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Geek on Wheels ponders…confinement

I’m probably cursing it, but it appears, just maybe, that spring has finally arrived, up here in Toronto.It almost got into the double PLUS digits today and we’re down to only the biggest piles of snowplowed hills left. Hell, I even heard some birds earlier this week…they driving our Chinese Sharpei, Toby, nuts! With the onset of spring, we wheeled ones can finally start to look past our winter confinement…but that really isn’t the type of confinement I’m thinking of tonight.

A few weeks back, my partner Arthur sent me an article looking at the idea of some new cybernetic leg units that might one day help those of us with SCI’s to walk again. It’s an interesting concept that the sci-fi geek in me loves…but there was a term used in the article that struck me.

“it would help those confined to a wheelchair.”

Now, realize something here. I don’t usually worry about politically correct terms. I also know the media in general tends to overuse its metaphors and catchphrases and clichés for the sake of keeping things simple when they are on a deadline. This really got me thinking though.

The one place I DON’T feel confined is when I am in my wheelchair. Ever.

When I’m having to use my walker, and stumble along carefully to my car, off-balance, watching each step. When I’m having to use more upper body than lower body to climb four stairs. When I’m having to bum my way down stairs into my own basement. THAT is when I feel confined. (granted seeing my nephew Liam learning to walk down stairs and looking better at it than I have in years just makes me laugh)

My wheelchair is not confinement in any sense. In my chair, I’m quick. I’m agile. I can turn on a dime, make skid turns when at a good speed, use walls to help me take corners faster and dammit when the zombie apocalypse comes (oh come on, just go with it), just you remember something. You may have two good legs to run…but I’ve got four good wheels to roll on.

Are there limits to it? Of course. Stairs. Stairs. Stairs. The bane of all of us on wheels. Even then I damn well intend to get skilled at going down them at least. Heights? Well, thankfully, even sitting I’m still 6’2″. That makes me a very tall sitting man. While it’s better that I ask for help when stuff is too high, I can find a way. I make it work. Period.

The cliché of people with spinal cord injuries being confined to a wheelchair is another one of those things I never thought of before it happened to me. I’d be willing to bet, though, that just about anyone in a chair…manual or powered…doesn’t see their chair as their confinement.

It is our transport. Our tools. Our freedom to live our lives. It is NOT confinement.

Do I wish I could still bound up my stairs 3 at a time, like I could just 3 years ago? Of course I do. That isn’t reality, however. An individual can choose to see a wheelchair as something confining if they want to let it define them. The media though, needs to stop using that cliché to define all of us who use chairs in our daily lives.

I can still hope for those biomechanical legs…or even better the nerve regrowth that was recently linked to me as well. I won’t let waiting on it confine me though.

Now if we can just get ourselves caught up to our southern neighbours when it comes to being truly accessible. Tell you what oh USA…we’ll lend you the lessons of healthcare for the masses, if you’ll do the same with accessibility for the masses.




Geek on Wheels ponders…his new wheels!

FINALLY! Or as my Texan cousin textually screamed at me as if he was a spanish soccer announcer….CHHHHHAAAAIIIIRRRRRR!!!!

Well, in truth it isn’t really FINALLY. I’ve now had my new chair for about a month…and though I meant to write a blog before the holidays about it, compare it to the old one and explain just how vastly superior it is…the strangest set of holidays ever set in.

Did you hear the one about pre-Christmas ice storm that hit southern Ontario and knocked out power for days on end? Or how about a very VERY lucky trip to Miami that happened to land right between storms, so travel was adventurous but unaffected? Or perhaps the story of the homicidal bottle of frozen Diet Coke? Yep, life happened. So my thoughts on my new ride got delayed (insert jumbled brain joke here). However, on the good side, during that month, I have been able to run the new chair through just about every possible condition it will ever encounter. From snow, sleet, ice, slush, to Christmas shopper filled malls, salt and sand encrusted hills, to travel in a tiny turboprop plane, to a messed up United Airlines flight, to the heat of Miami, restaurant table checks, Florida downpours, a hockey game, an NFL game, casino soft carpeted death trap floors, and back to the frigid -20 C weather of home, the chair has had its trial by fire and ice in a shorter period than I ever expected.

