Musical chairs? Finding the right wheelchair

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The two wheelchairs I have. Left, the Invacare Mirage electric power chair and, right, the Drive Medical XS2 lightweight aluminium manual chair.

It’s pretty well known, I think, that those of us that live with multiple sclerosis have good days and bad days. And I am not talking about relapses here, just things like fatigue or one of many other difficulties we learn to deal with on a daily basis.

Take mobility as just one example. Like most people with MS, I’d like to walk more and, on a good day, I really do try with the aid of a walking stick. But, no matter how great I might feel, any walk is overcome by a need to take a break and rest after10 or 15 yards at an absolute maximum. If I need to get from the house to our car, I can do it in stages; there is a convenient place to sit to break the journey into two.

On a bad day, when there is trouble even getting out of our door, it is necessary to use a wheelchair. Even what starts out as a good day can turn bad later on. On more than one occasion, after I have struggled to walk into a restaurant, Lisa has gone to get my manual wheelchair out of the car to enable me to get back without falling.

Now that brings me to the interesting subject of wheelchairs that come in a variety of forms but for the purpose of this blog, let me look at three types: the large-wheel self-propel manual chair; the small-wheeled attendant or transport chair; and the electric powered chair.

The transport chair means that the chair user has no independence and is totally reliant on the services of an attendant or carer. I have always accepted help from my wife Lisa, and she is more than happy to push my chair, but in certain circumstances I need my independence so a transport chair was never on my horizon.

The self-propelled chair enables the chair user to get about by controlling the chair through the large wheels surmounted by hand grips. It can also be used by an attendant, so this has the advantage of both.

A  chair of this type was a good idea as it folded up easily to go into the car but it did little to help independence as MS affects my left side and makes anything more than small movements impossible. My left hand cannot hold the wheel’s hand grip either, so it goes onto the tyre instead. The net result is that, by myself, I can execute wonderful left-hand circles but nothing more.

The electric wheelchair tends to be a much heavier piece of equipment, after all, it includes motor(s) and batteries and there are options for user control only, attendant control or even dual. What’s more, a free wheel option enables the chair to be pushed if it runs out of power. There are some foldable electric chairs on the market now and these could be ideal for transporting by car but the heavier types really need a wheelchair accessible vehicle with ramp or lift of some kind.

An electric powered chair is excellent for us to be together, without creating work for Lisa, and gives me my much valued independence to travel more than 15 yards alone. On the downside, it is heavy and won’t fit into a standard car. So we now have a seven-seater with sliding rear passenger doors. Just the ticket.

The portable ramp takes a bit of practice to assemble and disassemble but Lisa is happy to do that.