My Favorite Wheelchair (And Other Thoughts on Choosing a Chair)

Of all the steps in my medical journey, choosing a wheelchair felt like the biggest. I’m not sure why, exactly. Maybe it was because it came with the acknowledgement that my illness was significant and long-lasting. Maybe it was because it would be such a public display of my illness. Whatever the reason, it was a monumental step.

It was also the doorway to freedom. It meant that all those places that had been inaccessible or unattainable (family trips to the zoo, long shopping sprees, walks in the park, school events) were suddenly feasible for me. It meant that I could conserve my energy for things that mattered to me, like showing up for family events. In time, I’ve even learned to use the chair preemptively to save up energy for future events. It has given me back parts of my life.

My husband and I are compulsive researchers, especially for big purchases like a wheelchair. We spent months studying, comparing, and researching countless options. We borrowed chairs from others, and even used a rental chair for a time. All of those things combined helped us narrow down what we wanted (and didn’t want) in my wheelchair. Here are some points to consider in your own shopping.

Type of Chair

If you’ve never spent much time looking at wheelchairs, you may not realize there are different types. In broadest terms, there are four basic types of wheelchair: a transport chair, a manual wheelchair, a tilt chair, and a powered chair.

Transport chairs are useful for short-term use, or if you do not plan to propel yourself. They have four small wheels, are typically collapsible, and are very lightweight. Many models come with hand brakes on the handles, so that they can double as a walker. One of the first chairs I borrowed was a transport chair. It served its purpose in terms of allowing me to get around without walking. However, for me, it was a frustration not being able to propel myself at all and being fully dependent on someone to push me.

Manual wheelchairs usually have small front wheels and, large back wheels with hand rims. These rims allow you to move the wheelchair on your own. In versions meant short-term or part-time use, handles on the back of the seat (at roughly shoulder height) make it easy for someone to push you as well. Other models intended for long-term use (for example, with paralysis) have a low back without handles for pushing.

Tilt chairs offer fuller support, and are especially useful for individuals with dysautonomia, dizziness, paralysis, or another condition that makes sitting upright difficult. They have a higher back, sometimes with head and neck support. The angle is usually adjustable, and sometimes there are also adjustable leg supports. Tilt chairs almost always have handles at the back to push, and some also have hand rims on larger back wheels.

Powered chairs come in a range of the styles listed above, but are motorized. They are ideal for individuals with limited use of their arms, more severe weakness or fatigue, or who are otherwise unable to propel themselves forward independently. They’re a fantastic option that allows independence, as you are not reliant on someone to push the chair for you.

Size of Chair

As with most things, wheelchairs come in a wide range of sizes from pediatric to bariatric sizes. It’s important to consider the width of the chair when you are choosing: too narrow, and it will be impossible to ride comfortably; too wide, and it will be difficult to reach the arm rests and/or hand rims.

Some chairs also have varying heights and leg rest lengths. This can be especially helpful if you are shorter or taller than the “average” height.

On the more expensive end of the spectrum, it’s possible to have wheelchairs custom made to your specific dimensions. This is by far the best way to ensure a good fit, but it does come with a hefty price tag.

Weight of the Chair

Depending on your needs, you may want to consider the weight of the chair you are purchasing. Conventional chairs can be quite heavy. This isn’t a problem if you will be pushed by someone at all times. However, if you have weakness or fatigue and plan to push yourself, you may want to consider a lightweight or ultra lightweight chair. While it may not seem important at first, the extra weight of a heavier chair can quickly deplete your energy stores.

Other Features

There are a wide range of other features to consider. For example, I knew from the chairs I had tried out previously that I wanted a wheelchair with a skirt guard. This small piece of plastic or metal sits between the seat and the wheels, and keeps clothing from getting caught up in the wheels as you roll.

I knew I wanted a seat that was comfortable, breathable, and washable. Seats come in a wide range of options, so make sure you find something that will work for you.

We also wanted a chair that was easily collapsible and didn’t take up much room. We knew we’d be using it on family outings, including overnight trips that required us to fit in luggage for our family. So we opted for a seat that folds down into a narrow space with handles that fold down as well. We can easily store it standing or laying in the back of our SUV.

