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A Long Story: New Wheelchair Gone Wrong + Good Human Beings

BrookeUBrookeU Moderator Posts: 176 Moderator
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This will be a long post, so forgive me. However, what happened one week ago in Washington DC hasn't left my mind.

As many of you are familiar with, insurance only likes to pay for new wheelchairs every five years or so, and only for pretty basic, barely customized chairs, at that. After about three years with his current chair, my brother had enough. The wheelie bars were already falling apart, and the brakes totally gave out. He decided to shell out a big chunk of money out-of-pocket for a customized chair that he could use for years to come. He did his research on the company, which was recommended to him by many people. He was so excited to finally have his perfect chair.

It took six months to receive (it was three months late), arrived without a seatbelt or wheelie bars, and had a less-than-perfect welding job on the side guards. That was enough to make me upset, but he assured me it was fine and just a simple mistake.

Last Wednesday in Washington DC, we were strolling down the National Mall and on a ramp down from the Hirshhorn sculpture garden when, all of a sudden, the left wheel just came out entirely. A middle-aged gentleman happened to be walking by and caught my brother as he was falling. He cleverly thought to go inside the museum and ask for one of their wheelchairs they have for visitors (I never would have thought to do this) so that my brother could get in that while we turned his chair over to inspect.

It's hard to explain the mechanics of this, but basically, the rod is made of steel, and the part of the chair it was going into (the axel?) was made of aluminum, which caused it to start shredding. The threading was becoming undone, no tread for the rod/wheel to catch onto, and it came out. We were obviously frustrated because it was a new chair, and really this shouldn't happen with any chair. At the very least, a wheelchair should be able to keep its wheels on. We had no tools to even attempt to fix it, we were far from home, and didn't know what to do. Although we're both young adults, not having our mom with us (this was our first trip together without her) made us feel even more helpless.

(If you've read this far, yay! I'm sure some of you can relate to having a wheelchair that has messed up in the worst of times. But I'm also sure you can relate to what comes next: the kindness of other human beings restoring your faith in the world a little bit.)

While this man was trying to help us figure out what went wrong, another guy approaches to see what's going on. Turns out he's an art handler at the Hirshhorn, so he had a few tools on him. He used some kind of sharp tool to carve a new track on the aluminum part so that the steel rod had something to grab onto. He needed some more tools to get the job done, so he brought us into the staff only area of the museum's lower level (inside tour, heck yeah!). At this point, the first man who helped felt like we were in good hands and left so he could get back to his job (he was on lunch break). So now it's my brother, the art handler, and me in the basement. We're talking about random stuff, common interests, and how this chair could have possibly failed so soon. Eventually he finishes his work; the wheel was back on, and it lasted through the rest of the trip.

Although my brother will be returning the chair (I'm not sure if he's decided to just get it repaired or replace it entirely), the kindness of these strangers helped us more than they realized. I told the art handler that people like him make the world go 'round. In a world that isn't perfect for wheelchair users, it sure helps to have people who at least want to make things a little less stressful. I overheard something about a shift change, so it's possible that the art handler stayed past his shift just to help us. He asked for our contact info so we could keep in touch. We made a new friend! I know this may seem like such a long-winded story, but I'm still just so struck by it. I'm amazed at how the wheel happened to fall off right in front of a place that had spare wheelchairs and a guy who would know just how to help. Just imagine if it happened at night in front of a 7/11 or something...


  • jaarchjaarch Moderator Posts: 50 Moderator
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    It's amazing just how many really good people there are out there. After many weeks on social media, I tend to lose faith in humanity until I go out and meet folks face to face.
    I hope your brother goes with a different chair. It sounds like this one was engineered poorly.  
  • BrookeUBrookeU Moderator Posts: 176 Moderator
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    @jaarch, those kind of chance moments we get to have face to face are the best! Over the years, through all kinds of negative situations, we've been able to meet some of the best people. And me too — the thought of him losing a wheel with no one around freaks me out!
  • Monica.TMonica.T Member Posts: 105 ✭✭
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    So sorry about your brother's wheelchair, sounds like poor quality product and less than dependable workmanship on it, hope he gets a new one real soon. Sometimes when things fall apart (in your case, literally) life has a way of bringing right people into your life at just the time they are needed most. So glad you both got to enjoy the rest of your trip. And you learned something - noticed you said it was your first trip without your mom accompanying you, you learned that you and your brother can handle unexpected events pretty darn good, bet your mother is proud of both of you. Here's wishing you and your brother many more happy adventures.
  • BrookeUBrookeU Moderator Posts: 176 Moderator
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    Thanks for the kind words, @Monica.T! You're so right about the right people coming along at the right time. We look forward to lots more adventures — with and without our mom!
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