Saturday, 28 July 2018

Greed, Engineering Stupidity? - Your Call...

Greed, Engineering Stupidity? - Your Call...

A day after having my Quantum 6000's joystick controller replaced, I'm still fuming that the diagnosis of my chair's power issue was incorrect and that I was stuck with a $921.00 bill for a component that was well used but entirely functional.

The new $921.00 joystick control unit,

My previous tech informed me that the Permobil control unit was built in China.  I imagine the Quantum is also a Chinese product.  Why China?  Well, for one reason alone - to save money for the manufacturer; not the client!

I suspect that the unit costs in the neighbourhood of $10.00 to mass produce and I'm probably overestimating.  Three film pressure switches; a row of LED lights; the gimbal joystick and a few chips and microprocessors within housing of recycled plastic.  Tack on the cost of shipping in overseas containers (literally a slow boat from China) and mark the product up 100%.  Stockholders and investors will be pleased.  The CEO can buy another Mercedes.

I can purchase an audiophile quality stereo component for about the same price as my joystick controller --- and it has a significantly greater number of electronic chips, components and circuitry than does the joystick.  Market size for these exotic components are probably smaller as well --- a poor excuse.

How can the cost be justified when many of the disabled relying on these products are destitute, unemployed, have no private insurance coverage and no huge wrongful injury settlement.  Well, the government will pay --- so jack up the price.  Remember it is not the government, but the taxpayer that pays and that means most of us.

So after they misdiagnosed my power issue, I was told I needed a new motor to replace the damaged one (the one which measured "bang-on" company specs a month ago)

The problem is that the small round housing holding one of the motor's brushes is cracked.  But you cannot replace the brush --- individual motor brushes are not marketed so you have to replace the whole motor.

'Can you imagine having to replace your car engine because you need new spark plugs?'

As I lamented in my previous post --- can you imagine needing a new spark-plug for your car and you're told the only way to get a new spark-plug is to install a new engine!

Technicians tell me that the motors are not repaired but are scrapped.  Crushed, ground up and melted to recover the metals.

A throw-away society that congratulates itself on being environmentally green!  Yeah, I'll light a candle for that during Earth Hour!

The engineering geniuses also designed motors that are not reversible; left can not be swapped for right or vice-versa.  Why?  As I understand it, they are attached to a frame or housing which only fits one side. Twice the needed inventory space makes no sense. (more on that further below). 

The Dual Quantum motors are indicated by the red arrows.  The also point to the lever which engages or disengages the motor from the wheelchair (so it can be manually pushed).  Simply flipping the motor over to the opposite side would put the leaver facing inward.  Can the black cap on the rear of the motor be unscrewed and flipped around to make the motor interchangeable?  Can a left motor be mounted in the right motor's housing?  I never received a clear answer from my tech.  I suspect it is not that easy,

When the motor(s) failed on my Permobil, they specifically ordered a left (or right) motor.  Is it different for the Quantum?

My issues are not with the Quantum chair, nor Pride which is the parent company.  This Quantum was given to me free of charge by a sympathetic friend and the chair was old with worn parts that would last an unknown duration.  It is well past its life expectancy but I wish to keep it going for heavy use outside around the garden and garage.

My final gripe is that nobody stocks parts any longer because of the cost of storage of a variety of parts that may or may not at some time be needed.  Very little is kept at the shop.  Everything seems to be ordered by carrier pigeon and shipped by that 'slow boat from China'.  No faxing orders --- no overnight courier shipping.  The client can wait --- they're disabled and have no life anyway.

You can't sell what you don't stock!  Unfortunately, with Shopper's Home Healthcare out of the wheelchair business (though they were incompetent), there is no alternative to turn to and therefore no competition,  Companies competing for clients would keep each other on their toes and serve their clients better.

Am I bitter?  Hell yes!  The franchise in this city is not run as efficiently as the previous one of the same name in my previous town.  Now that Shopper's Home Healthcare has divested itself of wheelchairs they are the only game in town.  There is no competition.  Service lags, long wait times for service and technicians are stressed.  It's a formula for disaster.

This chair will no longer climb my ramp and I was advised not to "push it" as it may fail altogether before replacement motors are available.

2018 may be the summer I spend indoors.

