Thursday, 31 May 2018

User Repair -No. 2

User Repair - Number 2 (When necessity drives action)

Having finished a day's work outside in the yard, I entered the quiet of my home.,,,  What the heck is that?  I get off the Quantum 6000 powerchair I am currently using and examine the lower right chassis from where the sounds seems to emanate.  There between the right tire and chassis I see a dangling spring --- one end connected, one end not.  Something is broken.

Checking the mirror-image left side, I see that the front of the spring on that side is attached to the pivot-point on the rear of the caster arm.  (Think of it as the elbow which bends up and down allowing your caster to bounce up or down over obstacles.)  The back of the same spring appears to be attached to a rod-like structure which drops down (from where?) and the bottom has a loop through which a tensioning-bolt protrudes.

It appears that by tightening the nut on the tensioning bolt, you can add or release pressure on the spring.  But for what purpose?  The front attachment point of the spring is fixed (doesn't move).  I cannot get down to floor-level to better examine the rod through which the tensioning bolt protrudes so I can't tell what it is attached to or if/how much it moves.  I would think it would have to move back and forth - otherwise why would a spring be necessary?  (if two fixed points there would be no need for the spring any more than driving two nails into a board and stretching a spring between them --- to what purpose?)  I cannot physically reach the rear attachment point to tug on it to see if it moves.  My wife was commandeered for the task which left me no further informed.

I downloaded a Quantum 6000 manual and though they have a couple of 'exploded' diagrams, none show the spring assembly in question.  Short of my jacking the wheelchair up from the floor and removing the tire, I cannot determine the function of this spring/tensioning assembly.

Repair Shop

So I unhook the dangling broken spring and remove the bolt from the rear attachment point.  It is obvious that one hook-loop has broken off of the spring.  I take the parts and head down to the only wheelchair repair shop in the city,  I show the parts to the receptionist who disappears into the bowels of the service department.  After a short while she re-emerges to tell me that all the field-service technicians are out on appointments but that a parts-person said they do not have that item in stock.  I was told I could make an appointment for a house call or one to bring the chair in for servicing. 

"How long is your waiting-list for appointments I ask"  for the last time I needed service (see broken caster-bearing replacement),  I was told two-weeks.  That was unacceptable!  Well, it the situation has not much improved.  The only other wheelchair repair franchise (Shopper's Home Healthcare) divested themselves of powerchair sales and service.  Now my service provider has acquired many of their clients, yet qualified wheelchair technicians remain in short supply.

The question is "what is the function of this tensioning-assembly and will I damage anything by driving without it" as the powerchair seems to drive as before the assembly broke.  I'm given no answers.

The Repair

So I go back to my home shop and root around to find a spring of somewhat the same size and tensile strength.  I find one but it is about an inch too long.  Below is my home-made replacement for the assembly in question.

The above photo shows the non-broken spring (left side).  It is difficult to see as it is tucked in behind the caster arm (to which it is attached) and is stretched to a second attachment point further back.  It is the small gray spring between the larger yellow spring and the tire.

A closer view:  Here you can see that the front hook of the spring goes through a hole in the clip which is attached to the pivot-point at the rear of the front caster arm.

Here is the rear attachment point for the back end of the spring.  It is quite difficult to see as it is hidden in the shadows.  (using a flash did not help as the bouncing light bleached out the photo.  The solution would be to drop a light in between the tire and chassis - something I was unprepared to do.)  The inset photo in the upper-right is somewhat clearer.

This photo shows the original right broken tensioning spring assembly.  Both ends of the spring should have the final turn made into a hoop.  As shown, only one hook is remains (at top of photo).  The second hook previously went through the hole in the bolt.  The bolt was then pushed through a hole on the rear attachment point (an arm with a hole in the bottom) A locking nut (pozi-lock or similar was threaded onto the opposite end of the bolt and tightened to apply tension to the spring.

Tools:  Because my replacement spring was about an inch too long I had to shorten it.  To do this, I took the temper out of the spring by heating it with a torch then letting it cool slowly.  When cool, I clamped it in a vice and used a hacksaw to cut the desired length from the spring.  The freshly cut end was then twisted outwards forming the hook. A file cleaned up sharp ends.  The spring was re-heated then dropped in cold water to once again temper the metal.  (I have no degree in metallurgy but this seemed to do the trick.)  The tensile (?) tension strength of the spring seemed about equal to the broken one when completed.  Totally unscientific!  Hope the tempering did not make the metal too brittle.  Aside: my shop is still a work in progress - this is my improvised shop on the top of a bucket.

