Posted by: paulbassler | February 26, 2013

Adjusting to Disabilities

In May of 2008, my wife of thirty-six years suffered a burst brain aneurysm that left her paralyzed on the right side of her body. It cost us nearly every penny we owned to save her life, even with medical insurance coverage, and thank God she did survive. Though she can speak well enough, she cannot move her right arm or leg. As you can imagine, this event changed our lives forever. Prior to her stroke we had plans, lots of plans. Since then, the time we used to spend dreaming and planning are now spent learning how to survive. For nearly five years now, we have been in survival mode, trying to figure out how to accomplish the simplest things, like getting in and out of bed, taking showers, getting out of the house and dealing with incontinence.
The first thing we learned when trying to adjust to our new life with disabilities was that medical supplies and equipment are outrageously expensive. Medical science has developed a number of helpful things for the disabled, like power chairs, adjustable hospital beds, hydraulic hoists and car lifts. The only problem is, each of these items costs an arm and a leg, no pun intended. Our first challenge, once we were out of the hospital trying to start our lives over, was car access devices. When it comes to cars, I really couldn’t find any automated way to get my wife in and out of a car. In order to adjust, we had to sell our cars and buy a van. I wish we could have afforded a van designed for the disabled, but those were way out of our price range. You can get a van with a hydraulic lift, so your loved one can simply role on to the lift and into the van, assuming the roof of the van is high enough to handle a person sitting in a wheelchair. You can also get a regular van and have it modified. One company I visited will lower the floor of our van, remove the passenger seat and make it handicap friendly. All they wanted was $17,000.
Most recently, our biggest challenge has been to try and weigh my wife. This past summer my wife suffered a mild heart attack and during her one week stay at the hospital we learned she had gained nearly 100 lbs. since her stroke. Obviously, my wife’s weight had become a big problem since she was confined to a wheelchair. One of the few pleasures she has in life is eating, but without the capability to work off the calories she gained weight very rapidly. Over the past several months, we have begun a serious diet, limiting calories and carbs and the amount of food we eat each day. The only problem has been our inability to weigh her in order to see if our diet is working. I looked up wheelchair scales on the internet, only to find price tags ranging from $2,000 to $3,000.
In trying to solve this problem, I came up with a plan. I bought a fish scale for about $55. It’s the long hanging scale that can measure weights up to 300lbs. I was able to attach the scale to our hydraulic hoist (used to move her from bed to wheelchair) and all we have to do is hoist her up and read her weight. Today was the first time we were able to weigh her in months and it turns out she has lost fifty pounds on our new diet. With the addition of a few smaller accessories used to attach the scale to the hoist, the entire cost of our weighing system was about $90. It could also have been done by using a pulley system from a roof beam, using the fish scale, which is what I was going to do if the hoist didn’t work.
Over the past five years, we’ve learned to adjust our lives to deal with my wife’s disability. From building a shower capable of holding a shower chair; to building 20 ft. ramps leading to our front and back doors; to putting a swivel pad in the car for rotating her into the passenger seat; to buying a floor pad for the van that allows us to change her when traveling long distance, we have adjusted our lives in many ways. Though we have come a long way, there is still so much more we hope to get done in the months and years ahead. Since we are limited on funds, we have to use ingenuity. It’s a different life than we once foresaw, but it is life and we are finding ways to enjoy it.
Our new life experiences have given me a new appreciation for what many people have had to do in order to care for their disabled loved ones. I can only imagine what their ingenuity has produced. It’s wonderful to see what medical science has created, but for those who cannot afford expensive medical equipment, I am sure that many have found inexpensive functional alternatives that have helped to improve their lives. If you have figured out some inexpensive solutions to your caregiving challenges for a disabled loved one, please email me at and share, or provide comments at my blog site,


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