Summer In A Wheelchair:
As a former New York State guide I'm well aware of the importance of preparing yourself for the environment you are going to be in. This is even more critical for a person confined to a wheelchair. Seemly simple considerations are compounded by our body's condition.
For clarity, I am writing this as a C6 quadriplegic who is always in a power chair and has been for over 15 years. No person with a disability has the exact same situation, even if they share the same level of injury. Andy, my friend from Utah, and I are both C6 yet he spends all his time in a manual chair and has issues that I don’t.
The clothing one wears and an inability to sense subtle changes in our body can quickly escalate into a life threatening crisis requiring immediate medical intervention. While cotton is a common material worn in the summer it has its drawbacks. Cotton absorbs moisture and is slow to lose it. The ability of a fabric to draw moisture away from the body is the definition of wicking. Damp material next to the body can cause temperature loss which can be dangerous. Clothing with better wicking qualities would be either a cotton blend or synthetic fiber such as polyester. Clothing, generally speaking, should be loose fitting, light colored and have no restrictive points (i.e. collar). Since I'm often cold in the morning I will wear a pair of Sleeves which can be easily removed as the day warms.
Staying hydrated is also vital. A 3 liter Water Bag hanging on the back of the wheelchair supplies all the water one would need in a day. Fluid levels are important for many body functions including temperature control. In warm weather fluid can collect in the legs and bring on a condition called edema. The chances of this occurring can be reduced by laying back more frequently and wearing compression stockings.
Sun protection is another factor to be concerned about. Use of a sunscreen of +50 is drummed home in the media daily, but our exposure to the sun is compounded by side effects of medicines taken by individuals with disabilities. A brimmed hat should also be worn. There are some available that have special qualities to keep the head cooler.
Combine all these factors with the body’s inability to send the brain information as to what is really going on until it’s too late should make any one with a disability hyper vigilant while out doors in hot weather.
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