Lastly, I knew I wanted foot rests. I had used a couple of chairs that didn’t have good foot support and it was exhausting to have to hold my legs up as I rode. Foot rests were a must-have for my particular needs, but they’re not necessary for everyone. And not having foot rests (or having some that are collapsible like mine) make it possible to “scoot” yourself along with your feet.

Other options include things like cupholders, storage bags, movable arm rests, and a range of other features.

The Chair I Chose

In the end, I chose the S-Ergo-115 Ultra Lightweight Wheelchair for myself. There were a number of factors that went into selecting this particular chair:

  • It was incredibly well-reviewed over a variety of websites and panels. It was consistently rated well by people with similar needs to mine (which is an important consideration!).
  • It was extremely lightweight. If I’m in the chair, it’s because I’m having major issues with fatigue and weakness. I need to save all the energy I can for things that are important. While someone else most often pushes me, this chair is lightweight enough that I can manage on my own for a time if needed without becoming totally depleted. Now that my kids are older, it also means it’s light enough that they can push me. Sharing the workload helps everyone!
  • The sizing was right for me. The seat was available in an appropriate width, and the foot rests were far enough that I wasn’t cramped or uncomfortable in the seat (I’m 5’8″).
  • It came with foot rests that were comfortable and could be moved out of the way when I get in and out of the chair. This was something I had learned the hard way on a loaner chair–not having the option to move the foot rests out of the way made it really challenging to get into and out of the chair.
  • The built-in seat was breathable mesh, and it came with a removable washable seat cushion. This was another important factor for me, especially if I was going to be spending a lot of time in the chair. I wanted to be able to be comfortable and clean.
  • The price was affordable. It was an investment, but not something that broke the bank. I was actually fortunate in that someone had offered to buy a wheelchair for me; but even so, it was important to me that the price be reasonable. Of all the chairs I looked at, this one seemed to offer some of the best value for cost.
  • Finally, it came in the right color. Of course color wasn’t the thing at the top of my list, but if I was going to need a wheelchair in my early thirties, style and appearance were important considerations for me. Red is my very favorite color; in fact, I call it my “happy color.” Much of my medical equipment is in this color for good reason: it just makes me smile. So I looked long and hard to find a wheelchair that came in red.
Red wheelchair, with link to manufacturer site, Karman Healthcare
A red framed wheelchair with large rear wheels and hand rims is shown on white background.

I hope these tips are helpful as you consider your own wheelchair. To be honest, I hesitated to use mine early on. Now that I’ve lived with this illness for a while and I’m in the throes of my third major relapse, I’m learning to use it more and more (sometimes preemptively). Anything that conserves energy and allows me to be out and about with my family is worthwhile to me. A wheelchair can be a fantastic tool for managing chronic illness or pain.

PEG Tube and G-Button Accessories with Personality

Sometimes a medical condition or symptom creates the need for a gastrostomy, either long-term, or for a short period. This can be a life-altering procedure, not because it is a complicated one, but because of the impact it has on the lifestyle of the person needing it.

There are many different kinds of gastrostomies, and they all have different names. As a general group, they are often called g-buttons for short. They can be placed in adults, teens, children, or babies. The care and maintenance is similar regardless of the type or age of the person.

I spent many years working in the NICU, or Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. During those years, I worked with countless families as their children had g-buttons placed. Often they were intimidated by the device, and saw it as something foreign and unattractive on their baby’s body. It was far more difficult to adjust emotionally to the button, for most families, than it was to learn the logistics of how to care for it.

If you live with a medical device such as a g-button, you may struggle to feel that the button is anything but clinical. You were likely sent home from the hospital with stacks of white cotton gauze to apply around your site. While functional, it may feel like just a further reminder of the presence of this device.

If you or your child has a g-button, here are some accessories and suggestions that might help the device to feel just a little less medical, and perhaps allow you to express your personality through it.

G-tube Pads

Image of three taco-shaped embroidered g-button pads, with link to Etsy seller.
A set of three embroidered fabric g-button pads are shaped like half-circle tacos arranged in a triangular layout. There is a Mickey g-tube device shown with the pad on top. The taco on the bottom left has oval embroidered black eyes and a bushy mustache. Each pad has a small slit with circular opening at the center of the pad, and a yellow snap fastener. “Adora Belly Design” is written in white font across image.

