I may start a new feature – Wednesday Wheels – in praise of wheelchairs, that piece of equipment that can make, or break, our independence. Wheelchairs are more than equipment, and therein lies the problem; the powers that be see them as mobility aids.
We know our wheelchairs are more than an aid, they are essential; as necessary to us as shoes are to the people who can walk.
And, like shoes, they have to be comfortable, as close to a second skin as you can get, because many of us spend upwards of eight to ten hours a day sat in our wheelchairs.
Today I got my hands on my new wheelchair. I have waited a year for this day. I bet no one waits that long for a pair of shoes eh?
Jane’s New Wednesday Wheels
Hello Jane, got a new motor?
Arrggh! I know – big picture (if you’re on a desktop; on a mobile it’s probably bearable!)
Excuse the untidiness; it’s cleaning day and my friend Katherine interrupted mopping and tidying to snap this photo for me. (An aside: have you noticed how irritatingly difficult it is to use someone else’s phone camera? Even though they’re essentially the same? Thanks for persevering, Katherine!)
This is a Sunrise Medical Quickie GPV. It’s minus footrests because they are far too short to use, even for me at only 4 feet 9 inches.
It is a manual chair, fitted with E-Fix by Alber.
This gives me the best of both worlds: the chair I know I can sit in and use on a daily basis, with power-assisted wheels that mean at last, I can get out of my own door – into the back garden with a cup of tea? Yes. Out the front door and up the road? Yes!
Well, when it’s not pouring with rain and warm enough I don’t need a coat, but let’s not be picky.
Why is this worth shouting about?
It has taken a year to get this wheelchair.
It started following surgery for Crohn’s Disease in February 2015; my powered wheelchair is higher than the manual wheelchair by about two inches and abdominal surgery leaves me unable to find the extra oomph to jump onto the seat. No matter how I try, or how much physio I have, I can’t find the height to get me into that chair.
I can manage my manual wheelchair – using the wheels to push, for those who might not be used to wheelchair terms. That’s great, as long as I am at home, inside, on level floors with no carpet. Add the slightest incline, or thin carpet, or door threshold and the effort to roll forward magnifies out of all proportion and I can’t move.
So, I have the Quickie GPV above, in a fetching, dust-covered Midnight Purple and I love it; it’s been my daily chair for 15 years this September.
I can manage to transfer from it in the bathroom, one of the most important functions considering how much tea I drink. I just can’t get outside, at all. For that I need battery power. Unfortunately, many powered wheelchairs are too high, like my old one, or they have metal plates for seats, and to sit on them you need thick cushions.
The NHS Wheelchair Service had me try a standard powered chair since November last year. It is a lovely chair, very sturdy, comfortable when travelling in a car or on the pavement. But I can’t sit in it for more than a couple of hours before I lose feeling in my lower legs; after more than two hours I’m in pain everywhere and that lasts for up to five days after using the chair.
I know! You’re thinking how can you be so uncomfortable on a nice, soft cushion in a nice sturdy chair? Well, a disc problem twenty years ago is the culprit; sit on anything too soft and it irritates the sciatic nerve and my legs go dead. Also, the cushion doesn’t push back, so when I try to lift my arms it gives underneath me, meaning my arms can’t reach because there’s no more movement to lift higher. I tell you, sometimes this Arthrogryposis lark truly is a pain!
I did my research before asking for an assessment from the Wheelchair Service, I knew the problem I faced with wheelchair height and cushions. I explained the difficulties to the occupational therapist, and suggested the very chair you see pictured. However, this is not a solution usually provided by the NHS and so, first, we have to exclude all the other wheelchair possibilities. Thus I tried the powered wheelchair from November onwards, even though I couldn’t use the bathroom and the chair left me in pain for days.
Finally, in March 2016 the NHS agreed my clinical need meant they could provide me the wheelchair I asked for almost a year ago. Ordered on 7th April 2016, after a few hiccups, the chair arrived in my kitchen today.
You probably don’t care, but I’ve completed a bathroom test and well, I can drink my tea in peace, knowing I don’t have to cross my legs later.
If it wasn’t raining I might have done the Tea in the Back Garden Test, but that will have to wait.
Like a good pair of shoes, this chair needs walking in before it’s as comfortable as my old faithful. I’m not used to the controller height and it may need adjusting; I’m not used to armrests and it makes me sit differently; I have to be careful not to throw my teabag on the controller as I aim for bin.
Thank you, Wigan NHS Wheelchair Service for finally giving me my life back – from having a cup of tea in my garden before Summer disappears, to perhaps going away for a few days with my husband and to being able to move about my house without hurting my hands any more.