Rolling On

Rolling On

I have always had an overwhelming sense of appreciation and respect for my friends who happen to need mobility devices like a scooter or wheelchair to get around. Their desire to remain actively engaged with the rest of the world rather than be confined within their own home shines through each time they roll out the door.

For the second time in my life I used a mobility scooter, this time to get around at the Consortium for MS Centers 2016 annual meeting. My first time was last summer at Disney World and I don’t think that quite counts the same, especially considering their scooters had a speed limiter on it that kept me at no more than three miles per hour and I was jammed in with lots of other people in the park and my family was along to run interference for me. This time I was on my own and it gave me a renewed appreciation for what my friends who must have a wheelchair or scooter to get around must encounter regularly.

IMG_2025

I rented the scooter mainly because I was still recuperating from reconstructive foot surgery and want to be sure it heals correctly –this requires my continuing to be cautious. I found a company online that’s specializes in scooter rentals for visitors to DC and the shiny blue four-wheeler was waiting for me when I arrived at the hotel. The first thing I had to figure out was what speed I wanted to go without going too fast or too slow. There was a rotating dial, illustrated with the sketch of a turtle and a hare for setting my speed and the throttle located inside the handles to go forward and backward. As best as I could figure, the top speed was about 8 miles per hour, almost three times as fast as my last rental. I know when I had open hallways and went full hare speed, it made my own hair fly from the strong breeze.

My first challenge was maneuvering through doors, both manual and automatic ones. I was traveling by myself and had to figure out how to unlock my room, push the door open and then slide on in, all while not bouncing violently off the walls and door. It looks rather easy when I watch my friends who are regular chair and scooter users but I now know it takes finesse and a lot of practice.

The elevator doors posed another problem – the button to ring for the lift was in the middle of a bank of eight elevators (four on each side). It became almost a game with me to guess which elevator door was going to open and then charge full speed to enter it before the doors closed. For some reasons the doors remained open for a very brief time and more than once I misjudged which door would open first and missed the chance to ride and had to push the button and wait again.

View from the glass elevator
View from the top in the elevator

Each time I caught the elevator, I found myself charging in full speed and having to stop abruptly once inside. This hotel’s elevators have a glass side, giving a great view of the hotel atrium, but also creating the feeling I was driving straight into the glass each time I got on. Because of the fast closing doors, if I was alone I had to speed into the elevator and then I found myself bringing my ride to an abrupt halt as I bounced off the railing inside the elevator. If it is possible to get whiplash on a scooter, I was working on it, but whiplash was preferable to crashing through the glass and careening down 20 stories to the atrium.

Then there were my excursions outdoors with the scooter. The sidewalks were not wide enough for me and a companion to travel side-by-side without blocking others, so I traveled ahead or behind the pack when we went out to dinner and also to an off-site presentation. The hotel was situated along the Potomac River and I ventured out to take a look at the water dockside. The path to travel down from the hotel to the dock was steep and full of flights of stairs, but there was also a route marked handicapped accessible, which lured me. Their path was narrow, comprised of multiple hairpin tight turns which I could envision it was the equivalent of traveling down the infamous Lombard Street in San Francisco. Unlike Lombard Street, this path was not one way and I had to go up it to return to the hotel. I remained aware that if I miscalculated the turns the wheels of my scooter would be off the path and I would be stranded until help would arrive.

Lombard Street in San Francisco
Lombard Street in San Francisco

I thought of the times my dear friend DJ would be out and about, and her motorized chair would stop due to a malfunction or she couldn’t completely clear a curb and she would hang in limbo until someone would come and rescue her. It’s one thing to be dependent on a mechanical device but something totally different if there is also a need for the intervention and the aid of others.

The switchback path to the waterfront
The switchback path to the waterfront
The view from the waterfront looking back up to the Center
The view from the waterfront looking back up to the Center

The view of the world from this seated position is definitely different too – and how the world viewed me seemed to change as well. There’s something to be said about having an eye-to-eye conversation instead of staring at someone’s midsection. Unlike so many of my friends in chairs, I had the ability to park my scooter and then stand to talk with others. Even though I was already aware of this, my scooter time gave me the personal experience of how much harder communicating with others is for anyone on wheels.

I have another big conference coming soon and I have rented another scooter; I can only hope my driving skills have improved. As for those of you who regularly use wheels to get around, my own experiences give me a renewed appreciation and respect for what you do daily. You handle these obstacles with humor and grace and I hope that also carries over to me as I go another round with a scooter.