And I have to say…It’s awesome.

Well, first, let’s recap. I’ve told you a bit about the chair previously (when it was still an on order pipe dream) and about my old chair, but let’s put them side by side, shall we? Or above and below each other depending on your screen size (seriously, get a bigger screen!)

Aluminum framed Quickie Q7 with soft high back Corbac backrest

Aluminum framed Quickie Q7 with soft high back Corbac backrest

The new ride after proper fitting and options

The new ride after proper fitting and options

So just what are the differences between these chairs? At first glance they might not seem so different, but as I explained in an earlier post, there a big changes between them…and not just in colour and manufacturer. You think choosing a car is tough? Wait till you see all the options on a frakking wheelchair!  In fact, there are only three things that are similar between the two chairs. The seat cushion is the same (though thinner on the new chair), the rear wheels are Spinergy LX sport hubs (though again the new chair is different with larger 26 inch wheels) and the tires are Schwalbe Marathon Plus skinny tires that are puncture resistant, air-filled tires. That’s it. Everything else is brand new.

Now look I know a bunch of you probably glazed over all that but trust me….my mountain biking friends were salivating over the details and I can already hear them screaming at me “SKINNY TIRES! HISSSSSS!!!!” Trust me there are reasons for why I went for a tire type that I considered sacrilege back in my biking days, but I am sure we’ve already covered those.

The big difference is the actual frame and the backrests of the two chairs. The back rest is fairly obvious. It’s a MUCH lower one that only goes to about a third of the way up my back, and surprisingly is actually more supportive than the old one. It forces me to use more of my own core muscles to stay straight and isn’t much of a leaning back crutch of the old. Yep, that means that in just its normal use it forces me into better posture and to use muscles that I ignored for most of my walking life. Go figure.

If you look closely, you’ll see the foot plate is in a different position, which in theory leaves less threat to the ankles of people who don’t pay attention, but I’ve already proved that I can still ruin a set of Achilles tendons COMPLETELY by accident if needed (sorry Bruno!) The good thing is that it keeps my legs at a much more natural position and the balance is so much lower and farther back in the whole chair that it’s virtually impossible for me to be ejected from it. Oh don’t worry…this is me. I’ll find a way to do it somehow. Then post pictures! With luck though the lighter weight, yet sturdier Titanium frame will help prevent that. The ride is a bit stiffer, but the damn thing can roll over just about anything and the balance for popping is excellent.

Honestly, there are tons of other changes, from no longer having rubberized push rails, to the lower hand grips…hell even the colour! On the advice of a tech, I gave up my British Racing Green for polished titanium…makes it easier to maintain and scratches can just be polished out. Even the neoprene covers you see on the front legs help prevent damage and the cell phone holder just under the seat are cool. All of this isn’t the big deal though….the trick is…


I know I keep referring to earlier posts but, it is AMAZING what happens when you get a piece of equipment done RIGHT. From the measurements to the materials…in one month this thing has been through every bit of weather we could ever get here in Toronto, let alone the travel, and it is amazing the difference. There is still a lot I have to learn as I continue down this para-road…yes I’m making that term up…so sue me…but at least now we have a chair we are confidant in. The irony is, if I look back at when I first got the original chair, I probably said the same thing.

So get used to seeing pics of me coming up in the silver chair, with Shan leaning down just a bit lower now…but hey…at least I can now sit at restaurant tables without taking my bloody knees out! Ok ok…they aren’t always bloody…and the coming pics will be better!

<insert accident prone Jason joke here>

Oh and once more…special thanks to Bernadette Millette for her assistance in getting me into this beast…and she hasn’t even been able to see it yet!

Geek on Wheels ponders “knowing is half the battle”

If you grew up on after school cartoons like I did, then you know that quote all too well. G.I. Joe (not the rather silly movies of today of course). Each episode would end with some lesson to the kids, telling them that knowing was halfway to a goal, or an understanding. For a lesson from a silly animated series designed to sell toys, where the animation was pretty terrible and the stories mediocre (and yes I loved it)…it was rather deep. Knowing was half the battle.

