Call me maybe…

Typically, if a person is in an accident and becomes paralyzed, I understand they can receive a significant amount of wheelchair training. However, you do not receive this trundle training if someone becomes wheelchair dependent because of other medical conditions, such as multiple sclerosis. For example, I became wheelchair-bound and received a wheelchair with no education, although I have a resilient personality which helped immensely. I am not sure why this wheelchair instruction is not mandatory for all new wheelchair users, as it is information severely needed to keep blunders and bruises to a minimum.

My wheelchair life, specifically speaking transfers, has been complex, as this movement became a coin toss starting a year into the pandemic. When I pulled up to do a seat switch, it was always a Crapshoot of maybe I would make it and maybe not. We have all heard the phrase Once Bitten Twice Shy, which is why I have become much more nervous about transfers after I have fallen several times. I get in my head just before a transfer and think the chance of success is a tiny number like the ones scientists use when weighing atoms. The more I hesitate when transferring, the more fearful I become, and my muscles become shakier, creating more of a chance of falling, making me more afraid. This vicious cycle of terror, hesitation, and muscle agitation turns into torturous trepidation, which causes more falls.

Before physical therapy, the transfer from my wheelchair to bed began going wrong after a year into the pandemic. The memory of falling and then calling the fire department to pick me up caused dread deep within, as they had better things to do than pick some guy up off the floor. I had fallen twice in the past week, and that frightening flashback caused a terror shiver that started at the base of my spine and, like an insidious spider, crawled all the way up to my brain stem, all eight legs caressing my fear factor. I stared for five, eight, and then ten minutes at this small gap that I had to do a rump jump over, not wanting to fall and be revisited by firefighters like Ghosts of Christmas Past.

I could feel my muscles continuously twitch as I sat on the edge of my wheelchair filled with angst and contemplated this transfer onto the bed. The remembrance of the fire department picking me up caused more hesitation and trepidation, forcing this seat switch to take entirely too long and keeping my tired body away from my desired pillow. You truly cannot comprehend just how badly I did not want to make that triple-digit call for rescue, although one could say that is the price of living independently. Finally, after a thirty-minute game of chicken between me and the gap between my bed and wheelchair, I lept using my foot as a fulcrum point and landed safely. This experience let me know, although, once again, it was a close call, I had not lost the battle to gravity that night, avoiding that dreaded call for help.

The physical therapist rang the doorbell, and when I answered, he introduced himself to me as Shaw, explaining it was his nickname. I led him to the couch where he sat, put his bag down, and took my vitals while I detailed the issues with which I needed help. I told him the most critical issue was my serious struggle with safely transferring to the bed and avoiding a forced floor introduction. He shared that he usually recommends the slide board for most transfers to help prevent any unexpected and catastrophic collapses. I have received several transfer boards in the past, but no one has ever shown me how to use them correctly, which would have helped immensely.

When we were next to my bed, I began showing him how I transfer, and he quickly pointed out my movements that were, in his words, very risky. He worked with me for another twenty minutes, showing me the proper positioning for the board and the angle and alignment for my chair. The bed is also several inches taller than the wheelchair, meaning as I slide up on the board, I get closer to the bed, and my weight pushes the mattress down for a smooth transition. Finally, he reminded me that the chair needs to be angled about 45 degrees from the bed, keeping the back of the chair farther away, leaving a gap for the slide board to span. It was an excellent education that they should give early in someone’s wheelchair life to put into practice and save the calls to the fire department for actual fires.

Over the next few weeks, Shaw guided me on correct transfers from all three important places and even a few less significant spots for seat shifts. Most of my transfers happen either in the morning when I get ready for the day or at nighttime preparing for bed. Since I have learned this transfer trick, I have had only one unsuccessful event, and I merely slid on the board back down to my chair. This action was not a concern, as I had a slide board under my derriere the entire time and a forced floor landing was highly improbable.

A positive attitude makes the struggles manageable.

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