My wheelchair turned one year old this month. It has been an interesting year adapting to my wheelchair. Initially, I was worried of falling. I felt seriously tippy and unstable. I now understand why so many wheelchair users have anti tippers attached to the frame. However, I am way too old school to use anti tippers. In my experience anti tippers get in the way when going up and down curbs and prevent one from popping a wheelie. Writing this makes me feel old as I wonder if these necessary skills are still taught at rehabilitation hospitals. Based on my observation of newly minted paralyzed guys I see I doubt it (in Denver it is easy to spot such rookies in part because Craig Hospital has a dominant presence). In the absence of anti tippers I simply learned front, rear, and side balancing points. I have almost fallen many times and can now feel when I am at a point of no return.
Learning ones tipping point comes with some risk. I took a heavy fall two months ago. After I fell I was distressed to learn that I cannot get from the floor back into my wheelchair independently. The 85 degree angled front frame on my new wheelchair is a far cry from the shallow or longer 60 degree angle of my old wheelchair. At 60 degrees I had more options for leveraging myself up. Getting from the floor to the wheelchair was once something I did with ease but over the last decade this has gotten much more difficult. My goal this spring is to work on regaining this essential skill.
On a regular basis I get email from people asking about my new wheelchair. I understand why people reach out. Wheelchairs are incredibly expensive, take weeks, and more likely, months to be manufactured. Sales are typically final--virtually no new wheelchair can be returned. Worse yet, wheelchair evaluation clinics are ethically compromised by exclusive contracts with a limited number of manufacturers and durable medical equipment outlets. This does not even address the long waits for a wheelchair seating evaluation. The result is objective non biased information is exceedingly difficult to come by. Good luck trying to find wheelchair reviews online you can trust. They simply do not exist or are quite antiquated--think many years old. I tell people that my Apex wheelchair with the expensive carbon fiber frame upgrade is well worth the money. The same can be said for upgrading the rear wheels. I upgraded to 24x1 Spinergy Spox rear wheels. In my opinion, Spinergy currently makes the best wheelchair wheels and wheel accessories on the market. I also learned there is a world of tires that now exist. And yes those tires are expensive and another upgrade. Via Motion Composites, I upgraded the front wheels to Newton wheels as well. To these upgrades I added clothing guards, and scissor brakes. In essence do not be fooled by the advertised sticker price of any wheelchair. By the time one is done upgrading various components, and believe me those upgrades are a must, the price of a wheelchair can easily reach dizzying heights way beyond the listed price. The upgrades I added ended up in the thousands of dollars.
Overall, I could not be happier with my new wheelchair. One huge variable remains unknown--how will the carbon fiber frame hold up over time. This is what makes the Apex and any other carbon fiber frame wheelchair a real wild card. If the frame cracks or fails theoretically it can be repaired but that would take a long time. I also have no faith the warranty would honored by Motion Composites. This is not a knock on Motion Composites but the wheelchair industry in general. The warranty on any wheelchair in my experience is worthless. A reason is always found to not honor the warranty. If you doubt peruse back to my posts about the owners manual that came with my wheelchair.
In terms of wear and tear, I have had two minor issues. First, the upholstery the wheelchair came with lasted a mere four months. That is an unacceptable lifetime. I let the Motion Composites Colorado sales representative know and he was kind enough to send me a new set of upholstery at no charge. Second, a bearing in the front wheel fell apart when I was cleaning hair out of the front axle. Again, I contacted the sales representative and he kindly sent me a set of bearings. Any wheelchair user knows that the front wheels take a beating and hair destroys bearings over time. Hence I remove the front wheels every Sunday and lubricate the bearings in the hope I will extend the wheels operational life. This is not a time consuming task. I do have some concern about bearings in general. Years ago I expected bearings to last a long time. Today I have no such expectations. I plan to replace all the bearings on a yearly basis. I grumble about this as I consider a year life span unacceptable. However we are talking about a $15 part that is easily replaceable.
