All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for December 2002

Getting a Grip on Hand-controlled Vans,2265,32924820,00.html

Dec 1, 2002
Karen Smith
Real Living with Multiple Sclerosis

WHEN IT BECAME NECESSARY for me to be in a wheelchair almost full-time, we traded our car for a van. It had leather seats, power doors, and everything automatic. We ordered a ramp from the Internet, my husband and son installed it, and I was mobile again. The only problem was that I couldn't get in and out by myself; as long as someone else was with me, I had it made.

However, there were times when it wasn't convenient for someone to take me where I needed to go. I felt as if I'd lost even more of my independence. I was used to coming and going as I pleased. We'd researched converted vans with lowered floors and automatic ramps, and had almost convinced ourselves to have our van converted. The problem was, I couldn't bring myself to send our beautiful van out to be "cut in two," spend thousands of dollars, and be without it for several weeks. To say I was dragging my feet was an understatement.

At the same time, I was researching hand controls for the van. It seemed my legs and hands were getting weaker and I thought getting hand controls might be a possibility in the near future. Still, I couldn't make myself agree to all the money and inconvenience of having our van converted.

One day, while my husband and I were out running errands, we happened upon an auto repair shop. In front of it was a converted van for sale with the ramp out. It seemed as if God had placed it there just for me. It was an older van, had lots of miles on it, but had been converted with everything I needed. It had an automatic ramp, a transfer seat, and hand controls. It was much smaller than the van we had but it had blue interior (my favorite color) and was just the right size to accommodate my wheelchair and me.

In visiting with the van's seller, we discovered it belonged to another woman with MS from out of state who was no longer able to drive it.

My husband had some reservations about it, including the age of the van and the high mileage. But because I wanted it to drive only myself locally, we thought we should consider it. And besides, he felt sure he could negotiate the price.

On the Road Again

We arranged to test the van for a day. I didn't sleep much that night, knowing that the next day I could go wherever and whenever I wanted by myself! I had a list of things to do that would have taken a healthy person a week to do and I was sure I could get it done before lunch. I was up early and ready to go.

I had a wonderful time. Understand, I didn't do anything exciting - I went to the post office and bookstore, ran really boring errands, and was in seventh heaven!

I was heading home after lunch, but there were just a couple of things for which I didn't allow. One was how tired I was getting. I was so excited about being out that I ignored my feelings of fatigue; I misjudged how the heat was affecting me, and (most of all) I didn't realize how weak my legs were. As I was coming up our slightly elevated driveway, I couldn't get my leg to move off the gas. I ran into the garage door with a van we didn't own.

Luckily, the van was hardly damaged and I was fine, but our garage door was terminal. I had to call my husband to come let me into the house because our garage door no longer worked. I can't say that he was thrilled, but he was very understanding. Needless to say, by the end of the day, we owned that van and paid the price they wanted. My husband felt it was God's way of getting his attention and impressing on him not to try to haggle a price with another individual with MS.

Whatever the circumstances, I'm thrilled with the van. I've regained much of my independence and I have the hand controls that I badly needed without realizing it. Many of us with MS spend a lot of time and energy trying to retain our "normalcy," but all we're really doing is wasting a lot of our limited energy. Sometimes it takes some strange circumstances to convince us that we should gladly accept those things that will make our lives easier and be thankful for them.

© 2002 Real Living with Multiple Sclerosis