Looking back at my riding days, I can recall the first mountain bike I bought. Not that ancient, bright yellow, skinny tire, ten-speed that I went head over heels on…that bike died in the accident when I was 17 and turned into the start of a very long journey…we’ve heard that story before. No, the first bike I got was one from a very good bike shop in Pickering, Ontario…and for the life of me the name of the shop is eluding me right now. I’m sure my buddy Bruce could fill that in. I thought I had done my homework at the time, which consisted of just looking at bikes at a few shops and not wanting to spend too much money. Having no real clue what I was looking for, but knowing I was on a budget. I ended up with a very simple Davinci bike…hard tail, simple front shocks,, V-brakes, the simplest of gear systems…the only change I made was “upgrading” the saddle to a gel-filled saddle that I thought would be easier on my tush.

Strangely, one week later, my friend Bruce bought the exact same (if slightly smaller) bike. Shows how much both knew….but then again Bruce’s first attempt at mountain biking was on a Canadian Tire special with no shocks and he completely torqued the rear tire in the first half hour…so really…what did we know? Granted, those bikes did last us about two years, where we honed our skills and got better at biking, trying more challenging trails as time went on, pushing those bikes beyond their limits. I didn’t realize that despite my being 6 foot 2 inches tall, the bike I’d got was way too big, my centre of gravity too high, the brakes were terrible and the gears nearly impossible to change when hill climbing. So in time, we used those lessons, and for both of us, our next bikes were major improvements.

Ok, Bruce’s was a major improvement. Mine WOULD have been if I hadn’t made the mistake of buying one with a brand new hydraulic disc brake system that kept crapping out in the middle of a ride…but it was still a better, and more expensive bike. Experience had taught us both what we better needed…well that and necessity after someone *cough* threw his bike into a tree. But that’s a whole other story.

That second bike of mine got some major overhauls, the brakes redone, the crank replaced, and by the time my legs made it impossible to ride, the frame was the only original part that on that bike. I never got to do a third. Thankfully, Bruce did…and seeing the look on his face when he got his dream bike for his 50th birthday was something I’ll keep in the back of my mind for a long time. The lessons learned, the knowing, not only improved our skills, but improved our equipment.

I bring all this up because it’s funny how relevant it is when it comes to wheelchairs…and also to the resources available to you when your life takes a hard right turn that you don’t expect. So once more bear with me as I back up and tell this tale.

Back after the last surgery in 2011, when we knew our world had changed, Shan and I knew NOTHING of the road ahead. We knew nothing of the challenges of being a para, of the changes we’d need to make, of what a wheelchair should be. We went to the rehab hospital that happened to have a bed free…which in hindsight was a mistake. I lay no blame on the rehab staff there…but my time there was not a lot of fun and as the only spinal cord patient on the whole floor, being at least 20 years younger than all but one other patient….they were grasping at straws to properly rehab me…in the same way that I was grasping for anything I could to figure out what came next. We didn’t realize just how bad this was until very recently, when we had an appointment with a rehab hospital that we SHOULD have gone to. That’s another tale to tell…but where this one goes is to the wheelchair.

When we knew that this was going to be needed, we had to convince the rehab people there of the reason for it. It didn’t take much, as our arguments were quite logical…and once the decision was made, they started to set us up with someone to help choose the chair. The staff was actually excited about this process, and trust me so was I, it broke the tedium of rehab, because they didn’t normally get to do the types of chairs that I was going to be getting. They were used to doing…well let’s be honest…old people’s chairs. Transfer chairs, foldable ones with seats made of nylon or just a bare cushion. Not a chair meant for someone active, working, who wants to travel and still adventure. So we went in as blind as the staff as to what a proper chair should be.

I don’t blame anyone really…how could we have known? They gave us four different chairs to try, all of different makes and models, more seat cushions than I could count and different back rests for each chair. Eventually, I made the decision based on which frame felt most comfortable, which seat seemed to as good, and which backrest would be the most weather proof. Yep weather proof. Come on, we live in Canada, I wanted something that could handle getting soaked and dry quickly…it seemed to make sense to me. So some bare measurements were taken, I was given a temp chair until the actual chair was custom built…and then that fiasco began (it took them 4 delivery attempts before they finally got the order right). Things seemed good. I started to adjust to life in a chair…at first quite oblivious to all the mistakes we had made. There is actually a posting I made, quite proudly showing off pictures of my chair, in its custom British Racing Green paint finish…showing it off as if it was my new mountain bike. I was actually quite proud of it.

