Wednesday, April 27, 2011

When Your Electric Wheelchair Stops, So Do You

Guest blogger Carl Thompson talks about his trusty steed packing it in...eek!.....

All three of my electric wheelchairs have been extremely reliable over the years. I've really been lucky in this regard, I'm not sure whether it's because I treat them well or if it's due to my parents and I choosing quality models. Regardless, I feel confident that my chair will get me to where I want to go without any major dramas.

Still, my current electric wheelchair is very old. Seven years old in fact. I'm due for a new one, and as the old sayings and superstitions predict, as soon as I ordered a replacement, my current chair was mightily offended and reacted by turning strange. They have a life of their own sometimes.

When your electric wheelchair stops working there is really not much you can do. It's frightening, I really mean it. I wouldn't be able to go outside for one. And it would be impossible for me to even get to my computer. All I would be able to do is sit on my couch, and watching daytime TV is not my idea of fun. When an electric wheelchair breaks down, your life breaks down. As melodramatic as that sounds it's pretty accurate.

Last week my chair wasn't turning on. Can you imagine the inconvenience? I had a full day of university planned. I tried turning the chair off then on again and nothing happened. I waited five minutes and tried again, no luck for me. We unplugged and wiggled the cords connecting the electronics to the battery. Success! Disaster averted, or so I thought.

I entered my car, turned my wheelchair off and relaxed for the drive. Can you guess what happened next? That's right, when I wanted to exit the car my chair wasn't turning on again - so frustrating. We wiggled the cords, tried turning the chair on again. No luck, so we rinse and repeat. Not very fun and I'm already running late for my lecture. Eventually it worked, but doubt still remained. It was extremely unnerving for the rest of the day, sometimes the chair worked, other times it stopped and I was stranded for five minutes or so, frantically wiggling cords.

I finally made my way back home, and luckily when my dad had a proper look at my electric wheelchair he found a loose cord in a hidden location. All is well that ends well I suppose.

Whilst a massive inconvenience, what I spoke about above was definitely not my most scary experience regarding electric wheelchair failure.

I remember in year seven when I was about 12 or 13 years old, I had an extremely active day. I must have been racing about everywhere as my electric wheelchair battery was pretty low by the end of the day. This was in the good old days when nobody my age had a mobile phone. And yes, I used to walk (drive) home in those days. Can you guess where I'm going with this?

My electric wheelchair battery meter was logarithmic. I didn't know what that meant back then, but I found out soon enough. It meant that for every bar of battery lost, losing a subsequent bar became easier and faster than the last. I was on about four out of a possible six battery bars by the time school had finished. Surely enough battery for me to be able to get home?

I set off on my walk home - everything was going okay, the chair was certainly going slower than normal, but at least it was going. When I reached the hill however, things started to go sour. My chair went down to a snail's pace and I started to panic.

The route I took when walking home was through a quiet park where there was never really anyone around. I couldn't yell out for help.

The lights on my chair started flashing, and then it ground to a halt and stopped completely. I didn't know what to do so I turned the chair off and on again. There was some slight rejuvenation and the chair started moving again. 20 m later it stopped again, and the process repeated itself. It was a torturous time, but the worst was yet to come.

I reached the road, it was not far at all from my house and the only one I needed to cross. By now however, the chair could only manage about 5 m before it stopped. This was where I really became worried. Granted, it was a quiet road. But when your electric wheelchair stops dead in the centre near a blind spot it is a cause for concern. Stranded in the middle of the road, I frantically turned my chair off and on. Luckily it worked, and my electric wheelchair crawled another few steps closer to the curb. It was still on the road when it stopped for a second time, more panic, and again I turned the chair off and on. At a snail's pace I arrived safely having crossed the road!

Another five minutes of crawling to my house in what would have taken 30 seconds under normal circumstances, I arrived home.

My parents wanted to know why I was late, I had a pretty good excuse.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Welcome to a new guest - Tori Martinez

Today's guest Tori Martinez writes a blog called Fractured: Life with a Head Injury and tells her experience of living with an acquired brain injury after a fall at home.....if you'd like to check out Tori's blog you can find it here:

My Two Birthdays

When I started writing this blog last December, just before the one year anniversary of my traumatic brain injury, I knew no other TBI survivors. That all changed with my first blog post when I suddenly connected to hundreds of people like myself.

Since then, the world has opened up to me with a wonderful group of people who support and love me, even though they've never met me.

