While my partner was resting this afternoon I had utter silence; no background TV, no neighbour – silence! This wonderful opportunity brought on an intense and very productive bit of translation on a German into English project I am working on.
I do believe that as one loses physical ability, one’s powers of perception become greater, as does one’s likelihood of becoming more spiritual. This is certainly true of my partner who senses changes in the nature of the work I am doing, and sometimes reads my mind – which is convenient if you wish to indulge in a little bedtime reading without bothering with the book itself.
Sometimes, however, the wires between what is going on in her head and what speech is produced by her mouth get crossed. This is a symptom of one of the later stages of relapsing-remitting Multiple Sclerosis, normally sub-titled “cognitive problems” in the literature. It can cause an enormous despair, but occasionally has its lighter moments.
This afternoon when she had finished her rest, I lifted her from the bed into her wheelchair for onward transfer to the couch in the lounge and as I did so, I gave an uncharacteristic grunt. I am a big, strong girl, and she is, well, short. She asked why I grunted. I told her that one of the brakes on the wheelchair was not on, so I had to take extra care and effort when lowering her into it.
Her response was, “Well, wheelchairs have wheels, and were invented by the Germans!”
I laugh and say that they were not. By way of validation of the first statement, she adds, “And I like the Germans!”. I know this to be true, but think to myself that she had better, since “the Germans” have been responsible for the greater part of my income over the last twenty years at least.
For the uninitiated, what happened at this juncture was that she was reading my mind a little, and found that I was ruminating over the last bit of German I had worked on. I was unintentionally somewhat impenetrable, since her command of the German language is restricted to “ja” and “nein”.
By now, we are giggling, because neither of us has the foggiest idea as to when the wheelchair came into existence, let alone the nationality of the being who might be able to lay claim to its so-called invention.
So, who did invent the wheelchair?
We discover that Phillip II of Spain was the first to have a wheelchair made for him in 1595, but we do not know who made it for him.
I have no royal blood coursing through my veins. This is perhaps why I get very confused with all the titles, alliances, unions and reasons therefor, but Wikipedia does confirm my little thought, which was “ruled over lots of territory, but a bit of a whimp, unlike father Charles V, King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor. Outlived wife, Mary I of England, possibly because of his fussiness”.
All right, history in my head should not be recommended reading for school children. I find this portrait in words on Wikipedia about him not nearly as attractive as does the besotted Venetian ambassador:
He was described by the Venetian ambassador Paolo Fagolo in 1563 as “slight of stature and round-faced, with pale blue eyes, somewhat prominent lip, and pink skin, but his overall appearance is very attractive.” The Ambassador went on to say “He dresses very tastefully, and everything that he does is courteous and gracious.”
We also learn that Phillip II had some German blood (ibid.)
Despite being a German archduke from the House of Habsburg, Philip was seen as a foreigner in the Holy Roman Empire.
It is therefore entirely possible that his wheelchair maker was German, but since Phillip II of Spain retained a life-long preference for Spain (and this despite having been King of Ireland for a brief period in his capacity as the husband of Mary I), the maker of the wheelchair could equally have been Spanish. We do not know.
All of the above begs the question: What did Phillip II of Spain need a wheelchair for?
Wikiwiki (ibid.) comes to the fore again with the answer and some indication that the Royal Carpenter was kept busy for a brief period some three years after completing the construction of the dedicated wheelchair:
Philip II died in El Escorial, near Madrid, on 13 September 1598 of cancer. His death, which was very painful, involved a severe attack of gout, fever, and dropsy (edema). For 52 horrific days the King deteriorated. He could no longer be moved to be washed due to pain; thus a hole was cut in his mattress for the release of bodily fluids.
It turns out that Phillip II of Spain was not such a whimp after all, but a complex, if indecisive, character who wielded enormous power. And, at the age of 69, when the wheelchair was built, he quite possibly needed it because of his age.
If the Germans had not quite got their wheelchair-making act together in the dying light of the 16th century, they certainly have now, she said going off on another tangent… Also, the Germans have built their trains (and railway platforms) and buses to make life easier for wheelchair users. I like the Germans too.