Preparing Our Most Valuable Possessions For Summer Travel

Posted by Michael Collins in Life After Paralysis on May 29, 2018 # Travel

Someone asked me what I consider to be my most valuable possession; not particularly the most expensive, like a house, a vehicle, artwork or piece of jewelry that would be left as part of an inheritance should I die, but the thing that I could not live without on a daily basis.

It didn't take me long to come up with the answer: my wheelchair! Some people might think that is an unusual choice, but not if that someone is also relying on a similar expensive piece of Durable Medical Equipment to provide their only means of mobility.

Despite being paralyzed, my peers and I are far from immobile once we are in our wheelchairs each day; most of us can range far, and relatively fast, under the right conditions. Wheelchairs and other mobility devices allow us to attend school, be employed and participate in social activities. Without them, we would likely be stranded at home, perhaps even in bed, until the equipment is available again. They are also invaluable when it comes to making a vacation trip successful.

Mobility devices, like us, are not alike. Depending on the needs of the user, they can vary from lightweight manual wheelchairs and power scooters to more cumbersome and complex power wheelchairs operated with extensive information technology. In recognition of the value of such equipment to an individual who is paralyzed, the discussion of wheelchairs is one of the first priorities for individuals who are undergoing their initial rehabilitation after a spinal cord injury, paralyzing disease or from another cause.

With medical Insurance, such as Medicare or Medicaid, a portion of the cost of that initial mobility device will likely be covered if the proper medical professional deems it medically necessary. Even so, the co-pay--amounting to 20% of an item with a "retail" price that in some cases may exceed $30,000--can be substantial. The size of that out-of-pocket investment provides one more incentive for maintaining the equipment so that it will operate flawlessly and be available whenever needed; failure to do that could result in being stranded or injured and there is never an opportune time for that. If planning to travel away from home it is important to prepare mobility devices for that travel as well.

Some of the easy maintenance that most individuals should be capable of completing is to maintain the cleanliness of the wheelchair. The damage caused by sand, dirt, or even pet hair that accumulates in wheel bearings can eventually cause them to fail. If that happens, in the worst case scenario the wheel might lock up or even fall off; I have learned that the hard way with a couple of shower/commode wheelchairs that were subjected to a daily dousing with soapy moisture. Rolling through sand or near salt water increases the risk of such damage.

An item that is easy to check is the condition of tires. If it has pneumatic, or air-filled, tires use a simple bicycle tire gauge to check the pressure. If lower than the recommended pressure printed on the side of the tire, do not under any circumstances try to refill it at an automated pump like those found at service stations; wheelchair or scooter tires hold a very small volume of air and can even explode if overinflated by a compressor normally used for inflating automobile tires. Some wheelers even deflate their tires slightly when flying so that they do not expand and explode while being carried in the cargo hold at high altitudes; upon landing and reuniting with their chair they use a small bicycle pump to re-inflate the inner tubes.

To avoid the need for that kind of caution I am a big fan of what are known as solid, or foam-filled, tires rather than air-filled. When I used to travel more frequently for business there were four occasions when a tire went flat on a weekend in the distant city. It is more difficult to find wheelchair repair service when traveling, and on weekends I found it to be impossible. Rolling slowly through an airport with one flat tire is not an experience I would recommend for anyone, so I have since "retired" my pneumatic tires.

As part of summer adventure or vacation preparations, follow up a good inspection with a trip to the repair shop if needed. There is no sense letting an oversight or deferred maintenance lead to a ruined day, or week, while traveling.

© 2018 Michael Collins

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.