“Yesterday night was our last belt transfer,” Priscilla announced on the morning after Easter. Her legs had been steadily losing strength, to the point where I could barely lift her off the wheelchair. (“I thought I was picking you up,” I’d admitted,“but I can see you were helping a lot with your legs.”) On Easter evening, without leg support, the belt transfer we did to get her into bed aggravated her back so badly that it twitched painfully all night. For every transfer from now on, we’d have to use a Hoyer lift. (This video shows how one works.)
We’d just crossed another threshold into a deeper level of disability. But once again, God demonstrated that He was traveling with us by sending special mercies to help us and encourage us along the way.
The first of these mercies had been to get us a lift that would work in our home. The model we were originally given was too wide to fit through our bathroom door, so it wouldn’t get Priscilla in and out of her shower chair. It also had no wheel locks. (A Hoyer lift is designed to be self-balancing—it moves back and forth to adjust to the patient’s changing center of gravity—so most of the time you want the wheels to move freely. But there are some times when you do need to lock them.) Finally, this model couldn’t reach all the way down to the floor to pick Priscilla up if she fell (as was necessary on a couple of later occasions), and it also couldn’t reach high enough to place her on our bed.
We identified another model that had none of these drawbacks, but the medical equipment company our insurance ordinarily worked with didn’t carry it. Our home health care physical therapist shared our concerns about the first model and made just the suggestion we needed. She told Priscilla to try asking her doctor to prescribe the one that would work, and he agreed. As a result, after a flurry of phone calls, our insurance approved using a different equipment company and the new model was delivered.
This was in mid-March. We knew we couldn’t wait until the lift was our only option before learning how to use it, so I started practicing. One Sunday after church, the student Priscilla had helped to find a car came over to help her with her “new vehicle.” Taking turns being the patient and the attendant, he and I practiced Hoyer lift transfers in various situations.
That same Sunday afternoon, because we weren’t able to attend church any more, our worship leader and his wife had already arranged to come and sing some songs for Priscilla. When they saw us practicing with the lift, the wife told us that her mother used to use one all the time as a special education aide in schools, and that she’d ask her if she would coach us. The mother agreed and came over a few days later.
She provided the solution, obvious in retrospect, to a problem we hadn’t been able to solve. Priscilla kept slipping out of the sling, even though we weren’t doing anything different with her than for the student or me. (Fortunately we’d started by trying to lift her up from the bed, so at least she had a soft landing.) “I think the sling’s too big,” the mother said. Of course. The student and I were “large,” while Priscilla was “medium,” and they’d given us a large sling. As soon as we swapped this for a medium one, the lift worked just fine for her in every kind of transfer.
The mother also recommended making linings for the legs of the sling, to avoid soreness and chafing. Priscilla asked a neighbor (the one who’d been so helpful to us during the power outage) whether she knew anyone in our area who was a seamstress. “Yes,” she replied, “and you know her, too.” She’d introduced us to a woman from her Bible study who’d already been sitting with Priscilla when I needed to run errands. But the fact that she was a seamstress, and even taught sewing courses, had never come up. Now she took measurements of the sling legs and returned later that same day with fleece sleeves for them!
After this Priscilla and I did one or two lift transfers each day, in various situations, to gain experience for when we’d need to do them all the time. As a result, and thanks as well to the help God had sent, by the morning after Easter we were ready to go “all Hoyer.”
We would now do at least six lifts per day: in and out of bed, morning and night; in and out of the bathroom; and in and out of the hospital bed, where Priscilla rested in the afternoons. When she took a shower there were two more transfers, in and out of the Shower Buddy. Since each lift took 10-15 minutes even if everything went right (longer otherwise!), we were now spending 1-2 hours each day doing transfers. But the alternative was for Priscilla to be confined to bed, rather than leading a full life in her own home, and neither one of us was willing for that to happen. So it was worthwhile time.
There were still two more problems to solve. First, how would Priscilla get dressed, since she could no longer stand up, even briefly with assistance? As I explained in an earlier post, Priscilla was an accomplished seamstress herself, and she and her newly discovered seamstress friend figured out together how to alter her dresses so that I could put them on her in the morning after she’d been placed in her wheelchair.
The second problem was the challenge of correctly maneuvering three pieces of equipment—Hoyer lift, Shower Buddy, and wheelchair (first manual, then electric)—in the narrow confines of our home. For example, the seemingly most obvious sequence for transferring Priscilla from the wheelchair into the Shower Buddy ended up with the wheelchair impossibly behind the Hoyer lift, rather than in front of it, on the way back out of the shower. We had to work out protocols for each maneuver to avoid dead ends like this.
Some years earlier I’d gotten hooked on the Rush Hour puzzles that require you to move cars and trucks around in a tight space to free a little red car from the gridlock. I honestly believe that working on those puzzles helped me visualize solutions for situations like the one I just described. (For that one, we just had to remember to move the wheelchair around to the foot of the bed, once Priscilla was out of it, and not leave it at the side of the bed.)
I look back with amazement and gratitude on the fact that while we did literally thousands of Hoyer lifts over a two-year period (six per day adds up fast!), we never had an accident in which either one of us was injured. The only imperfection in our model’s design was that the release knob was on the front of the vertical post. There it could be accidentally knocked open, causing Priscilla to plummet towards the floor. On two occasions the knob bumped against the rail of the hospital bed and released, but she was already over the bed and landed softly. On a couple of other occasions, Priscilla’s weight shifted unexpectedly so that her foot kicked the knob loose. But both of those times she was above her electric wheelchair, which had a padded air cushion seat. So she wasn’t hurt, but she did suggest, “Let’s try not to do that again.”