Protect The Chair! Making Waterproof Wheelchair Covers for Swimming (for under £20!)

Swimming is the best excercise when you have pain everywhere, but swimming in a wheelchair can be a pain in the arse (clearly not in the chair, but using the chaur before & after).

So I made myself some covers.

The towel was an important factor here, and I used a Turkish Beach Towel as it’s smooth cotton on one side so it’s not scratchy once it’s dried, but has terry on the other side to make it absorbant.

My 1st job was to cut the edges from the mattress protector. This had two advantages – firstly, it makes it easier to work with, and secondly it has built in elastic which I could use later instead of buying extra!

I measured my seat cushion by placing the lining & towel under my cushion & cutting a square around it, making sure that I’d left enough to go around the sides plus an extra 2 inches so the finished cover would wrap underneath like a fitted sheet.

I also cut tassels off plus 2″ of towel to make ties for the backrest cover. This was another excellent reason for the Turkish Beach towel – the finshed thing with it’s ties looks like I’m ready to go on holiday instead of hospital!

Once I’d cut same shape of mattress cover that I had for the towel, I lined them both up with the towel faced down & cover faced up* and trimmed any edges that were wonky (remember I was measuring around an oddly shaped Jay cushion with crap hands weilding scissors!).

*this is important as you’ll want them to match up when you sew them together.

Next, I placed my seat cushion back on, making sure that it was in the middle of the fabric & cut out squares from each corner. These went to 1cm away from the cushion.

Now I was ready to place the towel & cover with right sides facing in and sew together – it’s important to remember that you only sew the outside edges and don’t sew the corners! Otherwise you can’t turn it right ride out.

Next, I sewed the elastic that I salvaged from the mattress protector onto the straght edges that I’d just sewn (not the corners).

Once the elastic was in, I turned the fabric right way to create what can only be described as a giant showercap! With the right side of the towel together, I sewed corners together.

I’m sure there’s a neater way to do this as you can totally see the seams on the inside, but it’s a functional cover…

Making the back was a similar process. If you have a square back, then it’s identical albeit with no elastic.

If like me, you have a moulded/ fitted back, you’ll need to cut the shape of your back from the towel & mattress protector (this can be the rough shape plus 2 – 3 inches seam allowance). With a moulded back, it’s useful to add elastic at the too & bottom to help the cover “wrap” over.

Once I’d cut out the cover pieces (before sewing them together), I cut the tassled edges into 4 equal lengths then folded over the cut edges of the ties & sew along the edges to keep them from fraying. I attached the ties to back piece by sewing the top two to the inside of the corners and the bottom two in the middle. I then tucked them in as I sewed the seams.

(For a square back, sew the ties to each corner).

And this is the finished cover:

And from side (any reason to take a photo of my wheels!)

And from back – I’ve tied the straps in diagonals because it keeps the back cover more secure.

I promptly tested how well the cover worked with a day at the local pool & bubbles. Not a drop of water on my cusions even after some git sprayed with the shower (joys of tinypants helping me get showered).

Since then, I’ve used the cover weekly for swimming and we’ll be taking it on holiday. It’s doing exactly what I needed it to do and is as simple as chucking in the washing machine, or just hanging up like a towel to dry (just don’t tumble dry as it has plastic backing!!!).

What’s the one product that you resorted to making for your chair?

* This post contains affiliate links. I don’t recommend products unless I genuinely think they’re worth buying. By clicking / purchasing you are heloing me to maintain this site and my professional site over at www.TeachAllAboutIT.school

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Dear Fatty

(Yes, I know I shamelessly stole the title)

New (academic) year, new challenges. But this year marks a big one and a massive personal challenge for me. If you’re reading my blog, then you’re probably already know about the fun & games I have with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome – TLDR; it’s shit & cramping my style, but this month marks the 1 year anniversary of fracturing my spine and just over a year since my hearing dropped to unworkable levels. Life went on. But without my beloved racing that was an outlet for lots of rage – but now I’m back! Wonkier, in more pain, and with an extensive arse (the image below is my “thinspiration” – a combo of being stationary & evil painkillers has wrecked my weight).