It didn’t take long though to realize we had made some mistakes.

The chair was too tall, the main wheels not large enough, the seat cushion too thick, my centre of gravity way too high, I was too easily ejected from the chair hitting the slightest of obstacles (which admittedly was part of my own lack of skill as well). My own lack of knowledge, along with the lack of knowledge of people who weren’t experts in spinal cord injuries, left us with a chair that was…adequate…at best.

Flesh forward to a few weeks back, when I finally get an appointment with the seating clinic at Lyndhurst Rehab. Lyndhurst is a place I should have been to years ago, a place that specializes in spinal cord injury. In five minutes of sitting in a waiting room, we collected more resources than we had found in the two years previous. In the appointment itself we learned just how bad the chair was for someone of my height and needs…then we also got confirmation of something else…the chair was broken. The when’s and how’s of that I can’t get into right now, but it’s being dealt with. The gist of it all is…I’m getting a new chair, sooner than later I hope.

This time though is going to be very different. The people helping to get the chair know more, they measured me in ways that were never done. The company we’re using specializes in manual chairs. We’re getting the wheel sizes right, the seat cushion, the height of the chair….this time we know more and we’re dealing with people who know what they are doing. It’s going to be a chair where the wheel isn’t higher than the seat, and where I can actually fit my knees under the average table without adding more insult to injury.

Experience teaches. Finding places that can give you the information you need helps. And as that cheesy afternoon cartoon taught me as a kid: Knowing is half the battle.

(and yes…pics of the new chair will come…and more on that story to come later as well)


This Geek on Wheels is NOT for sale!

With apologies for my long absence from ponderings of this relatively new life (with life seeming to get in the way quite often), I hope to be back a bit more regularly. I’ve had a few items come across my desk, my FB page, my twitter feed and my various voracious news reading that have begun to bring back some inspiration. That being said…my first need to post is one built out of sure outrage…with a hint of amusement that I can’t resist.

Since joining the ranks of the disabled, I have become keenly aware of the challenges that are faced by any who face these changes to their lives. Accessibility, employment, living life, economics…even having people believe you are as disabled as you truly are. Thus when I had several friends pass on this bit of news, I had some very mixed reactions to it.–entitled-families-hire-disabled-guide-to-bypass-lines-194555620.html

You may have seen it if you follow me on FB, or pass by in the news, but it’s quite the story of both innovation, over-privilege and sheer gall. I’ve been to Disney recently. It was the first real trip that Shannon and I took with the wheelchair. We felt it was a good start to figuring how travel was going to work, by going to a place that was so accessible and worked so hard to offer even some advantages to those with disabilities. That trip was actually quite inspiring after the pain, the rehab, the rebuilding of body and spirit. It started before we even hit the park, with a conversation at the Orlando airport with a young boy who was being wheeled off for a dream trip on a Disney Cruise in a chair of his own. It was a brief shared moment, where this kid seemed to be so impressed seeing an adult in a chair just like his. Seriously, you have to see the strength in these kids…they put all of us to shame. It was barely 5 minutes of time with him before we went down our separate paths to departing busses…but it has stuck with me. I didn’t know what struck this child…but he was about to embark on adventure of his dreams. I shook his hand and wished him and his caregiver the best, before Shannon and headed on our own adventure.

From there I have to give Disney full credit. I am pretty sure I have spoken of this before, so I won’t belabor the point, but they do an excellent job of pulling you away from the world…and making sure that those of us with mobility issues have access to almost everything. Hell, I could have ridden the few roller coasters they have, but Shannon and I thought that unwise less than 2 months from surgery number 3. Next though…next time I’m not missing out on the aircraft carrier catapult launch at the Aerosmith ride. And yes there will be a next time. Which will still amaze a few people.

