just how bad of a person it would make me if I played DeathSpank: The Baconing while John's off slaving over a toilet repair that I *might* have volunteered him for.
Not that John didn't want to do it, of course. John loves helping people, which is one of the things I love most about him. He just also loves playing Borderlands 2, which I might have interrupted to remind him to go buy a new wax ring.
So, here I sit, and since I've decided playing a video game *would* make me a bad person, instead I'm going to tell you about The Manliest Thing John has ever done.
This actually came up a few months ago, when John - who is a closet Redditor - mentioned there was a thread going over there asking readers for their "manliest" feat. I'm sure the thread was full of survivalist tales of strength and testosterone, of which John has no short supply, so I wondered which he would choose. The time he single-handedly replumbed an entire house? The time he carried a giant leather couch up a U-haul ramp on his back? Or maybe one of his construction projects: roofing, wiring, pouring concrete slabs - really, he had his pick.
"I think mine would be that thing I did for Ken," John mused. I looked at him for a second, remembering, and I nodded. "Yeah," I said, "Definitely that."
Here's the thing John did for Ken:
About seven years ago, John and I convinced our friends Ken and Sue to go on a Disney cruise with us. We were big cruise nuts back then - and still are, though we don't go as often - and liked to strong-arm our friends into going with us whenever possible.
Now, Ken is the kind of guy who leans forward when he's talking to you, and makes you feel like you're the most interesting person on the planet. He's one of the most open, kind-hearted, and instantly-likable guys you'll ever meet. And his wife, Sue, is as fun-loving and spontaneous as he is kind. So, naturally, they're the perfect cruise companions.
Ok, so, two things you need to know about Ken: 1) he loves to swim, and was eager to try snorkeling in the Caribbean, and 2) he has muscular dystrophy, and is in a wheelchair.
The Caribbean is anything but ADA-compliant, but with our experience and connections John and I were fairly confident we could get Ken as far as the small snorkel boat in Grand Cayman while in his manual wheelchair. The seemingly insurmountable hurdle at that point, though, was getting Ken safely into and out of the water, since he wouldn't be able to lower or raise himself down the boat's metal ladder. Once in the water, though, he could manage just fine with a life jacket on.
John's solution was as simple as it was terrifying: he would carry Ken on his back into and out of the water.
And because Ken wasn't strong enough to hang on while John carried him, John would also fashion a back harness that Ken could ride in.
I've been looking for photographic evidence of this harness, but somehow have yet to find any. It was a simple affair, though, built around a special sling made of strong netting lent to us by another disabled friend. (The sling is the kind used for transferring people into and out of their chairs or beds.) John attached seatbelt strapping to this sling with industrial strength grommets, turning the sling into a kind of giant backpack that Ken could sit in. His legs would hang around John's waist, and he'd have his arms around John's neck. (There were also straps fitted around John's waist, for extra support.)
The hardest part of this plan was getting Ken up onto John's back initially. To do so, Ken would have to put the sling/harness on while still in his chair, and then John would have to lean backwards over Ken, slip on the shoulder straps and attach the waist buckle, and straighten up, hopefully lifting Ken with him and not toppling over backwards.
As I'm sure you can imagine, Sue found this entire prospect pretty alarming, but we tested the harness with me in it (which I don't mind telling you was ridiculously fun), and demonstrated that John really was strong enough to manage it. (STRONG LIKE BULL.) Of course, I'm not as heavy or tall as Ken, so we were all still pretty nervous. In fact, I think the only person who *wasn't* terrified was Ken. Ken had complete confidence in John, and it showed. For every harness test beforehand he was joking around and completely at ease while John walked him around their living room.
The day of the trip rolled around, and as expected, we made it out to the snorkel boat in Grand Cayman without a hitch. The guys on the boat were with a company John and I had used several times before, and they were amazing about helping lift Ken's chair onto the boat - and later they were extra attentive with Ken in the water, making sure he was Ok at all times.
When the time came for John to pick Ken up, we waited until most of the other passengers were already in the water, so we'd have less of an audience. Even so, everyone left onboard stood 'round and collectively held their breath as John, straining to keep his balance on the pitching deck, slowly raised Ken from his wheelchair. All that was missing was some dramatic music and a few slo-mo closeups; it was that tense. There was one terrifying instant where John slipped a little (and pulled a thigh muscle, though we didn't learn that 'til later), but then he was up! And there might have been a little applause - I honestly can't remember through the haze of suspense. (I wish I had a photo of this, but I think I was too busy clutching my face in terror at the time. Heh.)
From there it was the relatively simple matter (ha!) of John walking over the rocking deck and climbing down the side of the boat into the water. Once they were most of the way in the water, John was able to unclip the harness and let Ken float, where Ken immediately set to snorkeling - for his first time!
Roughly thirty minutes later, they reversed the process to get Ken back *in* the boat.
As I've written this all out, I can see with fresh eyes just how ridiculously insane we all were to try it, but at the same time, that snorkel trip remains one of my most cherished memories. There was something amazing about making that possible for our friends, and also about watching my husband, giddy with excitement, showing off his harness sling creation for the first time.
And that is the manliest thing John has ever done.
Oh, and here's the one presentable photo I have from that snorkel trip:
This is Ken and Sue on the trip out to the reef. Note the complete LACK of terror in their eyes. Now that's friendship, right there. :)
Many thanks to Ken and Sue for letting me share this. Let's get together again soon, guys!
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