So, with new work challenges I knew that I needed to build in some head space and get back to racing, but with our club now super popular it would be difficult to have a chair set up for my weird & wonky limbs. I’d saved up a percentage and reached out to The 53 Foundation for support – then after completely forgetting I’d contacted them I got an email telling me that they’d love to help me fund the rest of my chair & to go ahead and order it!

As an able bodied peron, the financial layout for going for a run is as simple as some trainers & leggings – an entry level wheelchair is £625 (professioal chairs start at £3k), so this grant was quite literally a game changer.

With my chair winging it’s way to me, I knew I had to pay this kindness forward and whilst I’ll be racing to raise money for the 53 Fondation soon (I promise!), there is one woman who I can’t ignore for my first race.

That’s me in the lurid pink alongside team mates who made sport fun for the first time ever.

That's me in the lurid pink!

At the end of October, to prove I have properly taken leave of my senses, I’ll be participating in the Great South Run (oh the delicious irony!) in my chair supported by my amazing friend Rachel & Mr Geek. Instead of sponsoring me for a big charity, I would be eternally grateful if you would consider making a donation towards Shona’s powerchair GoFundMe. It breaks my heart that this amazing young woman who dedicates herself to helping others in the bendy community has to resort to crowdfunding to get an appropriate chair, but lots of us have been there.

Training starts in earnest now and I’ll be posting updates on how we’re doing (even if that is elongated whining about how much everything hurts!). I’m not aiming for a PB – because Ive never pushed that far, so it will be a PB! I have no aims for elite sport – I simpy want to finish in as few pieces as possible (and have the following week already set aside for bed rest).

Wish me luck!

Working 9 to 5… and 6, and 7

Teaching is less of a job than a calling. It’s in our bones. We just can’t help ourselves.

This year I made the momentous decision to join the other 50’000 UK teachers who left in 2015 in stepping down as a full time secondary school teacher. Over the past two years, I’ve done that job on wheels and through a lot of painkillers, but in the end it wasn’t my crappy health that sealed the deal. 

I’m not actually leaving teaching. Instead, I’m moving to pastures new where the only grazers are sixth form students, retaining a very part time role in my current place, and offering online private tuition. It may seem bizarre to leave one full time sensible job to combine part time roles, but hear me out:

  • My sixth form teaching is the highlight of my day. But my subject is niche & in its infancy at my new college so whilst I build my little empire of nerds, hours are reduced. A Level Computer Science students challenge me mentally and I love seeing them fan the first flickers of a flame that grows to so many of them ending up in the industry, or at Uni studying the subject I love.
  • Leaving my current school is bittersweet. Here, I have friends, comrades, family. There are many things that try my patience to the bitter end, but parting was such sweet sorrow that I couldn’t leave completely. 
  • Private tuition brings a whole new dynamic to my teaching skills. In some respects it’s much easier than classroom teaching as there’s no rushing around dividing your time, or dealing with behaviour issues, and you get to develop a strong working relationship with tutees that is difficult in large classes. On the other hand, it’s much harder as you are giving constant input – there’s no quiet purposeful practice when “on the clock”, and many students who come to you as a tutor are there because they’re not keeping up for one reason or another. The stakes are high, but the rewards are enormous.

So that leaves me in a bit of a pickle for now. I’m winding down my full time role, whilst also not winding down at all as there’s still 7 weeks left to go, I’m preparing for my new role in September, and I’m already knee deep in online tutees in the evenings and weekends so I can hit the ground running (or wheeling) in September.

I’m exhausted. But therun up to the big jump to a new Lilly pad is an awful lot of fun.

So, for now you can find me here: www.TeachAllAboutIT.uk doing my thing & quite literally teaching Computer Science to the world!

Call me what you like, I can’t hear you!

Ehlers Danlos is the Syndrome that just keeps on giving. Today I had the joys of having a tuning forks placed on odd parts of my head. No, this wasn’t some strange hippy healing ceremony, but a real life scientific hearing test.

