It was one of the most important days of my life. It was the day I received my first electric wheelchair. It was my first taste of independence.
Before this huge occasion I had been using a manual wheelchair. But I never had the strength to push it independently. I had to rely on my parents and siblings to take me wherever I (or they) wanted to go.
I remember travelling to the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne for my first electric wheelchair fitting. My parents found out that buying an electric wheelchair was a long process. Choosing the appropriate wheelchair base and finding a comfortable seat were very tricky.
The most difficult process was organising fundraising appeals so that we could afford the expensive electric wheelchair. I didn't notice all this preparation. I was only four years old. I just wanted to go fast!
When I first tried out what was to be the chair I was going to one day take home, it was an amazing experience. The occupational therapist, my parents, and the wheelchair salesman were all worried about how I would manage driving it. All I remember was it being easy to drive. I didn't crash into walls. I didn't bruise any shins! I was driving where I wanted to go, when I wanted to go there. Looking back, it was an extremely liberating experience.
Unfortunately, that was the just the demonstration and fitting. I wanted to take the chair back home with me right away. My parents said I would be able to have it soon. They didn't have the heart to tell me that it would take nearly nine months!
My first day
I was five years old when my electric wheelchair arrived. Naturally, the first thing I wanted to do was go for a drive. I somehow convinced my parents to let me travel unattended with just my 10-year-old brother Rory. We were under strict instructions to only travel as far as the local park one street away. I'm certain Rory was told to make sure I behaved myself. That wasn't the way it went, though!
It only took three minutes to get to the local park. I loved driving my chair for the first time. I was in control. I could go as fast or as slow as I wanted. At the park I tried out my chair on different surfaces. I enjoyed the bumps of the grass and sand. I also appreciated the smoothness of asphalt.
Then a local landmark caught my eye. It was a steep dirt mound. It was about three metres in circumference and a metre and a half in height. I remember trying to drive up it. But I couldn't do it. It was much too steep. I was bitterly disappointed.
My brother Rory wanted to help me out. He positioned himself behind my chair. He helped push me up the dirt mound. With the combined strength of my wheelchair’s motor and my brother, we scaled our own little Everest. I was king of the mountain!
Driving down the mountain was much harder. With a slight run up, I went full speed forwards off the side of the mound. My wheelchair then did a forward roll and flipped over itself. My face crashed hard into the dirt below.
My new wheelchair was only an hour old. Now it was sideways at the foot of a mountain. Rory somehow found the strength to push my chair back up. I was crying and my nose was bleeding heavily. I was far too sore and upset to be able to drive home.
Bleeding and blubbering
It only took three minutes to get to the park, but it seemed like an age before we arrived home. Rory tried his best to steer my wheelchair home with me bleeding and blubbering.
I can't remember much else. Rory probably got in a lot of trouble. I wonder if my parents ever regretted giving me that first taste of independence? Independence I used to almost break my nose.