The Mighty Logo

When My Nearly 500-Pound Power Wheelchair Got Stuck at the Bus Stop

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

It all started on a rainy day in Seattle. My little brother is a freshman at Washington State University and was back home for the first time since starting school. His best friend, Sam, who also happens to go to the University of Washington, had decided to come home, too.

So on this rainy afternoon, Sam and I were outside waiting for the bus. Well, in actuality, he stood while I sat in my wheelchair since I have spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, but you get the picture. As the bus pulled up, I tried to move closer to the curb, but my chair wouldn’t move. I frantically turned my chair off and then on again. It didn’t work. I was stuck.

I turned to Sam and asked him how he felt about pushing me. Granted, the bus was about to pull up to the sidewalk, so he didn’t have much of a choice, but he graciously said he would do it. All power wheelchairs have the ability to be turned on manual, which gives me the ability to drive my almost 500-pound wheelchair pretty much like any other manual wheelchair — in theory. I told Sam how to turn my chair on manual, which he dutifully did. All seemed to be going well again until he tried to push me. One side of my wheelchair moved freely, but the other side remained locked in the position. In other words, one side was moving and the other wasn’t. This made pushing virtually impossible, but Sam continued to try.

Sam is not a big guy. In fact, he’s a rather small one (I love you, man, but we both know it’s true, and I need to set the stage here). So we had a lot of rain, one large and useless wheelchair and a smallish dude trying to push said chair onto a large city bus, which undoubtedly had a schedule to keep.

By this point, we were drawing a crowd. The bus driver lowered the ramp, which conveniently landed on my foot because I was too close to the curb, and Sam was unable to move me away because we were completely stuck.

After trying several times to get on the ramp facing forward, the bus driver suggested we turn around and roll onto the ramp backwards. Turning was surprisingly easy, relative to everything else, especially when one wheel worked and the other wheel didn’t. At this point, other passengers on the bus got up to help. This was when the fun began because everyone was an expert.

A petite young woman informed me her father also uses a power wheelchair and this happens to him all the time, too. She told me the fix was quite simple; all I needed to do was turn my chair off and then on again, and it will work good as new. She kept telling me to do this, even after explained her that I already did it. So I decided to humor her. I turned my chair off and then on again, and when it still didn’t work, she sat back down.

Macy Westrick the mighty.2-001

Next, a large man bent down over me to say that I needed turn my wheelchair off. By not doing so, he explained, my wheelchair wouldn’t disengage, which was why they were unable to push me. He told me this in the voice that you use to talk to a 2-year-old when you want to convey that you are not pleased.

Did it really look like the whole mission in my life on that day was to purposely sabotage my own wheelchair so I could get the thrill of having complete strangers drag me onto a bus? No. I was just unhappy about this chain of events as they were.

My team of movers continued to literally drag me down the aisle. Eventually, they got me into the designated wheelchair spot, and strapped me down. The bus driver asked me if I have anyone to help me get off on the other end. It was a fair question, but before I can get the word “yes” out of my mouth, somebody behind me yelled out I just need to call the wheelchair tow truck.

I really, really, really sincerely hope that I’m stating the obvious when I say a wheelchair tow truck doesn’t exist.

The rest of the ride went along smoothly, and I’m happy to report that my wheelchair even decided to start working again about halfway through the ride.

Now, I probably sound really ungrateful by criticizing the people who genuinely tried to help me. Don’t get me wrong, I really am grateful and I don’t know what I would’ve done without those people, so if you’re reading this and you’re one of them, thank you, truly.

That being said, I will leave you with this piece of advice: If you see someone with a disability who may need assistance, please do so, because, chances are, they really do need the help. But don’t decide that you know how to fix the problem, unless, of course, you actually do.

Follow this journey on Diary of a Gimpy Kid.

Originally published: August 11, 2015
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home