My doctor bashed it against her desk then placed it on various parts of my skull. Everyone else could hear it except me. Seriously, you heard that? Shit.

Having checked her unusual methods on Dr Google, this was to see the type of hearing loss I have. It is actually a thing that rules out my sinuses or ear canal causing the issue.

I’d suffered a bit of hearing loss after having meningitis in 2008, but not huge volumes or enough to affect my daily life. More recently, I’ve caught myself snapping at the kids to stop mumbling when we’re in the car & insisting that Mr Geek be facing me when I talk to him because he’s talking in the wrong direction… I’m surprised no one had mentioned it TBH. The penny dropped when I went back to school and couldn’t hear the kids when they answer questions in class. I can see their lips move, but all I get is a background hum if there’s other noise. There is ALWAYS other noise in a school & I’m exhausted by lunch from second guessing what they’re saying. But I didn’t really want it to be a thing (I have enough things! I don’t need any more things.). It is apparently quite an obvious thing according to my graphs. See? Graphs. I love a good graph.

The joys of EDS means that the bones in my ears aren’t held together as tightly as they could be. Of all joints, my ears?! FFS. 

So what now? Well, I started off with an off handed tweet.

…and now, I’m trying out some basic hearing aids to see if they help & waiting to see how my referral to Action for Hearing Loss can help. Things may take a little while because I’m under 55 and I’m not meant to lose my hearing before I get old. I am a woman of many talents: I can lose my mobility, consciousness, AND my hearing. Go me.

Teacher in a Wheelchair series : The Successful Cyborg – tips 1 – 5

I’ve lost count of how many times people have asked me how I appear to just carry on despite rapidly falling to pieces. Just as often I look confused at them & say “err I just do. It’s nothing special.”.  Looking at it objectively, actually my ability to hold down a full time job is thanks to a million little tricks and adjustments. This series of blogs is all about unpicking those adjustments & sharing them.

For those who don’t know, I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome – a genetic condition which affects connective tissues throughout my body making them stretchier than they should be. For me this meant undiagnosed joint pain, weird injuries, & enormous anxiety as a child; later this became chronic pain in my back & gastric issues; finally (and this isn’t my final form) in my mid 30s I dislocate daily, have dysautonomia, intense fatigue, & the joys of adrenal imbalance making me easily “stressy” and unable to sleep at appropriate times.

Life could very easily get very dark; I could easily dwell on the potential of overdoing it & rupturing an important organ; it’s not unusual to do the 2am game of “which body part hurts the most?” – tonight, come on down thoracic vertebrae! We have a winner! ; I am human & the odd week long pity party for one is allowed (and frankly, quite health behaviour when you are faced with similar pain to a broken bone all the time & for the rest of your life).

I am in no place to judge others, but first me making it into work helps. No matter how much pain I’m in, I’m there to make an impact on those kids lives which leads to trick number 1:

1. Distraction 

Of course there are times when I’m in so much pain I can’t think.or verbalise. But for daily ‘my normal’ levels of pain being busy let’s me push through more. Handing out house points in exchange for homework is my current favourite- I’m focused on the positive & lists.

2. My Mug & Staying Hydrated

I went along to one of the most useless OT groups ever to be run recently. One suggestion first drinking was to kit use dainty china cups for your tea, but instead use a mug. I’ve never used a china teacup! 

I need to drink a good 2 – 3 litres per day to remain conscious, and I need to do this in a little & often way. Also, I hate drinking water. My solution: green, jasmine, or earl grey tea (weak & no milk) in a constant supply via my thermos mug.

Between 8am – 5pm while I’m at work, I’ll get through 4-5 of these by carrying it around with me & just topping up the hot water until I’m drinking vaguely tea flavoured water. The Thermos makes it stay warm for longer & the handle is big enough to put 4 fingers through  (this takes the strain off your smaller joints). But the biggest winner for me is the lid : it’s a suction lid, so no screwing! & the middle twists over to reveal a sippy bit which reduces spills without being obvious that I’m using a sippy cup!

