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Thursday, June 28, 2018

New Wheelchair Enthusiasm

Most people are familiar with new car enthusiasm. New car enthusiasm means the brand new car gets thoroughly cleaned on a regular basis. People experiencing new car enthusiasm often chose to park a bit further away from the entrance to stores in the hope that inevitable door nicks can be avoided. For some, new car enthusiasm lasts a few years and for others a few weeks or even days. This year, I have learned a similar phenomenon exists with new wheelchairs. I have a serious case of new wheelchair enthusiasm. My new wheelchair enthusiasm remains solidly in place six months into ownership. My wheelchair is not a little bit clean--it is spotlessly clean. Think car dealership show room clean--my wheelchair does not get waxed liked a car but I clean it daily. I clean the tires each and every time I leave my apartment. I wipe down the frame with a cleaning cloth several times a week. I clean the front wheels twice a week. I clean the upholstery thoroughly every weekend. Once a week I clean the spokes, rear hubs, and rims. Every weekend I get out of my wheelchair and check every screw to insure they are tight. I fold down the back and lubricate the quick release axles. I diligently remove hair that inevitably collects in the front wheel hubs. The level of care my new wheelchair receives is over the top. In fact, the most common question people now ask me-"Is that a band new wheelchair?". I do not foresee new wheelchair enthusiasm changing any time soon.

Using a modern wheelchair is an interesting experience. My old wheelchair was 30 years behind the times. It was state of the art circa 1985. When compared with contemporary wheelchairs it looked hopelessly antiquated. This did not bother me one iota. I have a passionate dislike for the wheelchair industry and successfully avoided thinking about new wheelchairs for over three decades. The technology associated with my old wheelchair may have been antiquated but it was technology that worked and virtually never broke down. My old wheelchair could take a beating and was very simple to repair. Modern wheelchairs are not so rugged. This is the main worry I have with my new wheelchair. It is a modern marvel but I have no idea how long it will last. I have modest expectations in this regard. I am particularly skeptical with regard to the carbon fiber frame--a costly upgrade. No doubt the frame is strong and rigid despite the fact the back upright folds down. The rear rigidizing bar, a smart design feature, makes the wheelchair feel solid. The rear wheels, made by spinergy, another costly upgrade, will not last long. The tires already need to be replaced and a few spokes are slightly bent. The back upholstery is not holding up well. It will need to be replaced in a few months at the most. The seat upholstery has a tear and will also need to be replaced soon. I had expected the upholstery to last at least a year and am deeply disappointed. If necessary, replacing the upholstery every six months will be costly. On the positive ledger, the bearings, front and rear, feel new. I sense no deterioration in performance. The front wheels appear to have a long life ahead of them. The front casters which take a real beating are holding up well.

While I appreciate my new wheelchair I do not love it like my old one. My old wheelchair had a feel and soul. After 30 years, it was an integral part of me. I knew what it felt like in frigid temperatures and excessive heat. It had a feel modern wheelchairs simply do not have. I am quite comfortable in my new wheelchair. It is perfect for my urban life style and aging body. It is significantly easier to push. When navigating an airport or train terminal I go at warp speed passing bipeds continuously. Yet I have no expectation my wheelchair will last more than a few years. The parts are prohibitively expensive. A set of upholstery for the back and seat are well over $500 when combined. Scissor brakes are about $300. Good quality rear wheels are over $500. All these parts are showing age in six months and will need to be replaced. High performance it seems to come at a high cost.

My new wheelchair might need to be replaced within the next few years years. I think about this too much and worry. Given that I plan on flying nationally and internationally later this year there is no doubt I need a second wheelchair in case my current wheelchair has a catastrophic failure or an airline destroys it. Modern wheelchairs in my estimation are not indestructible nor are they designed to last more than a decade. In Denver I see a lot of paralyzed people--especially on the light rail and bus system. The go to wheelchair in this area are TiLite manual wheelchairs. I would estimate 9 of 10 manual wheelchairs I see others using are TiLite. I suspect much of this has to do with Craig Rehabilitation Hospital. Craig is the overwhelmingly dominate rehabilitation center in the area. At a recent Rockies baseball game I saw a contingent of about ten newly paralyzed people--every guy, and they were all men, were using TiLites. This is a decent wheelchair but has a short life. It is the perfect starter wheelchair for a newly paralyzed person that knows nothing about disability. After two years of rigorous use TiLite wheelchairs are worn out. Screws and bolts fall off, the folding back mechanism becomes wobbly, the wheels wear out and the frame becomes loose and is no longer rigid. By year five, most TiLite wheelchairs in my experience must be replaced.

What the future holds for my wheelchair is unknown. What I do know is the warranty will never be honored. In previous posts I detailed the ridiculous owners manual. Among the many violations I have committed include going out in direct sunlight. I have showered and did not have my non existent care taker remove the wheelchair from the bathroom to avoid the humid environment. I have gone outside in the rain. I have gone through deep puddles of water and, gasp, I have been outside in the snow. I have even hiked on gravel and dirt trails. All these outrageous and ordinary acts void the warranty. This has made great fodder for joking with friends and my son. At a certain level this is quite funny and mocking the owners manual is entertaining. However, when I seriously think about my wheelchair I do not think the manual is funny at all. The owners manual assumes incompetence and complete and utter dependency upon non disabled others. The owners manual assumes the wheelchair user will use the wheelchair under ideal weather conditions and only venture outside on rare occasions. This is a decades old mentality. What bothers me the most is the stark dichotomy between design and expected use. The design of my wheelchair is empowering. It has served me well in its short life. There is no doubt seasoned wheelchair users were consulted and their input went in the end product. There are multiple little things that make my wheelchair a pleasure to use and maintain. Yet I remain troubled. Maintaining my wheelchair might be costly. Routine parts that are destined to wear out are costly and at this initial stage it does not appear will last long. Replacing upholstery yearly is a reasonable expectation. Being required to do so twice a year is unreasonable in my estimation. This is particularly the case given the wheelchair and upholstery has not as yet been subjected to rigorous use.

For now, I remain impressed with my wheelchair. It has a multitude of advantages over my old wheelchair. It is lighter. It is easier to push. The back folds down and it takes up much less space in a car. I love the fact it came with a little tool kit that fits easily in a bag when traveling. The turning radius is amazing and its footprint is substantially less. About the only thing I dislike is the fact it has no heart. Perhaps that takes time. I only hope it will last long enough for me to fall in love.