Last year, I received one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. A kind family donated their departed matriarch’s wheelchair to me, after I had previously been told that my pain and inability to stand or walk far distances was not valid criteria to qualify for the accessibility device program.
Having access to the chair opened up worlds to me that I had long been unable to experience. I was able to go back into nature again, to explore my neighbourhood, my city, more thoroughly and comfortably. I was able to enjoy the outdoors more thoroughly than I had in years. I could even play Pokémon Go, without having to be the passenger in a slow-moving vehicle.
I met many of my neighbours and became an actual part of my community.
Although I was facing the fact that my marriage was falling apart, that I was facing even more financial vulnerability and hardship than I had already dealt with for the past seven years, I felt better about myself than I had in a long time.
I felt more a part of the world than I had before.
As the weather cooled and it became too cold to ride around, I parked it in the closet and plugged it in to wait for the weather to warm up again.
With the spring came my desire to pull out my wheelchair and go for a ride around the neighbourhood. I wanted to go for a ride around Andrew Hayden, take more photographs, and commune with nature. To my surprise, I found the wheelchair unplugged. I plugged it back in to top it up, but the next day, there was no change in charge. I tried many different things, different plugs, cleaning the connections, and still nothing.
That’s when I found out that wheelchair batteries cannot be allowed to die. Ever. Or they will die for good and there is nothing you can do to bring them back. I know, because the technician tried.
The accessibility device program had just replaced my batteries in September. They were brand new and I was really looking forward to exploring their limits. No such luck for me. Not only are the batteries completely dead but because they had been newly replaced, I cannot get the cost of replacements covered. To replace them out of pocket would cost upwards of a thousand dollars.
I have felt the lack of the chair very intensely this spring and summer.
It’s made it harder to get out to the community garden and oven. Now rather than just heading out the door in my chair, I have to take my car, find a spot, and walk over. I have to stand while I work on the plot, meaning the time I am capable of spending there is severely limited. The impact on my back of having to haul buckets of water and not being able to either hook it over the chair or hold it in my lap, has meant more pain and less water for my plants. Since I can’t give the plants as much attention, they aren’t producing as much as they otherwise could, meaning the amount of food I’m able to replace with that grown on my own is reduced.
Even more, not being able to go to the garden has meant not having the chance to connect with friends from the neighbourhood. At a time when I most needed the support of people in my community, I was kept from being a part of it. At a time when I most needed people, I was kept isolated.
It’s made running errands more difficult, since there much more of an energy cost involved than being able to cruise around in my chair. Knowing that I could go out for however long I need to, and not have to worry about it meaning that I spend my evening in pain, or too exhausted to make dinner.
I wasn’t able to go exploring to the same level that I did last summer. I couldn’t lose myself in the natural world the same way, always at the mercy of sudden pain, at the mercy of my digestive system being triggered by walking but too far away from a bathroom to make it in time. At a time when I most needed a way to decompress, to disconnect not just from the stress of my situation but also from the constant need to be productive, to produce something, to be doing something, – I had the ability to do that by losing myself in the beauty of some wild places.
Taking away my wheelchair is like taking away my legs. My freedom has been stolen.