Time to take to a wheelchair…

…not least because it should enhance my quality of life quite considerably.

Finally made what should be a life-enhancing decision yesterday. For years, walking or standing has been excruciatingly painful and, while I did use a wheelchair when I went out for a couple of years in the mid nineties, I never really felt comfortable (and folding chairs do flex in use, and sap energy that should be going to the wheels).

Overall, though, I tended to feel that using a chair was “quitting” in some ill-defined way (probably a guy thing!), and resisted the temptation to take to one permanently. That plus the fact that I simply couldn’t afford a rigid-framed chair (how the hell can a length of bent tube, a few straight pieces, an assortment of brackets, two cushions and a pair of wheels cost upwards of £1,000 – very upwards, in fact the sky seems to be the limit).

This week, however, I found myself tracking down second-hand rigid chairs, because since I developed heart failure, my legs have become horribly swollen, and even more painful – getting up from a chair is pure agony and, frankly, I’ve had enough.

First problem – you wouldn’t believe how hard it is to find a used rigid chair – or the high prices, even second-hand, in some cases. Anyway, I finally pitched up at the EPC website where they have used rigid chairs from £200.

One of the £200 chairs, a red Kuschall K4, looked worth having, so I emailed the vendor – no reply. Look, whoever you are, if someone wants to pay money for something you want to get rid of, at least have the bloody courtesy to reply, even if it’s been sold (and if it has, take the bugger off the website).

That left one chair, a used Sunrise Medical Quickie Ti (Ti for titanium) which would rather stretch my budget at £450 (the fact that a new one is upwards of £3,022 for the base model helped put that in perspective). It also has the advantage that almost every aspect of the chair is adjustable – very important on a used rigid chair, as many are built to fit the original buyer and can’t easily, or at all, be adjusted. It’s also light, at 17lb** – my lightweight, alloy-framed folder weighs 37lb (yep, that really is considered light in folder terms – steel-framed ones can be over 50lb).

**As with lightweight bikes, this is a good thing, which I’ve never understood (the rider is vastly heavier in both cases), but I’ve ridden light bikes and I’ve ridden heavy ones, and there is a considerable difference in performance. The same is, apparently, true of wheelchairs. In addition, it’ll be very easy to toss in the back of a taxi.

So, after emailing the vendor – this one actually got back to me – to make sure it was available, and ask a few questions, I decided I’d have it. Here’s a few pics (as you can see, it needs a cushion, but I have one which will serve for now).

As you can see, it’s simply plain titanium, with no paintwork to get scratched and shabby (I’ve known quite a few chair users, and most treat their chairs very badly, treating them as if they’re disposable – which if you can actually afford to buy a new one every few years I suppose they are). Me, I take care of things I’ve spent money on!

It also has £62-worth of Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres fitted – always nice to see.

The idea is that this chair will take up less space, in use, than my folder, as the footrest is tucked in, rather than extending ahead of the frame, making it easier to manoeuvre in confined spaces, so I can mostly live in it (I’ll have to rearrange some furniture, and tidy-up ruthlessly (I’m an untidy sod – I think many people who live alone are).

The two places I can’t use it, though, are the kitchen – no room and not suitable – and the bathroom – not suitable. And while the bathroom is only a few paces away, some days getting there can be a challenge.

It’ll also be used on pub trips – walking back and forth to the Gents wipes me out, and anywhere else I might otherwise be on my feet for at least part of the time.

It should make a big difference to the amount of pain I experience and, as a bonus will allow me to exercise, building my upper body strength. If I can do that, I can go back to sleeping in my bed – I have to sleep sitting up and, at the moment, I’m just too weak to haul myself into position. Too breathless too.

As you can see, the chair has no side guards (to protect clothing). All they are is a couple of pieces of appropriately-shaped plastic, plus mounting brackets, worth about £25 and that’s being extremely generous. They cost over £110! Though they do offer fabric ones – a triangle of cloth with three brass eyelets worth about £10, for an equally staggering £44 – and those prices are exclusive of VAT. Screw that, I’ll make my own – when it comes to accessories, Sunrise Medical are rip-off artists par excellence.

