Seven Wheelchairs

Seven Wheelchairs

A Life beyond Polio

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238 pages, 6 x 9 inches
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"For readers who remember the era of infantile paralysis and newsreels of children in iron lungs, Presley's descriptions of exactly how they work, as well as the daily care that paralysis demands, are a revelation. One of the more honest and informative disease memoirs."—Kirkus

“Seven Wheelchairs is a compelling account of one man’s struggle to learn to live well with a significant disability. Presley’s memoir powerfully recounts the physical and psychological challenges he faced during his long recovery from polio. It is also a moving story of how the love and care of his parents and later his wife helped him enjoy life seated in his wheelchairs.”—Dan Wilson, author, Living with Polio: The Epidemic and Its Survivors

“Alternating between sardonic and blunt, Gary Presley maps out an almost-fifty-year trek from infantile paralysis to post-polio syndrome to bonding with his power chair, Little Red; from helpless, passive cripple to defiant Gimp. Presley was paralyzed in the worst possible stage of life—late adolescence—in the 1960s when people like him were pitied and scorned, and he survived with his spirit strong and his lust for life intact. Read this unvarnished account of life at ‘boob high,’ and walk away with a new definition of ‘disabled.’”—Allen Rucker, author, The Best Seat in the House: How I Woke Up One Day and Was Paralyzed for Life

“Although Gary Presley is unable to move or breathe without assistance, his life literally jumps off these pages as he shares with us in painful, powerful, and poetic detail how he has found a lifetime of joy through one hard-earned, courageous breath at a time.”—Susan Parker, author, Tumbling After: Pedaling Like Crazy after Life Goes Downhill

“The tragic irony that caused paralysis in Gary Presley at age seventeen, just as he approached the cusp of adulthood, went on to flavor his bittersweet view of life, temper his rage at the injustice of his fate, gladden his heart toward his wife, Belinda, and, most fortunately for his readers, provide him with the time, insight, and humanity that enabled him to write this searing but ultimately loving memoir. It’s a story so bitingly honest that Presley’s readers sometimes cringe before turning the page, but so extremely well written that we keep turning page after page after page—not only for the gripping story but also for the beauty of the prose.”—Peggy Vincent, author, Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife

In 1959, seventeen-year-old Gary Presley was standing in line, wearing his favorite cowboy boots and waiting for his final inoculation of Salk vaccine. Seven days later, a bad headache caused him to skip basketball practice, tell his dad that he was too ill to feed the calves, and walk from barn to bed with shaky, dizzying steps. He never walked again. By the next day, burning with the fever of polio, he was fastened into the claustrophobic cocoon of the iron lung that would be his home for the next three months. Set among the hardscrabble world of the Missouri Ozarks, sizzling with sarcasm and acerbic wit, his memoir tells the story of his journey from the iron lung to life in a wheelchair.

Presley is no wheelchair hero, no inspiring figure preaching patience and gratitude. An army brat turned farm kid, newly arrived in a conservative rural community, he was immobilized before he could take the next step toward adulthood. Prevented, literally, from taking that next step, he became cranky and crabby, anxious and alienated, a rolling responsibility crippled not just by polio but by anger and depression, “a crip all over, starting with the brain.” Slowly, however, despite the limitations of navigating in a world before the Americans with Disabilities Act, he builds an independent life.

Now, almost fifty years later, having worn out wheelchair after wheelchair, survived post-polio syndrome, and married the woman of his dreams, Gary has redefined himself as Gimp, more ready to act out than to speak up, ironic, perceptive, still cranky and intolerant but more accepting, more able to find joy in his family and his newfound religion. Despite the fact that he detests pity, can spot condescension from miles away, and refuses to play the role of noble victim, he writes in a way that elicits sympathy and understanding and laughter. By giving his readers the unromantic truth about life in a wheelchair, he escapes stereotypes about people with disabilities and moves toward a place where every individual is irreplaceable.

To see Gary's reading at Prairie Lights in Iowa City, please click here.