On Friday I had my test drive of the e-motion power-assisted wheels suggested by my Access to Work assessment.
The Invacare rep got the chair out for me and I sat in it for a while with the power-assist turned completely off, gently pushing backwards and forwards and just getting used to where everything was. The weight saved on the chair was added to by the wheels so it didn't feel too different to my existing manual chair (this is a good thing as it means if the power dies I will still be able to get myself out of the way). Then we turned the wheels on to the low setting.
No exaggeration, I was propelling it with my fingertips.
It was a bit disconcerting... kind of like a combination of walking on stilts, and trying to stand on a balance board, you know what you should be doing but it's difficult to suppress your 'normal' reactions. In a standard manual chair, if one wheel is going a bit too fast you either tug on that rim a bit to slow it down, or you push the opposite one a bit harder to catch up. But the wheels exaggerate the force applied... I didn't come off the pavement or into anyone's garden, but it was a near thing for the first minute or so.
A couple of hundred metres later we reached the end of the block and the first uphill slope. Two metres in and I could feel some resistance (although bear in mind that with a non-powered chair I wouldn't have even got this far). So I clicked it to the higher setting, and effortlessly glided up to the road.
Now the learning really started. The kerbs around here, even the dropped ones, are a bit too vicious to just roll up. So I had to learn how to tip the chair. The way you tip a chair is by gripping the wheels and shifting your bodyweight... this allows the small front castors to get onto the pavement, and then you can tip down again and give the wheels a good shove to get properly onto the kerb. Obviously when the wheels are powered it's easier to do the shove to get the big wheels onto the pavement, but it's that bit trickier to do the tipping. Happily the wheels are paired with anti-tippers, sort of stabilisers that stick out the back so that although you can tip back a bit, you're less likely to go right over. More on that later.
That dealt with, we were on to the main slope. This part of the hill is quite steep. If the wheels were going to fail anywhere, it was going to be here, and while I hoped it would work, I was entirely prepared for getting halfway up and needing a rescue.
Nope. Straight to the top, and talking the whole way, too. We had a bit of a rest at the top - the rep needed to get his breath back after walking up the hill, and I needed to tweet about having got off the estate! I was a little bit sore, obviously, but rather than it being a muscular pain from over-exertion when pushing, it was more just the unaccustomed repetitive shoulder movement as I moved my arms back and forth to touch the wheels.
Downhill was obviously much easier. Again, the intelligent wheels made a big difference - rather than rubbing my hands and clicking my wrists trying to pull back against an uncontrolled freewheel, I just had to keep light contact which prompted the wheels to apply resistance to stop themselves getting too much speed. The tipping for the kerbs was easier second time around, and before I knew it we were back home, where we pulled up the spec sheet and started talking options.
As far as the chair goes: the basic bare-minimum cost of the chair is £1,129, and the added bits and bobs that are contractually compulsory add-ons for it to accommodate the e-motion wheels (superior axle fittings and suchlike) bring it up to £1,528. This pretty much matches my AtW grant for the chair which is £1,526.
There are a couple of other options I want on the chair which don't come as standard. Steve and my PA both have quite small cars, so I want to get the fold-down back to make the chair more likely to fit in the boot... that's an extra £265. I will still need someone pushing when I'm having a rough time or if the batteries die... Steve is very tall, my PA is my height, so height-adjustable handles, £174. Other options that would be a bit nice but not quite as important are the bag that clips in underneath the seat at £34, a seat cushion at £45, and mud-guards which are £108 (fixed) or £193 (removable). I think I'm probably not having those.
Then there's the wheels themselves, rolling in at a cool £3,995. My grant for the wheels is... £3,995. How handy! Unfortunately, those anti-tippers mentioned above? The ones that are an absolute necessity if I want to have any chance of mounting the rubbish kerbs near my house without landing on the back of my head in the road? An extra £240. I'll pay it, obviously, and I'm not complaining by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a bit of a startling unplanned expense whilst being the sort of "option" that I wouldn't really class as "optional". I would have really expected that to have been included in the original assessment along with axle fittings and brakes.
I didn't want to let the rep take the wheels away, even though the chair they were on for the test-drive wasn't quite the right size for me and a horrible colour. I'm getting really impatient to go out, especially with the sunshine! The plan is that next week, once I've really ironed out exactly what options I'm having and made my final colour choice, the rep will visit again to take a deposit and the final order. After that, it should be about two or three weeks before I can take delivery.
I am very, very, very excited.