Through them, I've learned that I have two birthdays. The day I was born, and the day I survived my TBI. As my actual birthday nears, I can't help but think more about my TBI birthday - December 23, 2009 - and how important that day is to remember.

I didn't recognize my first TBI birthday, partly because it was too upsetting and partly because I didn't have the perspective on it my new friends have given me. But now that I approach my 37th birthday on March 30th, I realize that I might not be here today had I not survived my TBI on that day in December when I was still just 35.

One of the few memories I have immediately following my fall was when the paramedics were in our home. I'm told there were seven or eight of them. I don't remember their faces from that day, but I did hear some of their voices. One was asking me questions. Another, somewhere else in the room, was talking to someone on a walkie-talkie, and I remember hearing him say something like "35-year-old female... head trauma..."

Hearing those words scared me and I suddenly thought I was going to die. I kept thinking of Natasha Richardson. I remember saying to the paramedic tending to me, "I'm only 35. I don't want to die like Natasha Richardson."

Those of you who read my blog regularly or talk to me have heard me relate this story before, but it's a significant memory to me, as I was suddenly faced with my own mortality at a young age. I really didn't want to die.

Sadly, there were times not long after my TBI that I DID want to die because the pain was so intense and I felt so miserable, emotionally, mentally and physically. But with the passage of time, I cherish my life - even on the really bad days - and am so grateful to be here to celebrate another year of life.

My TBI has changed my life - in both good and bad ways. There's no doubt about that. It's so hard to say this without sounding cliché, but I think the struggles have made me appreciate what I do have, and I believe I have more meaningful purpose and direction in life now than before my TBI.

None of us ever knows when it's our time to go, but I do know that December 23, 2009 was not my time. So on March 30th, I'll be celebrating both my birthdays - my first and my second.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Guest Post: Carl Thompson

A Photographer Not Without Vision

Here is an interview I wrote about a legally blind photographer that was published in a slightly altered form at DiVine here. Below is my original.

Andrew Follows is a photographer with a difference. He is legally blind due to a degenerative eye condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). Andrew currently however still has minimal sight in his right eye. Although Andrew has less than ideal vision, photography has always been one of his interests. Andrew’s eyesight worsened dramatically four years ago. Instead of abandoning photography completely, Andrew's interest grew into a passion as a result. Photography is now a big part of Andrew's life and career. I had a chance to talk to Andrew and ask him a few questions about photography and his life.

Andrew is not dwelling on the fact that he has a degenerative condition. Instead he tells me he is “...taking as many photographs as (he) can before (his) vision is gone.” Having no sight at all may make it difficult for Andrew to appreciate his own photography. But even after Andrew loses all his sight he will “...still continue to take photos when my vision is gone completely.”  Andrew finds that “It’s a challenge, and it also challenges others.”

Challenging others is what Andrew does best. He takes great joy in experiencing the reactions of people when they view his photographs. “People see my photography first, and once they know it was from a blind person they understand the wow factor in my images.”

Andrew uses quality cameras and lenses for his photographs, giving his photography a professional look and feel. Andrew told me of his computer program that allows him to analyse his photography. “Through using my computer I can see my images in detail. I look at what I have created in the form of colours, and observe all the wonders that sighed people see but take no real notice of what they are looking at.” Proving that sometimes you do not need perfect vision in order to see clearly.

Friends sometimes give Andrew insights into his photographs. “Every now and then, someone will point out something I’ve missed that is in a photo that I have taken. Such as a photo I thought was just of a boat, but sitting on the end of the boat was actually a tiny sea bird which I had not seen. This has given me much joy.”

The confidence Andrew has when venturing out and taking photographs can be attributed in part to his guide dog Eamon. Andrew has advice for those reluctant to follow their dreams – “If you have a passion for something you enjoy, then all I can say is to run with it. Take all the help you can get to enhance your passion. If you enjoy what you are doing you will be surprised at how many doors open up for you.”

“My photography has opened up my world to the visual arts scene where I have met some amazing people. These people are listening to what I am saying and are enjoying what I am producing.” Because of this, Andrew is trying to raise money in order to present a photographic exhibition in London. He also wishes to conduct learning workshops for other vision impaired and sighted photographers. Andrew is hoping to tap into the English network of vision impaired photographers to develop his craft and share some of his experiences. He wants to further the recognition and knowledge of talented vision impaired photographers.