The Wheelchair Caper

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!

Wheelchair modifications

14 responses to “The Wheelchair Caper

  • Susan S

    Oh Jessica, you gave me a chuckle how you explained getting and then modifying the w/c. I;’m so glad Seth didn’t get caught borrowing the wheel chair. I enjoy reading your posts to see how your treatment is going and just to read about you and Seth and Blossom of course. Big Hugs. Susan

  • carol

    With all the tears and worries and prayers and hopes for a miracle, you never cease to amuse me with your stories, trials and tribulations. I know your writings are so encouraging and should be put together in a book and shared as well as possibly sold to help raise money for you or others. The stories are bitter sweet but scream of your sense of humor and lust for life and adventure. you will always be one of my greatest admirers….the little engine that could.

    • Jessica

      Thanks Carol. You may be surprised at how many people have done that. Although I’m glad you think so, I don’t think I or my story are that unique. Choo choo! xo, Jessica

  • HP

    Lol you guys are great! Throw caution to the wind and just ‘borrow’ for a few days! I love it!

  • Patrick

    you two ROCK! Over the decades of spouse caregiving for my wife with MS I once calculated I’ve pushed her wheelchair over 5,000 miles … hint for the future ‘borrow’ from mega stores like Walmart, etc. or shopping malls. No IV poles to deal with and surprisingly most are folding because storing them that way takes less space.

    • Jessica

      Wow, that is a long, long way. Truthfully, I hate it that Seth has to push me around; it seems like such a pain in the ass. But he never complains. During the trip we talked about getting a better chair, but I just can’t bring myself to accept the fact that I need one. It’s one of the few triggers that makes me think: “no, this can’t be what happened to my life.”

  • Sjoukje

    hahahaha! Fantastic story! And glad Seth didnt get caught and you got to enjoy Boston with the help of this chair!


  • Melanie

    Best laugh of the day!

  • Laura

    Boston is a great town to explore. Glad you had a “wild time” and were able to “borrow” that chair!

  • A Wheel Mystery | stage iv

    […] the transport chair is to a wheelchair what a travel umbrella is to a golf umbrella. You may recall this post from March where Seth and I had to borrow a full-sized wheelchair to make it through the streets of […]

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