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Friday, 27 July 2018

Summer Still Keeps Slipping Away

Summer Still Keeps Slipping Away
After waiting for One-Twelfth of a year I'm
Still A Prisoner of my Broken Powerchair

In my previous post I wrote about the power issues which suddenly developed in my Quantum 6000 power wheelchair.

Today marks a month to the day since the power issue was supposedly diagnosed and solution (replacement parts) recommended.  The technician arrived and replaced the suspect parts yet the problem remains.

 Will I also be a prisoner of Autumn?
I was a prisoner of summer from June 27th through to today, July 27th.
After waiting one-twelfth of a year (one month) for repairs --- and after a $921.00 replacement joystick (plus labour), the original problem remains.

To quickly review:  My Quantum suddenly developed power issues most noticeable when climbing the ramp to my home.  Where before it barely slowed when on the incline, suddenly it struggled and I had to compensate by pushing the joystick to the left.

The tech(s) (it took two) who diagnosed the problem inspected and measured the motors and said they were within factory specifications.  I was told the problem was the joystick which may not have been telling the motors to apply full power when pushed forward to the max.  I may have had to push the joystick to the left because the joystick's gimbal was no longer centered --- or such explanation.

I had once crunched the cord connector linking the joystick to the electronic control module at the rear of the powerchair.  Still, I had taped it up securely and it never failed to provide an electrical connection.

I had my doubts as to the joystick causing the power issue as the Quantum had plenty of speed and power when not on an incline.

 New $921.00 Cnd. (plus labour) joystick did not solve the power issue as the technician's diagnosis suggested.  A month later, back to Square One!

As the Quantum powerchair was being returned for my assessment, the technician noticed some damage to a motor brush housing which had not been noted by either technician, a month ago when one of the fellows tested the motors.  How this damage could have occurred is puzzling as the motor brushes are virtually flush with the motor itself and protected by the tire on one side and the lever which engages the motor on the other side.

 After completing repairs which did not solve my power issue, the technician noticed that one of the motor brush housings was damaged --- not noticed a month ago when they examined and measured the motors,  The red arrow at the bottom shows the damaged brush housing or plug which holds one of the brushes against the motor thereby providing power.  At the upper right of the photo is an enlarged view of the damage (arrow -half broken away).  The remaining arrow, pointing left, shows what an undamaged brush housing looks like.  The logical and sane solution would be to unscrew and replace all (4?) brushes per motor with new ones.  The repair would cost a few dollars (before mark-up by the greedy health care and manufacturing system!

So, the only recourse I was offered was to purchase a new motor to replace the damaged brush housing (for lack of a better description).  I was told the brush could not be replaced as they don't make replacements.  (how about an old discarded motor?)  To replace the brush --- you replace the whole motor.

Can you imagine having to replace your car's motor because you need new spark-plugs???  Urgh%#@*!

Not only that, but if one motor is worn --- or is failing, the other probably is reaching the end of its useful life.

This chair is my legs!  I have no choice but to order two new motors (about $!K each) after paying $921.00 for a joystick which I may or may not have needed.  Will it take yet another month (up to September) to get the motors?

So I remain a prisoner of my legs; of a malfunctioning wheelchair; of technicians who could not properly diagnose the problem; of the wheelchair repair franchise that cannot stock common parts nor order them in a timely manner; of the greedy manufacturers of medical devices; and remain a prisoner of my home while the summer of 2017 slips away outdoors.

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Monday, 16 July 2018

Summer is Slipping Away

Summer is Slipping away While I Remain a Prisoner of the System

Power Wheelchair's sudden loss of power has left me housebound a it now lacks the power to climb my ramp.  Beautiful summer weather outside, yet I remain a prisoner indoors.

It has been three weeks now since my wheelchair repair service inspected my Quantum powerchair and determined my power issues were due to a malfunctioning joy-stick control unit.

It took the first week to place the order for a replacement for they don't stock this most standard part for the most common of power wheelchairs.

Again I ask --- in a business world where orders can be faxed at near the speed of light --- and overnight courier services exist, why was I told that it would take an additional two weeks for the parts to arrive.  I just don't get it!

Summer is slipping away and I'm still waiting...