Broken original on left (1) bolt with hole in one end and nut threaded on the other and (2) the spring with broken end-loop.  On the right is (3) the replacement spring I created and (4) the section of spring I cut off.

So here is my newly fashioned spring.  (1) is the locking nut which tightens against the rear arm attachment point (2) is the bolt with a hole through which hook of the spring is inserted.  (3) is the spring itself and (4) is the spring hook which attaches to the rear of the front caster arm.  The nut travels up or down the bolt to apply the required tension. (arrows)

Theoretically you would hook the front hook (4) through the hole on the rear of the front caster, then stretch the spring and push the bolt through the hole in the rear attachment arm.  Once through you would thread the nut onto the bolt and tighten appropriately. (whatever that is)

I said "theoretically" as in practice my wife helper and I found that my spring (as did the original one) have so much tension that it probably could not be stretched by any one person and would require mechanical assistance.  The bolt was only about a quarter of an inch too short to reach the rear mounting arm hole where the nut and ratchet nut driver would do the work stretching.  Technicians must have some sort of jig to do this work for them,  I have no way of knowing what tension had to be applied or if it is critical.  As both the original spring and my newly made spring seemed to exhibit identical strong tension (elasticity), I simply tried to match the size of spaces between coils of the original spring (left side) to my replacement spring (right side)

My solution was to replace the bolt (2) with an eye-bolt that had a longer shaft.  With the bolt shaft through the rear mounting arm hole, the nut was tightened with the ratchet driver.  Sorry, I failed to take a photo of this but it was an eye-bolt similar to the one below.

The hook end of the spring now went through the eye of the bolt.  The extra quarter-inch made the difference and it seems to be holding just fine.

Of course, once finished I find myself in our neighbourhood auto/mechanical parts store and find the perfect spring replacement in both size and tension.  Still there are no open hooks on either end but could be easily modified with a hacksaw or other metal-cutting tool. (arrows)

I wonder what the parts and labour would have cost at my service provider had they been available?

Ah, what desperation will drive one to do!

*   *   *

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Sexuality and the Disabled

Sexuality & the Disabled

Sex; Did I get your attention?  Sex; a subject of interest to all though I strongly suspect men more than women place it high on their scale of life’s pleasurable necessities.

I confess --- the title lies.  There are many different disabilities some of which are deafness, blindness, strokes, amputations, ALS and paraplegia or quadriplegia to name a very few.  I am not qualified to speak about most so I’ll keep to generalities --- and perhaps my own paraplegia.

All of you sociologists, psychologists and other expert-gists out there, don’t jump all over me for what follows as they are just my personal mental meanderings in this complex topic.

Just where does sex fit in on the list of life’s necessities --- or does it even belong in a list which includes air to breath, water to drink, food to eat, clothing and shelter for warmth and protection.  Most would add love to that list but would they add sex?

Men and women see the act of sex differently.  It has been expressed that women need a reason to have sex while men only need a place.  Stated differently, the male of the species can engage in sex without being in love however most women need to be in love before offering sex --- perhaps with the exception of workers in the sex trade industry, which after all exists to satisfy the male libido.  The perfect situation presents itself as two loving people engaging in adequate, fulfilling and mutually pleasurable sexual activity throughout the life which they share.

 Unscientific graph: Just my impression on Male & Female Libido.

If you are religious you can thank or blame God as you see fit when assessing the male sexual drive; otherwise substitute Biology as the culprit.  For the most part, our male drive is unquestionably higher than the female of the species.   An analogy may be that Men are the ‘gas pedal’ while Women are the ‘brake’ with regards to sex in mutual relationships.  Men want to go-go-go while women are much more likely to say no-no-no (perhaps slow-slow-slow) when it comes to sex (not many men get headaches at bedtime –though this has recently been contested*).  Still, as most relationships move forward --- between his accelerating and her braking, we as a species also manage to drive the human race forward yet not to hit too many children thereby avoiding the overpopulation zone.

