“What?” replies my wife.
“My chair quit.”
“What do you mean, it quit?”
“It just totally shut off. I think maybe it’s wet.” Panic sets in as I repeatedly click the switch to restart it.
“It can’t just quit,” she says, inserting a glimmer of hope.
“It did, it won’t turn on.” I say, extinguishing the glimmer.
“Maybe you hit the ‘off’ button?” Frustration mounts.
“No, I didn’t.” Dead stop.
And then the conversation went south from there. You get the idea.
Most people with disabilities have experienced situations like this. Just when you think this is one of the least desirable places to have a breakdown, or you need to run to the bathroom, your having-a-great-day bubble bursts with the worst-case scenario. Murphy’s Law states that anything that can go wrong, will, and at the worst possible time. This dead chair situation certainly applies. There is nothing like a little adversity to test and strengthen the bonds of a marriage. Ours ought to be really strong.
Let’s see. What would be stressful to a couple? Maybe distance from home, reliance on equipment, a time limit, bad terrain or extreme weather.
How about all of these? We are in Ketchikan, Alaska, thousands of miles from home. We are enjoying a Holland America Alaska Cruise, and of course we have no backup wheelchair with us. We are over a mile away from the ship, up a steep hill, with yours truly in a lifeless heavy electric wheelchair. It is pouring rain like I have never seen in my life, and we are cold, uncomfortable, drenched. We had just started to head back to a nice little café that we spotted on the way and were so looking forward to a hot coffee and a great meal. Our innocent little trek to retrieve a geocache and get some pictures of salmon spawning in the river had just turned into a nightmare.
Score: 1-0 Murphy.
“What do we do now?” my wife asks.
I put on my thinking cap, as I am a firm believer that there is always a solution.
“Call Sheila, see where the guys are. Maybe they can get us back to the boat.”
We still have about three hours until we have to be back on board. That’s a positive. One point for us.
Terry makes the call — it turns out Sheila’s husband Jim and his brother Rob are bored with walking around town. This might be just the adventure that they need.
Score: Wrights 2, Murphy 1.
“OK, they are on their way, now what?”
“If you think you can hold my weight, let’s put the chair in freewheel mode and get closer to the ship,” I say.
Terry puts my chair in freewheel mode, we stick to the edge of the curb and head down the steep hill. She has to work hard to hold my weight as there are no brakes, but she does an amazing job. It is a little stressful crossing the roads with vehicles zooming up and down the narrow roads beside us, but soon we have made it down to level ground.
Terry texts with Sheila and relays our location to the guys. Soon Jim and Rob are with us, throwing sick but funny suggestions and grinning as usual. The sarcastic bantering diffuses the tension and seriousness of the situation.
“So what do we do now?” asks Jim, taking a much-needed break from teasing.
“Get us back on board the ship. Then we’ll worry about the chair.”
The guys switch off pushing every so often, block traffic, and zoom us back to the ship. Soon we are checked in and safely on board. We head up to the cafeteria to regroup and come up with a plan, already feeling a lot safer now that we are on the ship.
Wright Team pulls ahead, 3-1.
“So now what?” asks Jim.
“I think we go back to our room, take the joystick apart, and put a hair dryer on it to dry it out good,” I say, after pondering. I keep a set of Allen wrenches and screwdrivers in my backpack at all times, along with an assortment of screws and bolts that normally cause big problems when they fall out. We finish our coffee and head to the room.
It only takes Jim about five minutes and he has the joystick apart on the table. Water pours out of the screw holes!
“I’ll be surprised if you didn’t fry it,” says Rob, a qualified electrician.
“We’ll need to celebrate with a bottle of wine if it runs again!” I say.
Jim switches the hair dryer on and blows it into the joystick for approximately 15 minutes. It starts to look dry.
“Shall we plug it in and see what happens?” he says, nervously.
“Let’s do it — only one way to find out.”
Jim plugs in the joystick, we flip the switch on, the screen lights up half bright, but the chair does not work.
“The screen lit up part way, I think that’s a good sign!” I say, the eternal optimist. “Let’s try it some more and see what happens.”
After another 15 minutes with the hair dryer on, Jim plugs the joystick back in. He hesitantly reaches for the power switch, turns it on and — it lights up and beeps!
“It worked! I’m back in business!” I’m incredibly relieved. “Where’s that wine?”
We win! Wright Team 4, Murphy 1.
Why did my wheelchair get wet? Pilot error. The on/off switch was missing its rubber boot, allowing water to get into the joystick. The rain situation was extreme. Ketchikan gets about 155 inches a year! We have never experienced this amount of rain and should have had the joystick covered.
A potential holiday-ruining calamity was averted. I still carry the tools and spare parts everywhere. Many times we have had to sit and figure out how to fix a wheelchair, usually in some remote situation where there is no outside help. There is always a solution.
Take that, Murphy!