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.
Many years ago, I began amateur blogging, not really certain of what the point of it would be or who would read it (I know, that sounds like the first line of every blog anyone has ever started), but doing it in earnest nonetheless.
My first one was all about my life with spina bifida and various issues involved with disabilities. In my community. In America. In the world.
The experience gave me a wide-ranging perspective on myself and others. I’d never known a ton of other people with major disabilities before that. The blog grew in its reach the more I wrote from experience. But more importantly, it grew the more I wrote from a growing inquisitiveness on the subject.
My second just-for-kicks blogging project was even more in earnest. It was a blog about the Hindu religion/culture/community. In my city. In America. In the world and beyond.
It gave me a greater understanding of a culture I had begun to delve into deeply, but had just reached the point where I could fluently share my personal insights on it. In doing so I made connections with some people who mean a great deal to me to this day. It showed me that what I thought of as my “self” was a much more vast inner experience than I’d ever imagined.
Fast forward years later and the next two freelance projects for Dailey Freelance Blogging are for a wheelchair and medical supply shop and for a local international community. Though the material from those original blogs has been dispersed in various ways, the experience remains with me.
Though I come to the wheelchair shop project with a lifetime of experience, I can now confidently say I will “write what I know.”
The Hindu blog was an even more life-changing experience. I learned new customs, systems of thought, new ways of looking at the world. With that background, I can now approach the local international community with a mind that is heavily inclined to opening, and embracing.
Sometimes you don’t know until years later why you took on certain projects with such diligence.
Yeah it is definitely a cliche, that your wheelchair is “like your legs” but you aren’t going to get very far without it if you use one.
And they wear out over time, sooner or later, depending on how hard-core your life is. I am going on 11 years in my current chair. So it is entirely possible that if you are reading this you may be looking for a chair for your first time alone. Or maybe, like me, you’ve picked them out before but never really gave it much thought. Maybe you just got what had worked before.
This time, it is worth really looking into all of the different options you have. I mean, you spend most of your life in it. Because…umm…it’s like your legs.
I, myself, am considering my next chair with a set of nine different criteria, in no particular order:
- Cushion – Usually you get your cushion separate from the chair itself, but as long as you are getting a new chair you might as well look into a new cushion. And you might as well get the right one. I can’t tell you which is right for you. I’ve had air cushions, the honeycomb type, and the gel filled type. Two of them have been disastrous for me in the long run while for friends of mine they’ve been the answer to all of their problems. Only you know.
- Tires – You’ll probably change tires many times during the lifetime of the chair itself. But again, as long as you’re getting a new chair you might as well start off the next phase of your rolling life right. So you’ll want to consider the season it is when you make the change. If it’s summer, do you plan to switch to winter tires once that season comes around? If so, then you may consider all-season tires. If you live an active lifestyle, there are different types of tires that perform well on different terrains.
- Brakes – Brakes have been a major source of irritation for me over the years. I used to get the fairly standard brakes with the vertical knob which, when pushed forward brought the horizontal bar back across the tire. They work fine but I was always slamming my thumbs into them.
For my last couple of chairs I got the horizontal scissor lock type brakes. You have to reach down underneath your seat and pull the lever forward in order to push the other end of it back across the tire. Not only is this not very handy, but its also very tough to lock if it is tight. If it is loose, it will lock easily but not very well. Both types loosen over time especially as the tires wear down. At this point you are forever ping-ponging between too-tight and too-loose brakes. But at least your thumbs are fine. So it’s your choice.
- Width – Consider your living space and the spaces you frequent (your office, your friends and relatives’ homes, favorite stores and restaurants). Could you improve your mobility in these places greatly by simply decreasing the width of your chair? If so, this could either involve changing the camber of the back wheels, or making the seat itself more narrow.
- Weight – Since you got a new chair last time, your life could have changed in many ways. I used to have a car, for instance, in which I could easily swing my chair into the back seat. Now we have a hatchback. My wife takes the chair to the back and picks it up and puts it in the hatch. I am in the market now for a lighter chair to lessen the burden on her.
- Footplate – I am looking to change my footplate for two reasons. One being the aforementioned weight. It’s a very heavy footplate. It makes the chair heavy overall, but it makes my chair front-heavy too, which affects my maneuvering. The second reason is that the plate sticks out more than it needs to. Many wheelchair users have their feet tucked back a bit more. This, just like reducing the width, makes different spaces much more accessible, and increases maneuverability.
- Handles – My current chair is, I think, the first one that did not have the handles sticking out in the back. They were always a handy thing for anyone to grab onto if they were helping me get up a step or four. But my chair does have a sturdy metal bar that runs across the back which functions just as well, I’m told by those who’ve given me such assistance.
- Seatbelt – It’s real simple. Do you need it? Generally speaking, I don’t for everyday life. The only time I wish I had it is a time when I shouldn’t have to worry about it in the first place. That is when on public transit and I find that they don’t have belts that go over a chair user’s waist. They only have the belts or clamps that hold the wheels in place on the floor. It is unacceptable in the first place to be in that position, but it does happen. So a seat belt probably should at least be an option on your chair.
- Casters – I have somersaulted out of my chair and onto the pavement more times than I can count during my life. A smaller diameter caster can improve maneuverability but can make bumps in the road more hazardous. A wider caster, meanwhile, can improve your chances when it comes to a crack in the road you may otherwise fall into, but maybe aren’t quite so sporty. Like with all of the options I’ve listed, it’s up to you to decide what’s important for your lifestyle.
I hope you’ve found this list helpful in making your own list of priorities with your next wheelchair. I hope the change vastly improves your quality of life.
If I haven’t mentioned it before, I have spina bifida. I use a wheelchair.
So, since with Dailey Freelance I am in the business of bettering your interaction with your clientele, let me ask you: Is your location as wheelchair friendly as it could be?
Accessibility is something that should play a prominent role in my life. And I guess it does, but oddly enough I barely think about it. My wife seems to think about it more than I do. We were talking about it on a recent road trip and she was totally aghast at how I can come up with various topics to spout off about in a blog and yet accessibility isn’t a subject I have put many words to.
Then we reached our destination.
Having been on the road for 11 hours, we went straight to a restaurant. The place had a ramp out front, but it was one of those ramps that incline all the way to the door. No flat space at the top. If you are not in a wheelchair, you may not even realize that this is a problem.
It is. And, disturbingly, it isn’t all that uncommon.
No matter who you are, once you get to the door, you need to be able to stop and pivot, back up and open it. Though that must not be easy for a person who is walking, it is really not easy to do if at the same time you are trying to keep your wheelchair from rolling back down the ramp.
So, since with Dailey Freelance I am in the business of bettering your interaction with your clientele, I thought that this would be a good place to mention this. If you have a business, is your location as wheelchair friendly as it could be?
Consider this my first Public Service Announcement.