Sunday, February 21, 2010

Broken Machines Yield Difficult Times For a Person With ALS

I am dependent on machines and devices, which never seem to be functioning all at the same time.  I am very grateful to have these things, because without them, I would not be able to live in my home, and have what little independence I do have.

First, my wheelchair.  There was a time when there existed only manual push chairs, and every day and every minute that I buzz around in my motorized wheelchair -- either inside or outside -- I marvel at the fact that once I am in my wheelchair in the morning, I don't have to ask someone to push me from the desk to the other side of the room.  And I'm sure I would hardly be able to go outside, because I would have to convince someone to push me down the street. And, imagine life before the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990! An old-timer who has been disabled since the 1960s told me once "Even if we got out of the house, where would we go with a motorized wheelchair?  There were no curb cuts, and almost no businesses were wheelchair accessible"

When I found out my wheelchair initially cost $25,000 I was shocked.  In 2002, I bought a Hyundai Elantra for $12,000, so how could a wheelchair cost the same as two of my cars?  Wheelchairs are custom-made for the user, and refitted periodically for body changes and disease progression.  The modifications recently done on my wheelchair were carefully measured and customized for me.  So, when I had to give up my wheelchair last week for new tires and to repair two important features that had broken since December when I got my wheelchair back from the modifications, I dreaded the process of getting a loaner.  Antoinette from ALSA ordered me a loaner and then I was in the hands of the medical supply shop that runs ALSA's loan closet.  So they brought wheelchair #1, which was beautiful, but the driver who brought it couldn't get the seat-tilt working.  Seat-tilt is important for relieving pressure periodically several times throughout the 14-16 hours I am in the chair.  Moreover, as I slip forward, or when I sit down again after toileting, seat-tilt allows me to use gravity to get my butt back in the cushion.

So later that day, at Antonette's urging, they brought wheelchair #2 -- a beautiful Lexus of wheelchairs.  It has all the features, but it's not mine, and not made for me.  So I can't go in the street any distance with this chair, because the footrest is all wrong and my feet kind of lay there on their sides.  And the side-guides that keep my body straight in my own chair, are not in this chair.  So my body leans to one side and I have to keep leaning to the other side in a conscious effort to correct it.  All this is very uncomfortable, even though it is the best possible alternative.  Picture if cars were custom-made for our bodies and we had to drive a loaner.  So I am praying that I get my own wheelchair back again this week!!

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