During the summer and in preparation for this rehab-centric issue of Mobility Management, I was invited by CRTS Darren Hulbert to watch a late-stage assessment at ATG Designing Mobility in my hometown of Cerritos, Calif.
Darren promised it would be worth my while to meet Wendy, a 26-year-old client in the final stages of being fitted for her new power chair. Wendy was amazing, Darren said — a young woman who was born without arms and legs, she was now raising her baby daughter while working as an office manager.
Darren has collaborated with MM before; he was one of our first interviews years ago. But this was the first time I'd seen him on the job, live and in person. And what a job it was.
As promised, Wendy was memorable: bright smile, big personality, smart and articulate. Having received her first power chair at age 3, Wendy is an informed consumer. She asked a thousand questions and wasn't afraid to ask for adjustment after adjustment. After all, she'd be spending a lot of hours in this chair.
Darren wasn't the only RTS working on this system. John "J.W." Wheater was also there, patiently adjusting the joystick up and down, expertly securing a switch's wiring. What duct tape is to MacGyver, Velcro is to J.W.
I also met Helen, who deals with so much documentation and paperwork that I wonder how she can still have such a friendly smile.
In fact, I wondered how Darren, J.W. or Helen could smile. I saw first-hand that rehab is not a place to look for immediate gratification. Not only did Darren and J.W. endlessly make minute adjustments — in fact, insisting that Wendy by 100-percent honest with her opinions — but I watched them do so, in reality, for free. Darren confirmed that this setup, no matter how intricate or lengthy, is considered part of the price of the chair. No labor fee could be charged.
Even Wendy was surprised: "You're not getting paid for this?"
Darren, J.W. and Helen all shook their heads.
Darren and Helen also told me about the early stages — how they'd had to spec out the chair, then wait until the Department of Rehab could secure a second bid on the same work. This project of getting Wendy into her new chair was many months old.
So much patience required on everyone's part.
But I saw a side effect of all that patience. I heard Wendy confide n Darren as if he were a protective big brother. I heard J.W. say how much he admired Wendy as she took her new chair for a test drive. I saw others in the Designing Mobility office greet Wendy by first name.
In rehab, I learned, most gratification is long delayed. But from what I witnessed, some of the side effects are more immediately tangible.
This article originally appeared in the October 2006 issue of Mobility Management.