In the “olden days” — say, the early 1930s — heavy wooden crutches came one-size-fits-all. Today’s lightweight metal crutches can be customized to a fine degree. But unless the patient is taught how to use them, he’s doomed to suffer blistered armpits. Making sure the hand grip is neither too high nor too low lets the arms bear the body weight. Crutch-walking requires coordinating the separate forward movement of body, then crutch. Or crutch, then body. Whichever works. That takes training.
Walkers, too, can be height-adjusted, both the old pick-’em-up, set-’em-down frames or multi-functional wheeled chariots. Always, the user should be able to walk upright. When it’s set too low, as they usually are, the patient leans into that awkward, bent-double old-codger shuffle. Standing erect avoids squashing internal organs. Standing tall restores dignity.
Today’s lightweight wheelchairs are finely engineered to roll smoothly with minimal push power. Many chair users who have functional feet can actually “walk” the chair while seated. Using arms and hands, most could propel themselves — but they don’t know how. Problem is, too many new patients are just plopped onto the chair to wait for help — or just fend for themselves.
Recently, I’ve helped two people who simply did not know they could turn their own wheels.
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“Just grip the hand rim,” I tell them. Both asked the same question: “What hand rim?” You mean, the dispenser didn’t bother to mention that little detail?
I guess it’s up to us to ask, “How do you use this thing?”
What we don’t know can deprive us of mobility, independence and pride. Just ask.