Friday, 31 August 2018

Off the beaten track

I wouldn't call myself an avid hiker but outside of the nettle and wasp season, I do really enjoy getting out there, off the beaten track, in the woods and exploring the countryside. I thought, with my Freewheel, that I'd found the best solution for off-roading, but to be honest, I've had so many problems with it that I just don't trust it that much, so I started looking for something better.

Mountain Trike

When I Googled off-road wheelchairs, most of the results were big electric scooters, and as many of you know, it's really important to me that I get exercise, so powered vehicles aren't my thing. Then I found the Mountain Trike website. They've updated their site since then, and now the first thing you see is the price. I had to search for prices and I nearly gave up when I found them. It seemed too expensive. However, I did want to try one out, so I kept searching. That was when I found Experience Community, a Huddersfield-based group that are about getting disabled people into the countryside.

Back in January, we were supposed to be going on holiday but had to cancel, as I was too unwell. Later in the week, however, I felt up to some day trips, so we had a drive over to Slaithwaite, near Huddersfield, to try out a Mountain Trike. The guys at Experience Community were absolutely great. It helps that some of them are also active wheelchair users, so one of them showed me how to use the trike and took us for a walk along the canal bank. By the time we got back, I was sold!

How it works

The main difference between the trike and a normal wheelchair is that you propel it using levers. The advantage of this, is that you don't get wet, dirty hands and wrists when it's wet. It also means that you can pretty much get across any surface. The wheels have got huge tyres with big grippies that are perfect for mud, grass, sand, etc. The mechanism makes it much easier to progress over uneven ground than in a normal chair. Plus, it's got mega-suspension that takes out all the bumps and vibrations, to make it really comfy.

Photo of me taking the dog for a walk with my mountain trike

To steer, there is a side to side mechanism on the right lever. That's also where the brakes are. You just push the handle to the left or right and that makes the back wheel change direction. It is a bit weird at first, having rear steering. It's like driving a B&Q trolley! Also, when Liggy pulls to the side, I turn the other way, which total baffles her. 


In my normal chair, going up steep hills can be a little scary, as the centre of gravity makes it want to tip over backwards. Going down is fantastic though - great fun! Well, the mountain trike is the opposite. Going uphill, though slow and hard work, is great. The trike feels very secure and even on steep hills, it shows no signs of tipping, mainly because the trike wheel is at the back. Going downhill, on the other hand, is quite scary! The brakes do help but any thoughts of sailing down at high speed, in manner of rollercoaster, have to be totally suppressed! It's quite hard to brake gently and when I brake, I get thrown forward, which is what those little front wheels are there for. They stop me falling too far forwards.

So, if you like getting out and about and don't want to be restricted to concrete and asphalt paths, I strongly recommend this piece of kit! Rather cheekily, I got mine second hand off eBay, but I would certainly use the guys at Experience Community, and I've already had it into them for a gold service.

Photo of me sitting in my mountain trike and Liggy sitting on the lawn

Thanks to my brother-in-law, Graham, for the photos.

Friday, 10 August 2018

Adapting the home

When we bought our current house, back in 2015, we knew it needed a couple of things doing urgently. The bathroom was completely unusable for me, so that had to be replaced before we even moved in. We got a stairlift fitted pretty quickly too. The rest was always a bit of a middle to long-distance dream.

Most of the spring was taken out with a major rebuild of the downstairs of the house. The main aim was to make the kitchen accessible but we wanted to really make better use of the space too. It's just as well we got on with it when we did! Now Neil is back to commuting to and from work every day, I need to be able to cook independently and safely, and the recent renovations have allowed that to happen.

The kitchen

Our kitchen was quite small and the entrances were too narrow for a wheelchair. There wasn't enough worktop space and I couldn't stand for long enough to prepare food anyway. So here's what we did...

1. We knocked through into the dining room to make one big open-plan room. It's now a lovely L-shaped room with plenty of space and fully wheelchair accessible.