Oh, my. How can you not smile when you see the mustache on this taco? These adorable g-tube pads are brimming with personality! This seller offers a massive range of pads that are fun and whimsical, from these tacos, to chicken nuggets, to flowers, to whales. Sold in a variety of shapes and sizes, you’re sure to find something that makes you smile! And the beauty of fabric pads like this, other than the fun factor, is that they are re-usable. Simply wash them, and use them again. No waste!

Image of reusable fabric g-button pads with Charlie Brown Peanuts characters. Links to Etsy seller.
A collection of five fabric g-button cover pads shows an assortment of cartoon drawings of Charlie Brown characters. The colors are predominantly the characters’ skin color, bright yellow, dark blue, and light pink. The pads are circular in shape with a triangle-shaped slit and they fasten with plastic snaps in black or yellow.

Oh, Charlie Brown… Old Chuck is a perennial favorite, from adults on down to children. This set of pads has all the old gang together in one place. The design of these pads makes them versatile and easy to use with a variety of devices. A multipack like this could make a great gift, too!

Image of reusable embroidered video game controller g-tube pads, with link to Etsy seller.
A collection of embroidered g-button pads is shown in the shape of PlayStation video game controllers. The controllers are shown in black, white, hot pink, and lime, and each color option is labeled with black font. There are embroidered circles and small cross shape to represent the controller buttons. Each pad has a slit with circular opening, and fastens with coordinating plastic snap. “Adora Belly Design” is seen in white font across bottom of image.

For an older child or an adult, is there anything more fitting than videogame controllers? With the option to choose the color, you could have a different color for each day of the week! Again, these pads are washable and re-usable, for long-lasting wear.

Image of four mermaid reusable g-button pads, with link to Etsy seller.
A collection of iridescent mermaid-themed octagonal g-button pads has metallic gold stitching. Four pads are shown in four different colors: teal, bright purple, bright blue, and pink. Each pad has a scallop design in matching gold to look like scales, and a slit with circle opening and coordinating plastic snap. The blue pad has a Mickey g-button device at its center.

For the mermaid lover, these iridescent pads are simply beautiful, and sure to inspire a smile! There are countless options for fabric button covers. Find some that reflect your personality or draw a smile!

Button Covers and Belts

Image of woodland animal themed fabric belly band for child g-button, with link to Etsy seller.
A wide off-white belt for a child made of soft flannel material has outline images of elk, moose, bears, and teepees in black and gray. The belt is folded on itself and is rounded at one end. There is a small rectangular flap of matching fabric just before the rounded end.

Feeding tube covers, or belts, come in a variety of styles and sizes. They’re not essential, but they do help to protect the tube from catching on clothing, keep the area clean, and add a little additional padding to even out the appearance of the site under clothing. And they’re another place to infuse some personality and fun. This seller offers belts in a variety of fabric choices, and in several lengths, so they can fit from infant up through adult sizes. They’re washable and reusable, and comfortable to wear under clothing. A “hatch” provides easy access to the button site for care and feeding.

Image of pink belly band for adult, with flap to access feeding tubing. Links to Lynn Klein Nutrition site.
A Caucasian women’s lower torso is covered in a wide hot pink band with a flap in matching fabric at the front. There is an inset photo that shows the flap lowered, and we see an assortment of clear feeding tubing coiled and secured with black velcro tabs. The belt appears to be made of a stretchy fabric.

A simple band like this is another option. Similar to the previous belt, this style provides some protection under clothing. The larger flap on this particular belt allows you to store coiled tubing as well.

Image of wide stretchy fabric band covering woman's pants and abdomen, with link to Etsy seller.
A medium-skinned woman’s lower torso and legs are shown against a white background. The woman wears black skinny jeans with right leg slightly bent. She has no shirt, and a wide heathered gray band of stretchy fabric is seen covering the top of her pants and her abdomen.

A simple belly band like this can be a great option, as well, to protect the site and hold tubing in place. Bands like this are also often available in maternity clothing sections, and come in a wide range of colors and styles. They are easy to pull down to access the site. A style like this is probably the most subtle beneath clothing, as the bottom edge would simply look like an undershirt or camisole.