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Friday, 13 July 2018

Meet the Billion Dollar Mouse Or Spinal Cord Injury Research

Meet the Billion Dollar Mouse

One rainy day I became curious about how much money is spent on Spinal Cord Research nationally and perhaps globally.  Searching various combinations of the words Spinal Cord and Research and Funding, Costs, etc., I found nothing but frustration.  Most searches lead me to sites requesting donations or how to apply for a research grant.  Very few returns provided an accurate accounting of funds utilized in spinal cord injury research at any particular institute, let alone the total spent globally.

I tried the National Institute of Health (NIH), the Miami Project, The Rick Hansen Foundation, the Christopher Reeve Foundation, The Morton Cure Paralysis Fund, as well as checking the sites of various State research projects just to name a few.  Perhaps it is a closely guarded secret since the returns on investment appear to be minimal.  Perhaps I’m wrong and great strides are being made to “cure” spinal cord injury.  I have not seen it.

Every research facility receiving funding will have their spokesperson throw out positive phrases such as “we’ve made quite a bit of headway” or “our research looks promising” and always “further research is warranted.”  How else would you justify requests for additional grants?

As proof, facilities may trot out their resident lab mouse that tragically had his spinal cord transected by a sharp scalpel but now, post treatment, can run a marathon on a treadmill.  When a human can do the same, I’ll be impressed.

A Billion Dollar Mouse
Spinal cord injury is a global problem so it would seem logical that every major nation that enjoys advanced health care would invest some proportion of their health care budget in researching spinal cord injury and the means of restoring lost mobility.  I imagine that over the last number of decades, millions if not billions of dollars have been spent by countless institutes in many countries on Spinal Cord Research.  And what is the result?  A Billion dollar mouse.

Do I want research to continue?  Of course I do but I hold out little hope in seeing any major, useful and practical treatment in my lifetime.  Perhaps it will always remain ‘a bridge too far…’  I hope to be proven wrong.

Sorry, I remain cynical.

Spinal Cord Injury Research:

There appear to be three broad categories or strategies in treating spinal cord injuries which I’ve listed below.  I intend it only as a ‘thumb-nail sketch’ of areas of interest, research and treatment.

Acute Medical Intervention:
Minimizing Damage and Nerve Protection:  What can be done immediately after injury, or shortly thereafter to prevent or minimize the body’s own damaging response to the initial injury.  There may be some medical advancement in minimizing damage caused by a cascade of events which occur at or shortly after the initial injury.  Controversy still exists as to whether drugs, such as steroids, help or hinder events post injury.  The issue remains that the injured person must be rapidly transported to a major hospital knowledgeable in the specific procedures required to thwart further damage.

Repair Strategies through Ongoing Medical Intervention:
Bridging – Regeneration of axons along some bridging scaffold.  Cells need a pathway along which to regenerate if regeneration is possible.
Cell Replacement – Utilizing stem cells which will be programmed to differentiate into and replacing the damaged cells. 
Cell Regeneration – Encouraging one’s own body and its resources to replace cells or repair damage.

*There are many sub-categories within the general strategies listed above; too many for the scope of this overview.

However the damage is bridged or by-passed, the challenge is to bridge nerve A to nerve A, nerve B to nerve B, and so one down the line, correctly linking the possible thousands (?) of nerve pathways.  If a soup of stem cells is poured into the gap and they indiscriminately link nerve A to nerve W, you may try to bend your knee and find your toe wiggles instead.

By-Passing the Damage:
Wearable or Implanted Electronics to Exoskeletons & Robotics:  Electronic implants may have some use.  While I mean no disrespect to those engineers who developed computer driven exoskeletons, I can’t help think of David Letterman’s “Stupid Pet Tricks”.  Yeah, it can be done but to what end?  Exoskeletons may cost up to a quarter million dollars and then you might need your four best friends to help you into the contraption and to follow close behind in case you ‘turn turtle’ and end up on your back, unable to get back up.  While it may be a moral boost, being able to see the world at a normal height, affordability and long term functionality make the items impractical.  They’re a gimmick!

While I have a degree in science, it is not in neuro-science.  The above assessment is my personal cynical view after a quick perusal of Spinal Cord Research Internet sites.  For the tremendous amount of moneys spent on research, the returns seem to be sparse.

Update: July 16th, 2018;  I came across an interesting article related to this topic.  Entitled : Why Is Paralysis [Research] Being Short-Changed.  It can be found on the Spinal website.

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