2. We included one lowered worktop. We also bought a spare wheelchair for in the house. So now, I can sit and prepare food in comfort, wheeling myself between the fridge, cooker and work prep area.

Picture of lowered section of worktop with food ready to prepare and wheelchair

Picture of worktop with potatoes ready to peel and chop

3. We splashed out on an oven with a retractable door. This makes it much easier for me to get things in and out safely.

4. We went for a hard-flooring option. Actually, it's vinyl, but not like the 1970s lino that I imagined. It looks really clean and modern. It's hard-wearing enough for wheeling over and for Liggy to run around on.

The toilet

Our downstairs toilet was not dissimilar to the sort you get on an aeroplane. It was tiny and really difficult to get in and out. So we built a new utility room, with a toilet at one end. Again, it's fully accessible in my chair, though I often don't need to wheel in.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

What does your dog do? (4)

She undresses me

I remember being asked, at my Canine Partners assessment visit, whether it would be useful for a dog to help me get undressed. I dismissed it as something I could do myself and thought no more about it. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, it is one of the most useful things that Liggy does for me. Sure, I can do it myself but I hadn't realised how much energy it would save me and how much better my back would be if I stopped fighting with my clothes and let her do all the hard work for me.

My favourite thing is when she takes my pyjama jumper off. I've got one of those big fluffy over-jumper thingies that I use instead of a dressing gown but the sleeves stick to my pyjama sleeves, making it really difficult to remove. Liggy makes light work of it though. For today's video, I didn't think taking pyjamas off was a very good idea, so we went for the removal of coat and saloupettes.

She also takes off socks, shirts, hoodies, cardigans, etc. Her latest trick is to remove my socks and then run straight round to the other side of the bed and put it straight in the wash basket. I think that is just brilliant!

Saturday, 17 March 2018

What does your dog do? (3)

Sticks and crutches

I had a few people, last week, tell me they enjoyed watching Liggy retrieving small items off the floor. It is quite amazing how she can pick up even really tiny things and give them back to me, without eating them. However, I find it equally amazing, given her relatively small size (for a lab) that she can pick up big items like my walking stick and crutches. This was one of the first tasks she learned when we came home. To help her know where to pick them up, we put blue tape round. This is also helpful because metal can feel a bit strange on her teeth, so the tape feels soft, which she prefers. Anyway, this video was taken at Christmas (hence the tree). At that time, it was just a game but now, it's another of those tasks that I wonder how I ever coped without.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

What does your dog do? (2)

Yesterday, I showed how Liggy comes downstairs on a morning and lifts the footplate on my stairlift. The next thing she usually does, is perhaps her easiest task of all but she does this a lot for me, at various points throughout the day. She does it a lot at work. She does it in church. She does it in restaurants...

Being unobtrusive

Photo of Liggy lying quietly in her bed

It would be easy to forget the value of this one because it's not a task at all really. However, can you imagine what my work life would be like if Liggy wasn't able to settle quickly and quietly, wherever I need her to? In reality, she does a fair bit of this in my office...

Liggy lying quietly in my office

In the morning, she generally lies quietly while I have my breakfast and a couple of cups of coffee. Then we change rooms and she lies quietly again while I do physio. Of course, if something were to happen... if I were to drop something, she would be up in a shot!

Retrieving dropped items

It's pretty much impossible to video this in a real situation because even though I drop things all the time, I rarely have my phone to hand and ready to video it. She is just too quick for that. Here's a quick clip of her retrieving some items. I picked a pencil, a highlighter pen and a loyalty card. A pencil is thin but otherwise, not too tricky. She does pens too. The highlighter pen is quite tricky because it's slippery and a funny shape. The loyalty card is really thin and small. If she wanted to, she could probably eat it... but she knows it's mine and it doesn't smell of food, so she hands it straight back to me.

At some point, I should count up how many things I drop during a normal day. Keys, pens, money, cards... That's why this was her first task that she learned. I would guess that this is the most commonly taught and used task for Canine Partners.