Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Saved by the iBot

(Photo credit: ginnylgorman)
If I would just stay home then I wouldn’t get in so much trouble. But what fun would that be?

As I wrote about here, every Holiday Season my wife and I try to get out and enjoy one of the many wonderful Christmas-themed shows in the greater Portland area. This year we scored tickets to the hip-cool Nutcracker Burlesque at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, located in an old church that has been converted to an intimate, 110 seat theater.

When we arrived at the playhouse, me in my iBot and Kim in her f**k me boots, we were led directly to the wheelchair lift. "It's easier if I close the door at this level, and go operate the lift from the upper level. Is that okay?" asked the manager. We nodded and smiled.

Now that I’m recalling these events, and with the benefit of hindsight, I realize that she seemed a bit unsure of the operation of the lift from the get-go, hoping for the best but fearing, well, complications.

We could see her in the glass window of the door one level up. She turned the key and we started slowly moving up the elevator shaft. After a few seconds, we stopped.

“Don't worry,” she quickly exclaimed. "Everything is all right. Just one second…"

Well, the seconds turned into minutes. Other people were called to look over the situation. They were all profusely apologetic and concerned for our state of mind – being essentially trapped in an elevator. We tried to put everyone at ease so that they could concentrate on the technical challenges at hand instead of worrying about us. As all of my disabled readers can attest, when you leave the confines of home and venture out into the disabled unfriendly world beyond, you better be mentally prepared for bumps in the road.

Finally, the theater manager admitted defeat, cursed at the lift, and told us that she was calling the elevator company. The show was due to start in a few minutes, so Kim and I became creative. Kim has always been very athletic, and we could see that by standing on the half walls on the side of the lift, she would be able to pull herself up onto the second floor landing. We thought that reducing the cargo weight in the lift was worth a try. So Kim, boots and all, climbed up to the next level. The lift still wouldn’t move, up or down.

Then we realized that the lift was actually closer to the main floor than to the second floor. I began to envision a situation where if I could separate myself from the iBot, a group of people might be able to lower the iBot down onto the main floor, and then somehow assist me afterward. I took control and started giving orders, asking for a stool that I could transfer to from the iBot (there didn’t seem to be enough room for a chair). They hurriedly found one and lowered it down the shaft from the second floor. Kim and the theater manager helped transfer me from the iBot to the stool. Step one was complete.

We then powered down the iBot and put it in freewheel mode. Kim, the theater manager, and two stagehands carefully lowered the 290 pound iBot from the lift onto the main floor. Step two was complete.

But there I sat atop a tall stool, on a lift two feet above the main floor. I asked if they had a shorter chair that I could transfer to from the high stool. They did. Step three was complete. After examining the situation, it appeared that if I could execute an assisted slither half-twist or maybe a compound free-fall 180, perhaps I could transfer from the chair and stick a landing squarely in the waiting iBot. It worked. Greg Louganis, Shaun White, or Nancy Kerrigan would have been proud. Step four was complete.

imagesCA98JTXRYou might ask why I was using the lift at all if I was in my iBot, which is a stair climbing wheelchair. Two reasons. First, we typically use the stair climbing function only if there is no good elevator, lift, or ramp available. Except when I’m in one of those iBot exhibitionist moods, we don't necessarily like to draw attention to ourselves. Second, I hadn’t practiced good iBot battery management in preparation for this outing, and hence my charge was a bit low. Stair climbing is a battery intensive operation. But we were left with little choice. We had to ascend the stairs or go home.

Have I mentioned how much I love my iBot?

Kim guided the iBot up the stairs with practiced ease, and we entered the theater lobby. Because the show was almost ready to start, there was only a small group of amazed onlookers. The theater manager was extremely apologetic. She offered me complimentary drinks and snacks. We had just finished dinner at a nearby restaurant, so I declined the snack. The wheelchair accessible bathroom was at the other end of the dysfunctional wheelchair lift, so I declined the beverages too, although at that point I certainly could have used a drink. Kim accepted a glass of wine.

The will call comped our tickets, but because we enjoyed the show so much we left a donation on our way out. As we were exiting the theater quite a crowd of patrons gathered around the stairwell while Kim expertly directed me and the iBot down the stairs to a chorus of oohs and ahhs. I still had enough battery life to get home. All in all, it was a pleasant evening out on the town.

I know how tight money is with non-profits these days, but I’m confident that the theater will now invest in repairs/upgrades for their ailing wheelchair lift. I hope to make a return visit someday. I recommend that others give the St. Lawrence a look as well. The venue is unique; the talent is eclectic; and the people are friendly.

2010 06 15If I had been in a traditional power wheelchair, the night would have ended on a sour note.  But instead, I was again saved by the iBot, this life-changing mobility device, and we were able to enjoy our evening out. Unfortunately, as you may know, the iBot is no longer being manufactured. For information about how you can help save the iBot, click here.

Have I mentioned how much I love my iBot?
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  1. Sounds like a TV movie! Don't you two ever do anything that turns out boring (translation: like everyone else's adventures)?.

  2. P.S. We're betting that your voice-recognition software didn't help with the name of Kim's boots....

  3. Hey Mitch, sounds like you found yourself in quite the conundrum. Your solution for extricating yourself from the situation required quite a bit of creative disabled derring-do.

    My only question is, what is a "Nutcracker Burlesque" like? (For some reason the link you provided didn't work)…

  4. Ginny,

    Good question. I realize that most people get up each day and ask "I wonder what today will bring?" When we get up we ask, "Where's the script?" and "Can I have a stunt double for that?"


    I've fixed the Nutcracker Burlescque link. It's the Nutcracker, playfully spoofed by real women of all shapes and sizes, in sexy lingerie.