It's four weeks now since my horse decided to lie down on the job and didn't wait for me to dismount first.

The bruises have largely faded and the stitches are all out and I have now graduated from a hospital bed to – tah dah – a wheelchair.

Now, we've all seen people who use wheelchairs and make it look easy … whizzing down the footpath, turning on a dime, doing wheelstands and playing sport.

Turns out, it's not easy at all.


Read more: Rachel Wise: More whoa than go
Rachel Wise: Mindless vandals - they brass me off
Rachel Wise: 'Twas a dark and stormy night

So far I haven't whizzed once.

The first trick, when you don't have the use of your legs, is to get into the thing, which is achieved by lifting yourself over into it, using just your arms.

My arms have long been used for hanging bracelets from, or as extensions so my hands could reach my keyboard, steering wheel or cup of coffee.

They went into shock when asked to heft my entire bodyweight upwards and sideways.

"Your muscles will build up," said the occupational therapist. It was very kind of her to refer to my bingo wings as muscle, when they are really just a build-up of chips from the dairy across from work.

It was challenging just to learn how to turn a corner; one hand forward and one backwards … what? Where? Wallop. Straight into the nearest wall. At least the occupational therapist instructing me had the sense to leap to safety.

Leaving turning for another day, we tried going in a straight line. Also problematical. I think learner wheelchairists need warning lights and a siren. Or that could just be me.


So far instead of wheelstands and wheelchair basketball, I have been taking paint off door frames and skin off other people's ankles.

At least it's marginally more dignified and controllable than my wheelchair's unmentionable evil twin … The Commode Chair.

Never mentioned in polite society (present company excepted), the commode chair is a toilet seat on wheels.

Its usual environment is hidden away in hospital bathrooms, but every so often you'll see one lurking in a corridor.

My best advice is give it a wide berth and don't make eye contact. They are unpredictable and completely without conscience.

My first commode chair experience was in a shared hospital room and I didn't think I could be any more embarrassed when I was shuffled sideways on to it and was wheeled to the loo.

But yes, when I sailed past my ward-mates, ensconced on a wheeled toilet seat, hospital gown flapping open at the back, and realised the patient in the next cubicle was hosting what looked like a family reunion …

Turns out I could be more embarrassed.

Hospital commode chairs have four tiny swivel wheels that enable them to go in four directions at once, and they are designed to be pushed. Usually by someone fully trained and responsible.

So I decided, when I graduated to a room of my own, that I was perfectly capable of pulling myself about on the thing all by myself, using the handy handrails and more weighty bits of furniture.

The first evening at bedtime I towed myself hand-over-hand to the bathroom, then launched myself across the room in a trajectory I thought would lead me to the handbasin.

The chair rolled across the bathroom, veered strongly to the right, picked up speed and started to spiral. Round a couple of times I went, as I realised the room was all designed around the wet-floor shower, with a strong slope down to a central drain.

There I was, spiralling around the plughole in a commode chair. I have to admit it wasn't one of life's highlights.

So the conventional wheelchair is a step up. Except there's not much "up" about it when actually it makes me really short.

I've never been overly tall in the first place, but from my wheelchair I can't reach stuff.

Stuff like cupboards, sink taps and light switches, shelves and window catches.

My daughter broke me out of hospital during the week and wheeled me up the street for a coffee and when she wheeled me up to order all I could see was the underside of the counter.

It was kind of her to take me out, nonetheless, although I could have done without her getting my wheelchair stuck on the railway tracks on the way. That caused an anxious moment, given the 3.30pm from Wellington was about to go through.

I discovered along the way that what look like wheelchair ramps in some premises are actually mini replicas of Mount Everest: "Don't push me, I will do this myself. Okay I changed my mind … push me!"

It also turns out that the camber of some footpaths gives the wheelchair a strong pull towards traffic. Dangerous in combination with a learner wheelchairist and a bit of speed gained from exiting a shop via a steep down-ramp … a person could end up in hospital.

Oh, that's right, I am. That's all right then!