• Trevor Palmer

Beware, German precision engineering can sometimes be a hazard and certainly anything but convenient

by Trevor Palmer

Being a full time wheelchair user, who runs a small business and is involved in a number of organisations, I often travel far afield in my daily life – too proud to let my MS beat me.

A while ago, I was fortunate enough to have been included in an overseas trade mission to the Rehacare Show in Dusseldorf, Germany. My company supplies Wheelchair Accessories and we had been given exhibition space where my products could be seen by those visiting this prestigious event.

My electric wheelchair is quite heavy and cumbersome which ruled out flying with the rest of the group, so I travelled by Eurostar via Brussels. As First Class tickets were provided, I thought I was in for a comfortable journey and a great show. Little did I realise what lay in store. But first, back to the logistics.

As my PA for this trip I had chosen my old friend, Dave, as his energy and enthusiasm would be a great asset. The Reahacare Show is very well attended, with visitors from all over the world. All went swimmingly well until the last day of this busy event. Not to put too fine a point on it, I had an urgent need to visit the loo - I’m sure most other MSers know the feeling all too well and the sense of latent panic that quickly sets in.

I looked around for Dave but he must have been in a bar, or with some Fraulein, away from the stand. I tried contacting him on his mobile phone and with the walkie talkie that was purchased just before leaving the UK in anticipation of just such an eventuality, but to no avail. By now I was desperate.

The toilets were not far from my stand so I made my way over to them, whilst mentally trying to get my head round how I was going to transfer, solo, from my chair onto the toilet. The urgency of the situation ruled out waiting for Dave, as the consequences could have been dire, to say the least and hardly fitting with the image I was trying to project of a successful, independent businessman still able to cope with the strictures of his disability.

When I got to the one accessible toilet that was close, I found myself fifth in the queue, behind another wheelchair user, various other assorted people with sticks, twitches, crutches and a miscellany of other disabilities. After 20 minutes of agonising wait, at long last, I found myself in front of an automatic metal door, which opened with a satisfying swish, like the doors on the Starship Enterprise.

Out limped the previous occupier and I whooshed in, pressing a black button which closed the door with an even more satisfying swish sound. In front, I was confronted by a dazzling array of rails, bars and centre stage, a resplendent, silver metal toilet. All wonderful stuff but how to get onto this state-of the-art vorsprung duch toiletten?

Fortunately, my chair has a mechanism to raise the seat, so, swinging on the bars and rails in a manner which would have made Tarzan proud, I made it onto ze toiletten. As you can imagine, my sense of relief was palpable but it “evaporated” in a trice as what felt like a water cannon of numbingly cold liquid shot straight up my backend. The near ice cold pummelling seemed to last for eternity, but the instant it stopped and I had enjoyed the briefest of respites, it was replaced by a searing blast of hot air, which also seemed to go on forever. Finally, the hot air stopped, only to be replaced by a repeat cannon shot of cold liquid, but at least now it was extinguishing my burning bum.

The Germans renowned, the world over, for their precision, attention to detail and thoroughness. And so it was with this vorsprung duch toiletten. No sooner had it finished than another cycle started. All in all, it went through seven or eight agonising cycles, leaving me wondering if this was to be my Waterloo (sorry I couldn’t resist that). I had been in there so long, that by now, equally desperate souls – but for very different reasons of course, were now banging on the door trying to get in. By this time I was as exhausted as I was petrified, and I slumped forward – truly, a broken man.

Then suddenly, this unwelcome lavatorial equivalent of the Ring Cycle stopped. When I had taken enough deep breaths to regain sufficient of my senses to be able look around, I realised that when I had flopped onto the toilet, more than half an hour ago now, my back had pressed against the “auto wash” button!! And my slump forward had released the accursed thing. The crowning irony was that I hadn’t even “done my business” amidst all this mechanically triggered mayhem!

It took a little longer to finish my deed and to my amazement, I found myself revelling in the “auto wash”, now that I was ready for it. After doing a Tarzan like swinging up to the tree tops, as opposed to down from them, I was able to get back into my chair. I then pushed the door release and there was an ever more welcome swish.

I whizzed out with a sense of relief, the like of which I have seldom, if ever, experienced. But the joy of release from my involuntary incarceration was fleeting in the extreme. Outside, I was “greeted” by a snaking queue of more than thirty people – a motley assortment of wheelchair users, stern faced carers, what looked like crutch waving storm troopers, plus various other snarling individuals. I caught mutterings what sounded like “swine Englander” and doubtless far worse if I understood German.

I put on my best smile, praying that my chair had enough charge to clear the angry mob and I returned to the stand, where my friend Dave was fraternising with a busty young lady who he had dragged from some bar or other. I felt like I had been born again and readied myself for a relaxing evening in Dusseldorf before the return train journey to the UK, in blissful ignorance of what was to befall me. But that’s another tale for another day.

Happy wheeling

Trevor Palmer (MSer)

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