So I don’t write much these days, I don’t have the time or energy and I kind of feel like I don’t have much to write about that wouldn’t be either self indulgent or read like a medical textbook! However its been over a year now since I became a part-time wheelchair user and got my electric Wheelchair Buzz and I’ve been thinking for a few weeks it would be good to put some thoughts down on paper, being a visually impaired electric wheelchair user and a guide dog owner in the UK is still a very rare thing so I kind of want to share in an attempt to help others.
The first run down of this will be some general thoughts and observations and then I intend to do some bullet point lists because everybody loves a good list.
The boring bit
Buzz is an Invcare Fox and I chose to have him in blue, he is on a lease from the Motorbility Scheme meaning I pay for him. A substantial amount of my weekly benefit pays for Buzz each week I also had to pay an upfront deposit and pay for necessary adaptations. I chose the Fox because of its ability to break down and fold to fit in a car, it was the most rugged and easily transportable chair I could find.
But wait your blind?
Yer I was terrified! I knew this was something I had to do to keep my independence and mobility but in reality I was very anxious about the whole thing. The thought of injuring another person or my Guide Dog Ollie terrified me and I mean terrified me! my first tentative sessions of driving Buzz I was on full alert using all my senses even though I had sighted people with me who were supportive encouraging and telling me I was a natural. From this test drive I went on to learn to use a long cane from Buzz
Learning to use a cane from a wheelchair
For me the first step was learning to use a cane with my left hand, I’m right-handed and had always struggled to hold and use my cane properly with my left hand. it felt alien at first but after looking at the way I grip the cane and some practice it became more natural. during this time I aimed to do extra cane practice whilst walking to get used to using the cane I learned though doing this that oh boy did I have a weak left wrist! The sweeping motion is exactly the same only the angle is obviously a bit different and you need a longer long cane. Initially going in a straight line is really difficult because you have to get used to one wrist making the arc for your cane and the other driving your chair. Sometimes the chair driving hand tries to copy your cane hand and you move from side to side unintentionally – I was reassured everyone does it. In my initial lessons I felt like I would never get the hang of it and then add in holding Ollie on the lead controlling her and I thought this is impossible!
by far the hardest part is that your brain has to focus on two or three things at once it takes a huge amount of concentration to get the cane skills down correctly to keep you safe and drive the powerchair. It is hard work, so next time you see me making it look effortless remember that it isn’t!
Having a good scanning technique is incredibly important if you are using a wheelchair a slip of a curb or down a step could result in flipping the chair with you in it and that would not end well.
Once I had mastered the local area the next step was to try to get on the bus again I was terrified but probably not for the reasons you might think.
As a new part-time wheelchair user I was really worried about the reaction of other people on the bus and the bus drivers – yes i was worried about what people where thinking about me. I was also concerned about the dreaded reverse round the corner and all the poles on the bus to get into the wheelchair space… there is a lot to bump into! My first attempt at getting on and off the bus it was raining and the bus was leaning on a camber towards the pavement it was an out of service bus and there was no pressure but it did not fill me with confidence. the combination of wet and sloping meant that every time I tried to get off the bus my wheelchair slid and I had very little control I thought if its going to be like this everytime I wont be getting the bus very often. Thankfully its really not like that all the time and after more practice and then introducing Ollie to the idea we now travel by bus regularly in Buzz.
The results of all that training
This is the best bit even when I am really poorly I can now get Ollie out for a walk or get to the hospital or my GP. I can now take ollie for a free run independently without the help of another person which has been so good for both of us. I can enjoy walking along the shore and stopping to watch the world go by and take pictures. I can take ollie for really long walks and go to events and carnivals without constantly looking for somewhere to sit down. At times when im fatigued I can still go out and enjoy life without pushing my body beyond its limits.
My wheelchair means I can still be me!
And with that I will sign off for now but there is more to come on this topic