In my recent post “Just Keeps Giving”, I spoke about how I broke both of my feet and shared my recovery journey following surgery.
Part of this recovery journey was being “assigned” to living in moonboots for 22 weeks and getting around in a wheelchair for 5 weeks. I had said that the wheelchair presented a list of challenges I had faced and therefore thought it was time to share those with you.
Since sustaining a brain injury and challenged by mental health as a result of my brain injury in 2013, I have always said to people to be thankful for what we have. Unfortunately it isn’t until we no longer have the ability to function like we once did, that we learn how much in life we take for granted.
So, my latest reflection on taking things for granted is being able to walk. Don’t feel sorry for me for I can walk now and my broken feet have had surgery to repair them unlike many people that have a life changing impact where they can no longer have movement from the waist down for the rest of their life or worse.
I’m certainly not sharing this for sympathy but to raise awareness on what it’s like to be in a wheelchair for 5 weeks…on a part-time roster. Then you can imagine what it would be like being in one for life.
I call it a part-time roster because my legs still worked and I could still stand upright in moonboots if I really needed to however it was my surgeon’s instructions to stay non-weight baring on my feet for 5 weeks as much as possible.
So, what were the hurdles and frustrations that I found being confined to a wheelchair?
Physically – I could never get comfortable.
- My bum was sore, my lower back was aching, my legs and feet were always cold and this was simply from sitting in the wheelchair.
- I got tennis elbow from pushing myself around everywhere and there wasn’t a tennis ball in sight.
- I was constantly getting twinges my next neck and back muscles.
Mentally – The word frustration would sum up my mental state.
- I would regularly be frustrated that I couldn’t access areas that I wanted to go.
- Having to problem solve simple tasks like getting something out of a cupboard was draining.
- All the things I took for granted such as walking was taken away which affected my mental wellbeing.
Access / Egress – This was the last thing I thought of.
- I found out pretty quickly (within the first 10 minutes) when I arrived home from hospital in a wheelchair that our house is not designed for people in wheelchairs. Getting through hallways was fine however the door entrances to rooms allowed very little for variation in direction. In most cases I would scrape my knuckles or jam them all together.
- Zero access to toilets and showers.
- Reaching things in cupboards was difficult. Either the shelves were too high, too low or too deep to reach to the back.
- Reaching into the fridge and freezer was similar to accessing cupboards.
- Opening a cupboard or fridge/freezer doors was another challenge for all doors open outward which is bloody difficult when your wheelchairs in the way.
- Cooking on the stove/cook-top was a no-go unless I only used the two forward burners however that also presented face burn hazards etc. so I deemed it unsafe.
- I could reach the microwave operation panel and door to open it but I couldn’t put anything in it for it was too high.
- To wash clothes in the washing machine, I would put the clothes in by moving my wheelchair forward but I would have to reverse myself back out of the laundry and reverse back in to shut the washing machine door.
- Getting in and out of the house was manageable however I sometimes found myself in a compromising position for each door isn’t level with the outside floor. Leaving the house to go outside would usually end up with my moonboots on the wheelchairs foot rests facing nose downwards on the ground with the two main wheels in the air. This was extremely good for the broken feet…not LOL.
Unwanted Wheelchair Home Renovations
When struggling to access general areas of the house that I usually take for granted when able to walk created unwanted wheelchair renovations. Never heard of them? Neither did I until after a week of getting around the house that is not designed for a wheelchair. I look around our house now and can see chipped plaster from the walls, black marks from the moonboots scrapping across the painted walls, scratched furniture where the wheelchair has grazed past and the list goes on. The house that we renovated 2 years ago looks like it needs another makeover this summer LOL.
My Biggest Surprise
Out of all the eye-opening moments I had during the 5 weeks being in a wheel chair was to be the biggest surprise of my life. One day when I was attending an appointment with my surgeon, I needed to go to the toilet. As I approached the toilets I could see the Ladies, Men’s and the Disability signs on each toilet. Naturally my instinct was to go through the Men’s toilet door however my wife Donna reminded me of the Disability toilet which would be easier for me to access. Right? Wrong!…SURPRISE!
I found the door to be extremely heavy for it was spring loaded to close on its own device. Every time I went to push it open, my wheelchair would go backwards. So, trying to problem solve on how I was going to enter the “Disability” access toilet, I then engaged my bakes so I wouldn’t roll backwards and it worked. The wheelchair didn’t roll backwards, the door started to open however my arms are not long enough to push the door all the way open. I then tried to wheel the chair with my left arm only whilst trying to push open the door with the right arm. The problem with this was I waste able to get close enough to the door without pushing the door with my broken feet first. I then try in reverse but I just couldn’t get the door open.
Anyway, after a few attempts I finally got inside the toilet but it really surprised me that this toilet was located in a hospital and designed for people with disabilities. My good friend James Wood from CNBSafe Safety Speakers who is confined to a wheelchair is constantly advocating for businesses that are designing anything for people in wheelchairs, to actually have a person that is confined to a wheelchair to be part of the design process. These toilets clearly are not!
Take a look at the video of my attempt to enter the toilet.
Whilst I was advised by my surgeon to stay in a wheelchair for 5 weeks to ensure I am not baring any weight onto my broken feet, I could still stand up out of the wheelchair whenever I wanted if my back ached, I needed a shower or I couldn’t access certain areas of the house.
Some do not have a second option and the wheelchair is their legs. I know we meet people in wheelchairs, we read about people in wheelchairs and they share the difficulties they have gone through to adapt to their new life and the ongoing challenges they face daily but it isn’t until you have a sample of what it’s like before we truly reflect on how much we need to be thankful for what we have in our current lives.
Be thankful for what you have in this life…Stay Safe, Stay Well!