The Lip In The Road

You’d think that now I’m rapidly approaching my 22nd birthday, I might be grown-up and mature enough not to overlook the important things in my life – especially not something as important as my wheelchair’s battery level. Sadly, though, it would appear that I still have much to learn, as that’s exactly what I did when going to and from work on Tuesday. The chair had supposedly been on continuous charge since the previous Thursday, when I’d last been out in it, so there was no reason for me to suspect that it would be anything other than full to the brim with power when I clambered aboard in the morning. That was, of course, until I turned it on…

The display told me that I only had five bars of power – two orange, and three red. That meant I had less than half a battery left, and I knew from previous experience that that was even less than it looked. Sure enough, as soon as I’d emerged from the garage and was halfway up the road, I was already down to two red bars – and they were flashing. Trouble seemed to be imminent, but I decided to continue on my way. I knew that the chair wasn’t designed to stop immediately when the last bar vanished, so I phoned Mum to update her, and then my workplace to let them know I would probably be late. The chair had never run flat in Winchester, with all its slopes and inclines, so what could possibly go wrong in the relatively flat Minehead?

The rest of the short journey to work passed at a range of speeds, since the chair tended to get faster and slower again at various points, usually depending on what the pavement was like. Going downhill, I found that gravity definitely helped – at one stage, an old lady with a walking stick moved over to let me past, and rather embarrassingly, I was as slow approaching her as she was approaching me! When I arrived at work, I reiterated my predicament to my colleagues, pulled up to my desk, and switched the chair off, knowing that it sometimes regained power when out of use for a while. Eventually, the time came to have lunch, and in hindsight maybe I should have stayed in the office to eat it, but I wanted some fresh air. Seeing that I had clawed back some additional power, I set off in the direction of the park.

As I had anticipated, I did lose much of that as I sped down the street, but I wasn’t going very far and there was only one road to cross. I’d do that, eat, get back and switch off again so that I would be fine to go home by myself. A foolproof and flawless plan, surely? Well, I was fully convinced that all would be well – until I’d finished my lunch and had to head back across that road again. By that point, the chair was covering most of my route at little more than a crawl – while it was just about still moving, there was no real power behind it. Imagine the true fear I felt, therefore, when I dismounted the kerb and the chair crept into the road at a snail’s pace, with a car approaching in the distance.

It stopped. I carried on, hoping that the camber at the side of the road would quickly flatten out so that I would speed up. Unfortunately, that took what seemed like an eternity, so opting to continue my day in one piece, I got back to the safety of the kerb, switched myself off once again and pondered my next move. I did try crossing at least twice more (with lengthy breaks in between each attempt), but I ultimately decided to give up altogether and send out an SOS. Another two phone calls to the office and Mum led to the latter coming to my rescue a few minutes later.

Once we were home, we set about trying to get to the bottom of the issue, which was still baffling me. I immediately plugged the chair back in upon parking in the garage and, as far as I was concerned, its display wasn’t lying – it was charging. So what was the problem? With some further exploration, Mum soon discovered that, in a nutshell, the charger wasn’t quite plugged in fully. Even though the readout was telling us what we wanted it to, the juice wasn’t going in as it should – so there you go. Everything that happened on that day came from one very small but crucial oversight. I’ll have to triple-check these things from now on, and I’ll make sure I push harder when I’m plugging in too!

Mason

 

Five Flights Of Stairs

When the security guard told me I’d have no choice but to stay where I was last Monday night, I knew what ensued could be both interesting and amusing. The lift in Lara’s block of flats had broken, and because she lives at the very top of it, I was obviously unable to get to the ground floor in order to reach my own flat. I instantly considered myself lucky that I wasn’t stuck with a group of people I didn’t know so well, and even more luckily for me, Lara and her flatmates were all too happy to have me. Once security had confirmed that the lift would not be fixed until the morning at the earliest, I retreated back into the kitchen – where we all usually socialise – to hatch a plan, while Lara and Ben went to my flat with my ID card to collect some of my things. They swiftly returned with a change of clothes, the leads for my laptop and phone, and my pyjamas, among other things – and they were all in a bag Deacon had lent them, which I still need to give back! My orange manual wheelchair was also summoned, and it waited patiently in the corner of the room for its call to action. Lara then very kindly said I was welcome to sleep in her bed, and that she would take the floor (insisting that the cushions from the sofa in the kitchen can be very comfortable when laid out correctly). We therefore had the sleeping arrangements covered rather quickly, and showering was a doddle too, even in a shower not designed for a disabled person like my own. I just had to keep my balance on my knees as best I could, without a seat to use!

