With our new schedule Matthew returns home every other weekend from thursday evening to monday morning. This means that on Friday and Monday mornings I do his morning care and get him ready for his day program. Something I have been doing for years and could probably do in my sleep.
This weekend is the first where Matthew is home for his bi-weekly 5 day stretch. This morning started like any other morning in my journey with Matthew. At 7:30am I went into Matthew’s room and started making noise and turning on lights to let him know it was time to get up. I primed the feeding tube line, measured and administered meds, dressed Matthew, and so on.
To transfer Matthew between chair/bed we use a ceiling track lift. This handy device hangs from a track in the ceiling and allows us to lift and lower Matthew with a sling. I have been transferring Matthew with this lift for years without incident. Heck, I am an occupational therapist (officially retired for the record) trained in transfers. I have taught transfer safety and transferring techniques to clients, staff, and students.
But this morning Matthew decided that he didn’t feel like being cooperative. A split second after I lowered him into his wheelchair seat he used his wheelchair footplates to launch himself half out of his chair and sling. Rather than his bum sitting on his wheelchair seat, his shoulders were. This was NOT GOOD. He has never done this before and it happened so fast I couldn’t respond. Because he was no longer safely contained within the sling I couldn’t simply raise him and re-position him in his chair. For a split second I honestly didn’t know what to do. I was stuck trying to sort out whether lowering him to the floor was safer, or whether trying to hoist him back up into his wheelchair seat made more sense. Both involved me lifting 130 lbs of uncooperative, wriggly weight, and neither lift would be pretty. Anything I was about to do would certainly earn failing grades in the lifts and transfers class I used to teach back when I still practiced as an OT.
I will admit that I stood there for a minute or two simply holding Matthew in place while I tried to sort through my options. Lowering him to the floor seemed more dangerous. He is long and lanky with arms and legs everywhere. Matthew also has virtually no head control and I didn’t know how I could cushion his head while also managing four wildly wriggling limbs. To complicate the situation the wheelchair was tight to the bed and there were lots of obstacles we could hit on the way down – bed, wheelchair, and bedside table. Eventually I grabbed Matthew’s sweatshirt and wrapped an arm under both legs and hoisted him back into his wheelchair seat. It took a few tries but I eventually got him back sitting in his wheelchair.
Did I mention I was home alone. This was about 8:30am and the rest of my family was long out the door.
After the failed transfer, as I stood there trying to get my racing heart to return to its normal cadence, I reflected on the fact that this transfer was one of the reasons I have consented to moving Matthew to a group home. While we still can (and do) care for him solo, there is no doubt that extra bodies are a good thing when it comes to ensuring Matthew’s safety, as well as the safety of his caregivers. Indeed at the group home Matthew is a mandatory two-person transfer – with good reason.
This morning’s transfer was a brief reminder that we are probably doing the right thing by beginning to work through Matthew’s transition to a group home.
PS: My back and shoulder are killing me!