What’s a Ratchet?

When I took on being a full time caregiver, I knew I was taking on full responsibility for skin care, elimination, nutrition, hygiene, assistance with activities of daily living and even physical therapy.  What I hadn’t counted on was taking on my husband’s role of maintenance mechanic for our home. Having a medical background, I’m comfortable with the caregiver duties; not so much with the mechanic ones.  In fact, they intimidate me to the point of panic when Lynn says something like he did last night, “Go get a ratchet.”

His electronic peddler (that he had been using almost non-stop for spasticity release for the past three years) recently bit the dust.  We had taped it up with duct tape, oiled all visible parts, and my solution, jiggled it unmercifully, with no success.  Resuscitation attempts of the old one was “called” and we had to pull out our backup peddler.  Unfortunately, when we turned on the backup, this terrible grinding noise could be heard with every rotation.  Since the grinding seemed to be coming from the motor, Lynn’s recommendation was to order a new one and return the noisy one when it came in.  So I did.  Well, the new one isn’t noisy but it has a hitch in its giddy-up.  Every rotation now is accompanied with a shimmy jump that can be felt in the base of Lynn’s foot and all the way up the leg. Upon watching the action for a period of time, he made the pronouncement, “I don’t think the arm is tight enough.  You need to tighten up the bolt. Go get the ratchet.”

Hearing the, “Go get…” was like a Pavlovian response for me.  My skin became clammy; I developed tunnel vision; and the muscles in my head and neck tightened.  It happened to be raining yesterday so my arthritic hands were already screaming with every use. “Wait a minute.  I can’t tighten anything today,” I responded. “My hands hurt, too, much.”

“It will be okay. The ratchet will do all the work.”

To myself, I’m mumbling, sure, that’s what you always say but outwardly, I’m saying, “okay, I’ll give it a try.”  So, off I go in search of a ratchet.

Lynn has not been in the garage in at least five years.  During that time, many of his friends, our kids, and I have gone into the garage to use his tools.  He remembers the tools being right where he last saw them. That’s not exactly true anymore so the first thing I have to do is search for and locate this item that I don’t know what is.  He describes it as a long silver tool with a thing like a bolt sticking out the side at the end of it.  I start looking under things, opening all the drawers in the tool box, moving things around and piling them into new heaps (that will again cause confusion in the future because they have again been moved), until finally, I find three silver things that match the description.  “Is this it?” I ask my mentor.

“Yes,” he responds, “but you also need the sockets.”

“Okay, what are those and why didn’t you mention that before?”

“Those are small silver round things that you put on the bolt and which inserts into the racket.  There is a metal strip out there that has what you need on it.”

He doesn’t answer my question on why he didn’t tell me this the first time and I proceed to look for sockets.  I find a metal strip with silver things that match his description.  At least half of the slots are empty so I look through drawers again finding similar items and again return to Lynn.

“Where’s all the sockets that belong on the strip?”

“Who knows?  I told you things have been moved around. This is all I can find. Okay.  What now?”

Lynn proceeds to tell me how to remove the protective cap covering the bolt on the arm of the peddler. Then we go through how to select the correct size.  I try to figure out how to attach the socket to the racket finally being successful after multiple attempts to push it into place. I put it on the bolt wrong, feeling totally inferior as a mechanic.  It doesn’t work so I try it the other way and it works!  After multiple, painful, tightening attempts, the arm of the peddler seems tighter and the squeak that was accompanying the giddy-up hop goes away. Triumph!

I felt a real sense of accomplishment afterwards not letting the tools intimidate me into submission; however, apparently, my strength was not sufficient for a long term fix because the shimmy and squeak is back today.  I think it’s time now to call in the professionals – men who know a ratchet by sight; know how to put the sockets on correctly the first time; and whom when they tighten something, it stays tightened.

I’m gradually learning more about house maintenance even though I’m doing it with a significant amount of resistance and mumbling. I do admit a sense of accomplishment when I do something right but I also resent having to do EVERYTHING.  I had much rather call a friend or one of our sons to do it. They handle it all so much better than I do, but Lynn thinks I can do anything.  He thinks he can tell me what to do and I’ll miraculously absorb his talents and be successful.  Not so, unfortunately.  He sees my frustration and he feels guilty for asking me to do more. He feels frustrated because he could do it SO EASILY if only his hands worked; so we both have our painful realities that come with the changes in his body.  It’s just one more of the challenges that we overcome daily and one more I need to learn to accept with laughter rather than tears.  I need to accept that I’m not a good mechanic but I might be an okay one and learn to try before giving up.  It will come; it just takes time.

Oh, and by the way… I just fixed that squeak in the peddler.  WD40 works wonders!

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