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How I stopped my runaway wheelchair

By Ernie Williamson

The Bulletin

Never in my 11 years in a wheelchair have I faced a predicament like the one confronting me on a recent August night.

It was late. The house was dark. My wife was sleeping.

I was getting ready to retire when the wheelchair I was sitting in started moving with no help from me. The problem: I had no way to stop it.

You are probably wondering how that is possible.

Let me explain: I have a manual wheelchair with a SmartDrive, an assist device that can power my wheelchair when I am too tired to roll it myself.

The device consists of the SmartDrive itself, the power unit that attaches to the back of the chair, and the PushTracker, a wristband with a Bluetooth connection that communicates with the SmartDrive.

The PushTracker allows me to turn the SmartDrive on and off and control the speed.

I still steer the chair the old-fashioned way, using my hands on the wheels.

The SmartDrive comes with a warning from the company. To prevent accidental activation, the company warns users to always turn off the PushTracker when parked and when taking it off.

That night I was in a narrow hallway that has a counter where I charge the devices I require for contemporary living. There is the iPhone, the iPad, electric shaver, hearing aids and the PushTracker.

Suddenly, the wheelchair started rolling down the hallway. I had forgotten to turn off the PushTracker.

I would like to say that this was the only time I had forgotten to deactivate the PushTracker, but it is not. Usually, however, I can grab the PushTracker off the counter and turn it off. No harm done.

But this time, the PushTracker was out of reach.

I was heading down the hallway toward a collision with a closet door I was all too familiar with.

Once, when I had also forgotten to turn off the PushTracker, I slammed into the door in such a way that my foot became wedged between the door and my chair.

I had to call my wife for help.

So, this time I avoided the door by turning left into the dining room.

That was a stupid mistake.

My quickly devised plan was to find something to crash into that would stop the runaway chair but not damage furniture or appliances.

The dining room was not the place. I had left the hallway - the only lighted area in the house - for a dark room filled with antiques. To make matters worse, our cat hangs out there.

Bear is an all-black cat hard to spot in the dark during the best of circumstances. Detecting him while whizzing by in a wheelchair would be impossible. I feared running over him.

I decided the best crash site was the bedroom, where I could slam into my bed without any damage.

The only problem: The bedroom is on the other side of the house.

So, I left the dining room - without hearing any cat screams - and entered the kitchen - where I narrowly missed the refrigerator, navigated around an island, and avoided scraping the cabinetry.

Coming out of the kitchen and breakfast area, I entered the living room, another Bear hangout and a room with a large glass cabinet filled with my wife’s antique dishes.

There were no cat shrieks or sounds of glass breaking, so I headed for the bedroom, where I slammed into the bed, stopping the out-of-control wheelchair.

Mission accomplished.

(Contact Ernie at Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)


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