I was a Disney cynic for a very long time…and didn’t honestly think I had any reason to go back there after a trip with some friends back in…oh it had to be 2002 I think. The trip Shannon and I took in the summer of 2011 made us realize, that sometimes…its a quick and fun escape from the world. We look forward to going back with friends and family…and sharing the experience. That is something that Disney does very well. They don’t separate the disabled from their family…they let them partake of the rides in the same way. They let them enjoy the “advantages” the disabled get…keeping in mind all the disadvantages we have out in the real world. The trick is…quite often these so-called advantages aren’t really taking advantage of much. Sure, we often get to jump the long lines…but that is mostly because we have to skip portions of the lines that have stairs, or areas we just can’t get to, or when we need to use a special loading section. It does mean we get to get in quicker in a lot of the older rides…but the most popular and newest rides generally don’t end up with much time savings.

So reading the article linked above, about rich, over privileged families hiring disabled people to fake being family members to speed their way through these lines…well it certainly brought out a few reactions. On one side, I couldn’t resist joking with some friends that I was now open to negotiating my line skipping rate with them on the next trip. You see…the friends we have that we travel with ARE family to Shannon and I. Their children are our nephews…and I truly look forward to sharing the experience with them. To shooting my way through the Toy Story ride with that obscenely phallic device…really you just have to see it and the motion of it…not sure what Disney was thinking…but it was damn fun. I’ll leave it to Adam to remind me of the name of the ride. While I can joke though, that masks the deeper reaction.


I am absolutely outraged by this. Not with the disabled person who, I fully admit, showed the wherewithal to make some damn good money from a few over-rich fools. That person made some money…but in the process has hurt the rest of us who rely on that system to help our vacations. I can’t even begin to get into how angry it makes me that some mom’s think they are better than the rest and get to skip lines for their kids just because they can afford to pay for this fakery. That sense of the 1% syndrome deserves a rant all its own…but that rant really doesn’t have a place here.

My concern is more with how much more of a burden this will place on the legitimately disabled. In life, outside Disney’s walls of fantasy, the disabled have to jump through hoops in all aspects of life. We need to prove, constantly that we are truly disabled, that we aren’t faking it, or just trying to take advantage of a system. We need to chase doctor’s note, surgical notes, and send them to multiple governments sources as proof of what we are. As if just having someone show up and see our scars, our limitations, our need for just a little bit of help wouldn’t be enough. I don’t speak for all of course, but there are a ton of disabled people out there who live there lives and earn their livings without having to be on the public dole. They aren’t bilking the system, they aren’t wasting the public’s taxes. They are using options available to them that can help them be productive members of society. Everything from the ADP program that helps pay for mobility aids, to tax credits on renovations and health related items. They use these things to let them work, to help their families and to just live life. Yet, everyone of those programs, those “advantages”, requires hoops to run through because of the few who would take advantage of them.

This Disney abuse is just one more event that is going to hurt those with legitimate disabilities and their families. Disney is going to have to take steps to combat this in order to maintain the integrity of the system they put in place with the best of intentions. Inevitably, that is going to lead to more hoops that a disabled person, and their families are going to have jump through in order to prove they deserve them. A walker won’t be enough. A wheelchair won’t be enough. Will I need to carry my marriage certificate to share the escape from reality with my wife? What about those extended family members that I want to share it with?

This isn’t about taking advantage of the system for the average disabled person. This about escaping from the reality of our lives, our struggles, our battles, in a place where fantasies and adventures can come to life if you let yourself buy into it and push your cynicism aside. So, as I said to one of my cousins…hearing of this abuse of a few rich people on the system leaves me…perturbed. Perturbed enough to scrawl a rant of a thousand words that only a few will read. I also realize that those who have abused this system would read this and dismiss it…because since they have the money, what do they care.

I honestly hope that for their sake, they don’t ever have to actually deal with a REAL disability in their family. The escape from reality that a place like Disney can provide is just that…an escape. Then reality returns. They threaten that escape…and potentially ruin it for the rest of us…and unfortunately, I realize they wouldn’t care.

So, if you meet this geek on wheels in Disney, rolling around with my extended family…know this.

He’s not for sale.

Top Gear Challenge! Offroad wheelchairs!