Image of black strap harness for holding adult g-button feeding tube, with link to Etsy seller.
A female mannequin wears a bright blue sweater. There is a narrow black strap visible at her neck, and it loops under her shirt and clips to the neckline, so that her sweater is pulled up and held in place. Under the sweater, we see a black strap that wraps around her waist, with clear plastic feeding tubing and syringe held in place with black straps.

This belt is excellent for continuous infusion, to hold tubing, or for dialysis. The straps are easily concealed beneath clothing and a simple backpack could hold supplies that aren’t in use. The straps are adjustable to ensure a good fit.

Tubing and Bag Accessories

Image of lined fabric cover for gastric feeding bag with llama theme. Links to Etsy seller.
A black fabric cover with colorful llama and tent decorations holds a plastic feeding tube bag. The inside of the fabric appears to be lined with white fleecy material. There are three white snaps at the bottom, with clear tubing between two snaps; as well as snaps along the right side and at the top, where narrow flaps are folded back to show the feeding bag. We see a label on the bag reading, “Lalu and Company.”

If your condition requires continuous infusion, or if you need to be able to administer a feeding on the go, a bag like this may be an option. It provides a padded case for the infusion bag, some insulation factor, and plenty of style. The snaps and openings at the bottom make it possible to pass tubing through the bottom of the bag, or potentially even to hang it if needed.

Image of fabric gastric feeding tube connector cover, with link to Etsy seller.
A gastric feeding tubing connection and port rests on a rectangular white flannel fabric cover. The cover is open and appears to fold over the connector, with black snaps to secure it in place.

Tubing covers and port covers are a convenient and stylish way to protect tubing connection points on the go. Covers like this come in all shapes and sizes to meet the needs of your individual tubing system.

Image of red and white polka dot feeding tube clip, with link to Etsy seller.
A small rectangular fabric strap is shown with red background and white polka dots. At the top of the strap, a white clip secures it to a black shirt. Two lengths of clear plastic tubing are attached to the strap with white plastic snap fasteners.

A clip like this is perfect for keeping tubing corralled and out of the way. Snaps make it easy to loop the tubing, and a clip attaches it to clothing (or bedding). This is a great option for keeping tubing secured and out of reach for infants and young children, too. There are countless fabric options available!

G-Button Toys

Image of three stuffed animals, two lions and a bunny, with medical devices including tracheostomy, port, and g-button. Links to Etsy seller.
Three medium-sized stuffed animals are shown side by side: two brown lions, with a blue bunny rabbit between. All three animals have medical devices shown on them, including gray plastic tracheostomies at their necks, a blue plastic port for chemo or I-V access at the right upper chest, and an orange plastic g-button device at the lower left abdomen.

For children dealing with a g-button, or adjusting to a family member with one, nothing dispels fear and uncertainty quite like a toy. A toy like this allows a way to demonstrate button care and feedings in a way that is friendly and non-threatening. Pretend play also helps normalize and de-stigmatize things like g-button feedings. Children can practice administering feedings on their stuffed friend any time they’d like. And after demonstrations, these little stuffed animals are perfect for snuggling! This seller offers a variety of animals with a variety of devices, including feeding tubes, g-buttons, PICC lines, chemo ports, hearing aids, hydrocephalus shunts, and tracheostomies. I’ve also been told that Build-A-Bear will add a button (or trach) to their stuffed animals if you provide a device. Often doctors have expired buttons or trachs that can be taken into the store and added to a special stuffed animal.

Image of cloth African American doll with stitched g-button. Links to Etsy seller.
An African American fabric doll has a black hair bun, embroidered wide-set black oval eyes, a small embroidered black smile, and rosy circles on her cheeks. She is pictured with a striped white and blue skirt, and shirtless to reveal a stitched gray and white felt feeding tube on her left abdomen.

These sweet little dolls come with multiple options for medical devices. While a child can’t connect a real tubing set to this doll, toys with devices help to normalize the need for devices in real life. This seller offers a variety of dolls, both in terms of medical special needs and appearance. They would make a sweet gift for a child living with a medical device.

Image of American Girl Bitty Baby doll being fitted with Mickey g-button, with link to Feeding Tube Awareness site.
A Caucasian person’s hands are reaching around a Caucasian blonde American Girl Bitty Baby doll. There is a Mickey g-button device on the doll’s lower left abdomen, and the hands appear to be holding thread to secure it in place. Across the top of the image in white font, “… then pull the needle through, but keep a loop in the thread.” At the bottom, we see a website, “www.agirlandhertube.blogspot.com.”

