Snow is a challenge in the winter time where we live in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. We know folks in wheelchairs around these parts who struggle leaving their own homes in the winter time. Depending on one’s wheelchair, size of wheels, depth of snow, dependability on the plow, etc, snow can be enemy number one. Then, we know the opposite end of the spectrum with many folks joining their friends on the many slopes New England is famous for.
One tool we utilize regularly in all kinds of weather is the Free Wheel, seen in the photo below, which easily clips on to one’s footrest and lifts the tiny front wheels to make travel over difficult terrain easier. Worth about $500 retail, they are an investment certainly, but how can we put a price tag on being able to roll across the grass more easily or out to one’s car in many inches of snow?
My friends will tell you I have a love/hate relationship with Geoff’s Free Wheel. I love it for the many freedoms which are open to him through its use:
- Conquering cobblestones? We crushed London about seven summers ago from sun- up til sun down and did not dump out his chair once.
- Surviving snow travel from parking lot to work? Geoff works at Loon Mountain where snow travel is part of his job description.
- Pushing across grassy fields? Gravel? Sand? Any device which contributes to Geoff’s independence is a sure winner with me.
So what could I possibly hate about the Free Wheel? Well, there is really only one thing which challenges me about his rubberized mobile best friend. I am often tripping over the metal frame as it changes Geoff’s dimensions. When we are walking close together or in a crowded place, I am constantly warning people of its reality. “Excuse me, I just don’t want you to trip on my husband’s wheel…Be careful, my husband’s wheel is right behind you.” And while I’m busy looking out for the world near and around Geoff’s bubble of personal space, I whack my ankle inevitably, curse aloud, and hope our children don’t hear me.
Of course, there are places which Geoff still can’t reach in the winter even with his Free Wheel, even with an arsenal of tools at his beck and call. On Christmas, he watched from his mom and dad’s deck while I went sledding with our kiddos in the deep, deep Christmas Day pow pow. Our kids aren’t used to their dad being a spectator, and winter trips us up a bit. He can access just about any part of any ski resort as long as there is a chair lift. Yet building a snowman or igloo with our children is not easy.
Another essential warming tool of winter is Geoff’s Nalgene bottle. He spends every day, generally all day long outside of Loon Mountain. He dresses in many appropriate layers, but sometimes that is not enough. The real cold settles in Geoff’s body once he gets into bed at night and lays flat. All of his extremities, normally busy and active pushing around all day long, get super cold as the blood flows primarily to the heart in a way of trying to be keep essential operations going. At this point, he begins to shiver and asks me to retrieve his Nalgene water bottle filled with hot, hot water from the tap– not boiling water as that would be unsafe. He then cuddles the water bottle up high in his chest where he can feel it warming his skin, which warms the blood near his heart, pumping it back out to those far away places. Once his body is warm again, he is able to fall asleep.
One last adaptive tool Geoff will experience this month is training with his new NEADS service dog Emerson Gronk Snowy Krill. As Emerson already comes with his own name, our kiddos each chose a middle name to build out his identity. NEADS World Class Service Dogs (National Education for Assistance Dog Services, also known as Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans) is going to change Geoff’s level of independence in ways we can hardly imagine yet. After a two week training period in Princeton, MA with Geoff, Emerson Gronk Snowy Krill will join our family chaos, and we can’t wait. I’m making a list for him of tasks that even would even help me as Geoff’s primary caregiver. For more information about NEADS, check out www.neads.org. Happy New Year from our family to yours!
Heather Krill is a writer- wife- teacher-mom who lives in the White Mountains of NH with her husband, Geoff, a paraplegic and professional skier, and their two children, Carver and Greta who are 7 and 6. Please check out her novel True North, website www.heatherkrill.com, author FB page Heather Krill, and @heatherkrill1 on Twitter.