Accessibility · Adaptive Adventure · Adaptive Parenting (an adventure itself) · Mom is Doing Her Best · Through the Power of Sport

​A Collector of Wheelchairs

Posted by Heather Krill in Life After Paralysis on January 28, 2022

First published on the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation Blog

We have two sections in our garage designated to my husband Geoff’s wheelchair collection— not to be confused with other sections for old records and CDs—and they range from dusty ones, manual ones, power ones to fixer-uppers. The upstairs section includes mostly manual chairs that break down into smaller parts, while the downstairs section holds those that are too heavy for me to move upstairs by myself. Sometimes we inherit them when their owners pass away or when they outgrow that size or need another model. I imagine the conversations around what to do when whichever kind of wheelchair is no longer needed.

“I know this guy Geoff who is a para- mono skier at Loon and handcycles a ton-, and he uses a manual wheelchair, but I also know he runs a nonprofit in the summer with a lot of accessible gear. Let’s just see if he wants it. Then he can give it to people as they know he is a resource to turn to when it comes to mobility (and motivation) issues.”

“Ok, sounds good, so do we just call this guy Geoff to see if he wants it?”

“Nah, nah, I know where he lives, and he would never turn down a chair someone else might be able to use. We can just drop it in his driveway.”

And this is true. We have many times come home to an empty wheelchair with the brakes on at the top of the hill in our driveway or even just parked off to the side near the shrubs in the condo complex where we used to live. And if you’ve never seen an empty wheelchair sitting outside fully assembled, like there should be someone sitting in it, the effect is rather disconcerting. Like, where did they go?

For example, there was the time just before our daughter was born, when Geoff had been in a car accident with a dump truck that had T- boned him right in our quaint downtown area of Woodstock. He was okay, but out of precaution, an ambulance had been called to assess his situation because of his spinal cord injury. They were concerned he might actually be hurt below his level of injury and not necessarily be able to feel internal bleeding, broken bones, etc.

Anyway, they loaded him into the ambulance, leaving his empty wheelchair next to it. And when you live in a small town as we do and someone drives by an empty wheelchair next to an ambulance next to a totaled orange Honda Element, one might assume that local Geoff Krill was indeed NOT okay. But luckily for me, that person called the school where I work and not me directly and left a message with my former principal. By the time he came down to my room to let me know Geoff had been in an accident, I had received a text from my husband letting me know he was okay just in case word had got around.

So, word has also gotten around that Geoff is a collector of wheelchairs. The latest one has wooden wheels. He jokes that he would like me to park him in the garden this summer because this was the kind of chair that took people outside when they needed an airing. It will likely live on the porch next to our unmatched wicker chairs and ski lounge. And I have no doubt he will choose to sit in it from time to time just to prove to me that it’s useful as a relic from a bygone era of wheelchairs.

The others are often borrowed by people in different stages of mobility challenges. They call Geoff, and Geoff calls me to sort through the size and shape to see, like Goldilocks, which would be just right– or at least just close enough. And while the trying-on of wheelchairs is happening, you might drive by our home to see our kids testing them out, remembering why wheelie bars are essential or why thicker tires are better on the grass and on snow. But at this writing, it’s minus 5 degrees outside with a “feels like” temperature of minus 20 due to the wind chill factor. These are not pleasant temps for playing outside in wheelchairs of any make or model– instead, they will wait patiently in the back corner of the garage for spring to return.

Heather Ehrman 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 12 and 10, respectively. Please check out her novel True North, website www.heatherkrill.com, author FB page Heather Krill, and @heatherkrill1 on Twitter.

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