Welcome to another Mobility Monday!
This week I’m going to tell you a story of peril, huge challenges and success! Well, actually I may be exaggerating a little with the first two points but it definitely felt like a massive success to me personally.
I’ve been getting more comfortable being out and about in my new Smart Chair 1XL with my husband and son by my side. I’ve nailed the uneven downward slopes I talked about last week and everything else locally has been a breeze. We decided to treat ourselves to a delicious cooked breakfast out at a local pub, something which can be pretty uncomfortable for me sometimes because of my NHS wheelchair. It’s higher than most table levels so unless I’m easily able to transfer to a supportive enough seat at the venue, I struggle to eat comfortably from my ‘chair. I’m usually left with very fatigued arms, POTS symptoms and a sore back, which impacts my ability to function throughout the rest of the day.
Arriving at the pub in my Smart Chair 1 XL, I was excited to find it fits under both the floor tables and booth tables! We enjoyed our veggie breakfasts while watching the world go by outside the frosted glass doors. After our bellies were filled to bursting, Ray, my husband, wanted to nip into our local large town Bromley to pick up a few bits. Sullivan and I decided to go home as shopping crowds coupled with lots of waiting around can be a bit overwhelming for our little guy.
I was nervous for the first time since that stormy car ride down to Surrey to look at the wheelchair. I’d be travelling back home with just Sullivan, which meant no help if I needed it. Sometimes you have to just bite the bullet though, so we decided to go for it. We waved Ray off at the bus stop and made our way up one of the quiet side roads. I felt anxious but safe, a weird mix of emotions! Sully was great, as he always is, chatting with me as he sensed my anxiety being the little empath he is. We passed wobbly pavements with ease, taking in the beautiful wonders of the lush winter front gardens as we pressed on.
We approached the park/green area towards our house… and there we saw them. Here comes the peril! Two dogs. Quite small dogs but VERY loud dogs. My dream but unfortunately at the moment, Sullivan’s nightmare. I’m not sure what triggered it but for a few months now Sully has been petrified of any dogs. He used to love them. I can’t think of a scary or bad experience that might have changed this but something has triggered this fear inside him. He was frozen stiff and as I always do, I tried to calmly reassure him he was safe, the dogs were with an owner and the best thing he can do is try to relax or just stay still next to me until the dogs pass by. These little woofers were so cute but they were both off-lead and, unfortunately, were being shouted at quite aggressively by their owner over and over (and over) again. Coupled with their own ear-splitting constant barking, there was a lot going on in that little area. We were in a bit of a stand-off, with Sullivan, too terrified to move at one end of the green, the dogs staring at us and barking in the middle and their owner, red-faced and bellowing at them on the other side.
I decided not to drag Sullivan through the green as it would have been too distressing for him and probably stressful on the poor dogs which were still being yelled at. I turned us both around and we slowly made our way around the green, rather than through it. Having never gone this way before, I didn’t realise the lack of dropped kerbs. Here comes the huge challenge! A wheelchair user’s nightmare! I noticed unless we walked all the way back to where we’d come from, I had no way of getting across to where I needed to be safely. You can’t just bump off a very high kerb safely, especially if you’re still getting used to how your ‘chair handles. I knew Sullivan wouldn’t be able to manage walking all the way back to start our journey again so that we could find another more accessible route home, so I thought on my feet. Or really that should be on my ‘chair I guess!
We travelled about a third of the way back down the road and came to a lowered kerb for a driveway. It had one clear on the opposite side of the road too – perfect! Coming off the lowered kerb was extremely easy but getting up the other side was a challenge. The road arched up and down like a hump just in front of the lowered kerb on the opposite side and the front wheels just couldn’t get up it. I was stuck again! Then, I remembered what the guys at Lith-Tech had said at our demonstration. They explained if the ‘chair couldn’t get over a kerb forwards due to it being not dropped enough, the back wheels should be able to handle it much easier due to their size and how the wheelchair is powered.
I made sure Sullivan was safe on the pavement and told him to stay in that one spot until I said to move. He happily obliged and cheered me on once he realised what I was trying. I slowly maneuvered the wheelchair around and approached the lowered kerb backwards. The back wheels glided over the kerb with extreme ease, before I had time to process what had happened, I was safely on pavement on the side of the road I wanted to be. My little cheerleader was exclaiming with glee “your other ‘chair couldn’t do that!”.
It may seem like a small victory for most able-bodied people who can just step off a kerb where they’d like to cross but for me it was a massive win. For many wheelchair users, journeys must be planned, sometimes meticulously, as these barriers present themselves all the time. When something happens and you have to change to a route that you don’t know like the back of your hand, it can be terrifying. I’ve been stuck before, too many times. Now I’m comforted with the knowledge that when I’m using my S-C 1 XL, I have a better chance of getting out of sticky navigational situations.
Are you a wheelchair user and ever been stuck somewhere because of terrain or kerbs? Are you able-bodied and never really considered the need for clear, flat dropped kerbs before? I know I didn’t really think of it before I became a wheelchair user myself. Feel free to let me know below!
I’ll see you next week on Mobility Monday, where I’ll be talking about our first London hospital trip of the new year.