Friday, June 22, 2012

Electric or manual?

When we first came to Gainesville, my parents bought me an electric wheelchair from a local store before they left. They wanted me to have a sure way for me to get to school and be everywhere on time. I’ve had very little experience wheeling myself around and we didn’t practice the route from my apartment to the university. I didn’t even have the bus routes figured out until the very first day. I resisted using it on day to day basis, but it was like an insurance policy of sorts. But I remember being in it that one day I went out to explore the town a little bit. Then the battery died on me at 1 o’clock at night. I wasn’t really sure what I should do, the chair was heavy and not really designed to be pushed at somebody. I discovered I was able to get a little more juice out of it, by turning it off and on again. I was progressing in small increments… on/off/on, a bit forward until l believe two hours later when I ended up i8n front of my building with no power to go any further. Luckily, someone must’ve called the police and they helped me in. I haven’t used it since. I didn’t want to feel that powerless, figuratively and literally ever again. As slow as I may be, I vowed,   regardless of how much earlier I would have to get up in the morning, I will rely on my own body and my muscles. And over time I did get better. In those initial few months my arms got bigger, I’ve lost some weight and I became stronger. The chair started gathering dust, then was shipped off to a storage unit. In my new apartment it ended up rusting on the patio, until we’ve had to throw it out on my last move. And I’m reminded of this story every time someone suggests I get an electric chair. Bus drivers comment on it a lot although they’re not really allowed to make that kind of remarks.

Truth be told I never wanted one, but that’s a personal preference. I know plenty of people who live active, exciting lives riding in those things. I just felt very passive- like the world was only happening around me and I was watching, not fully interacting with it. I like to depend on me. I like to do as much as I can for myself. I choose to retain as much control over my life as I can and I enjoy putting my body to work. I have also never been one of the people who are naturally slender. Having to roll myself for blocks and blocks up the hill makes me sweat and my heart beats faster. In my day it’s probably the only type of exercise I have. And  it can be exhausting. I have never seen so many people with weight problems until I moved to America. And I see it particularly with those who use scooters and electric wheelchairs.

And I understand why- they barely move all they long, just sit in one spot maneuvering with a  joystick. Bad diet and no exercise can make you really big. I’ve seen people who barely fit in the sit. At least when I get somewhere far and I come back and my arms are sore I get a good feeling about myself. Also, my wheelchair is an active sports model. Made out of carbon fiber and titanium, it’s superlight and cost $4400 when I got it. It was not a cheaper choice than a scooter it was a conscious choice of a lifestyle. Built to my measurements in Switzerland. If I need a ride, taking it apart, loading, unloading and assembly is a breeze. And looking at the state it’s in now, with all the mileage on my tires I’d say I got my money’s worth.


  1. I can see why you'd say that, but it's a personal choice. I use a motorized wheelchair, and yes, I have CP, and yes, I'm overweight, but I also have lymphedema, and require pressure release control to be given by the wheelchair... mostly, though, I live 3 miles from the nearest store, with NO sidewalks, and pushing in a manual wheelchair just tired me out too much.

    1. I've always said that it's a personal choice and we are all different. it's about the type and extent of disability but also the type of lifestyle we decide on, comfort and extent of control we are happy with. This is just my thought process and my motivation.

  2. Agreed... but watch out for carpel tunnel. THAT is also my big issue. I have carpel tunnel in both wrists. Major bummer, and when I first started treating it, I was in handsplints. You do NOT push a wheelchair with those on, It's impossible.

    And heh, I tried jumping a curb when I DID use a manual wheelchair and managed to dislocate my right shoulder. hard to push after having your arm strapped to your side for 6 weeks.

  3. Not everyone who is in a chair is there because of a muscular or neurological disorder. For those of us with Joint disorders - a wheelchair is meant to assist mobility in a cartilage sparing manner. I can't have joint replacement surgery, my synovial fluid is screwed up and the more I exercise the worse the degeneration gets.

    I stayed "on my feet" for 3 decades after diagnosis: doing all those things the doctors said - exercise, keep the tendons and ligaments strong, keep the weight down. But at 60% bone-on-bone, knee surgery failed (and almost killed me).

    So now I have a motorized chair. It is like a car - you have to keep an eye on the "fuel tank" and remember to "fill up" when you have the time to sit still during the day. Also, like cars, there are high quality and low quality cars. My chair, a fairly high quality model, will do 4-6 hours straight at 6 miles an hour before needing a full (8 hour) charge. Off-and-on travel patterns (which is a normal day at the office, go to lunch, commute, stop by the store on the way home) only require a plug in at night when I go to bed. If I'm going to be doing a lot of stuff, I just take my charger with me and plug in during idle moments... a lot like you do with your cell phone.

    I don't find my electric chair a limitation because it needs charging (anymore than I would find a car limiting because it needs gas). I probably feel this way because if I didn't have an electric chair, I would have a manual chair AND need someone to push me - AND that would be a limitation on my freedom that is unacceptable!