November 11, 2011

Mum hasn’t really been able to stand for the last month, something I’ve seen coming since the beginning of the year. This has made awkward getting her into the car. Getting Mabel
out of the car hasn’t been so bad, basically I’ve hauled her out. But when getting her in, I have relied on her being able to lift herself just a little, with my help. Then I’ve got behind her and often had to take her weight on my thigh (a position that can be held almost indefinitely if I get it right) before she’s been able to raise her right foot and place it into the car, which has been the signal for me making the final effort of getting her into the front passenger seat. But I knew that was a system that had no long-term future. One of these days I would do my back in, or Mabel would end up on the ground. And I wanted to avoid both these outcomes.

It looked like we would have to invest in a WAV (wheelchair accessible vehicle). A Renault Kangoo might be ideal for our situation. I would just push Mabel’s wheelchair up a ramp into the back of the car and fasten the chair securely to the lowered floor of the vehicle in a space created by the removal of half the back seat. I was on the point of going round to our local garage with the £1500 deposit when I was told that the particular car we were after had been sold to someone else.

That same morning I remembered that a friend had suggested I try a transfer board. So I thought this through and bought a transfer board and a special belt, and since then I’ve been using these to help get Mum in and out of our existing car. Is the new system working? After two weeks of using it, the jury is still out. I’m taking things one trip at a time.

I drive the Renault Modus up to the home as so often before. Mum is sitting in her wheelchair in the hallway, leaning to the right. She manages a weak smile of greeting as I kiss her, and I attach the special belt around her over her thick coat. As I push her out of the building and up to the car I’m thinking: “OK, here we go.”

First, I place by the passenger side of the car a three-inch wooden platform that Mum’s nephew, a local joiner, has made for us. Then I lift the wheelchair’s wheels onto the platform, and push the chair so that it is now alongside the open front door, its seat the same height off the ground as the car seat. Then I try to straighten Mum while pulling up and out of the way the right arm/side of the wheelchair. Leaving Dad to check that Mabel doesn’t collapse to her right, I run around the back of the car, picking up the shiny wooden transfer board from the boot. I clamber over the driver seat and into what will be Mum’s seat. Then I strive to work the tapered board under Mum’s bottom, between her coat and the cushion that she sits on. Though the board is ‘long’ it’s is only 30 inches from end to end, and there is a considerable gap between car seat and wheelchair seat, so I can’t afford to push the board too far under Mum. Next I take hold of two of the hoops on the belt round Mum’s waist and give a little tug. She slips along the board quite nicely. But I don’t haul her all the way, I take one hand off the belt in order to lift Mum’s legs into the car. Then I finish pulling her into place and remove the board. The board goes in the boot, along with the folded up wheelchair and the wooden platform. Now all I need do is fasten Mum’s usual seat belt and we’re off.

So we’ve managed it. Mum has not been too stressed by the manoeuvre and it’s a sequence of movements that I’ve coordinated fairly well. We’re on our second transfer board (the first one wasn’t long enough) and I’ve backed over the wooden platform once. But I see these as teething problems.

Perhaps the sensible option would be to go ahead and buy a WAV vehicle, but I’m attached to the Renault Modus. We’ve drunk a lot of tea in this car, the three of us, and Dad has sung a lot of songs. It’s taken us to what I can only call existential spots, places I’ll remember for the rest of my life. But Dad and I are monitoring the situation, and when the time is right we will surely say: “Goodbye Modus, hello Kangoo.”

Mum is quiet today. She’s hardly said a word, as has been the pattern recently. When we stop to admire the autumn tints over a cuppa, I have to keep encouraging her to drink her tea. And I have to break up her biscuit and feed her with it one bite-size chunk at a time. As I’m doing this a wave of grief suddenly hits me. I realise that for a couple of weeks I’ve concentrated on the mechanical issues of getting in and out of the car and have put more fundamental aspects of Mum’s welfare to the back of my mind. She’s failing…

She’s not failing fast though. She’s failing slowly but surely, and I’m going to watch over the process and do what I can to make sure she has a smooth ride home.

“Home again, home again, jiggity-jig,” says Dad as we pull up. And because Mum doesn’t respond to the jaunty words I repeat them close to her right ear, while steeling myself for the disembarkation procedure.