As I say, I have a cushion, but if I’m going to be spending long periods in the chair, I need something better. Cushions are another area where the pricing is mind-numbingly creative – you’re looking at £40 and up – it’s very easy to pay £300 for a cushion! To put it in perspective, I paid a tad under £200 for a memory-foam-topped mattress. A similar cushion will cost about the same, or more – you really can’t justify that by bitching about small production-run costs. I used to be an industrial buyer, and I know only too well that claim doesn’t hold water, as tooling costs are recouped relatively quickly – costs don’t come down afterwards though.

This cushion is tempting, but at £64 I’d have to think very carefully about it, and this one, at £34.99, while not as sophisticated, is more affordable, for now at least and is a useful 10cm thick.

Sensibly, I suppose, I should order a cushion while waiting for the chair, but part of me think something might go wrong, and then I’ll be stuck with a cushion. Oh! Bugger it, I’ll order one, and must check my budget to see if I can possibly afford the £64 one. They, at least come in the right size, 18” wide, the cheaper one is 17” wide. I don’t see the point as chairs come in 16” or 18” widths (there are others), and 17” is too big for a 16” chair, and too small for an 18” – what are these people thinking?

Yep – I can manage the £64 one – just.

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8 thoughts on “Time to take to a wheelchair…

  1. This is not only interesting to me, but helpful, as the time is coming to make the same sort of purchase for my mom, who still is getting about but doesn’t do long distances well any more. (Long distance being even a half block.) Of course, at 93, she’s entitled.

    It does sound as though this will improve your quality of life a good bit. I hope it’s even better than you imagine.

    • Just one caveat – get your mom assessed before spending money. At 93 there’s a good chance she won’t have the upper body strength necessary. Maybe a powerchair of some sort might be an idea – might well cost less than a rigid manual chair too! For example, I have a pretty basic powerchair that cost me, new, the equivalent of about $800. The chair I’m getting costs, new, over $5,000. Not a bad racket to be in, 5 grand for a bit of bent tube, a couple of cushions and a pair of wheels!

      If you opt for a powerchair, go for a mid-wheel design – they have a very small turning radius.

  2. The reluctance is not just a guy thing; I think we all like to think we can still manage and then there’s the vanity aspect.

    Nevertheless, this is a subject that I’ve been mulling over in my mind too, but I already don’t have the strength in my arms (mostly to do with the cervical spondylosis) to be able to manage a manual wheelchair, so that’s never going to be an option. I also don’t, yet, need it in the house, but I have most trouble when I need to go to places like on buses, to banks and post offices, because I cannot stand and queue.

    And I’ve already made my mind up that if I were ever to travel by air again, I’d have to ask to be met at the airport with a wheelchair and someone to help me.

    • Ah well, air travel isn’t a problem for me – I can’t breathe at the normal level of pressurisation.

      I bought one of these http://www.betterlifehealthcare.com/view_product.php?prodID=7619 Not the most sophisticated of powerchairs, but it’s adequately comfy and – very important – cheap, at £799. Depending on how close the bank and PO are, it might be worth thinking about. Always take the range with a very large pinch of salt – if you get over half the claimed range, you’re doing well. This is because of the way manufacturers assess the range – on a rolling road, with no rider. They just leave it to run until the batteries are flat, work out how far it would have travelled and stick it in the brochure. And that figure is about as far from the real world as it’s possible to get.

  3. Hi Ron
    This is my first posting…i eventually succumbed to needing a wheelchair for going everywhere really as i struggle to walk without constant support i have to be held up by my hubby (bless him) and not to mention the balance problems!! Its not just you whos reluctant i was but soon realised that if go out i have some spoons left left for the rest of the day…not many and yes i am a fellow “spoonie”
    Brilliant site.
    M xxx

  4. Hi. May I know what’s the capacity of the chair?…I have my wife who is a 360 lbs.. It’s really hard for me to look a wheelchair suitable for her..thanks…

    • Not sure of the exact capacity, but it’s more than adequate for me. What you need to do is check specifications assiduously, and/or look for the word “bariatric” in the description.

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