The Cushion Disaster That Nearly Was

My trip to Penang to conduct the Disability Equality Training (DET) workshop at Universiti Sains Malaysia almost turned into a disaster. As always, whenever we travel up north from Kuala Lumpur to Penang, Wuan and I will make a stop in Ipoh to break the monotony of the long journey.

We went to pick up Wuan’s parents for lunch with us. At the restaurant car park, as Wuan was setting up the wheelchair for me, we realised that we had left the wheelchair cushion behind in Kuala Lumpur. I use two cushions of different thicknesses, the thinner Supracor Stimulite Sport when I am at home and a thicker Supracor Stimulite Classic XS when I am out and about.

The wheelchair was customised to be used with a cushion. Without one, my posture would be affected. It would be very uncomfortable and considering the long hours that I would be in the wheelchair at the workshop, there was a possibility of getting pressure sores on the buttocks as well. The first inclination was to make the 2-hour drive back to Kuala Lumpur for the cushion after lunch and then drive all the way to Penang. I estimated that we would arrive at the hotel in Penang at around 10pm.

The other option was to look for a cushion in Ipoh. There are no Supracor Stimulite dealers in Malaysia. I had to bring both of mine in from the USA. The next option was to get the ROHO, an air-filled cushion that I have pressure-mapped at the hospital with favourable results. I am not too fond of this cushion though because the air pressure has to be constantly monitored and being air-filled, there is always the issue of it springing a leak, more so when we are living with cats with sharp claws.

Roho Quadtro Select High Profile and Supracor Stimulite Classic XS
Top – Roho Quadtro Select High Profile. Bottom – Supracor Stimulite Classic XS.

The good thing about using a smartphone is that I could access the Internet to look for the address of Lifeline Innovators, a medical and rehabilitation equipment dealer, that I knew had a branch in Ipoh. I was surprised that for a shop that deals with rehabilitation equipment especially wheelchairs, it did not have a ramp to the shop. The helpful staff had to carry me in my wheelchair up three steps to the five-foot way and another step into the shop. It is ironic that while they sell enabling gears, they are also the source of disablement with the non-existent accessible facilities for disabled customers visiting the shop. The management of Lifeline Innovators should seriously look into this issue.

I wanted the Roho Quadtro Select Mid profile but they did not have my size. The staff let me test the Quadtro Select High Profile instead. I was seated rather high and felt wobbly and unstable. The good thing about this cushion is that the air can be released for better positioning. It felt more comfortable after some adjustments.

So, after haggling over the price, I parted with RM1,300 for the cushion and continued with our journey up north, praying that nothing else would go wrong after that. Considering the situation, it was a small price to pay. The decision to buy the Quadtro Select, although not as comfortable as my Stimulite Classic XS, was the better choice as opposed to driving all the way back home to pick the cushion up or the possibility of getting a pressure sore that could take months to heal sitting without the cushion.

FreeWheel Wheelchair Attachment In Malaysia

The wheelchair rolls well on smooth surfaces. Roads, pavements, grass and pebbled paths is another story. The small front caster can easily get caught between bumps and cracks. Apart from making it difficult to push, they make rides bumpy which in turn causes spasms of the legs. Traversing these surfaces could quickly damage the wheelchair as well. I avoid such terrains as much as possible. For someone who likes the great outdoors, it is indeed a difficult choice for me to make.

This is the same dilemma wheelchair users all over face when we want to go off the beaten path, until the FreeWheel Wheelchair Attachment was invented, that is. When I ordered the Tilite ZRA Series 2, I got the FreeWheel shipped together with the wheelchair to save on freight charges. With the FreeWheel hooked to the footrest, going across grassy fields or sandy beaches became a breeze. This practical mechanism is the brainchild of Pat Dougherty, a wheelchair user himself, who saw the need for an easier way to get the wheelchair across challenging terrains.

FreeWheel Wheelchair Attachment in Gurney Drive, Penang, Malaysia
Peter Tan with Tilite ZRA Series 2 and the FreeWheel Wheelchair Attachment in Gurney Drive, Penang, Malaysia.
Photo by Wuan.

The FreeWheel’s design is simple and ingenious. It consists of a 12.5 inch wheel attached to a fork. Attaching the Freewheel to the wheelchair is easy once the clamp is properly adjusted to fit the footrest. Swing the wheel out and place the clamp over the footrest. Pull the lever back and the FreeWheel is securely clamped to the footrest. Push the wheelchair forward to turn the wheel back. This lifts the front casters one inch off the ground. And all is good to go!

FreeWheel Wheelchair Attachment in Gurney Drive, Penang, Malaysia
Closer view of Peter Tan with Tilite ZRA Series 2 and the FreeWheel Wheelchair Attachment.
Photo by Wuan.

On my recent trip to Penang, I used the Freewheel at Gurney Drive, the Botanical Gardens and several other places. The ride was certainly smoother even over rough roads and paved walkways. Moving around was a joy. In tight spaces like at the food courts, I simply unclamped the FreeWheel, stored it by attaching it to the perch fastened to the back rigidizer bar. With the FreeWheel out of the way, I manuevered around crowds with ease. With the FreeWheel, I do not have to think twice about where I can go now. Using the wheelchair when I am out and about has become less inconvenient. Truly, the FreeWheel Wheelchair Attachment is the best thing since sliced bread for wheelchair users. Thanks, Pat, for a wonderful invention.

Farewell Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu

Former Chief Minister of Penang Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu passed away today at age 91. Long after he left the Chief Ministership of Penang, he was still remembered for all the progress that he had brought to the island, especially the setting of of the Free Trade Zone (FTZ) in Bayan Lepas. I have not met him in person but I have heard of the great things he had done to develop Penang to become the Silicon Valley of the East. This development opened up employment opportunities for so many Penangites then and now. My late father, a Consulting Supervising Electrical Engineer, benefitted greatly from the many factories that were set up there that employed his services. Tun Dr Lim is a true son of Penang worthy of the respect and admiration accorded to him by every Penangite. Rest in peace Tun, we will remember you for a long time to come.