Sunday night, another episode of Top Gear aired, as the British Series is in the midst of its 18th Series (as the Brits call it). I wouldn’t normally make a deal of this on the blog, as my love for the show is well-known (see Arthur’s ring tone for me). Tonight was something unique, though, that had Shannon and I rolling with laughter on the couch. A Top Gear challenge to make a cheap powered off-road wheelchair. Perfect! I know what I want for my birthday!

Wait, you don’t know what Top Gear is? You’ve never caught an episode on BBC Canada? No, not the crappy Top Gear shown on Discovery with the copycat and rather boring American hosts. I’m talking about the original Top Gear with the three Brit Blokes that we all keep wondering “how the hell do they get away with doing all this malarkey?” Well that and just what country can they offend this week…from Mexicans, to Germans, to their disastrous and somewhat embarrassing Indian trade mission. It’s a completely politically incorrect and most often hilarious show that seems to ostensibly be about cars…but not really. It’s really a show about three middle age blokes who happen to love cars of all types and their insane bits of “cocking about”.

Stop it! Cocking about is a legit term for the Brits and it’s not what you think! Clean thoughts here!

So what made this episode so special? Well as the headline says…off-road wheelchairs!

You see quite a common theme on the show is the Top Gear Challenge, where the producers challenge the hosts to do something incredibly silly that invariably leads one to say, “How hard could it be?” That can be anything from find the best driving road in Europe to building amphibious vehicles (a fave of Shannon’s) to building their own version of an electric car. Almost always these end in utter disaster and ruin (well,  not the finding the best road in Europe, that was a fantastic episode in really expensive super cars but…that’s a rare success). This week’s challenge had to do with wheelchairs. It started with Jeremy Clarkson, the overly bombastic right-wing speaking before he thinks host, going on about the insane cost of over the counter scooters and such that are currently available. He has a special interest in Britain’s injured war vets, so he wasn’t just thinking about little old ladies tooling about in a coffee shop.

I won’t bore with the details of the whole thing, you really have to see it when it comes out on BBC Canada in a few weeks. It did bring up some great things though that had Shannon and I both laughing and considering. You see, in Britain, the average off-road powered wheelchair or scooter runs about 7,000 British pounds (no not weight!). So think of that in Canadian terms and you get an idea of the cost. Such things would generally not be covered by any government plan, as they are generally speaking not needed for everyday life.

But I want one! However, in looking at the stuff most places sell? I don’t want those. There are some VERY cool ideas for off road chair out there, mostly powered…let’s be honest trying to mountain ride with your arms only would be damn tough, though possible. There are manual chairs for off-roading out there, but powered is needed for the serious off-roading. This is something that has been on our minds for a while and came up recently when Shan went to a spa with some girlfriends up north. It was gorgeous from what I hear and once would have made it instantly into a list for us to go hiking (Shan never really liked biking much…not after the infamous Kelso ride her brother and I inflicted on she and our eventual sister in law….oy!). Unfortunately, hiking isn’t really in the cards right now, and with just having got the final wheelchair for every day use, getting something custom and powered to let us do that is a long ways off. Now this isn’t some cry me a river post (those may come later mind you), it’s more just some thoughts that came from that Top Gear episode. I never thought I’d hear the trio actually give some real consumer advice, but what they had to say made a lot of sense.

Right now wheelchairs are made and designed by smaller companies in general. This gives certain advantages in the specialization of them, and I’m talking both powered and manual. The companies that make these tools for those of us who are disabled (and no I refuse to call it something more PC, it is what it is and there is nothing wrong with that) are able to concentrate on the specific needs that their products server, but there is a downside to it. Cost and flexibility. While we were looking at chairs, I was lucky that Shoppers let me try out four different styles of chairs, wheels, cushions and backrests, all from different makers and sources, but there wasn’t anything to really let me get some kind of clearinghouse style why of seeing what the differences really were. What the advantages were and what they were designed for. The flexibility that let’s them make a chair for your specific size, doesn’t allow them to really tell you what makes it RIGHT for you.

The other issue is cost….these things are bloody expensive! There are many reasons for that, but a big part of it is the small size of the companies that make them and that they can’t be mass-produced. Well ok, the GOOD stuff can’t be mass-produced. Don’t get me started on the heavy ass folding rental chairs you see all over the place.