3. Morning Rituals

Our mornings consist of getting me, my mum, & Mr Geek to work and both kids to school. This is a feat of epic proportions only achievable because my Dad takes the TinyPants school run (now Beanpole is at High school, Mr Geek is slowly letting her get used to getting herself there by driving her to school).

Mr Geek wakes me before 6am by putting the TV on in our room & greeting me with coffee or squash and painkillers. Then he helps me dress. After this, I have 20 mins to go through my makeup ritual. This quiet time gives me chance to let the painkillers work, or just come to without being overwhelmed.

I could have 30 minutes extra sleep, or I could disguise my exhausted face using baskets full of make up & moisturiser. This is my war paint. My axe is sharper when you can’t see how weak I am.

4. Hygiene Hacks 

You probably noticed that my morning routine didn’t include a shower. I didn’t just forget to include it, if I attempted to shower each morning, I wouldn’t have the energy to get to work. Here, a combination of baby wipes, exfoliating face wipes & a wet flannel helps freshen me up first the day. These are the very real choices we have to make to hold it together. Of course I would prefer to wash properly, but needs must, and exfoliating wipes are remarkably effective for washing face & underarms each morning.

The Nivea 3 in 1 wipes are my current favourite and smell nice too. A much cheaper (and just as effective) version is from Primary, although I’m not keen on thinking about the chemicals added to the latter. I keep my cheaper wipes in my handbag in case my stuffy classroom gets too much and I need to freshen up.

For my hair, I use a Tangle Teaser instead of a brush as I can grip it with my whole hand. With over a foot chopped off of my hair it’s much easier to handle & keeping it curly means I can miss a bit of brushing & squirt it with water / mousse and no one will know! If I want it to look styled, I still need Mr Geek’s help.


5. Painkillers are part of your toolkit

There’s a lot of debate online about opiate use & whether we’re all just junkies. Much of the debate is conducted without asking those who take them if they actually make their quality of life better. For a perfect example, watch this weekends MedX talk from HurtBlogger:


I would’ve preferred to link to her being subsequently patronised & talked over by a panel of doctors who were pushing their anti-opiate agenda, one of which suggested taking a less effective drug because a bit more pain is ok. No. It isn’t.

For me, opiates reduce my daily pain more than any other drug (oooh and I’ve tried them). They are part of my toolkit to create a manageable baseline & address and breakthrough before I hit meltdown.

Without them in my toolkit to be used sensibly*, my quality of life would be appalling. My risk of self medicating, very high. My mental health, very poor.
* sensibly in this case means at the minimum dose to achieve a suitable reduction in pain. There is no expectation of no pain, instead a tolerable reduction.

Accessible Fashion – Lagenlook 

Over the past year I’ve been struggling with clothes on a number of levels. My mission has been to find clothes that meet ALL of the following:

  1. Are stylish & individual, but not “fashionable” (I’m 36 fgs, my teenage clothes are now “retro”)
  2. I can get on & off without dislocating & with minimal help
  3. Are comfortable EVEN when my joints ache, my belly bloats by several inches for no good reason, I’m sat in my wheelchair all day, I’m sitting awkwardly because of my weird bendy back
  4. I can get out of to go to the loo.by myself (big, important consideration even if this is way TMI)
  5. Won’t tangle in my wheelchair 
  6. Won’t be too hot & make me Tachy
  7. Won’t be too cold & turn me to stone
  8. Are considered modest enough for work
  9. Aren’t frumpy
  10. Won’t fuel my “I’m fat” thoughts

So, you know, I’m Easy.

But over the past few weeks, I’ve found a style that rather meets all of this. Lagenlook is a German creation which literally means layered look. It is a style of dressing that flatters almost all figures and sticks two big fingers up at the perfect body type. That rather suits me seeing as the body I once adorned with home sewn flared dungarees so enormous that I used to trip over the hems seems to have spread out, twisted, & broken. I digress.

