During her art class in the village hall, my wife slipped (quite how remains a mystery) and fractured both her femur and elbow. I often wondered what they got up to but didn’t know it was that wild!
When she finally returned home from a long stay in hospital, we made use of a wheelchair for a while. Initially as a back-up in case of need, but for a week or so it became a necessity! This was to be a new challenge for us, especially as I had M.E. my strength was very limited.
This was our first introduction into the world of wheelchairs and in my case that of the ‘pusher!’ Ours was a sturdy but basic, red-painted job kindly loaned by the Red Cross society and folded down (not quite neatly) into the boot of our car. That was the first surprise, it was far heavier than expected, a real hernia-inducer! We also had to become familiar with the procedure to be followed every time we moved the car from one location to another, which in time became second nature …. open car tailgate and lift out chair, expand frame and erect handles, wheel round to the passenger door, (stoop) apply left and right hand brakes, assist passenger to be seated, (stoop) swing out footplates, fold down footplates, adjust foot straps, release brakes and you’re off …!
The first thing I noticed, on a good level surface, we soon gathered speed and there was a feeling of power. That is, until we came upon a patch of gravel when we slithered to a halt as if we were in a highway escape lane. Rough or uneven paving slabs brought me to my senses because the whole rigid contraption became a bone-shaker and brought back memories of Smallweed in Dickens’ Bleak House “Shake me up …!” It was then that I was reminded that I had a passenger, someone who was in some discomfort before we even started.
Any journey had to be carefully planned, taking into account parking, hills, and obstacles and of course my own physical limitations. Thankfully there is often help at hand as passers-by are often only too ready to offer assistance. Like when we entered an unfamiliar country inn for a meal. An assistant sprang to our help and guided us to a table and saw to our every need. Or the time when a young man propelled my wife up a steep slope so she could see the sea view. Real skill is required to negotiate heavy doors with self-closing mechanisms, kerbs, bollards or just ‘people’ and a constant reminder that the first thing to make contact with any obstacle or someone else’s legs are your passenger’s feet!
The next challenge was the supermarket. We had seen couples using a special trolley hooked on to their wheelchair, lovingly enjoying the joint experience of togetherness, carefully choosing their purchases. So we thought we would give it a try. Now perhaps we had the wrong sort of trolley or it was just the wrong day, but it was like trying to steer an eight-wheeled eight-foot long vehicle. Never again!
Thankfully my wife gained strength and became more mobile, but we were really grateful for the wheelchair, because it got us to places that would have been impossible otherwise. But now, whenever I see someone unloading a wheelchair from the back of their car I look with more sympathy and understanding … lift out chair, expand, erect handles, wheel round, apply brakes, assist passenger, swing, fold down, adjust, release brakes ….I have not spoken of the passenger’s view of course, but that’s another story.