A few weeks ago I “almost” had my first wipe out in “the company vehicle” (my new wheelchair). Today I had my first actual one.
I hit something with my front caster and the whole chair stopped. I fell forward and had no choice but to somersault onto the pavement. My wife held my chair and I got right back up and we carried on.
She said that even though she knew I was crashing, and it happened too quickly for her to do anything about it, a part of her wondered why I was doing a somersault while we were taking a “walk” around the block, just to be a goofball.
To anyone reading this who is concerned for my safety, you needn’t be. My wife spent many minutes afterward marveling about it being “the most well-orchestrated crash” she’d ever seen. I’ve had plenty of practice over the years and even though its been a few years since anything like that has happened and I had no intention of crashing today, when I did, something kicked in from previous experience and I took action with precision, almost by muscle memory, in order to crash in the way that I know to be least likely to lead to calamity.
So I submit to you, how to crash like a boss:
- You’ve hit a bump or a crack or a pebble or whatever. You’re going to fall. There is nothing you can do to prevent it. Might as well make the best of it. You have to stick out your dominant hand to break your fall.
- The secondary reason it has to be your dominant hand is that arm has to be strong enough to at least very briefly support your entire body. If you are in a wheelchair because your legs are paralyzed, you are merely protecting them right now. While you fall out of the chair, it may very likely begin to slide out from underneath you which could easily lead to your entire weight falling down on top of your legs if the scenario unfolds wrongly. So you have to momentarily have that other hand available to deal with that possibility.
- It can also only be the one arm you plant down because now that you are doing a handstand with your butt in the air, your legs are now in a free flop. You have to get a hold of them with the other arm.
- Then you have to make a decision based on your individual ability and the position you are currently in. Do you bring yourself down on the shoulder of your dominant, planted arm, or do you tuck (your neck) and roll? I’ve been known to do either one in a pinch but if possible, I think the shoulder is the safer way to go. Generally speaking, unless you really hit something hard and your whole person went goes flying ass over teakettle, you don’t need to somersault and probably shouldn’t. Just be sure to not let all of your weight come down on your elbow. You have that padding in your shoulder for a reason.
- Immediately after, you have to be careful to let your legs touch down gently without banging or getting scraped on the pavement. Depending on the surface you’ve fallen on be careful with any and all bony parts of your lower body when you momentarily are left sitting there, and when you are sliding yourself back into your chair. It can be a humiliating experience, though I’ve learned to laugh it off. But your instinct is probably going to be to get back in your chair as quick as possible. Make sure your arms and legs and back and head and neck and everything are all where they should be first.
- Bring the chair back behind you, and secure the brakes. If you don’t have them, if someone is with you please have them hold the chair. If you have neither, roll it up against a curb. If nothing else roll it up against whatever you hit that made you crash in the first place.
Keep in mind this all happens within the blink of an eye. It comes with practice. Though I do not hope this happens to you a lot, it happens to some of us more than people think. So we get a lot of practice, and thankfully know how to deal with it safely. I am not as agile or physically resilient as I used to be so I am grateful that I am able to at least do this in such a well-orchestrated way.
Keep rolling, my friends. Be well and take good care of yourselves.