Top Gear being a car show made an interesting point, one that I will admit has a lot of problems to it but is interesting none the less. What if the car companies got involved, particularly on the powered side? What if instead of making seat cushions and jackets and watches and perfumes, BMW put its engineering expertise into making a proper mobile device for the disabled? Yes yes I know BMW isn’t exactly the best example if I am looking to reduce cost but…think about the potential. It would take a while for them to get it right and get past their own car-based biases….but give it time and give their ability to manufacture and any of the big companies could take a real stab at it.

I am not maligning companies like Quickie who make my own chair, but they have their limitations (they REALLY need to work on the marketing materials). Given the growing numbers of people who need these devices, be they walkers, wheelchairs, scooters, or something for off-road and recreational use, there needs to be more there that can be cost-effective and bloody useful.

One thing the Top Gear lads proved…you can’t just bodge it together in your back shed.

And yes, when I find more cool devices I’ll be adding them to my “That’s so cool I WANT IT!” wish list. You can bet on that.

Random Rant complete.

How a geek got on wheels, part the two

I had intended on finishing the “how this all happened” story a few days ago but then this thing got in the way….work! Now that my partner (that’s business partner…strange how I have to clarify that) is on vacation for two weeks, I’m SURE work won’t interfere again. Really. I am.

So when last we left our tale of adventure, yonder Lore was enjoying life after his first surgery, given up the puck shots of hockey for the tree dodging of mountain biking. Why is he speaking of himself in the third person? Cause its late and its my blog so you keep up with the vagaries of my mind. In all honesty, mountain biking is one big thing I miss now, but that’s another story.

Flash forward again to 2008. I’ve met Shannon (my now wife and at that time fiancée) and we’re on a trip to VEGAS BABY!! Woohoo!! A group of old friends hitting the big time in Vegas, rocking the clubs, gambling our socks off, eating…well ok we weren’t and aren’t club people…no one won squat, but the food was amazing! And so bloody much of it…no wonder you couldn’t turn a 360 on the strip and NOT be shoved over by body fat (go ahead say it…ewwwww).  It was on that trip though, we really began to realize something was off. On the long walks up and down the strip, everyone could see I was walking with a swing kick to my right leg. News to me at the time and the start of a new investigation!

So, after getting married that October (see she knew was she was getting into and STILL said yes!), it was back running the doctor circuit. Now 8 years later, my original surgeon was on the verge of retiring, so after seeing the insides of more MRI machines than ANYONE should ever have to, I finally saw a new Doc in early 2010. Yep, it took that long…that’s ANOTHER story for another time. Just one question…why the hell do those damn loud tubes have to be so bloody skinny?? Unfortunately, the news from all those scans revealed something I already knew. Something was wrong. It’s amazing that if you really do try to listen to your body, and I don’t mean in any new age, listen to your bio-rhythms kind of way. Just simply pay attention when things don’t quite appear right. A long standing “what if” is a simple, “what if I’d done something sooner?”

The long and short of it was that in the decade since the first surgery, twenty years since the accident, my body turned out to be REALLY good at making scar tissue. So good in fact that it was strangling my spinal cord at the site of the surgery. This was causing more nerve damage, weakening my right leg further and causing the left leg to start to show similar weakness to the right. Surgery was needed once more, this time in an attempt to clear the scar tissue from around the site of the first surgery. It was by no means a slam dunk that it would work…or even a slam dunk that I’d come out of it able to walk. The choice, however, was slow degradation of both legs, with no time-table for how long it would take before I was in a wheelchair, or risky surgery that could halt the whole process.

After a lot of discussion with Shannon (and a lot of growling at the world), we decided the surgery was the best option. That wasn’t an easy decision. After the first surgery in 2000, which I made light of in my part the one, I had sworn I wouldn’t do it again. It wasn’t…pleasant…let’s just say I learned to REALLY dislike morphine. I wasn’t a very good person to be around for the months before that surgery…irritable would be putting it mildly…and somehow Shan stuck thought it. It’s amazing the strength we gain from those we care about during our most trying times. Shan was my rock…but so were the rest of my family and the close group of friends who never let me get too down and out. So in May of 2010, ten years later, I went under the knife again.

