​Hurricane Fiona vs. a Power Chair

Posted by Gretchelle Dilan, Ph.D. in Life After Paralysis on October 06, 2022 # Emergency Preparedness, Lifestyle

Collapsed house in PonceIt has been a couple of weeks since Puerto Rico suffered the onslaught of Hurricane Fiona on September 19. So many inches of rain fell on the island, destroying bridges, roads, and even collapsed buildings due to the moisture accumulated on the ground.

The noise was terribly strong; the wood, zinc, trees, and others mixed with the wind sounded as if they were instruments in need of tuning. Uncertainty grew minute by minute, and post-traumatic stress crept up with all its characteristic signs. We remembered Maria’s experience and the water coming in from the roof. Now, the water came in through doors, ceilings, and windows even though Fiona was a Category 1 hurricane and Maria was a Category 4. Fiona seems much more frightening as it brought a lot more rain.

Although Puerto Rico was going through a time of collective anxiety, each person had their concerns. Of course, those of us who are living with a spinal cord injury had a thousand things we should worry about as Fiona approached the island. In my case, I live alone. Thankfully, a friend came to pass the hurricane with me due to the emergency. In the stress of trying to save life and property, I went out to help move some things that had fallen by the winds because they could turn into dangerous projectiles. On one of those excursions, my power chair got soaked, including the control pad. Some of the functions were damaged due to the water. Now I'm experiencing some of Fiona’s secondary effects that other Puerto Ricans do not. Do you know how it feels to lose a wheelchair that provides you with some independence due to an atmospheric disaster? After fighting with my medical insurance and purchasing it at a prohibitive cost, must I lose a device that gave me a sense of normalcy? Well, yes, I'm going through that situation. Now I am without electricity and with water services that come and go. Added to the problem, I cannot go to work or buy needed supplies without my chair.

Damaged wheelchair controlImagine that after having a spinal cord injury, which is very traumatic in itself, you lose the tools that have helped you to independence, and you do not know when you will have them again.

The truth is that it is all about prevention. Perhaps I should ask for more help, for example, more people to stay with me. Maybe I should not go out in the thick of it. But the truth is that this situation should make us think about what we need before, during, and after a hurricane.

Here are some questions:

  • What will happen if you lose water service?
  • What will happen if you lose electrical service?
  • What if there are no pharmacies for two weeks?
  • What will happen if there is no wheelchair-accessible transport?
  • How will you take care of durable medical equipment?
  • Is your home safe from flooding?
  • Who will help you with your toileting needs?
  • Who will help you with food?
  • What will happen to work or studies after a hurricane?
  • If you have an adapted vehicle, is it protected?

These are just some sample questions that can help you create a preparedness plan. Remember to have a support group that can split tasks and makes yourself available. There is a lot we can do to help too.

Ready.gov and FEMA provide hurricane season preparedness resources for people living with disabilities.

Gretchelle Dilan, Ph.D., lives in Puerto Rico with a spinal cord injury. She is an industrial psychologist and a blogger for the Reeve Foundation’s Spanish Blog. Subscribe to our blogs in Spanish to learn about topics of interest such as employment, mental health, research, daily experiences, and more. Go to www.ChristopherReeve.org/Blog and click on the “Spanish” tag.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.