Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Going home -- anxious but excited

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BOY, what a hassle it is getting ready to leave the rehab at Health Sciences Centre in order to integrate back into the community.

As far as my progress is concerned, I've learned how to drive a power wheelchair better. Hey, I'm not as bad a driver as I thought I'd be considering I've never driven a car. In physiotherapy I'm now lifting 70 pounds and balancing myself well. I've not been thrown off the mat by my physiotherapist!

Occupational therapy has ensured that I have a manual wheelchair so that I can transfer into vehicles, as well as a power wheelchair that will be custom built for my size and my needs. I will also have a sliding board which helps me with transfers, and a commode for transferring onto a toilet. It's amazing the number of details you have to think about that you never before considered when you lose your legs.

On the other hand, I've had nothing but headaches acquiring a bed from home care for when I go home. I requested a double bed as Emily and I have been married for over 16 years and, of course, would like to continue to sleep in the same bed. I was informed by the home care worker at the rehab that the double-bed policy is based on weight! If a patient is over 400 pounds, they are eligible for a double bed only because a single bed can't take more than 400 pounds. This policy was confirmed by her supervisor.

I could hardly believe that such a ridiculous policy existed, so I called the minister of health and spoke to her executive assistant. I was told that the reason I was not eligible for a double bed was because of the cost factor -- they simply cost too much money. Intimate relationships are not considered and in our case, the implication is left that disabled people aren't seen as sexual beings and, therefore, why would we need to sleep together? I suggested to the minister's assistant that the policy might be considered discriminatory, which he agreed with. Ultimately, we were offered two single beds which would take up too much room in our new bedroom.

Speaking of which, last week the occupational therapist did a home inspection of our new "digs" at McFeetors Hall near the University of Winnipeg. While she is satisfied in general with the space, she has suggested some significant changes such as door stops to hold the door open while I manoeuver through the doorway, a kick plate to the exterior bottom of the door to our apartment, reverse the fridge and freezer doors to increase accessibility, and raise the couch by four inches to increase the safety of my transfers.

I now understand why some patients spend much longer in rehab than they need to. For example, many of the amputees there are aboriginal and have had amputations as a result of diabetes. Often they come from reserves where accessibility is virtually non-existent and their homes have to be significantly adapted to their new lifestyle before they are allowed to go home.

So, as I move towards living in the community again I am filled with excitement and, yes, a lot of anxiety. Everything is completely different -- my body, my home, my neighbourhood, my bed, my couch! I still have many questions and I'm sure I will have more as I encounter situations that I have never experienced before.

I am looking forward to being home again with Emily, starting a new life, different, yes, but new. I know I couldn't have come this far without the "community" of Winnipeggers who have supported Emily and me through these many, long months.

Nick Ternette, community activist, freelance writer and broadcaster, recently had his legs amputated and his teeth pulled as a result of an infection.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 3, 2009 A12

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