At the time, it seemed to be a complete success. I was out of hospital 3 days after the surgery (something my GP was NOT happy about…and honestly it was too soon). I had amazing support, though I’m still trying to figure out how several teachers from St. Raphael’s got lost in construction at the hospital (you know who you are!). Three weeks after the surgery we moved into a new house, a bungalow that would be easier on me with less than the 100 plus steps our stacked townhouse had previously had. Really I did try to help with the move…but for some reason everyone kept telling me to sit my ass down and get out of the way. I did my best to NOT comply but eventually had no choice. The summer of 2010 moved on as I recovered and we settled into the new house. Things were looking up, Shannon’s brother got married in Banff, Alberta and I even climbed up part of a mountain not two months after the surgery. We swore we were going to come back once I was able to get back on my bike and get in shape so I could take advantage of the incredible riding in the region. For a while things were looking up.

Now bear with me, as obviously since this is more recent the details are easier to remember…but like anything when things look great, beware a coming fall…wait I’m sure I just messed up a metaphor that would have Twain rolling in his grave.

In October of 2010, a bunch of friends went to the States for a weekend of shopping at one of those obscenely massive outlet malls. It was a lot of walking and I actually handled it quite well. The Sunday coming home, we stopped at another massive mall in Erie, Pennsylvania. I took that as my first try in months to walk around without my cane, only occasionally using Shannon for some steadying. It felt really good to be on my own two feet, instead of feeling like I was the last part of that old riddle about “what walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon and three legs at night.”

The next day, I had a fall at a client. I do wonder if it means anything that it was the night Rob Ford got elected.

We’ll never know if the fall was where the problems began, or if it was just a symptom of it. Within just a few weeks though, it was obvious things had taken a turn for worse. By January of 2011, I had a followup MRI (you really do start to hate that pounding noise that is deafening even with earplugs in) and saw the surgeon once more. The look on his face told Shannon and I all we needed to know. The scar tissue was back and worse. The options were similar, yet riskier. Do nothing, knowing that very quickly I’d probably lose the use of both legs, or do a very risky surgery to place a shunt in my spinal cord. I’m REALLY simplifying the surgery, mind you. Think of it as placing a tiny straw into your spinal cord, just above where the problem was, to bleed off excess spinal cord fluid and reduce the swelling that was causing the damage.

We went with the surgery again. This time I was a week in hospital and a month in a rehab hospital after that. I’ll write about rehab another time…it was really where a lot of my attitude changed…I think…not like I can pinpoint the time that happened. I did confirm once more how much I hate morphine (as apparently I IM’ed Arthur at 3am, just hours after the surgery, to tell him how high I was…and I don’t remember anything other than spending hours staring at the ever more intriguing lines in my hands).

The results though, are what they are now. Left leg much the same, no feeling at all, with the right leg being virtually useless. I can hobble short distances, and I make sure I do it around the house. For anything longer than that however, the wheelchair is needed. It took some time to get used to the notion that I would need it, but in the end I was the one who convinced the doctor’s at rehab that I needed it. Why? Well that involved a big change in thought, and a shift in thought that is hard to explain (is it getting a bit redundant to say I’ll perhaps write about that another time?)

So now I’m back. Working, with a lot of changes, I am still using a loaner chair as I await my VERY cool (british racing green, THANK YOU!) real chair. Come out, how geek out cool is it that it has wheels with Kevlar spokes and puncture resistant tires? I’ve even got the Firefly bumper sticker all ready to paste on it! Just need the bloody wheels to arrive!

Thanks everyone who has commented so far and encouraged, I hope to keep this up for a long time to come. If you have questions feel free to ask and I’ll do my best to answer directly or in a future post.

That’s how a Geek gets on Wheels.

What is the statute of limitations for…

Post surgical anger at the world over stupid shit? No family allowed to answer that one, you all are too forgiving.

Snow north of Steeles Ave. in Toronto today and my first real test of how well the wheelchair would do in it. Let’s just say that my old opinion of skinny tires vs fat tires from my mountain biking days holds true NOW more than ever.

Hey Shoppers Home Health? Can I get my real wheelchair yet? We’re only going on 7 months! (that’s a whole other story)

Mini rant done. The learning curve of life in a chair continues…