“Swept off my feet” isn’t the right expression

It’s daunting, getting a wheelchair for the first time.

For me, it took a long time, first to recognise that it really was inevitable and then to realise that the time had come. If I’m honest with myself, they probably happened in reverse order. This isn’t the same as getting hand controls in the car (read the full story on that here), but the relief is just as palpable. I can go more places not less!

I remember the first time I tried a wheeled walker some years ago. I only realised how much I needed it when I tried one. The stability it gave me was wonderful. A physio I was working with at the time who encouraged me to try it. I remember telling Louise Corben excitedly about how good it had felt and that I intended to use one when out of home. She immediately offered to put an application in for funding but I told her it had felt so good when I’d tried it that I’d gone straight out and bought one!

Financially, a wheelchair’s in a different league though.

I’d admitted to myself that getting a wheelchair was in my future when having hand controls put in my car, and in the same VOSS application, I’d applied for handles that would be attached at the back of my car and a hoist to load/unload a chair. But I was still comfortable getting around with my walker. Even today I’m safe and stable using it when I’m at home.

But safety and stability are the most important things. Remember, for many many reasons our guiding principle should be: “First of all, avoid a fall”. So when, a year ago, I suffered a very bad bout of ‘flu and during my recovery, had dreadful dizzy spells. I knew the time was here.

I asked guidance of my physio who referred me to Jenni Dabelstein ((0400) 613-351, gizmorehab@bigpond.com). Jenni describes herself as a “Wheelchair, Seating & Equipment Consultant” but more importantly for me, she’s an expert in dealing with MASS and CAETi. Best of all, if a CAETi application’s approved, it usually includes them paying for the consultant/prescriber’s time.

I’m a fiercely independent person. My wife is a wonderful carer and always happy to help if I need, but I value my ability to get out and about on my own and I intend to keep that way as long as I can.

I’d seen and done some research of wheelchair power-assist systems even before I met with Jenni. I didn’t want a power chair but wanted something that’ll make powering it better than pushing the rims. There are actually lots of options out there. There are power-packs that you can attach to your chair when you need (example here), there are power systems you can attach to the wheels that amplify whatever power you apply (example here) and what I was keen to explore further – lever-drive systems.

I had found three: Wijit, Rio Pivotand NuDrive. Of these, only NuDrive has distribution in Australia. As a result it’s easy to get a sample of those to try out. I reckon that’s critical as they all work out at about $8,000 to buy so you’d need to be pretty sure it’s right for you before laying out that much money.

Jenni arranged for me to try out a number of different wheelchair options and wrote up a detailed prescription for me. She also arranged for me to try out the Twion power-assist system and Nu-Drive lever system.

I hadn’t liked the Nu-Drive system when I tried it out and from what I could see online, suspected I’d be happiest with the Pivot system from Rio Mobility. They offer a money-back guarantee so it would be worth committing to that since it’d be risk-free. Jenni submitted a single application to MASS and CAETi that combined the wheelchair and lever-drive system. It took a while, but was approved.

I took delivery of the chair five months ago and it’s been all good so far. I was happy with the Pivot lever system immediately so I didn’t need the money-back option. In fact, their only drawback is that they’re so clever I need to allow time for strangers to stop me to ask about them!

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I haven’t been swept off my feet but sat down gently, got comfortable, and I’ve settled.

Update: Apparently Rio didn’t like sending their Pivots first and getting paid later so they’ll require payment up-front in future which is a problem as CAETi don’t provide funding in advance and only fund through an Australian company (with ABN etc.) There is at least one case of a woman who established a company to become a supplier for a single piece of equipment for her child and that worked. Nothing is impossible.

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