Monday, October 20, 2014

Spare parts

Recently I have reached out to a friend of mine who now lives in Hawaii. Funny how time flies- last time we spent time together was seven years ago, when we loaded my wheelchair up on somebody's  pick up truck and decided to watch a movie in a group at his house, an impromptu gathering after the bars have closed. Of course I remember that night for a completely different reason. It was when my sit cushion from my chair went missing right after we gave a couple of homeless people a ride to the Burger King on the way. As I told the police officer the next day, no I didn't see them taking it, but they were sitting right next to my wheelchair, the cushion was in fact missing and it would take some really strong wind to blow it off the back of a pick up, although- I suppose- anything is possible. What was really shocking to him is the price for a replacement I got my wheelchair's distributor. A sponge in a cover with an anti-slip rubber cover, how much can that be? 20 dollars? Try 120 if I remember correctly. The problem with having a 4400 dollar wheelchair (in 2005) was always that fixing it and replacing parts was always so expensive. The chair was of course bought by the city of Gainesville as part of a settlement after an accident in which a bus run over my old one from the same manufacturer. I had an older model that was a show piece, so for that reason it was slightly used and marked down. The one they replaced it with was the latest it-thing Kuschall had to offer and it even came with a $300 clock mounted above the front wheel that kept popping out. This was the one element the kind wheelchair makers in Switzerland were willing to replace for free. Guess what- the original sideguards- the plastic things that go over the wheel to protect my sleeves but don't really lock into anything- between all the loading and unloading I lost them within the first six months. This was something we were able to reproduce in Poland. And that's a good thing. Because I didn't feel comfortable riding around with a part worth $160. And every time you board a taxi  or a plane you're afraid you will  leave it behind. And guess what- I did when we flew to Munich. My chair has non-standard screw and bolts. For the longest time I had a screw sticking out of my antitipper, just so  I would have anything there. A lot of times bike shops couldn't help me and I've had replacements that were too big, too awkward or barely held. To make it really work I'd have to order the original parts from Switzerland. And when I went back to Poland a year ago my dad felt that some parts were on the brink of breaking and needed to be changed. A custom order from Kuschall, the new set found me after I went back to America. I guess people don't really think of wheelchairs as things that are custom built, expensive and even more pricey to maintain. Many people when they imagine one, they think of those big bulky standard hospital units that you fold and put away. It's weird to think of a wheelchair as investment, like a car or a motorcycle, maybe because of the stigma of sickness and poverty that is often attached to it. But wheelchairs can be nice, just like anything else in life, and the better yours is the better is the quality of life in it. I just wish it was easier to fix.

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