Four or five years ago, I bought a rolling walker for outside use after I discovered that pushing a supermarket shopping cart helped support my back. The walker allowed me to walk up to a mile with several stops to rest. Since then my walking has deteriorated so that I am down to about a quarter of a mile, and I have started to use a cane in the house.
The first major decision was whether or not I really needed an electric scooter and, if so, where I would use it. I thought that it would be helpful at parks and in malls and museums. Before deciding, I felt that I should be re-evaluated at the International Rehabilitation Center for Polio in Framingham, and made an appointment for the wheelchair clinic. My question to the physical therapist was, “If I can walk a quarter of a mile with a rolling walker, should I do so?” The answer was, “No, you need to conserve your strength.” I made the first major decision, to buy a scooter.
At the wheelchair clinic I tried out both a scooter and a power wheelchair. I was leaning towards a scooter, but the IRCP people really pushed for the power chair since it was more maneuverable and the toggle switch would be easier to use with my weakened arms. The advantages of a power chair (easier to operate, for example) over the scooter outweighed the disadvantages and I decided to order an Invacare M51. The next decision involved options for the chair. In addition to a cane holder and swing-away footrests, I chose the flat-free driving wheels where the pneumatic tires are replaced by tires filled with stiff foam inserts.
The next decision was the most expensive and involved the vehicle needed to transport the power chair. Our 1995 Oldsmobile sedan (with only 61,000 miles on it) was not suitable, and a minivan was needed. Options were a side ramp, rear ramp or an electric hoist. Van conversions are quite expensive, and because of the complete lack of muscles in my knees I could not transfer from inside the van to the driver’s seat. Since I had seen a Ford minivan with an electric hoist in Ogunquit, Maine two summers ago and liked the idea, I decided on a Bruno hoist. My wife, Barbara, and I then considered Honda and Toyota, and purchased a Toyota Sienna minivan because of Toyota’s excellent reputation, the proximity of the dealership and the fact that Toyota has a Mobility Program which reimburses up to $1,000 towards the purchase of a hoist.
The next problem involved our driveway which is very steep and our garage which is very narrow and also short. The Toyota is four inches wider than the Oldsmobile, and the side view mirrors are much larger. The Toyota salesperson backed the van into the garage with only three inches to spare on each side (she had been an ambulance driver for twelve years). The mirrors do fold, but I need them to back down the driveway. We decided to widen just the entrance by a foot, and to replace the eight foot door with a nine foot door.
Now we were thrown a curve ball by the wheelchair dealer who told us that the gel batteries could not be allowed to freeze. Our garage is unheated and we had to think about how to protect them. We considered several alternatives including an electric blanket as a heat source, and also removing the batteries to store in the cellar hooked up to an automobile battery charger. The contractor suggested a heater with fan mounted at the rear of the garage and hooked up to a thermostat, and this was decided upon.
Before drawing some lessons from all of this, I would like to digress a bit and mention that I was extremely active physically after my recovery from polio (I was paralyzed from the neck on down). Among other activities, I exerted enormous efforts in chopping roots and digging out a half dozen large shrubs, installing a tile ceiling and recessed lighting in the cellar, and also walking some six or seven miles in two days through Disney World. If I had known then what I know at present, I wouldn’t have engaged in the first two activities at all, and I would have rented an electric scooter for Disney World, because I feel that I am finally paying the price after all these years.
What are the three lessons I’d like to leave with you? First, just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should always do it - you will probably pay the price eventually. Second, don’t put off making decisions which you know must be made. Make decisions early and voluntarily, and not when forced to do so by circumstances. You will usually make better choices that way. Finally, do some long range planning by looking ahead two or three years - this makes it easier to accept changes when they become necessary.