How NOT to catch a train

A few months after my injury I met with two occupational therapists. They were keen for me to set some objectives as part of my rehabilitation.

They had some suggestions, based principally about my ability to living outside the hospital. I was more than keen to participate.

The first suggestion they had was that I go out to dinner with friends, without a nurse or a disability support worker. The success of this objective was going to be easy to measure. If I didn’t get back to my hospital bed then I obviously failed the test!

The second objective was to go to a movie with just my wife. We achieved this without any fuss. It was the third objective that proved the most challenging. I was required to catch a train.

I use a unique technology to control my wheelchair. It is called “puff and sip”. I have a straw in my mouth. When I blow normally the chair goes forward. If I do a soft blow I can turn right. A normal suck or sip and I turn left.

If I stop and wait 10 seconds then the menu appears on the screen. Again, using my breath I can select different speeds or the tilt option. “Tilt” is important because it allows me to ensure I don’t stay with pressure on any particular part of my back/buttocks too long. If I do stay too long on any part, then pressure sores can be a problem.

The top speed in the chair is 10 km/h (6.2 mph). I did at one stage asked the technician to adjust the speed so I could go faster. He replied that, judging by the number of holes in the walls along the corridor resulting from my erratic driving , that a faster chair was not advisable.

Anyway, my wife, a disability support worker and I set off to catch a train. Our plan was to catch a train, just travel to the next station, have some lunch at a café and then catch the train back.

The first challenge was actually getting onto the platform at the railway station. I had to drive myself down the ramp. This was the first time I had driven on such a steep incline.  Well, it appeared steep to me. I was slightly apprehensive about driving down. However I negotiated that successfully. I got onto the platform without any problem.

One of the unusual characteristics of the puff and sip mechanism is that you tend to drive where you look. Recently, on the news there had been reports of children in prams falling off the platform onto the train tracks.

I was conscious of this as I was driving to the loading point at the end of the station. I found my eyes irresistibly drawn to the railway tracks. The more I blew the closer to the edge I got. I made a conscious attempt to look the other way. But again my eyes were drawn to the track. Anyone watching would have thought I was under the influence of alcohol as I zigzagged along the platform.

The train trip was uneventful. We had an excellent lunch.  After lunch, we headed back to the station, conscious that the weather forecast was for heavy rain in the afternoon.

We were on the wrong side to catch the train. I had a 50 m drive ahead of me to the railway crossing. The weather was closing in and rain looked imminent. I was in a hurry to get back to shelter.

Train crossings in Melbourne are notoriously bad, even for people in cars. As I drove across the train tracks my wheels got stuck. I couldn’t drive forward. I couldn’t drive back. I was sure I heard the sound of a train whistle as it approached.

There was no real danger of course. My wife gave me a minute or two waiting to see if I could get out by myself. When it was obvious I couldn’t she pushed me out of the rut. It’s not the first time she’s pulled me out of a hole!

Meanwhile, all I could think of were tomorrow’s headlines:

MAN CATCHES TRAIN… OUCH!

MAN ON TRACK TO REACH GOAL

Set free I arrived back on the platform just before the heavens opened and the rain poured down.

Another goal achieved!

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