Happy Trails


Riding a Power Wheelchair into the Sunset

A 10-foot neon Saguaro cactus glowed a lively green at each end of the simulated corral dance floor. A top-forty country hit played in the smoky air of The Cowboy nightclub, as the “goat roper” (Texas slang for an urban cowboy) sauntered over to ask politely if I cared to dance. I was flattered and amused.

A few minutes later, a second, big-buckled man ambled my way with a softly drawled invitation to enter the corral cotillion, and the last iota of doubt about my decision to become an electric wheelchair woman vanished. Everything would be okay.

I had worried I would appear less approachable in my new power chair than in my manual chair. For once, it was a relief to be wrong.

Still, it was silly of them to ask me to dance — nice, but silly. What were they thinking? If I had agreed, and driven my awesome new e-beast, with its automotive-type suspension and powerful transaxle drive system, out onto that disco-ball-lighted dance floor, I would have cut a wide swath of carnage through that boot-scootin’ sea of tight Wranglers and big-haired girls. Those ostrich Justins and lizard Noconas would be road kill under the wheels of my 250-pound machine. No, best to sit this one out, I demurred, but thanks anyway. For years, strangers have bugged me with comments like, “You need one of those automatic chairs,” or, “You ought to get yourself an electric wheelchair,” or my favourite, “Why don’t you put a motor on that thang?” These recommendations were offered regardless of whether I was effortlessly rolling past at full tilt, or toiling slowly up an incline. It didn’t seem to matter — in their opinion, machine over muscle was better.

When I was younger and stronger, this unsolicited advice regarding my mobility seemed absurd. I usually quipped with a laugh, “I need the exercise,” and pushed my Quickie with even more gusto.

Over the years, however, age and the late effects of polio made the notion of a power chair seem not so frivolous after all. That’s when my sense of humour turned edgy regarding the whole situation. I began to growl, “I need the exercise!” each time the suggestion of automation was proffered. Muttering profanities under my breath as I struggled to push my manual chair over thick carpet or median incline, I was determined not to give up or give in.

Then my world began to shrink. It got harder and harder to go out in public alone. The chore of packing my wheelchair in the car, then reversing the process, before even beginning the exertion of pushing myself around my destination, grew tedious. I stayed home a lot and relied on others more.

One day I happened upon an ad for a power wheelchair called the OmegaTrac by Teftec. A chair with my name! Fate had spoken. When
I took one for a test drive at my local durable medical dealer and saw the omega symbol engraved on the aluminum wheel hubs, I said, “Damn common sense and deductibles, I gotta have it!”

Following a brief but worrisome delay caused by a snippy insurance review coordinator, the day finally arrived when I threw open the front door and welcomed my new electric friend into my life. After a few customizations, I was, as the young ones say, ready to “jet.”

I love the new freedom and effortless motion my e-chair grants me. I live within three blocks of several stores, a library, a dozen restaurants and, of course, the aforementioned Cowboy nightclub. So now, if I want to rent a movie or grab a taco or meet some handsome men in cowboy hats, I just jump aboard my OmegaTrac and head off into the sunset. Yippee yahoo!

(Omega Baker is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas.)

Share with us lighter ride of living with a disability! Send your contribution (600 words) to: The Lighter Side, ABILITIES, 489 College St., Ste. 501, Toronto, Ont, M6H 1A5; fax to: (416) 923-9829; or e-mail: able@abilities.ca.


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