It started as a click. A rhythmic tick with every revolution of the front wheel. I pushed my chair forward and the caster went click click click click click click click. I assumed it was the bearings again—a word I never knew before wheelchair life and even now, 5 years later, I can’t tell you with certainty what they’re for or how to change them. However, the bearings usually squeak when they need changed.
But they weren’t squeaking. My tires though, they were squeaking. Every turn I made, the worn-down tread rubbed against the vinyl plank flooring of our home and made a cringe-worthy squeak. When I checked on the kids before going to bed I worried I’d wake them up with my squeegee like sound effects.
Then the back wheel started popping out of place. Every time I lifted myself up to pull my pants on or pushed against the tire to help me reach a little higher to the vitamin bottles in the cupboard: pop went the wheel as it slipped out of it’s locked position.
If the universe was a fair place, a wheelchair would just work. Because while I can manage to perform self-care, wheelchair-care…not so much. It sits on my mental to-do list somewhere between car maintenance and getting our furnace serviced. No matter how important I know it is, I can’t prioritize it. I don’t want to give it the time, the money or any of my energy. That being said, I also don’t want to lose a wheel in a parking lot—or anywhere for that matter—or have my casters seize and squeak or stop spinning altogether when too much of my shedded hair gets wound around the axle.
My husband is my go-to guy for wheelchair maintenance. Thankfully for me, he took the position on willingly. Some might argue that it should be my responsibility but I can honestly say that I don’t have the capacity to deal with the inner-workings of my chair. My brain is full when it comes to disability related troubleshooting. Totally and completely full.
What do I know about wheelchair maintenance? I now know that Allen keys were not invented by IKEA—which I once truly believed—and, judging by their constant presence in our bedroom armoire, are needed often to twist, turn and tighten all the moving pieces of my chair. I’ve learned a popped tire means a popped tube and that the entire wheel does not need replaced. In turn I know to have a stash of extra tubes in the closet and that I always need to pack them when we go on vacation. But I’d be lying if I told you I could change it myself. And I know that clicking, squeaking and popping are all signs that something is wrong and someone more knowledgeable than I, needs to figure out what that is.
The case of the clicking was partly remedied with new bearings. But now its morphed into more of a whooshing noise which is less annoying but still problematic. As for the issue of the squeaky wheel, I finally ordered new ones that, once put on, should stop my incessant squealing. But if I haven’t already made it clear, I’m going to have to wait for Ian to make the switch. And the popping? Well that’s still a problem. It has something to do with a pin mechanism which is probably even beyond Ian’s scope of wheelchair knowledge which means I’ll probably just learn to live with it until I actually do lose a wheel one day. Only kidding—sort of.
Every relationship functions differently and my relationship with my chair works because I don’t have to deal with its problems. I’m extraordinarily thankful for my wheelchair, but I don’t have time for its drama. Ian is our mediator. He listens to me complain about its shortcomings without judgement and works to remedy the situation. While I never expected adulthood to be one never-ending to-do list—from maintaining a home, yard and vehicles to the children, dogs and ourselves—I’m thankful to have a partner who truly embodies the spirit of teamwork and not only puts up with my drama but also my wheelchair’s drama. In turn, our daughter’s dramatic outburst generally fall on me. But as long as I can help her with words and not Allen keys, I’m good to go.
Very thankfully, my husband is my go-to chair fixer as well. I can tell him when I’m getting a “dragging” feeling or I know the bearings are squeaking and about to be an issue. Luckily he can change those, replace spokes I’ve popped, work on the brakes when they need adjustment and cut away the hair around the axles that ALWAYS seems to get there somehow… I had to laugh when you wrote that – wondered if it was just me! The one and only time I’ve ever had a flat tire was when he was out of state on business. Not a good situation but I quickly bought a 3rd wheel to just switch out if it came to that. Peace of mind anyway. I kind of wish I knew more about how to fix some things but my job is to identify where the problem seems to be, report it to him and he can usually take care of it. Yay!