Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The True Story of the Almost-Was Cripple Colony on the Antarctic


There was a time only about 20 years ago when it was very dangerous for cripples in motorized wheelchair to venture out of the house. Danger lurked around every turn. You literally took your life in your hands.


Back in those days,  new horror stories surfaced every week about runaway wheelchairs that were suddenly kicking into gear and taking their screaming occupants on unsolicited roller coaster rides. A guy who sold wheelchairs said to me, in a foreboding tone of voice, “One guy went right over a cliff!” He snapped his fingers. “Just like that! Gone!”


An image burst open in my brain of a cripple in a motorized wheelchair sailing over the Grand Canyon like a motorcycle jumper, like a crippled hang glider without a hang glider, like Thelma and Louise. I resolved that if I ever went to see the Grand Canyon, I’d be sure to wear a parachute.


Still I wondered if these stories were more of those bullshit cripple myths, where everyone’s heard of the cripple in the story but nobody’s ever met him.  And I never knew anybody who knew anybody who knew anybody who knew anybody whose wheelchair went berserk like that.


But even the Food and Drug Administration was hearing the stories. There were no reported deaths but there were stories of chairs taking off over curbs and off piers. And sometimes it happened when an emergency vehicle like a police car or ambulance was in the vicinity.


Holy shit! Imagine that! You’re a happy fishing cripple just whistling the day away. An ambulance goes by somewhere in the distance and the next thing you know, you’re waist deep in the lagoon. Now what do you do? Well, whatever you do, don’t call an ambulance!


Now I’m not a religious man but if my chair started spinning and bucking and popping wheelies and barreling into traffic, I’d call a priest. Screw the FDA. Have a priest exorcize the damn thing, waving an urn of burning incense over it while reciting Latin. Or maybe I’d call NASA. Because the other culprit I’d suspect would be smart ass Martians, looking down from their hovering saucers and laughing their asses off as they zap cripples with a special ray that make wheelchairs dance a crazy Mambo.


The FDA inspected a bunch of wheelchair and determined that what caused them to go haywire was electromagnetic interference (EMI), emitted not just from certain two-way radios like those in ambulances but also from cell phones. Cell phones! And so the FDA made manufacturers put a big yellow warning sticker on motorized wheelchairs that said something like CAUTION: STAY THE HELL AWAY FROM AMBULANCES AND CELL PHONES.


I remember those stickers. But I guess the problem was fixed by installing a shield on new chairs that protects against EMI. So the sticker is now gone which is damn good thing. What if cripples had to avoid cell phones today? We’d all have to move to the Antarctic.