Wishing you well,

Laura

The experience was humbling…

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (16)
  • Guitar-Grrrl
    2 years ago

    Laura, thanks for a great article! I own a scooter that I pretty much only use for events like car shows, county fair, Maker Faire, and any other large scale gathering. I broke down and used a FREE scooter while visiting the botanical gardens in Wellington NZ, this last Spring. My fatigue was kicking my butt, and I never would have seen the whole thing without it.

    Mdanielsmom I “Steam Punked” my scooter. Totally my own! I love that you want to do your chair, too!

  • Laura Kolaczkowski author
    2 years ago

    New Zealand? Wow! I am impressed and would love to hear about your trip Grrrl! This scooter episode, while humbling, was aso what saved me and made the conference possible to cover. -Laura

  • DonnaFA moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi Guitar-Grrrl! It’s great that the botanical garden (New Zealand – how cool!) had a scooter available so that you didn’t miss any of what had to be an exquisite exhibit. Your steampunk scooter sounds awesome! Stop by ourMutipleSclerosis.Net Facebook Page and share a photo, we’d love to see it!

    Thanks for sharing and for being part of the community! -All Best, Donna(MultipleSclerosis.net team)

  • Lisa
    2 years ago

    i rented a scooter for a church conference that was in a huge center. i had the same problems adjusting and had a few crashes. by time the end of the conference i was a good driver. i was glad i had it as i couldn’t have managed all the walking without it. the main thing i finally noticed was a drawing on the side that told the directions to push for forward and back. that really helped.

  • Laura Kolaczkowski author
    2 years ago

    Those scooters look like they would be sipmle, but then you have to try them and find out its not quite so easy. -Laura

  • Azjackie
    2 years ago

    I admire you all for your courage. A mobile devise would help me for long distances or those – not so well – days however I am 45 and trying to hold out until 50 for this change.

    It is a combination of living in the town I grew up in with people I grew up with, worked with, and guided in my profession. I don’t want them to feel sorry for me. Also I am afraid I will atrophy if used. Also I do not want to incite fear while driving. Often it is thought by law enforcement, how are the users able to drive an automobile when such assistance is needed?

  • Lisa M
    2 years ago

    Azjackie

    Im baffled by you saying your holding out till your 50, to use a mobility scooter. I too live in the town I grew up in, with same people I worked with. I can say none of them feel sorry for me or treat me any different.

    I don’t worry about atrophy as I am not always using the scooter,I do PT daily in order to not let muscles atrophy. Please don’t try to ‘hold out’ on something that could be so beneficial to you now.

  • Lisa M
    2 years ago

    rmdanielsom

    Right on, I love it! I have some stickers on the back part of my seat on the scooter, it has indeed allowed other’s to strike up a chat or two and only once did someone ask me why I was on a scooter, they mostly asked where I got the decals….I even met someone in my area who’s Mom has MS….we now talk on the phone and sometimes meet for lunch, swap stories.

  • rmdanielsom
    2 years ago

    Laura,

    Your article was not quite what I was expecting. I thank you for the article that you wrote and for not meeting my expectations.

    I wish that all doctors, nurses, physical therapists and anyone else would spend one day a month living in a scooter or better yet, a powered wheelchair.

    My powered wheelchair is all that keeps me from being bedridden. And quite frankly I have a love-hate relationship with that chair.

    I can see some of that developing with you in the article that you wrote.

    I would like to see you do a sequel to this article. That sequel being you’re using a powered chair instead of the scooter at your next event and to do the whole event from your powered chair. That means restaurants (no parking the chair, and getting up and taking a step or two or 10 to your table; drive that chair up to the table and eat your meal from that wheelchair), bathrooms, programming/panels/meetings, transportation (public transportation or a handi-van), checking in or out of your hotel.

    I am interested in your thoughts and perspectives in doing your job from a powered wheelchair. I firmly believe that every medical professional out there should do their job for a month from a powered wheelchair; just as they ask their patients to live their lives.

    Again, I want to thank you for this article. You are getting a glimmering of what your life could be like a year, five years, or 10 years from now if there is no treatment or cure found for this disease.

    And I want to thank you for so eloquently and succinctly relating your experiences.