The look can be adjusted to suit whatever your particular style is (for me, I’m more the 2nd lady in from the left without the standing, and some extra padding). In my case my colour choices are black, grey, natural greens, and the occasional royal blue for funsies.

So today, Mr Geek took me & the kids over to Brighton to address the lack of uniform shopping for the kids & identify some items to stop me making a face every time he gets me dressed & bemoaning my lack of clothes that don’t either hurt my stomach or look frumpy.

Each morning I’m greeted with “what do you want to wear?”, and without fail the answer has been “something comfortable”. This is going to suck when I go back to work and I have to dress in smart & professional clothing. This is great in theory, but when you’re battling a body that has wild temperature fluctuations & inflates because you smelt a bread roll, a pencil skirt isn’t practical.

Lagenlook solves the looking like a human with some form of style, and because of the layers I can add or remove layers as and when needed. The majority of the bits I bought allow me to wear leggings or linen trousers underneath which is where I come a little bit unstuck – our dress code states no leggings – I can’t successfully undo trousers & get to the loo by myself (apart from my linen trousers which are elasticated which breaks my heart, but hey). I’m hoping if they are worn as a type of completely opaque tights, I can get away with it.

I think I’d always planned this Bonham Carter-esq look as my midlife crisis style of choice anyway & looking through my pre-shopping wardrobe there’s already a few petticoats, DMs, and cardigans just waiting to be layered up. And I guess 36 is an ok age to have a midlife existential crisis. I’d always planned to have to go and “find myself” in Tibet where I would meditate and plan my sky burial.

Instead, I am finding peace through painkillers and the acquisition of comfortable clothes in Primark. I’m a terrible hippy. I will however happily settle for expressing my repressed rebellion through slightly odd clothing & my trademark super red hair.

The Paralympic IPC Says I’m Not Disabled

Please forgive the rage that is about to ensue. This post is purely a “get it out of your head quickly” post.

This year I discovered wheelchair racing as a means to defy my enormous decline in physical health. I’ve blogged about this before & how it is the first sport that has not caused me excruciating pain. About how I finally felt able to participate in something physical. About how the inclusive nature of my team mates boosted my mental health immensely. I have my 1st post-holiday training session tomorrow evening & right now, for the first time ever I don’t want to go. Why?

Fast forward to tonight where I happened to stumble upon a twitter conversation about disabled sport classification by the IPC (in oder to take part in “real” races, you must be classified). They have released a statement specifically excluding Ehlers Danlos Syndrome as a qualifying disability for disabled sport. What this means for me is being treated as an able bodied athlete (you can stop laughing now…. seriously, stop it.) and as such can only participate in open races with no chance of joining my friends on the track for races against people similarly matched to my own actual ability.
Ok, I was never destined for anything other than local competitions & having fun, but I have rarely wished my genetics on anyone, however I’ll make an exception here. Especially after this news story. I am more than a little bit gutted. Any visions of progression in my one physical outlet (no matter how far fetched they may be) have been dashed because someone decided that one type of disability was “better” than another. 

How dare they exclude genuinely disabled athletes because they don’t fit into a neat little tick box?! You are a professional body and as such have an obligation (if not legally, then morally) to pick up a goddamn book and read about conditions that cause a spectrum of disability. If you ever wondered why  Ehlers Danlos Syndrome is considered an Invisible Illness, here is you prime example at the very highest level.

What does your not disabled look like?

It looks like a full time wheelchair user

It looks like someone who fights with their racing chair & dislocates joints and keeps going.

It looks like chronic pain that eats away at you & makes you question at 2am exactly why you keep going.

It looks like more medication than I can count on two hands.

It looks like my husband having to cook for me, and help me wash & dress myself. 

It looks like strapping myself with physio tape to keep joints in place. And when that doesn’t work, biting my cheek to stop myself crying from pain in front of the kids I train with.

It looks like being lifted from my racing chair into my day chair due to no sensation in my lower legs because my spine is slowly curving & compressing my nerves.

Now tell me how perfectly able I am.

F*** you IPC and the bureaucratic horse you rode in on.