The main difference between my old wheelchair and my new wheelchair or any contemporary manual wheelchair is philosophical. My old wheelchair was designed to last a lifetime. The frame served me well for nearly 40 years. It was exceptionally hard to work on but was virtually indestructible and rarely failed. In contrast, modern wheelchairs, mine included, are technologically advanced but require constant attention. Aside from removing the front wheels every Sunday, I thoroughly clean the entire wheelchair and check every single component. In short, my wheelchair is treated like a Ferrari. It is spotlessly clean and nothing is left to chance. New wheelchair enthusiasm it seems lasts far longer than one year.
I cannot imagine owning my wheelchair without having a bevy of expensive spare parts. Over the last few months I have ordered many bearings, brakes, forks, foot rest, hardware, and wheels in case of a malfunction. The sales representative for Motion Composites has been outstanding and responsive. For this reason alone, I highly recommend my wheelchair. This sort of responsiveness is exceedingly rare in the wheelchair industry. Perhaps I am lucky as the sole sales representative in Colorado is great. The sales representative in other states could be terrible. This would surprise me but you never know. If you own a Tlite or Panthera wheelchair good luck getting a sales representative reply to an email. As for parts, my guess is getting any part for a Panthera would take months because they have virtually no presence in North America. This says nothing of the cost which would be exceedingly expensive. Tlite parts are more readily available given they dominate the wheelchair industry in the USA but I find it painful to deal with such a large corporation. It certainly does not help that I find the Tlite to be an inferior product. It is akin to a Lego toy to me--too many cheaply made short lived component parts. Most people I know struggle to get five years of serviceable life out of the wheelchair under rigorous use.
What my wheelchair cannot do is handle a harsh Northeastern winter. If I lived in the snow belt of New York my wheelchair with narrow rear wheels and small front wheels would be useless in deep snow. I also wonder how it would handle bone chilling cold. Here in Denver we get a few days of frigid temperatures but nothing like New York or Vermont sub zero temperatures. I miss those frigid days as I could feel the steel frame of my wheelchair groan when I walked my beloved labrador Kate. The carbon fiber frame I have now does not react to the cold. The frame seems impervious to extremes cold and heat. This is quite odd to me as the only part of my wheelchair that feels cold are the aluminum hand rims. Surprising to me is the fact my wheelchair handles deep puddles, really wet weather, and slush quite well. Last week I was outside in a heavy wet snow that left large amounts of slush at curb cuts and with little effort I powered up and down without any trouble. Another environmental variable I had never given much thought to is wind. Given how light the wheelchair is, if I get a strong gust of wind behind me, say 30 to 40mph, I am going to be able to fly. Of course, heading into the wind is going be an entirely different story.
In an urban environment, my Apex wheelchair is at its best. I can literally fly through airport terminals and bus depots. The effort required to push is minimal. Sitting in a perfectly fitted wheelchair can be a real joy. I tend to move far faster than most bipeds and often enjoy weaving throw crowded Denver city streets. The wheelchair is not as adept on rougher terrain. This is more a statement only relative inexperience with my wheelchair than a design flaw. I am extremely wary of falling over backwards hence am hesitant to put all my weight on the rear wheels. As every day passes I become more comfortable this becomes less of concern. Thus over time going on rougher dirt trails will become less of an issue. The issue now is the wheelchair operator and not the wheelchair itself.
Beyond my wheelchair, the foremost problem as I see it beyond the prohibitive cost of wheelchairs is finding the right wheelchair and above all else the right fit. I see people every day in ill fitting inappropriate wheelchairs. This breaks my heart. Nothing is wore than sitting in a wheelchair that is ill-fitting. By the end of the day one will be sore and likely in pain. One should enjoy using a wheelchair--this is only possible if you have the right wheelchair in the appropriate size and configuration. This is not as easy as it sounds. It has taken me 40 years to adapt and that adaptation process never stops.
Paralyzed since I was 18 years old, I have spent much of the last 30 years thinking about the reasons why the social life of crippled people is so different from those who ambulate on two feet. After reading about the so called Ashley Treatment I decided it was time to write a book about my life as a crippled man. My book, Bad Cripple: A Protest from an Invisible Man, will be published by Counter Punch. I hope my book will completed soon.
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Tuesday, January 15, 2019
Wheelchair Update: Apex at One Year Old
Posted by william Peace at 2:54 PM
PhD 1992 in anthropology Columbia University, I am interested in disability rights and bioethics.
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