Recently I was on a trip exploring lovely San Francisco and had one of those head scratching, slightly panicked, “oh shit” moments.
Something that many power wheelchair users dread happened. My wheels died! I was stranded! Now this wasn’t the first time this has happened, it happened in Rome – you can refresh yourself with that fiasco here. But this time, it was a different kind of break. The power cable had severed.
If you aren’t acquainted with the kind of power chair I usually travel with, it is called a KD Smart Chair. It folds up, weighs about 50 pounds, and certainly is not the most comfortable ride but it does the trick. For me, it makes travel a little bit easier being able to fold up the chair and put it in a regular taxi rather than having to wait for a wheelchair accessible vehicle every time.
After two full days in San Francisco my friends and I pull up to our hotel in a Lyft around midnight. We pull the chair out, unfold it, plug it in, and nothing happens. One of the little annoying idiosyncrasies with this chair is that when you connect the power cable it needs to line up perfectly, or there is no juice coming through. My chariot worked fine earlier in the day so I thought we may have been a little… buzzed …and not gotten the cable lined up. It was dark out, hard to see, so my sweet friends just gave me a push-up to the hotel room and we decided we would check it out in the morning.
Mmhmm mmhmm mmhmm. As you already read, around 7:30 I got a good look at my wheels and saw that the cable had a nice big cut in the middle of it. The room suddenly felt a little stuffy, I felt that ball in the pit of my stomach, and I exhaled a very sincere “well shit.”
Time to go into problem-solving mode because I certainly wasn’t going to sit on my butt all day and watch HGTV at the hotel while all my friends went out and played. First thing I did was call the manufacturer and ask if they could overnight me the single part that was broken. Excellent customer service, but they were out of stock in that part – so Plan A was a no go. Plan B: call computer repair stores in the area and see if they would be willing to use their tools to help repair the power cable. I jump on Google and find around 10 businesses that sound like they might be able to do this type of thing. I began calling and was not getting very lucky with the first two or three. As soon as I said something about it being a wheelchair they got pretty turned off and determined they could not help. Even though – I tried to be very explicit in that it wasn’t anything special – just a regular power cord! Next few places, I try to be much more vague about exactly what type of power cable it is. Didn’t matter, wasn’t going to happen with them.
The next few places on the list were not open yet. Attempting to keep the panic at bay I set upon Plan C and looked up wheelchair rentals. I knew at the very least I could find a manual push chair that I could rent for the week. Meh, not my favorite option but an improvement over a 45th straight episode of Property Brothers stuck at the hotel. Delightfully, it wasn’t particularly hard to find myself a power wheelchair that could break down and fit in a car for rent! This company said that they could deliver the wheelchair to my hotel within an hour and a half – DONE! I wasn’t giving up on fixing my wheels yet, but it was nice to know that if I couldn’t get it fixed in the next couple of hours I would at least have a mobility option other than magic carpet ride or being dragged around by my feet.
The escapade still wasn’t over so I’m on to Plan D. One of the friends I traveled with is an engineer. I called him down to take a look to see if it was something he could fix. He said absolutely, tell me where the nearest RadioShack is. I replied with “are you freaking kidding me?” He informed me that apparently there ARE still some RadioShack‘s in business (who knew?)– but not shocking– none in downtown San Francisco. Soooooo off to Walgreens he went to see if he could find the tools needed there. I kept up with my calls to the computer repair stores, all of them unsuccessful. Maybe I was just doing it wrong!
My buddy came back half an hour later with maybe not the perfect tools, but something he thought might work. After tinkering for half an hour he saved the day! The relief of solving this problem felt so good! And every beer I bought him that night was well earned!
You know, these types of situations can happen anywhere. Something that gives me the confidence to continue traveling is knowing that there will always be a way to solve the problem, even if it’s not the perfect solution. Plan D worked this time but I know that I would’ve found a solution eventually, even if I had to get to Plan X. I spent about $60 bucks on a wheelchair that I didn’t use but the peace of mind knowing that I had a back up was well worth the price. As we all travel we encounter a variety of travel mishaps or challenges. I suppose the lesson here is that something will go wrong, even if we plan perfectly. We don’t know when, we don’t know what – but it doesn’t have to ruin your trip. There are options, don’t panic, definitely reach out for help, and think outside the box when needed! When in doubt just remember that you are not the only one on the continent, the country, or the city that has mobility issues. There are even wheelchair users in Antarctica! There’s gonna be a way to solve your problem.
What are your travel mishaps? Share them in the comments below!
What to do if your wheelchair breaks
1. Try to get to a safe place
2. Attempt to diagnose the problem.
3. Call your wheelchair manufacturer
4. Find a local wheelchair repair location
5. Obtain a rental from a medical supply company, hospital, or even a drugstore. Keep a lookout for free rentals, some cities like Las Vegas have some options.
6. Don’t panic, you got this.