I wrote a posting in January, entitled Pain in the Butt,  and described some of my earlier experiences with manual and electric wheelchairs.  I also commented on my newer pain experiences and how I hoped that a technology I was unfamiliar with (pressure mapping) might help me.

Well, after many failed attempts to get a prescription via my family-practice Nurse Practitioner, I was able to get the required document from my heart doc and scheduled the pressure testing.

Yesterday was the Big Day!

The pressure mapping was a little “unnerving” to me, because I needed to be lifted off my wheelchair so that the technician could place the sensor mat under my bottom.  My anxiety level was rising as the sling was being positioned for the lifting.  You see, since my release from the hospital in June 2004, my wife lifts me a minimum twice a day — once getting me out of bed and once getting me into the bed.  Occasionally its more than once each way per day.  So, to say that I have experience with the sensation and positional relationship of the sling would be an understatement.  And, I have had bad experiences in the past.

When I raised my concern with the staff that my body was being shifted and spun while the sling was being tugged/pulled into position and that I felt the sling was not what I had hoped for, I sensed a bit of hostility — and a feeling they felt questioning their skill or experience was offensive to them.

After I stated my case in a long and detailed manner

An attempt was made to find a sling of a slightly different design and assigned to the new person in the department.  Following a period of uneventful waiting, the young man who had been positioning the sling and I began working with what we had at hand.

Eventually, through our joint team work, the sling was in a more acceptable place and I was prepared to make an attempt.  However, it needed to be stopped before the pressure mat was positioned — I felt as if I was slipping out of the sling and my slacks were sliding-off.

After being return to my wheelchair and the sling underwent another readjustment, to a position more beneath my hips, we finally had a successful lift-off!  The mat was positioned upon my old wheelchair cushion, I was lowered upon it, and the pressure mapping was performed.

I was shown a display which looked a lot like the thermal imaging you may have seen which shows heat or cooling loss from a building — reds, yellows and greens.  As the technician explained what I was looking at, I was not surprised where she indicated the worst pressure points were located — I feel them pretty much constantly.

The next step got me excited about the likelihood of future pain relief

A number of different seat cushions had been placed on a physical-therapy table and the tech asked me if I’d like to try any of the different types — I was going to sample some seat cushions before they were purchased…  Woo hoo!  In my 50+ years as a wheelchair user, I have never been given the opportunity to sit on any seat cushions prior to owning them.

  • First one which I sampled was air-filled — it had a series of bladders (for want of a better term) a little larger than a man’s thumb covering the whole of the seat cushion.  It felt a little bit unstable to me — even after some of the air was removed.  But, the pressure points on my behind were experiencing some new found comfort.
  • Next came a gel cushion — it had two sections which were  placed side-by-side, so that each hip would have its own gel cushioning.  After the seat cushion was placed in my wheelchair the pressure mat was laid on and I was deposited on top.  Mapping results were clearly different than when I was on my original seat cushion — a lot smaller area of red.  And, I was surprised at how pleasant the gel seat cushion felt.
  • Lastly, another gel seat cushion.  This one had a large gel cushion section in a “reservoir” as the tech described it.  After everything was in place, mapping and I were both in agreement — this was the best gel cushion for me.  And, a huge improvement over any prior seat cushions I have ever used!

While all this activity was occurring

I noticed there appeared to be a weight gauge on the lift, which I asked about.  Soon I was weighed and the result was 63.3 kilograms.  Since I have not become a metric user they converted it for me — 139.552 pounds.  So,  I will be 140 when anyone asks how much my bony-self weighs.  😎

Every wheelchair user will have a slightly different posture and feel comfortable according to their own needs.  One thing to keep in mind, however — without a sense of feeling below waist level, the pressure points experienced while on their seat cushions are more likely to produce pressure sores, known as decubiti.  If the sore is not cared for and the pressure points not addressed, a serious health threat exists.  I’ve known paraplegic wheelchair users who developed an infection of a bone due to inadequately cared for pressure sores.

So, I’ve been fortunate in my life.  Even while I have been dealing with more pain in the last couple of years, my sense of feeling has saved me from a significant danger experienced by many wheelchair users — an infected open-wound.

Those of you reading this blog who have family members using a wheelchair — please look after their best interest and see that they have seat cushions which protect them from shearing in the area of the bony pressure points.

Live long and prosper.