I’ve been looking at ways of getting a bit more independence for a while now, especially when out and about. Being reliant on someone pushing my wheelchair can become incredibly frustrating, particularly when taking photos or shopping; wanting to stop and look at something, or take a photo, when you can’t get the person pushing your wheelchair to hear you, and they can’t read your mind (Who knew?!) can be a bit of a bug bear!
And so I started researching the options available several months ago; a power chair was the obvious answer however it would come with its own issues: having somewhere to store it, the weight of it to lift it in and out of the car, potentially only being able to use it on my ‘better’ days and probably a few more things I’ve forgotten!
Then there were the less obvious options of power add-ons for a manual wheelchair. Of these there were numerous options: a trike attachment, the smartdrive, or the Alber E-fix to name a few. I looked at each one and the practicalities of them.
At first a smartdrive seemed like a good option; being small, easy to store and detachable so on days where I’m not well enough to control it myself, my parents could always push my wheelchair. However, I often not only struggle with joint pain in my shoulders, elbows and wrists but also have poor grip, meaning even with the power assistance of a smartdrive, controlling a self-propelling wheelchair through the wheels almost as you usually would, albeit with the smartdrive making it easier, would most likely be impossible for me.
A trike attachment was never a viable option as far as I was concerned; I’ve got a mobility scooter, and one of the main reasons for not using it was having to hold my arms out in front of me, to hold the handle bars to operate it. After a trip out on it I’d struggle to use my arms for days as the fatigue in the muscles would just be too bad, so I assume a trike attachment would end up feeling similar.
And so that left the Alber E-Fix. Two motorised wheels which replace the standard quick-release wheels on most wheelchairs, controlled by a joystick, and powered by a battery suspended under the seat. The motors in the wheels can be disengaged, so it can be used in “freewheel” mode, meaning it can always be used in manual mode if necessary. There’s even the option of attendant control, although that’s not something I’ve really explored. The only sticking point was the cost; brand new any of the options aren’t cheap. However, thanks to the good ol’ internet, it is possible to find some available secondhand, and that’s what I did.
I was fortunate to find a wheelchair with Alber E-Fix E25, fairly locally on a website selling secondhand goods. Okay, so it’s not the latest model of E-fix, and as a result the battery is a bit bigger and heavier, but it was at a price I could afford, within a distance I could get someone to take me to look at it and pick it up, and it came with a wheelchair which although not perfectly suited to my needs, would fit me okay and be usable while I save up for one which will meet all my needs, and be able to accommodate the Alber E-Fix.
So meet “Frog” my new set of wheels….
I have yet to manage to go out very far using it, but I am sure it will make a huge difference for me when I am able to go out and about. The only trouble I have with it is getting the wheels on and off when travelling in a smaller car – it is quite heavy to hold in place and line the connectors of the wheels up, and unfortunately the secondhand one I bought doesn’t have the Alber Anti-tippers which also have a jack function for this very purpose. I’ve tried looking online to see if I can buy some of those to no avail, so I now have my Dad and a few neighbours trying to come up with a way of being able to jack the wheelchair up and hold it in the right position while taking the wheels off and putting them back on, which is portable too! Thankfully they’re an inventive lot, so I’m sure they’ll come up with something…although there’s no guarantees it’ll be pretty!
I hope to share more about the E-fix and how I get on with it as I manage outings in it, and generally get to grips with it. Fingers crossed my health will let me do that very soon, as I’m starting to suffer a bit of cabin fever here; well enough to potter around the house but not well enough to venture out without suffering massively for days afterwards.