Thursday, 3 January 2013

Wheelchair Daze

Some days are diamond, some days are stone. That's what John Denver said in his song of the same name. What about days that start out as rhinestones and end up as semi-congealed mud?

Yesterday was one of those days. It started out okay but I have to admit it took me a bit of self-convincing to go to work. Given the choice between sitting at home doing nothing and going to work, going seemed like a better bet, and it was.

One of my appointments during the day was not work-related. It was at the wheelchair clinic where I was going to test a power wheelchair and take a look at a different manual wheelchair. Both of these are provided by the ALS Society of Alberta. However in both cases the ALS Society is looking at things a bit differently than I might see them.

Let's start with the power wheelchair. The chair they had planned for me is clearly well used and fairly basic. The Society has to watch how it spends its money and utility is more important that most other things when they purchase equipment. Most of this equipement goes through multiple owners and I will likely be no exception to that flow; the equipment will outlive me.

I looked at the chair and tried it out. It works just fine. It lifts and tilts; it runs along at about 8 miles per hour; it is easily controlled and can be controlled by something as subtle as chin movements. It's ideal for someone who will eventually lose limb function. On the other hand, it's a bit tired and fussy. So I asked about a new one.

They cost about $24,000! I could buy a new car for that money! Alberta Health Services might, and just might, cover 75% of the cost but I would be on the hook for the remainder. That's a big expense, so I need to think about it.

Then came the manual wheelchair. The chair I am using is a Class A chair. The classes have nothing to do with the chair, but everything to do with Alberta Health and how they measure the requirements of the user. My chair is the most basic. That is what the ALS Society can afford. The wheelchair I want is a Class D chair; it has a carbon fibre frame and titanium alloy wheels. It is light, maneuverable, collapsible and strong. And it costs about $4,000.

Since I am a Class A, I only get a basic chair. When I asked why I didn't qualify for a Class D chair I was told they only buy these chairs for people who need them long term, 10 years or so. That is the lifespan of the chair. Apparently they don't think I will have that lifespan (Class A is short term use) and thus buying a good chair for me is a bad investment for Alberta Health. I may be able to get them to fund the cost of the basic chair, about $1,250, but I will have to pay the rest.

The ALS Manual (yes, there is a manual that comes with this disease) says that ALS is an expensive disease. They aren't kidding!

It looks like I will take the power chair that they provide. I can get used to not having a brand new power chair. On the other hand I am fairly certain I am going to spend the money to get a decent manual wheelchair. After all, I am spending a lot of time in it these days.

So other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?


  1. How are you doing, Richard? Are you still on a wheelchair? How's your ALS disease? I do hope that you’re slowly recovering with it. By the way, you should file your social security disability insurance, it can really help you a lot, you know.

  2. Hello Erminia

    I live in Canada so it is a different process for pension support. I am in the midst of it.

    Thank you.