On Friday I took only five wheels to town, rather than the usual eight.
This began with the longest downhill, freewheeling roll I have ever made: from our front door to the bus stop. Only about 300 metres, and not overly steep, but braking is only possible with gloved hands on the wheelchair push rims. What a thrill!
Having safely arrived at the bus stop I felt deliciously irresponsible. Dropping from eight wheels to five meant no Chug, no tool kit, no backup power supply, no spare ventilator, no spare mask, spare air hose or spare everything else that I habitually take everywhere. No plan B! The feeling was both intoxicating and intimidating; a feeling so intense that it took the whole ten minutes waiting for the bus to figure out quite what it was all about. Travelling so light is really quite exciting; thrilling in an almost childish way. After two years of only leaving home with loads of equipment, my “rolling show”, this new sense of heavily pared back mobility is quite hard to describe. The closest analogy I can think of is that it felt like flying! But the big, consuming question occupying my thoughts at the bus stop was simply this: will it work, will this go well, is there an uncomplicated, happy ending to this bus trip? I find the element of risk very invigorating; and in my little world, this definitely felt risky.
As the bus appeared at the bottom corner of the park, so did an increase of apprehension and thrill: how would the next stage go? Would my five wheels make it smoothly from the footpath, up the ramp, around and down the aisle of the bus? Or would it get all confusing with driver and even passengers getting involved in one of those awkward public rescues. (It’s quite possible that you have never been ‘publicly rescued’ – it’s not much fun.)
There was no turning back: I knew that my five wheels were not able to tackle the hill-climb back to Paradise.
Here comes the bus!
The doors are open…
The ramp is down…
Steady, concentrate, eyes on the ramp, and push!
The mystery fifth wheel is a SmartDrive, a fantastic, lithium battery powered device that I ordered a fortnight ago after trialling several power-assist manual wheelchair systems in Melbourne. It really is stunning technology, (stunningly priced), fairly new on the market, and another example of the huge improvements of the last few years that I benefit from every day. With a range of 15km on flat ground, this little wheel pushes harder and faster than you can believe. It has amazing traction, and exactly copies the speed you set with the chair’s push rims. Steering and braking is also through the push rims, just like normal. A blue tooth connected wrist band with an accelerometer notices when you make a pushing motion and engages the motor immediately, and disengages as soon as you tap your hand on the rim, sending a vibration to the wrist band. It is brilliant inside shops, between shops, round the house, round the block, on grass, on carpet, everywhere. And it’s great fun too; far more engaging and satisfying than a regular power wheelchair. Particularly important is that it is physically demanding enough to avoid the trap of inactivity that I once fell into by relying too much on a power chair.
Play the video on the SmartDrive site: http://www.max-mobility.com/
One more story: A highlight in researching and ordering this device was an appointment with a mobility provider in Melbourne who was also a wheelchair user. The difference between this and previous sessions I have had with occupational therapists and sales people was immense, massive. Firstly, he was sitting in his wheelchair, down at my height. I cannot remember a therapist or salesperson in a showroom who didn’t remain on their feet, creating an obvious but strangely unaddressed awkwardness. Now that I think about it, I can’t understand why either party allows this to happen, it’s awful. Beyond that, this chap just got it. Everything I tried to express he immediately understood, every problem he knew first hand; and every suggestion he made came from long personal experience. He told me simple things about my current wheelchair that no other professional had ever suggested: the push wheels needed to be moved forward a couple of inches, the rake on the seat wasn’t quite right. (Since corrected in my garage, and so much better!) I feel exasperated when I think of all the people in the industry I have met over the last five years who must have known that, but didn’t stop to tell me! I spent about three hours there and learned more than I had in all my previous appointments combined. It’s a reminder that there is no substitute for shared experience; we should all roll a mile on another man’s wheels now and then.
About all this I am feeling very pleased, very blessed, very rich!