A Wheelchair makes an Excellent Ladder

(musings while the batteries charge)

They thought I wouldn’t notice their little power point hidden 12 feet off the ground, but I did!

I’ve been on the road, or road & rail, for about 18 hours since leaving an apartment in Sydney, which is enough time to have drained some batteries.  Being a month later than last year the weather is warmer, and I no longer need to worry about heated breathing air.  My stock of Ryobi batteries will give me another 10 hours of breath, but the Chug* is running out of puff.  There is still another train to catch, a bus, and then about a mile to cover under my own power before I arrive at the same Yurt in Maroochydore were my daughter’s family and I stayed in last year.  At 5:00 this morning I could find only one power point on my careful inspection of Roma Street Station, and it didn’t work, so I had to decide: would I use the remaining power in my batteries to keep searching for power further afield? Or would I play safe and sit still, hoping that the meagre remaining battery power would be enough to make it all the way.

There really is no question, is there? ‘Safe’ is an attractive enough word at the end of an adventure, but not at the beginning! I had been hoping to have time for a roll through Roma St Parklands (the world’s largest subtropical garden in a city centre apparently), which is found beyond the far end of Roma Street Station.  So I went!

The parkland paths are winding and some are steep, and as I progressed the battery level lights were blinking out one by one – with no power points in site. This early in the day there are no coffee shops open – a power source I’ve often used – and as the garden shadows retreated in the dawn, the shadow of concern lengthened. I prayed that quick silent prayer that has a universal appeal: God, help! And for some reason I turned back on a path I was exploring and there it was, a power point! Power point 1Power point 2

Hiding up there in the darkened, early morning eaves of a shelter. It was certainly high on the wall, but reachable if you make very sure the wheels are locked properly……..

(A ranger just wandered by, I think he knows what’s going on, but he didn’t say anything)    

A learned Reverend friend and I were discussing, just a few days ago, why it is that the more incidental the prayer – one might even say the more trivial the prayer – the more likely it is to be answered. A paradoxical thought, but one that people of different faiths or none will recognise from experience. The closest I can come to an answer is that it is an invitation to greater faith.

While the charging is in progress I can’t move far from the chug, especially as the paths are quite steep in this hillside park. But perched on a sort of viewing platform I can see a great deal through a pair of binoculars. So far I have seen several iguanas, a frilled neck lizard running along on his back legs, numerous smaller lizards, scrub turkeys and a large native rat, waterlogged, kink-tailed and much the worse for wear. Good binoculars are the ultimate wheelchair accessory, and must be permanently attached.  You may not be able to get there, but you will still see it all in great detail.

(3, 4 ….. 5 uniformed groundsmen! And a more senior one in a different skin driving a little electric vehicle. My secret charging station is swarming with authority, it must be the Hive!  I’ve noticed that since the whole world began charging phones and whatnot that public power points have mostly been removed, locked, covered up; and the answer is ‘No’, DEFINITELY NOT. But today, so far, no one seems concerned).

I can’t help thinking of the greatly increased difficulty I would have faced making a trip like this just ten years ago. In fact, I doubt it would have been possible at all. The iPhone had not been invented; a device which is incredibly valuable to me. I can open Google Maps in a moment and find my way through the obstacle maze.  You might not imagine how difficult it can be to make progress without knowing where steps are going to be found.  Steps are the great, impenetrable barrier, and having to double back a couple of times on a journey can make a huge difference in power conservation and time.  Public transport apps are also brilliant, a trip can be planned in detail, but when something goes wrong an app will allow you to map an alternate route or timetable and know exactly which bus will come when, which bus stops it will or won’t pick up from; and vitally: whether it will be an accessible bus.

BiPAP ventilators were only invented in the 1990s. When I first began using a mask five years ago there were few, if any, that allowed you to keep your glasses on. The first technician I met said flatly, “You can’t keep those”. What a disaster that would have been! The newest masks I use are made with incredibly thin silicone and are (relatively!) unobtrusive. The lithium drill batteries that I buy from Bunnings to power the ventilator for many hours on the road were not readily available even 5 years ago. The giant laptops we all used a decade ago would not have made very handy communication devices; as do the tiny Macbook Air and iPad Mini that I take everywhere.  There are other examples of new technology that I could not live without, all of which leave me feeling astonishingly privileged.

(A uniformed man just stopped for a look at my Chug, but he kept going.  Queensland is such a friendly, relaxed place. When I come up here I want to stay.)

Privilege carries responsibility, and this I find oddly burdensome.  Tom Hanks’ character gasps out his dying words to private Ryan, “Earn this …. Earn it!” How do I do that? What exactly is the appropriate stance of a privileged life? If there is a debt, to whom is it payable? Is gratitude sufficient in itself, or does being the recipient of privilege come with implicit demands to repay society in some way? This life I have now feels to me like a second chance, a second wind.

(An alarm has gone off, I can hear the uniform coming back in his electric truck.  Is it a general alert? “Intruder in The Hive!”  Should I bolt?)

The other purpose of my trip was an annual review with a Professor of Neurology in Sydney. I saw him a few days ago, and he was upbeat, joyful it seemed, to see me still keeping on keeping on. He introduced me to another doctor saying, “I first saw this man in 2008!” As if to say, ‘can you believe that?’ The implication being that few of his 2008 patients remain at all, and fewer lead much of a life now. I have enjoyed these years so much, so very much, but I feel self-indulgent and wonder … why? … what for?

Time to unplug, power up, and get back on the track to my grandsons!




* The Chug – the battery powered ‘tractor’ that pulls my manual wheelchair, and carries all the gear.


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