  • Laura Kolaczkowski author
    2 years ago

    Thank you for taking the time to write – it is comments such as yours that really make this work worthwhile. -Laura

  • potter
    2 years ago

    So far I just use a scooter at the large grocery stores, if I try to walk it, I will have to quit shopping before I am finished shopping. It is a lot colder on a scooter and some people treat you like a child. If you drive one in a grocery store you’ll get use to people staring at you. Maybe you can wear a big “I have MS” button. Denice

  • Laura Kolaczkowski author
    2 years ago

    those store scooters are horrible – it would be nice if they were better taken care of for the people who need them.But it is also terrific that they are available for free to use because they make a real difference for so many people who could not otherwise make it through these giant stores….. -Laura

  • Lisa M
    2 years ago

    Machille

    I feel bad that you get embarrassed when people are looking at you and wondering why your on a scooter when you look fine, I do…been there! I started out using a cane but that no longer is enough.

    I just decided that it didn’t matter what anyone thought, this is MY life, MY time and Im going to do what ever I can to be able to get out of my home and still go places and do things, sure it takes a little more time but I won’t let that stop me.

    I missed out on things for awhile because I didn’t want people looking at me either but I got tired of missing out for the sake of those other people, Now I can go to the zoo, I can go for walks (rolls) I even did the MS walk with my family last year, Its very freeing and I no longer slow anyone down, Im usually saying, C’mon!

    I just hope you can get to that place where it won’t bother you if anyone is looking, because it really doesn’t matter and to be honest I bet their not looking as much as you may feel they are.

    You can do it, I know you can!

    Wishing you luck and sending you support!

  • Machille
    2 years ago

    I can understand your trouble driving. I have a nice scooter that was given to me by a dear friend. I have used it 4 or 5 times just to go to the little store located in our apartment complex. It’s just a little to far for me to walk. Instead of driving my car, I’ve taken my scooter. It makes me feel bad because every body looks at me that certain way. I do walk with a cane. People just have a way of staring that makes me feel very uncomfortable. I refuse to take my scooter in public or ride in a motorized cart because of the stares. Just because my symptoms are some what invisible to strangers, doesn’t mean I don’t need it. Because of this, I avoid large stores that require a lot of walking, avoid events where I can’t find a place to sit and enjoy what’s going on, and miss out on a lot. It’s by my choice though. My family says to use the scooter or motorized cart, but I feel embarrassed because every body looks at me trying to figure out what’s wrong with me with that stare. My doctor wanted me to have a wheelchair about 2 years ago, but I said no basically for the same reasons. My family is very supportive, but at times they become short tempered because even with a cane, I slow them down. I take to long getting around a store, or I take to long getting ready. I envy you for renting the scooter and not worrying what others think or do. I wish I had your courage. Take care and good luck driving your scooter at your next event.

  • rmdanielsom
    2 years ago

    Machille,

    I live in a small town that is not wheelchair friendly physically. And, as I stated in another post, I have a love-hate relationship with my wheelchair.

    I love the limited freedom that it gives me, without it I would be bedridden. I hate the chair and being treated as a child simply because I cannot meet somebody eye to eye, or better yet, as if I was mentally incompetent or didn’t exist.

    I am on my second chair which is more noticeable than my first one. I have decided that since you cannot ignore it, I’m going to flaunt it.

    I still have to work out all the details, but I’m going to Steam Punk my chair. There will be no missing that chair or me when I am done.

    Since I have to use this device, I might as well have some fun with it. If other people don’t like it they can do one of two things; they can either bite my anatomy or help find a cure for MS. The one thing that they will not be able to do is ignore me.

    Who knows, maybe somebody will come over to strike up a conversation with me about my chair and I will make a new friend.

  • Lisa M
    2 years ago

    Good article Laura, I use a scooter every time I leave the house now but since I no longer drive, Im always with someone, I have always thought about “what if I didn’t have help” I would have very hard time with certain situations for sure, the elevator being one of them.

    I totally get what your saying about the eye to eye thing, Most the time its not even an issue for me but on occasion, and its usually at grocery store, the checker may treat me as Im not there, my husband or whom ever Im with is the standing, eye to eye person. It used to make me angry and sometimes I’d say something as I rolled away, like Im not invisible and shake my head in disgust.

    It doesn’t happen very much but when it does, I now just smile as I roll away and say, Have great day. I remember the first time I had to use one at a store, it was tricky learning to dive it so I got a few chuckles from your article, it gets easier every time, those scooters at store are like a zambonie to be now, their so big and slow, I love my small, speedy one, I can feel the wind in my hair sometimes too!

    Carry on ;- )

  • Poll