Decreased lung capacity/efficiency make some things difficult for lung cancer patients. Some people find that they just can’t run a marathon anymore. Others find themselves attached to an oxygen concentrator 24/7. But I assume there are a lot of people who, like me, are in between those two extremes.
Last September I reached the point where my lack of mobility upset me each time I left the house. I could browse small stores; but a medium-sized store was challenging, and the mall or a stroll around the block was out of the question. I finally acquiesced to Seth’s suggestion that we buy a portable wheelchair.
It’s actually a “transport chair.” It has small 8″ wheels, weighs about 20 pounds, and folds up into a large black duffel bag. With my wheels we have been able to storm the mall and march on big box stores once more!
Naturally, it was the first thing we packed for our trip to Boston. I knew Boston’s side streets would be brick or cobblestone-laden. But it wasn’t until we wheeled up Charles Street that first night that we realized what we were in for… We resigned to walking in the street!
Returning to our hotel later that evening, Seth had a brilliant idea: we could borrow a wheelchair from the hospital! We tried to do this legitimately, of course. The next morning we asked the concierge if they knew how to borrow a wheelchair for the duration of our visit. Unfortunately they didn’t know of any place open on a Sunday. It was time for Plan B.
Seth donned his jacket and headed towards the hospital, just one or two blocks away. He planned to walk into the lobby, get a wheelchair, and wheel it through the parking garage and out to our hotel on the other side. Before he reached the lobby, however, he encountered a forest of chairs at a closer, unattended entrance. Score! But there was a problem…
My phone dinged with a text message: “EVERY one has the big IV pole attached.”
I replied, “Crap. I think they just attach with 2 thumbscrews. Maybe we can detach in the hotel room.”
Less than ten minutes later Seth came strolling into our room with a standard-issue, navy blue wheelchair. We examined the hardware used to attach the IV pole and oxygen tank holder to the back of the wheelchair. “Oh we can handle this,” I said.
Seth set out for the parking garage; my mom got him a Leatherman for Christmas 2011, and the nifty tool with pliers lives in his truck’s center console. He returned and made quick work of the first few bolts.
But then we hit a stubborn lock nut. When he tried to unscrew it, both ends spun. We needed a second set of pliers.
Remembering the close proximity of the drugstore, I exclaimed “CVS will have them!”
And he was off again. This time I could see him as he left through the hotel’s back door, crossed the parking lot, and entered CVS. He returned just a few minutes later with a shiny pair of blue-handled, slip-joint pliers.
Seth went to work on the stubborn bolts. “Uh oh,” I said, “We have another problem.”
Evidently we aren’t the first people who have borrowed a wheelchair from MGH. In addition to mounting IV poles and tank holders on all wheelchairs, they installed a sliding lock bar to prevent the chair from collapsing. Most wheelchairs have a scissor mechanism underneath which allows them to fold for storage and travel. This bar prevented the wheelchair from being collapsed (and subsequently shoved into someone’s trunk).
But we didn’t want to steal the wheelchair – just borrow it until my appointment. Of course, while borrowing we would need to fold it in case we traveled by cab or trolley.
It took only a few more moments to free the IV pole. I leaned it in the tiny closet, and Seth went to work on the sliding bar. Less than 40 minutes after wheeling it into the room, we had a fully functioning wheelchair and were ready to conquer Boston!
It worked like a charm, too. I didn’t have to worry about being launched out of the chair if we hit a big gap in the bricks (as I nearly was that first night), and it was easier for Seth to push over the uneven pavers, too.
On Tuesday morning we reassembled the chair before heading to MGH for my appointment. Once inside from the sleet we switched to one of the many dry chairs and bid a fond farewell to the wheelchair who lived a wild three days strolling half-naked through the streets of Boston!