Here's an insight for you walking people out there into the culture of disability... It is not a very good sign when you present a problem to a veteran wheelchair repair guy and he responds with, "Wow. I have never seen that happen before in my life." Of course, to be fair, I have to say I've never seen it happen either, and I've been in a wheelchair for 20 years. And that is why I am writing a post about a seatbelt. Let me back up...
I have this seatbelt that I wear when I'm in my chair to keep me from, well... flying out of my chair when I speed up to hit speed bumps or when I go full speed down ramps and hills or when I bumpety-bump over treshholds and uneven pavement and cobblestones and soccer fields... you get the idea. Seatbelt is a good thing... respect the "safety first" rules of the road.
Occasionally, one of my helpers and I will be talking and not paying attention, and she will try to lift me out of my chair while my seatbelt is still on. We do not get very far in these situations. Granted, the girls are strong - some would say they even have Chuck Norris-status power - but they aren't that strong. And I try to keep my weight reasonably low (though ice cream will be my mortal downfall), but the weight of my chair is far out of proportion to my own. So, we laugh and quickly unclick the belt and I am free to be me-minus-wheels for a while.
Today, my helper was dutifully unclicking the belt to set me free... except the belt would not give. Tugging and clicking and jiggling ensued. For several minutes. But to no avail. This is a problem... one that I have never experienced before. I was trapped in my own chair! Of course, I spend most of my day strapped into this seat and normally I don't think twice about it, but all of a sudden it seemed a crisis to be there and I felt this need to be free. Must... get... help...
Hannah got home from work early, and when I told her the dilemma, she knew instantly (as all good bosom friends do) that this was a big deal. So off to the wheelchair shop we went. Upon our arrival, the nice man at the counter asked what I was looking for. I calmly replied that I really needed a repair job done. He scanned my chair with his eyes and asked what the repair was. That's when I lost all professionalism and sort of fell apart. "My seatbelt is stuck and I can't get out!"
He seemed slightly alarmed by this outburst and tried to unbuckle it himself (the wheelchair equivilant of the IT standard creed, "Did you try turning it off and on again?"). When his attempt failed, he confessed that in his 16 years of this kind of work, he'd never seen this problem before. "It's a challenge, because you can't exactly get out of the chair for me to work on it, can you?" He hmmmed a moment and then decided he'd have to cut me out of it. Not exactly the Jaws of Life, but it still sent a chill down my spine. He went to The Back Room - where every model of every supply for every chair exists - and brought back a new seatbelt, five shades darker and shinier black than my old ratty faded one, with a bright red "PRESS" sticker on the fully-functioning click button. Then he unceremoniously snipped my belt strap and unscrewed it from the back of the seat.
"How long have you had this chair?" he asked as he wiped dust and rust from the straps. Too long... running on seven years, and like an old car I feel like I'm putting too much energy into patching it up. A new chair is #3 on my priority list when Medicaid finally comes through. By the time I'd told him about the other dilemmas this poor chair has faced this year - chewed up armrest, dislocated power switches, flour-filled seat, dead batteries, etc. - he had the new belt installed and clicked in place across my lap. It was fast and inexpensive, and anyway you can't put a price on great service!
Before I left, I had to sign a form that said the store would not divulge any of my case with anyone else. Understandable, in the many cases in which medical help is quite delicate and private, but I couldn't help making a joke as the man handed me my receipt. "So, you promise you aren't going to tell anyone that I jammed my own seatbelt?" He just smiled and assured me that my secret was safe with him.