Getting in and out of the house



Our experience getting Priscilla up the stairs of our friends’ home after their daughter’s wedding illustrates what a challenge getting in and out of a house was becoming for us. This applied to our own house as well, even though there were only two steps at the door we used almost all the time, the one leading into our kitchen from the garage.

I mentioned in an earlier post how Priscilla got the idea of attaching handles to the outside of that door so that she could pull herself in. Unfortunately, within six months (that is, by March 2013) she’d lost so much upper body strength that she was no longer able to do this. I started coming into the house ahead of her, turning around, holding both of her hands securely, and pulling her in.

A month later, a frightening incident occurred that showed us that I needed to go out of the house ahead of her as well. We were getting ready to go to church on a Sunday morning. I heard her scream from the kitchen, first in terror and then in pain, and I came running. She’d planned to go out to the car before me but had met with disaster on the way. Her symptoms had just progressed to the point where her thigh muscles no longer had the extra strength they needed to lower her body down the steps. She’d collapsed at the top of the stairs and was lying in the doorway with her legs bent and pinned painfully beneath her.

There was no way to extricate her from that location. But mercifully there was a small area rug in the kitchen by the doorway and her upper body had landed on it. Somehow I realized that I should pull the rug back away from the door. When I did, her legs straightened and came out from under her. Even so, she was banged up too badly for us to make it to church. She spent the day resting in bed. After that I went down the steps ahead of her and she held onto my shoulders for safety and stability.

We realized that three low steps would be much better than one regular step and one high step to come in or out the door. We also realized that having railings would be much better than not having them! We asked our pastor whether he knew anyone who might make such a set of stairs for us, and he referred us to a man who’d done some construction projects for the church. This man very kindly came over one Saturday morning and built the steps out of wood, and he wouldn’t accept any payment for his work.

When Priscilla’s brothers came a few weeks later, in June 2013, to help with the floor renovation, they added another set of narrower railings inside the ones he had installed. Priscilla wouldn’t have to reach so far for these new railings, allowing her arm muscles to support her better, and she could also grasp them more tightly. This was one of many “quality of life” projects her brothers managed to fit in, even while they were putting down flooring every day.

By late September, Priscilla was no longer able to lift her own feet high enough to climb even these low stairs. I started lifting her feet up from behind and placing them on the steps. (That’s where we’d gotten the idea to do this at our friends’ place after the wedding. Our railings reached well beyond the top step, and that made the approach practical for our house.) But we knew this was dangerous—the collapse on the wedding trip confirmed this—and that it could only be a stopgap measure. What we really needed, as Priscilla had foreseen nearly a year before, was a wheelchair lift or ramp.

We started looking into possibilities online. We discovered an amazing product called FlexStep from Liftup, a company in Denmark. It was a staircase that could flatten down and convert into a lift. It would have been perfect for our needs, but unfortunately it wasn’t available for sale or distribution in the United States. (Anybody out there want to take this and run with it?)  We didn’t have room in the garage for a more conventional lift, and we didn’t want to put one at any of the outside entrances, either, because then Priscilla would have to travel from there to the car in her wheelchair outdoors, potentially in rain, snow, or ice. So we started looking into ramps.

Once again there was not room for a built-in ramp, because it would have to go around the sides of the garage to allow us to continue to park our car in there, and the required rise-to-run (height to length) ratio, with landings for turning corners, would put the end of the ramp out the garage door. But we did find a portable multifold ramp, made of heavy-duty aluminum, that we could run straight out from the door.

A multifold ramp like this one provided access from our garage into our house.
A multifold ramp like this one provided access from our garage into our house.

I’d already measured the garage for our investigation of built-in ramps, and now I created a scale model of the floor space on the computer and added proportionately sized rectangles for our car and the ramp. (I gave the car rectangle rounded corners.) We slid these around in the on-screen garage in every possible configuration and confirmed that (1) the car would still fit when we folded up the ramp if we slid its far end away about 30º, which we could do if we temporarily pulled out one of the two metal pegs that held it in place at the top step; and (2) nothing else would work. So a ramp it would be.

We would need one twelve feet long.  That was the longest size available, and it cost over $800. But if we wanted Priscilla to be able to get in and out of the house, we had to have it. So after giving ourselves one night to “sleep on it,” we ordered the ramp. This was on a Tuesday.

We’d been swimming on Tuesdays and Fridays. That afternoon, as Priscilla stood at the top of the garage stairs, her legs felt so weak she didn’t dare attempt going down them, even holding onto my shoulders in front of her. So we took that day off from swimming.

On Friday she felt the same way. “I’m afraid we’re not going swimming today, either,” she said. “Not unless there’s a ramp at the front door.” “I’ll go check,” I said, meaning this as a joke to help lighten the disappointment. We’d only ordered it three days before.  And if a 75-pound metal ramp folded up in a 6-foot-long box had been delivered to our door, we’d certainly have heard or seen something.  But just to carry out the joke, I went out of the garage and around the corner to the front door, and there it was! We couldn’t believe it had arrived so quickly and quietly. But we were back in business. We went for a swim.

Three days later we unexpectedly received a very generous gift that more than paid for the ramp.  The donor didn’t know that we’d just bought one.

Once again, at the very time when we crossed a threshold into what could be considered a new level of disability, God demonstrated His love and presence in our lives, to show us that He was going with us as we moved into this new territory.

After trying the ramp out for about a week, unfolding it to bring Priscilla in and out of the house in her wheelchair, then folding it up again and sliding the end to one side so we could park the car in the garage, we agreed it was working fine and that we should keep it. So we made holes in the top step to accommodate the pegs that would keep it from slipping out of place. Though her hands shook with weakness, Priscilla operated the drill, and the holes she made came out perfectly straight.

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