Backward’s forward, “Papa off,” Sandra Bullock, and me

I have the power wheelchair. Jose, the technician, delivered it and showed me its impressive range of functions. Wendy, my beloved physical therapist, was very encouraging and worked with me to sit properly. Soon after they left Anna, Caito, Sheila, and I drove to the park in the van and I rolled across the field to watch Maddie play her final field hockey game of the season and saw her score the winning goal. Fantastic!

On the other hand, my new chair experience so far is something like what I imagine it is to learn to drive a mini semi trailer in a house at zero gravity on earth. For example, when backing up without a mirror, I have to make sure that neither dog nor toddler is behind me. And when I swivel the hand control pad out of the way to get right up to the table or sink, I must remember that to toggle it forward is to make it go backwards and backward’s forward. Because of its front wheel drive there can be a tendency to fishtail so the intuitive direction to push the toggle switch is not correct.

I also have to be careful the power is off when at rest, lest I reach to get something and accidentally propel into motion. The difference in heights between sitting at table or transferring from my bed in this chair compared to my manual one at this point seems significant. Basically, there are many changes to make not only for me, but potential adjustments in the house.

I have to figure out the angle by which the most easily enter through the door ways we have in the older part of the house as opposed to the newer ones which were made for the width of a wheelchair. Perhaps we’ll have to raise the table legs but maybe I can figure out how to get the legs the my chair down and back far enough or adjust the angle of the seat so I’ll be able to slide under.

The most difficult will probably be the adjustment I have to make in the bathroom. I intermittently catheterize and in my old wheelchair I was able to drive myself over the toilet. In the power chair I can’t do that, so we have the seat and foot rests set back as far as they can go and the seat is able to tilt forward as much as 30 degrees. That’s quite a bit, perhaps a little like peeing on the Titanic or probably just feels that way now.

18 month old Caito said “Papa down” when he first saw me in the chair and this morning told me “Papa off.” I probably look something like Robocop. It was a change I intended to make today anyway so I’d only do a little bit at a time. So Caito pushed in my old chair from the room in which it was abandoned and I attempted the transfer. Ooops! I ended up on the floor waiting for the EMTs to come to give me a lift. Caito went off to the grocery store with Anna, where she said all that time he was saying “Papa floor.”

When they returned, I was safely reseated in the familiar chair where I’ll spend the rest of the day except when I go to see Ben play flag football. Stephen Hawking has been replaced by Sandra Bullock in Gravity. How fortunate I am be in this position. During the Passover Seder we sing “Dayenu,” which means it would be sufficient, a song of gratitude to the Lord for only one of his many deeds as the Israelites made their Exodus from Egypt.

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