Living in a Wheelchair
09 January 2019
Blog by Jim Ryan – A Quadriplegic
It has been a while since I have added to the blog. I had a very busy November coupled with 10 days of being sick. In December I had a few calm weeks, but the during the Christmas holiday it was quite hectic again. In this blog I will tell you more about my wheelchair, and how I am able to move with it.
The biggest and most important piece of medical equipment that I own is my wheelchair. It is also the most expensive vehicle we have ever purchased. Now, people spend tens of thousands of dollars or euros on a car or truck and spend perhaps, 2 hours per day in their vehicle. They spent thousands per year on maintenance, insurance and fuel and spend, on average, less than a dozen hours a week in their vehicle.
I spend 12 hours per day in my vehicle! I am lifted in with my sling at 9 AM in and I am lifted out my wheelchair at 9 PM every day. Simply said, my wheelchair is my arms and legs. I go everywhere in it. People tell me how good I am at operating my wheelchair. I tell them how good they are at walking ;-). For me, driving my wheelchair, is like walking for you. It comes naturally.
Like any user of an electric vehicle, I too, have range anxiety. I am always aware how much battery charge I have left. And I make sure I am close to home when I get down to 30% or less battery charge. That means I have a range of 10 to 12 km before I must be home. Like any electric vehicle, my range depends on my speed and the terrain I am driving over. If there are a lot of hills, my range increases. When I go out for a “walk and roll” with my wife and/or friends I normally travel at 5 to 6 km/h. While that seems fast it must be noted that my chair slows down a little bit each time I turn. So, in reality my actual travel speed is between 4 and 5 km/h. A very comfortable walking speed. When the weather is nice, we normally do a 5 or 6 km walk and roll most days. It is great to be out of the house.
Because I can only move from the armpits up, I control my wheelchair with my head, using a head array with 5 buttons. As you can see from the photo, 2 buttons are visible. The black button on the left side of my head is simply an on/off switch while the blue button on the right side of my head controls different modes on my wheelchair. Buried inside the head array are 3 other buttons. One on each side and one in the rear. When I am driving, I lean back onto the head array and that causes the chair to roll forward. To turn left, I simply push the button on the left side of my head array and, of course, to turn right I push the button on the right side of my head array.
My wheelchair seating is designed especially for me. My seat cushion is partial air bladders and partial foam. The air bladders can be adjusted to ensure I can sit as comfortable as possible and have the least chance of skin issues. The same counts for my backrest. Not only does it protect my skin, it holds me in upright and ensures I don’t fall to the side or out of the chair! Again, it is fitted to my body type. My armrests are designed so my hands sit as flat as possible. Since my hands do not move, I have wide hand pans. That way I do not catch my fingers on anything as I drive around. I would rather have my armrests it the wall than my hands and arms. Since I don’t feel anything, I may not notice an injury should I hit something.
The next time you are sitting and talking with friends or reading or in front of the computer etc., try to sit perfectly still. You will soon notice uncomfortable irritations on your skin. Even more, sit with someone else and watch how much they move backwards and forwards, crossing and uncrossing their legs, leaning on their elbows etc. We all do this subconsciously. The reason we do this is to ensure we do not get any skin irritations. As I don’t move, I must use my wheelchair to move for me. This allows the pressure points to move throughout my lower body and back and reduces the chance of skin sores or irritations. I know I mention this a lot, but this is a major cause of illness and even death for people like me.
I use my head array for more than just driving my wheelchair. Not only can I move my seat back-and-forth and up and down I use my head array to do things like run my iPhone and turn my TV on and off as well as my PVR.
This has been a very brief explanation on how I move my arms and legs. When you see me in my wheelchair you really only see my chair. But to me, my wheelchair gives me more than the ability to move around and sit upright, it enables me to control a large portion of my world.