I can assure you that it wasn't a conspiracy from millennia past, Neanderthal males dressed in loin-cloths, did not crawl out of their caves, dragging their clubs and knuckles, to sit around fires and conspire with others about how to annoy women with their sexual needs.  Yet that disproportionate God/Nature given sexual drive, for the reasons already stated, no doubt began at the dawn of evolution.  And that biologic imperative transcends species as researchers have found that male monkeys given bananas would save the fruit to trade with females for sex.  In the male, the drive for sex was greater than that for food!  (I’ve also heard that most women would choose chocolate over sex if offered the choice.)

This drive may be so intense that it is often improperly expressed.  One need only to read the daily papers to find stories of men’s inappropriate sexual advances, forcible aggression and even the horrors of rape.  Hormones, power, superiority, domination, hate, frustration, lack of self-esteem, lack of attention or love or perhaps childhood abuse is offered as the motivation behind sexual abuse.  The reasons, though diverse, never justify the act.  Sexual aggression transcends race, socio-economic status, education and profession.  Powerful politicians have fallen from sexual scandal; priests have been defrocked for buggering little boys.  Lawyers, doctors, and professors have all been accused and some convicted.  Sexual misconduct is almost exclusively associated with the male of our species --- I would venture to guess upwards of ninety-five percent.  However, females have also misbehaved --- most frequently reported are teachers who have seduced a male student or mothers hitting on their daughter’s male friends.

While I applaud the “Me Too” movement, I hope it will be used judiciously.  False accusations should never be used as a weapon.  Also I fear that politely-persistent and well-intentioned desires to meet that special someone may be misinterpreted.  I have to wonder if flirting is even appropriate anymore.

I don’t pretend to speak for all paraplegics, male or female, who may or may not be in a relationship.  However, I do believe we all wish to experience some degree of spontaneous and unsolicited intimacy with another human being.  We need another’s touch beyond that of a therapist or surrogate.  A simple touch, a cuddle, or an embrace may be sufficient.  The sexual act is simply the most intimate sharing of ourselves which we can offer to the one we love.  Depending on the degree of disability, adjustments will most likely be necessary.  Love and creativity will find a way.

I cannot imagine being born with a disability and living life wondering if you will ever find a partner to share yourself with intimately and yes, sexually.  The sexual tension, the frustration would be intense.  Without a loving partner --- without intimacy and without experiencing the pleasures of sex, you may be doubly crippled --- physically and emotionally.

So where is all this rambling going?   I am married yet have found myself living a celibate life even before having received my injury some twelve years ago.  I used the word ‘spontaneous’ in a previous paragraph meaning that intimacy, whether sexual or a simple hug, should occur without asking or prodding.  What recourse do you have when your partner shows no interest in intimacy?  Does leaning in to give a peck on the cheek count when leaving or returning from a trip?  Does it satisfy?  If you have to ask for intimacy, much, if not all of the satisfaction I believe is lost.  Counselling I feel would be even worse.  Do you learn to live without?  I believe it was Henry David Thoreau who quipped that “most men live their lives in quiet desperation.”  I suspect that Thoreau ‘wasn’t getting any’.

After my injury, I was not able to climb the stairs to our second-floor bedroom so necessity had me sleeping on a single ‘hospital bed’ in my living room.  Having moved to a single-floor home, my wife and I made the decision to have separate bedrooms.  Sadly for me, this was the only practical solution primarily due to my paralytic spasms.  For whatever physiological reason, spasms occur with greater frequency and intensity at night.  Spasms may last for an hour or two but have lasted for eight hours in a single session.  It simply is not possible to share a bed with someone when one leg or the other is jumping up and down for hours on end.  Kicks can bruise and trimmed toe-nails can still cut --- let alone trying to sleep with the continuous motion churning beneath the sheets.  Ongoing rhythmic spasms have frequently forced me to spend my night sitting on the edge of my bed cursing my own existence; something I don’t wish to share with my wife.

So, while I am a paraplegic, I can still wiggle some toes, I can walk short to moderate distances with a walker, however I simply cannot walk away from my wheelchair.  Short of walking unassisted, I am otherwise fully functional from my waist down.  I do however suspect that for me, intimacy, beyond a peck on the cheek is a thing of the past.  I do hope others who are disabled find someone with whom to share their intimacy and sexual pleasures.

*A recent study from the University of Kentucky disputes the claim that women lose interest in sexual relations before men.

A simple survey amongst my male friends strongly disputes the study’s premise.  Not one admits to having grown tired of sex or that requests from their partner to perform are too numerous to fulfill.