If you enter “I hate motorized wheelchairs” into almost any internet search engine, you are going to get information on how you can obtain your own motorized wheelchair FOR FREE. Entering various negative terms got me very little real information on the dangers of prolonged power wheelchair use, although there is a growing group of people who are tired of dodging them in traffic or who’ve had their feet run over.
I mainly write horror stories, and here is a true one. I’m going to tell you stuff you might not like to hear, and I’m going to tell you stuff that my mom would be embarrassed to have you know. But not so embarrassed that she’ll do anything about it.
My mom has been confined to a power wheelchair for years. After a car accident and a fall, my mother informed me that her first chair was a Godsend for her aching knees and back. It was never a Godsend. Power wheelchairs have ruined her life and her health. My brother and I have spent untold amounts time and money dealing with the fallout from our mother’s flat-out refusal to walk. We’ve cried and we’ve begged. She really doesn’t care.
I’m ashamed to say that I encouraged her to get her first chair. She came to visit me, and a small, very portable scooter that I rented made her visit more pleasurable for everyone. It was easier to enjoy more activities with her. We didn’t end up in the house for the entire visit. So, I thought a scooter would enhance my mother’s life. I envisioned her friends taking her out to lunch. I envisioned her shopping.
Boy, was I wrong. The salesman, and he was a saleman, the mobility specialist who visited her house, sold my mother a monstrosity that ultimately robbed her of more than her accidents ever had. She didn’t get out more. My mother’s power chair wasn’t portable at all, not unless you had a trailer on the back of your car, and nobody she knew did. Hell, my mother couldn’t get her mobility chair out of her own front door. Or her own back door. Her splintered bedroom door frame silently testified that she could barely get it through ANY door.
Instead of going more places, she didn’t go anywhere at all. She became totally dependent on the power wheelchair. At first, it was psychological, then she got weak and lost her sense of balance. When I moved to town, I got a little transport wheelchair so I could get her to doctor’s appointments, and there were plenty of those.
Physical problems that she’d had before the chair got worse. New problems cropped up. Her diabetes got worse. So did her COPD, even when she stopped smoking. Her legs swelled until the fluid sought its own way out of her body and weeping sores developed on her calves. She had nearly constant urinary tract infections. She started to get stupid. In addition to the toxins that didn’t efficiently leave her body, the fact that she didn’t use her brain to solve the zillion little problems that the rest of us solve when we move our bodies crippled her brain beyond repair. None of the doctor visits did any lasting good because the main problem never went away, and the main problem was the chair.
My brother and I should have taken the chair away from her instead of begging and crying for her to give it up on her own. We didn’t understand. We didn’t see our futures. It was easier, at the time, to just let her be lazy, to let her not try to get better.
We’re hoping that she’ll land in a nursing home, soon. It’ll mean that her health has declined, but it’ll help us. Currently, she’s only eligible for assisted living, and her income is a smidge too much for her to get financial assistance with that. We make up the financial difference to keep her in assisted living. Having her at home would cost nearly as much and would be a million times as physically and emotionally taxing.
My mother resents us for putting her in assisted living. We’re not particularly proud of it. We wouldn’t want anyone to do it to us. However, she weighs twice as much as I do. Pushing her in the transport chair had become increasingly difficult for me. She was so constantly ill that I could barely get to work, at the end. When I could work, I knew that it was only a matter of time before I’d go home and find that she’d fallen and had been on the floor for hours. She’d stopped performing most ordinary tasks, including keeping herself clean and changing her own adult diapers often enough. Her last illness before she went into the hospital and, ultimately, into assisted living, kept both my brother and me out of work for a solid week.
There is no doubt in my mind that my mother has some particular mental illness that made her the ideal candidate for this special kind of hell. She has never been horrified by any of it. Once, when I was digging twenty feet of plastic oxygen tubing out of the chair after she’d run over it and wrapped it around and around the wheel, I looked up at her with a knot on my head, held up my bleeding hands and said, “Do you think you could get out of this damned thing?” She replied that she thought she could certainly get into another chair, for a few minutes. “No,” I said, “for good. I want you out of it for good.” Her eyes glazed over with selfishness and she told me it was out of the question. She needed her chair. I said, “Then you love this chair more than you love me.” She didn’t argue. She only argues when people tell her she doesn’t need the chair. While she is an extreme case, I know that my mom isn’t the only one who has handed over her life to a power chair. I’ve talked to other people who have seen the same thing happen to people they love.
It’s nearly Christmas. My brother and I will visit our mother. She’ll be bitter and angry. Our gifts to her will mainly be things she needs. It isn’t going to be a big Christmas, not for us. We spend all of our money on her care. My Christmas gift to you is some advice. When you see your older friend or relative watching a Hoveround commercial, the one where the people are WHHHEEEE!!!! speeding off to fun activities and spinning around in their kitchens, change the channel. It’s a lie.