My Smoking Wheelchair & Praise for Soul

Starting today off with a small poem:

The smell of burning insulation
Smoke rising from my wheelchair
(I’m okay)

But I should start at the beginning.

Day 1: In which my wheelchair develops a whistle
Sunday afternoon as I was about to nap, I noticed a high pitched whine coming from somewhere. At first, I thought a child in one of the surrounding apartments have gotten some sort of irritating little flute thing, but then it continued longer than anyone but a pearl diver could have breath for. Weird. It eventually stopped and when I got up, it was gone.

Later in the evening, I noticed the whine was coming from my joystick when I turned off the power. This has never happened before, so I promptly emailed Dave the Wonder Repair Tech.

(Expositional aside: Dave very recently started his own business in partnership with Paul the Equally Wonder Repair Tech. Both of them wanted to work in a way that focused on excellence in customer service and recognizing that timely repairs are essential to the lives of people with disabilities. So they started soul: The Wheelchair Studio.

Dave got back to me within minutes. He thought it was likely my capacitor venting and that whenever I wasn’t driving, I should make sure to turn off the chair. Because if I didn’t, it could fry the circuit board. And naturally, the circuit boards for this model wheelchair are discontinued.

Day 2: Smokin’!
Early Monday morning the chair starts stalling out. I leave a worried message for Dave and he moves up our appointment.

The good news is that it’s not the capacitor and Dave does mysterious things to the innards of my joystick. (dammit Jim, I’m a writer, not a repair tech). 

And then we make jokes about how Regan – because this is the chair that has been named after the girl in The Exorcist — has a pattern of doing well for a while, but once the repairs start, there’s a domino effect and they keep going. 

“Isn’t it the rule of three?” Dave laughs. I laugh, too, but I also knock wood.

Everything works fine and I’m very much relieved. That is, until that evening when the speed indicators on the chair start changing as I moved the joystick. Oh, and also on their own when I’m sitting still. I email Dave again and again, he gets right back to me. Tells me it should be okay, that is likely a loose wire, and that he’ll be back Tuesday.

I’m sitting at my computer a bit before 11 PM when the joystick display starts beeping, a red light comes on and then…

Then smoke begins to rise from the joystick box.

I’ve used a power wheelchair for almost 40 years and this has never happened before.

While the smoke dissipates, I might have had a small attack of hysterics. You see, fire is my thing. Or rather the thing I fear the most. And to be in the wheelchair, unable to get out of it on my own and right next to a smoking joystick box is one of the most frightening things I’ve ever experienced.

I send a freaked-out email to Dave, then call The Boy and fall apart. He comes down right away. I move into my new chair, which still needs adjustments and has been standing in the corner of my apartment like a purple sculpture. Sitting in it increases my pain levels, but at least I can move independently.

Day 3: Fried circuits and the best repair techs in Toronto
Yesterday, Dave comes down again and take the joystick box apart. 

Yup. That`s fried alright.

He installs a loaner joystick that fits my joystick program (which is two generations behind the current one) and tells me he’s miraculously located a replacement circuit board in the States and is in the process of getting it.

And we all draw a deep sigh of relief. Well, that is until the loaner joystick starts stalling out later in the day and at this point, I have a mild case of hysterics. Again, Dave responds immediately and is going to do some research. Clearly something more is going on in the innards of my wheelchair and he is determined to make it work.

I know that he will. Dave is the MacGyver of wheelchair repair techs, having a profound depth of knowledge, as well as a bit of a mystical connection to the things. He just gets them. He and Paul also truly understand that this equipment serves as the legs of someone who has a disability. They treat repairs with the seriousness and speed they deserve.

But, you might say, he didn’t fix the chair yet. The thing is, it can take a while to figure out what’s going on. When you hear hoofbeats, whether in medicine or wheelchair repair, you start by thinking of horses and gradually expand to include zebras. Sometimes, especially with Regan, you have to go all the way to hippopotamuses before you find the problem, but you still start with horses. It takes skill and dedication to work your way through what’s going on and soul: The Wheelchair Studio has that in spades. They also have that true dedication to customer service, something that has been increasingly missing in the larger medical equipment companies. Who else can you email in a panic at 11 PM and get an immediate response?

If you live in the Greater Toronto Area or Durham and are looking for highly skilled technicians who are dedicated to helping you get mobile so you can get on with your life, you can find no better than Dave, Paul and Jody at soul: The Wheelchair Studio.


Rick said…
WOW, a chair with a smoking problem. I love that. I suggest you start calling it ole smokie or smokie the bandit.
Oh, thank goodness for dedicated, caring, and--dare I say--sweet techies/repairguys like Dave and Paul. And thank goodness Regan didn't burn up more than her wee brain! Glad you're OK, Lene, and sending urgent repair-vibes and much patience your way. ;o)
Anonymous said…
Oh my goodness! I can see that would have been terrifying--the chair smoking and nothing you could do to save yourself. Regan is a an appropriate name. You are dependent on the chair, and the chair is betraying you.

I don't remember anything about a new chair. Purple you say? Tell us more.