Your Wheelchair Can Kill You

Published: May 05, 2019

I get a lot of questions about how to convince friends, family, or their doctor that you need a wheelchair. People ask me how to buy a chair without insurance. They even ask me if a chair will help them with non‐mobility related issues.

I’ve done my best to answer these questions as best I can. But here’s the thing: people don’t understand what they’re in for when they start using a wheelchair.

A wheelchair is not a mobility aid so much as it’s a mobility replacement. When you use a wheelchair you are changing the way that your body moves through the world. The strain that was on your hips, knees, and feet is now in your shoulders, lower back, and elbows.

Without a proper seating evaluation, you’re more likely suffer injuries. The skin‐breakdown stuff is pretty bad. A pressure sore forms, gets infected, the infection spreads to your blood, and then it kills you. It’s not quick either: it means weeks or months in the hospital to try and get it under control—assuming they even can.

I’m not being dramatic here: I’ve lost good friends and had to say goodbye to more than one camp‐kid due to this stuff.

If you avoid growing an extra hole in your ass, you still get to deal the muscle pain, and hand injuries. Then, you have to fight like hell to avoid atrophy.

Our bodies are very much use‐it‐or‐lose‐it: if you don’t use a body part, it stops working. If you stop using your legs, you’re going to stop being able to use them. Sure, the chair makes moving around easier, but it’s going to make transferring to the tub or the toilet a lot harder. Soon, you’re going to discover that your heart rate and blood pressure spike whenever you try to stand up. You’re gonna come out of the bathroom looking like you fought the toilet instead of used it.

This isn’t to say that wheelchairs aren’t beneficial or are somehow inherently dangerous. What I’m trying to get folks to understand is that going from walking to using a chair is not an even exchange. You aren’t exchanging one form of locomotion for another. You’re actually taking on a lot more risks to your health in exchange for better mobility. And if you fail to prepare for those risks, the cost is really, really high.

Updated May 08, 2019

Folks have been asking for a less doom‐y ending, so I want to add some additional information and clarify a few things (plus fix some glaring typos):

Getting a Chair is Still Worth It

Yes, the chair has risks—big ones, even. But the chair is still worth it. It offers freedom in so many different ways. And for a lot of folks, the risk of a fall or injury due to mobility issues far outweighs any risk that a chair may create.

If you need a chair, get one.

The Risks are Manageable

Avoid pressure sores by getting the right seat cushion and touch your butt.

Protect your shoulders and joints through excercise.

Protect your hands as best you can by wearing gloves

Maintain flexibility by transferring, and protecting what mobility you have

Stay sharp and independent by practicing using your chair as often as you can.

If You’re Diligent, You’ll Be Fine

If you listen to your body, pay attention to your surroundings, and make sure to take of yourself both in the chair and out, you’ll be fine. The chair will do it’s job and you’ll be able to avoid most if not all of the issues I listed (you’re gonna get calluses, though. I can’t help you there).