My appointment with Wheelchair Services was this morning. This is the first time I've been properly assessed, as my existing wheelchair, my Rolls Royce, was second hand and obtained on Ebay. It's been a reasonably good fit, and very comfortable, but having put on some weight since being ill, it is now a very snug fit, and it's also showing some wear and tear - it's probably getting on for about 15 years old now - and since my condition shows no sign at present of improving (rather the reverse), I decided it was time to be properly assessed and to get a new wheelchair - Rolls Royce Mk II!
We arrived half an hour late for the appointment, because the place proved extremely difficult to find – the letter did not include a map, or any indication that the place was actually on an industrial estate. Mark, the gentleman who assessed me, discussed the various options in light of my OT’s letter; it appears that they can issue me with a voucher to the value of a rigid ultra-lightweight manual wheelchair, or a dedicated power chair, but not for a manual chair plus power add-on, which is what I want. It is going to cost quite a bit to have my existing power system transferred, but considerably cheaper than getting a new one.
The NHS has certainly improved – they are now offering a much greater range of wheelchairs, including the one I’d originally looked at at a possibility: the Quickie Helium.
However, if I received this chair from the NHS, I would not be allowed to add my power system. I could only do this if I got a voucher and bought one myself.
Mark was not sure that this was the best chair, though; for my clinical needs and to be suitable for the power add-on, he said he’d really recommend another Quickie GPV, which is what I’ve got. I’m not too keen on this though. He said he can be flexible, and will give me the most generous voucher he can. He suggested that the 90-degree angle of the front frame of the Helium might not be comfortable for long-term use, although it does look cool! The advantage is an extremely small turning circle and great manoeuvrability, and being able to get close to things.
The voucher would also cover maintenance and repairs, which is good.
Mark referred us to the Exeter Disability Centre (EDC), which is a commercial operation, supplying all sorts of mobility aids, and having in stock a wide selection of wheelchairs – they deal with them quite a lot, and the staff there are experts and can advise what is best. My hubby suggested we went straight over, and after stopping for a pub lunch, we duly turned up, and the two gentlemen there were extremely helpful, and our time there proved very useful.
When I suggested the Helium, they immediately advised against it. There have been various teething problems with this very new chair – people have been returning them in droves with bits breaking etc. Not good news. Quickie have given an assurance that these problems have been dealt with, but even so, EDC said that although it has the reputation of being the lightest chair on the market at present, Quickie seem to have sacrificed strength for lightness, and if I am thinking of adding on a power system which is pretty heavy, they could suggest several chairs which would serve the purpose a lot better.
They had several there, and of course they weren’t set up for me, so it was hard to judge what would be best; I tried this one, a Top End Ti, a titanium one from the USA:
but I was looking for something with a more minimalist frame, and it was also quite high, which would make getting my legs under tables more difficult – although there is some adjustment for this.
Finally they produced the Kuschall AirLite. Kuschall is a Swiss company and they make beautiful wheelchairs – I have a friend who got one recently, although his is a lightweight folding one with high back and push handles. He is very pleased with it. The AirLite is one of the Kuschall K series and they are substantially made but very lightweight. The K4 has a more sloping front than the AirLite – the AirLite has a 90-degree angle, which Mark at Wheelchair Services said might be uncomfortable.
However, I sat for quite a while in the Kuschall AirLite and found it extremely comfortable – the back rest needed adjustment, and when we discussed the angle of the front, they suggested turning the foot rest around, which would have the same effect as a more sloping front without sacrificing compactness, and when this was done, it was even more comfortable.
He telephoned the suppliers of my power add-on system to ascertain whether this will be a suitable wheelchair for it, but unfortunately the gentleman in question was out; however, having said that the Quickie Helium would be suitable, it looks likely that the Kuschall will be too – it fits most standard modern wheelchairs.
So it looks as if the Kuschall AirLite will be the wheelchair of choice.
As for my existing wheelchair, both gentlemen at EDC said that it was far too sloping which makes it very hard to get close to anything, something I have experienced constantly. My hubby hired a wheelchair for me from the Red Cross when mine went away having the power system fitted, which was a traditional NHS-style wheelchair whose design has changed little in over 50 years, and very different from a modern lightweight. I called it the Iron Maiden because it was extremely uncomfortable, heavy and unwieldy, and I felt completely trapped when using it. However, that’s another story!
So now we wait, pending hearing whether my power system will fit the Kuschall or not. I shall phone Mark to let him know what we’ve discussed. If we get the go-ahead, we will make an appointment with EDC and have a detailed prescription filled out, which will include full measurements, and all the required specifications and extras I require, such as back angle, footrest height, flip-down push-handles, frame colour, etc. etc. This will then be forwarded to the manufacturers and the chair will be provided, after which it will be sent away to have the power system transferred. As this will involve removing it from Rolls Royce Mk I, it looks likely that I shall be back with the Iron Maiden temporarily! Eeeeuww.
After that, however….. Catch me if you can!!!!!!!!!!!