Through Irish Eyes

By: Helen Bale
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Little things can make such a big difference in life. For me it has been the installation of ramps that make it easy to get my power chair from here to there. Actually, it all started with the power chair itself, a by-product of the horrendous Scootergate caper which had fouled up my life for so long. During the yearlong wrangle, my old power chair had given up and I was making do with a Toonerville trolley arrangement of a wheeled desk chair and a rollator. I sat in the chair, propelling it by pedaling with my feet and pushing the rollator. The small casters on the desk chair worked well on smooth surfaces, but foundered on carpeting. Thus I had to stand up and push the rollator the rest of the way. And I got very tired. Then, a few days after Christmas (and my 87th birthday) Rudy Antonucci, the friendly dealer who'd been trying to help for months, arrived with a new power chair. This was a demonstration model that had been parked in a warehouse in the Bay Area, more than 100 miles from my home, and he had made the long trip to retrieve it. It was a bit dusty, but otherwise in fine shape. It had all sorts of special features, including a power lift for the seat, which meant I could now reach high shelves and cupboards. I retired the Toonerville trolley and whizzed around the house for a few days, peered longingly at the great outdoors through the glass of the sliding doors, and tried to avoid running over the cat's tail. Then came friend Dave Hyde and his extensive skills at construction, who declared, indeed, he could build a ramp that would get me out on the patio. Several people, including George Horan, had offered to build ramps for me, but I wasn't ready. Now, with a few more years behind me, I was. Great!! I had visions of sitting out in the sunshine, filling the bird feeders, and, in general, enjoying life again. An added bonus was Dave's decision to build a second ramp that would give me access to the garage. Then you can just roll down the driveway and even go for your mail, he said. Of course it also meant I could easily access the laundry area and do my own laundry again, but I didn't want to spoil his fun by mentioning it. First came the building of the ramp from the family room to the patio. This involved moving a 500-pound block of serpentine, which served as a step. Several years earlier Dave had built a box to contain the green rock and nestled it into a bed of sand. This made it very sturdy and even heavier, No problem, said Dave. He'd bring son Robert. So the two arrived, bringing a heavy hand truck and a special gadget which pried the box up a few inches at one end. The blade of the hand truck slipped under but the box didn't move. I have another hand truck, I volunteered from my supervisor's position in the doorway. You could put one at each end. Great idea ” in theory. In action, the plastic brace on one wheel snapped off. We were back to square one. Uh, you could try sliding the flatbed trolley under it, I suggested, indicating the wheeled platform I used to move sacks of birdseed. Neither man thought that would work, but they indulged this poor old woman anyway. Of course it worked and I tried not to crow. There are times when discretion is the better part of valor. The rest of the project went smoothly. A sheet of ¾-inch plywood was braced with two heavy vertical planks, and the sides contained by eight-inch-high lengths of lumber ” so I couldn't run the power chair over the edge. It was perfect, and I proved it by guiding the power chair up and down a few times. Now it was on to the ramp for the garage, a much simpler task ” until I tried to maneuver the power chair back up into the house and rammed into the hall door. It took a bit of tacking before I finally got through, leaving a long scrape on the garage side of the door. Dave solved the problem by riding the chair himself, hugging the left side and easing through the doorway. Give the man credit; he knows how to drive. But he wasn't through. Now, he said, we go for the mail. This had been my greatest disappointment when I moved into town from the rural acreage which had been home for 34 years. I had expected home delivery of mail; instead found I'd be served by a cluster of locked boxes about two blocks away. I'd formed the habit of getting my mail if I were out in the car, ignoring it otherwise. Especially when it rained, it meant sometimes two or three days went by without my retrieving the postal offerings. Now Dave wanted me to use the power chair to collect my mail. Oh well, I'd try. First I had to tackle getting down the curb, a nicely rounded 6-inch drop. Should I fasten my seat belt? No, Dave ruled. He'd catch me. That wasn't really reassuring, but I agreed to try it and bounced from the end of the driveway into the street. I tried to calm my stomach as we made our way along, crossed a larger street and came face to face with the need to go up the curb to get on the sidewalk to the mailboxes. The footrest scraped and the anti-tip wheels balked. The power chair was not going to cooperate. We went on down the street to a spot nearer the mailboxes. There, by getting a running start from the middle of the roadway, I made it up on the sidewalk. I resisted the impulse to point out that my system of using the car really wasn't all that bad. We finally agreed that I could stay on the sidewalk from my house, use a break in the curb to get across the road and pull up in front of the mailboxes, use my four-footed cane to cross the sidewalk ¦ With the price of gas rising, this may not be so bad after all. So now I can get out of the house to feed the birds and fuss with plants on the patio, take my garbage can in and out of the garage, and tend to myriad other small tasks. As I said, little things can make a big difference.