One of the more important lessons when I was learning to drive a car was that it was important to keep the rubber side down. Since "keeping the rubber side down" is also important for those of us who use wheelchairs, I still keep that phrase in the back of my mind.
I should probably explain that the title of this blog refers just to the act of flipping something upside down. When we did that with turtles, it was always amazing to watch them struggle to eventually regain an upright position. No animals were harmed in those childhood experiments, but the phrase "turning turtle" has since had a clear meaning to me and my friends.
Recently I have noticed that many television commercials rely on the fear of falling to send a strong message to consumers that they should buy one of several different products. These products include the alert systems that are worn around the neck or on a bracelet, mobility scooters, and even the bathtubs that have a door in the side of them. The ads warn us that falls are the leading cause of deaths in seniors, although actual data
from the Centers for Disease Control
does not back up that claim. In any case, due to some experiences I've had with falling, I am a firm believer that we should still avoid falls, especially if we have a disability that prevents us from getting back up afterwards.
When it comes to the subject of wheelchairs and falls, I consider myself somewhat of an expert. That expertise is not bestowed as a result of some college degree I earned, but rather as a result of the bruises inflicted when the power of gravity overcame the ability of my wheelchair to keep me upright. For the benefit of those who have yet to experience the joy of falling, this might be a good time to consider how to prevent those falls and what happens if preventive measures are not taken.
One of the first lessons learned while I was still in the rehab hospital was that it was important to wear a seat belt. In my case, because of a lack of trunk support, they started me out with a chest belt and seat belt, just so I could remain vertical enough to push a manual wheelchair.
On one memorable morning, the nurses decided to help me increase my independence by allowing me to shave myself at the sink in my hospital room. To do that, it was necessary to swing the leg supports off to the side so that I could get close enough to the inaccessible lavatory to be able to wet my razor and rinse it off. Under normal circumstances, that would not have been a problem. However, someone had neglected to lower the anti-tip wheels on the back of the wheelchair and in the midst of shaving I toppled slowly backwards to the floor.
There was no apparent damage to my head when it hit the floor, but I learned that such incidents generate piles of paperwork as required reports are filled out. I also underwent a battery of tests to make sure that my brain was functioning normally. Because of the seat belt, I remained strapped into the wheelchair with shaving cream on my face but with no injuries.
Having a seat belt wrapped around me might have saved my life years later. While I was rolling through our offices in my power wheelchair on a Friday evening, about an hour after everyone else had gone home, the wheelchair control box struck a door frame as I was passing through to turn off lights. The chair accelerated and the powerful motors caused the wheelchair to flip over backwards, with me landing on my back. Because I am quadriplegic, I learned what it must have felt like for those turtles we turned over when we were kids. I had fallen and was unable to get up, but my cell phone did not work so I could not call anyone. The situation was dire, as I was still in a sitting position with my feet above my head.
Fortunately a janitor found me two hours later, and some firemen were able to lift the chair and me into an upright position so I could drive home. Without that seat belt, and the Velcro® connecting my shoes to the foot supports, the weight of my legs might have fallen on my chest, and could have caused me to suffocate. That is a serious risk for anyone who is quadriplegic, as in many cases our breathing is somewhat compromised.
While those two incidents may not seem like enough justification for being securely strapped into a wheelchair, there were other opportunities to learn those lessons but they will remain to be revealed in my next blog. In the meantime, have you had any experiences with falling that involved a wheelchair?
© 2013 Michael Collins