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It’s wheelie time at last…

Posted Aug 30 2012 8:26am

As I said on Twitter a couple of nights ago, it’s time I became a full-time wheelie. I know I said that about a year ago, but I’ve been putting it off, as it’s a step from which there might be no way back. All that’s got me, though, is a lot more pain, for longer than seems sensible, and I’ve had enough – time to bite the bullet.

Over the last few days, I’ve had a clear-out, so I’ve a lot more floor space than I had and, a couple of days ago, I checked it out with my manual chair, which was fine. A lot more comfortable that my computer chair, too, with its anatomical cushion. However, it’s a chair designed for occupation, not for getting in and out of repeatedly, as I’d have to in this flat (it’s not wheelie-friendly; my chair won’t go in the kitchen – no room – or the bathroom, as the door opens the wrong way, though that might be fixable).

So yesterday I tried my powerchair, which looks much wider than my manual, but actually isn’t – it’s just higher and bulkier, the width across the wheels is  about the same, but the arms are wider, though I can move them in a little. That works too. OK, kitchen and bathroom are still problematic, but either chair would reduce the amount of time I have to spend on my feet by about 70%. That’s got to be worth it. Easier to get in and out of too, as I can boost myself using the arms – the ultra-lightweight manual doesn’t have arms.

The powerchair is much slower indoors than my manual, though that should change with familiarity, and not as nimble in tight spaces, but being mid-wheel drive, it’s a whole lot better than a conventional rear-wheel drive chair, though you have to remember to leave enough room behind it when turning if you’re used to rear-wheel drive.

I have considered trying to move to an adapted flat – there’s little or nothing to keep me here, or even in this area – but here** I can still cook for myself, when I’m able, and make my own bread, both of which would be difficult or impossible on wheels.

**And broadband speeds are good, as the exchange is only about a quarter of a mile away. I’d be loath to give that up.

When I am able to cook, I batch-cook for the freezer which, of course, even factoring in the cost of foil dishes, saves me a fortune in ready-meals (which almost universally suck). Defrost one portion of whatever, and knock up a portion of Smash. Tip – the instructions are rubbish. 60g makes a decent portion, add salt and pepper to the dry mix (but remember, you’re seasoning for the final quantity, which means it’ll take more than you’d think). Stir well, and if any white flecks remain, add a little more water – you need to end up with it slightly stiff, not sloppy, as it will loosen up when you stir in a good knob of butter or a splash of olive oil at the end. Done properly,  you can’t tell it from proper mash; a little Dijon mustard is good too. Or toss some frozen chips in the fryer. Never as good as home-made, but easier.

Staying here, though, the bathroom door might have to be re-hung,** reducing my walking by at least another 10%. The two inaccessible places are the kitchen and my giant fridge-freezer – I simply couldn’t get into the latter from either chair, partly because of its size, and also because the doors open the wrong way. I could have them re-hung, but the cost far outweighs any benefits.

** Or I could trundle down to the front door, where there’s room to turn, and trundle back, which is the cost-free option, though why the goddamn doors were hung wrong in the first place, I’ve no idea. (Hung so that when open the bathroom door blocks the living-room doorway.)

The main reason I need to access the giant f-f is to get cold, filtered, water, to take my meds, 6 times a day, plus occasional drinks in between (I drink little and often for reasons I’ve recently covered ), and aside from having to wash dishes and clean up, I mostly need to be in the kitchen in the evening – not too much of a hardship.

Actually, if I drank room-temperature water I wouldn’t need to go near the fridge-freezer for most of the day, but as I have to watch my fluid intake, cold water is more refreshing, so I’ll put up with it.

I seriously doubt it’ll make me any fatter, being a wheelie full time, not any more than steroids already have – my level of activity is already minimal. And if it does I really don’t care.

I’ve found a wheelchair friendly pub, accessed by a sensibly-angled ramp, and with a pretty decent, wheelchair-accessible, toilet. The downside? £12 each way taxi fare. more in a hack as far too many drivers turn on the meter way before they arrive. I know they do it, I just can’t prove it, so I’ll use my manual chair to go to the pub – with the wheels off and the back folded down, it’ll go in the back with me, or in the boot, if there’s room.

A word of warning – if you have a hydraulic door closer at home, remove it or disconnect it. Otherwise, especially if the spring is absurdly robust, like those in this building, sooner or later opening the door against its pressure will injure you. I’ve unscrewed mine from the door frame; if I leave, or pop my clogs, it can easily be refitted.

It’s odd; there are several wheelies on the ground floor, all except me battle against the door closers whenever they go in or out. None have thought to ask a relative or friend** to simply remove 2 screws. I have a feeling they might have asked permission, and been denied. Sod that. My door, my choice.

**Not me – step-ladders are a no-go area except in an emergency.

They’re supposed to be for fire protection – if your flat is on fire and you run out, the door will bang shut behind you (but getting out in a chair, wrestling with the damn closer, and you might be overwhelmed). I’m pretty sure the law doesn’t require that, and the scheme manager hasn’t complained about mine. It’s the same inside the flats – every sodding door has a spring closer,  and the first thing a new tenant does, after a few days of banging doors, is disconnect the buggers!

It’s not just the banging, Most people here are old, many are frail, and carrying food and drink from the kitchen, through a door that’s spring-loaded, is a major hazard.

But I digress. What was a problem, with the closer disconnected, is closing the door behind me if I’m leaving my flat. So I devised a closing aid. I used climbers’ slings, but rope can also be used, though avoid nylon cord, it can cause friction burns. Tape is better, though not least because it’s comfortable, an important point with older people (by which I mean those considerably older than me! ;) ).

Slings, by the way, are made from Dyneema, and unless you cut them they’re pretty much indestructible. A pair of 60cm slings are fine for my door. For use as tie-downs (see below), 30cm slings are what you need.

Click each to view full size if necessary, Back to return

As you can see from the first pic, when not in use the slings just hang from the handle, out of the way. In use I feed the end through the letterbox, middle pic  (I’m right-handed and the door opens to the left going out, which works perfectly), and grab it as I pass, pulling the door closed behind me, last pic.

If I’m just doing my laundry, or taking rubbish to the bin (how to carry stuff on a chair, power or manual, is described in this post ), I leave it hanging. If I’m going out I pull alongside the door, lock it (doors here have mortise locks – it should make it impossible to go out without your key, but some manage it!), and push the tape loop back through the letterbox.

If, by the way, your chair doesn’t have  tie-down points for taxi transport, a couple of climbers’ slings will do the job, looped around frame members. The ones I use have a breaking strain of over 2 tonnes, more than enough. If you’re in a collision severe enough to break the tape, that’s going to be the least of your worries!

Having said all that, though, I’m still finding myself deeply reluctant to commit to it. Part of the problem is that I’ve just bought a new computer chair, and have absolutely nowhere to put it if I’m not using it (seriously, there’s no bloody storage space here, and what there is is full).

If I can solve that problem – dismantle it, maybe – then it’s game on.


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