The real challenge came the next morning, after Lara and I had giggled our heads off in the middle of the night thinking of names for disability dating sites (don’t ask). I would have to get downstairs somehow in order to reach my 9am lecture, and we had initially agreed that I would be carried downstairs in my manual chair with everyone in the flat bearing some of the weight. When we got to the top of the long staircase, however, we discovered that a Plan B would be needed, and fast. Ben had been confident that he would be able to lift the front of the chair all on his own, but it transpired that he had severely underestimated its weight with me sitting in it, as he immediately hurt his back upon trying to lift it. I joked with him beforehand about the risk of injury to anyone who tried hauling me around, but I was not actually expecting it to happen – thankfully, after apologising profusely multiple times, I think the risk of a lawsuit has now subsided. With Ben out of action, I then tried crawling down the stairs myself so that I wouldn’t hurt any more of my friends, but these stairs had sharp metal edges that dug into my legs and impeded my progress. Our third attempt finally got us to the ground, and it was one that I took part in on my own two feet, with Lara and Ryan each supporting one arm as Nora carried my wheelchair down behind us. Fortunately for her, it was a whole lot lighter without a passenger, and her back would emerge from this unscathed.

Our little trip meant – as the title of this post suggests – that we had to traverse the entirety of A Block and descend five whole flights of stairs. The support I had was sturdy enough to mean that falling over wasn’t really a concern for me, but it was for the other two – since I, the only non-walker of the trio, was going quicker than they could! Lara feared that I might end up pulling her over, and Ryan was losing the circulation in hisĀ  arm holding mine, so we stopped and started again wherever we needed to. Eventually, after many a hop, skip and jump (since I couldn’t get an entirely firm foothold on any of the stairs), we got to the bottom and I was able to transfer to my chair, much to Lara and Ryan’s shared relief. Once Lara had gotten to grips with pushing me along on the slopes of the steepest city in Hampshire, it was a straightforward downhill run to the lecture theatre – but going back up was a different story. When it was time to do that, Lara had to bend over in order to push properly and avoid slipping, so her inability to stand up straight – and my considerable weight – caused her more than a little bit of discomfort. Before long, the lift had been fixed, so she didn’t have to endure this for very long, but after all of her help and kind hospitality, buying her mac and cheese for lunch was the very least I could do. I am tremendously grateful for the assistance that everyone in her flat gave during the ordeal – above all, I think it served as a strong reminder of the importance and value of friendship. I just hope the lift stays reliable for a while…

Mason

The Trooper

Just under a week ago, I picked up a brand new electric wheelchair. To the untrained eye, its somewhat unremarkable outward appearance and black paint job might make it indistinguishable from my previous one, but look deeper and you’ll find several improvements. The most notable of these is the addition of an extra set of wheels, so that it now has six instead of four. These have the effect of improving the chair’s agility – it is now much neater in its movements, requiring less input from me on the joystick when I need to get into a tight space. Furthermore, the two larger wheels that were previously at the rear have now been centralised, enabling me to turn on a sixpence more quickly. The chair does both of these things very smoothly, and is completely unfazed by bumps and kinks in the ground below – where its predecessor would shake and rattle dramatically in response to the slightest jolt, the new model is silent, the extra wheels allowing it to glide cleanly and gracefully around like a metal ballerina dancing on a bed of air. By this stage, you can probably tell that I’m very impressed with what I’ve been given!

The chair’s merits don’t just lie in the newer features, though. Since it is essentially a giant Meccano kit, which took an hour and a half to dismantle and reassemble before I received it, old parts can easily be screwed in amongst their replacements. When I first sat in the chair, its armrests were too far back and too short, making them inconvenient for me when driving. As it turned out, this wasn’t a problem for long, as the engineer was simply able to attach my old ones instead, easily rectifying the situation. Part of my old seat was also carried over to the new chair to give me a similar sitting position, adding to the Frankenstein’s Monster-style feel of the machine. As a result of these modifications, I have a chair that is practically tailor-made for me – even before it was ordered, we requested that it be exactly the same width as my old one, so that I could still drive it into the back of our car. The control panel and buttons are all the same too, so there are no new processes for me to learn. It’s as the old saying goes – if something ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Lying amongst all of the old and new abilities this chair has is a single, fundamentally important one that was the main motivation for having a new one. The University of Winchester’s main campus is rather steep, to such an extent that taking my old chair there would most likely have been downright dangerous. I have tipped up in it before on a much smaller incline, so steeper ones would have posed a much more serious problem. Thankfully, due to the two extra wheels at the back, it is impossible for me to perform a wheelie now, so I am equipped with just what I need to tackle a brilliant three years’ study without any accidents. This new chair will be my little trooper!

Mason