If your child already has a favorite doll or stuffed animal, it’s also possible to add a g-button (or other medical device). Again, I can’t stress enough how important it is to normalize these devices, to give a non-threatening opportunity to demonstrate, and to allow for creative play that incorporates the device. Nothing is more perfect for this than a well-loved toy! Follow the simple steps in this post to adapt your own toy.

Walking Canes That Are Anything But Boring

The breaking point for me in my journey with chronic illness was the moment I determined I needed a cane. It wasn’t the fact that I would be relying on a medical device. It was that all of the canes I found were so incredibly clinical. I felt as though everything about my old life had been taken away and I was left feeling like nothing more than a patient or a medical statistic.

I spent hours scouring shops and online posts to find a cane that made me smile. Sure, it wasn’t essential in the medical sense. But emotionally, it was vital in helping me come to terms with my limitations.

If you, like me, are trying hard to find a trace of yourself amidst your symptoms, let me encourage you to find a cane that is a little out of the ordinary. Find something that makes you smile, that reminds you of a favorite memory, that shows workmanship that you appreciate. In fact, I propose we make these an accessory, just like quirky glasses and scarves and stylish shoes. Maybe we can have a cane for every occasion or season!

If you rely on a cane daily, or even just from time to time when your symptoms flare up, here are a few beautiful options to consider. These would also make meaningful gifts for the person in your life who lives with chronic illness.

Image shows orange tartan derby cane, and links to Walking Sticks website.
An orange tartan plaid derby cane set against a white background. The plaid striping appears in dark brown, red, and aqua. There is a brass ring under the handle of the cane.

This fun tartan cane has been on my wishlist for the past several years. Besides having a fantastic classic look, this cane just makes me think of pumpkin spice. The ergonomic handle would be comfortable and easy to use. The adjustable height makes it easy to get the right fit.

Image shows black curved walking cane with painted flames, and links to Fashionable Canes website.
Image shows the top and bottom of a walking cane pictured side by side against a white background. On the left we see the black curved handle of the cane. On the right, we see the black cane decorated with orange and red flames painted onto the pole.

This cane is certainly not short on personality! The traditional curve would be comfortable to use and easy to hook over an arm when not in use. The flame detail is colorful and sure to make you smile.

Image shows hand-carved wooden walking cane leaning against park bench, and links to Etsy seller.
Image shows a carved medium brown wooden walking cane leaning against a wooden park bench handle. The cane has a derby handle with a section of carving just below the handle with the appearance of two tulips, with one bud facing upward and one downward. There appear to be leaves and filigree surrounding the tulips and a straight band above and beneath the carving.

I have to say, this is probably one of the more beautiful canes I’ve seen. I’m a sucker for wood and carved things in general, and the detailing on this cane is exquisite. It’s delicate and decorative without being flashy. The wood construction would make this a sturdy option, and the seller allows you to select the height to ensure a good fit. As an added bonus, this cane would coordinate with just about any outfit or occasion!

Image shows dark green wooden derby cane, and links to Walking Sticks and Cane website.
Image shows top portion of a green wooden derby walking cane set against a white background. We see traces of the woodgrain through the forest green finish.

I absolutely love the simplicity, styling, and color of this cane. Everything about it is understated, but perfect. The handle is beautifully designed to fit comfortably in your hand, and the construction is sturdy and solid. This option would be great for a man or a woman.

Image shows floral patterned derby cane, with link to Fashionable Canes website.
The top of a derby-style walking cane is set against a white background. The cane has black background with assortment of pink, red, and blue flowers with bright green leaves over the handle and post. There is a gold-colored band just beneath the cane handle.

Who doesn’t love flowers? This happy little cane would bring a smile to anyone’s face! I love the bright colors contrasted on the dark background. The handle would be comfortable and ergonomic, and the adjustable height provides a good fit. This cane is just sweet all around.

Image shows black and white hand-carved wooden cane, and links to Etsy seller.
The top of a wooden derby cane is shown at an angle against a white background. The finish on the wood is black, with carved leaves, flowers, and swirls stained beige. The carving wraps around the pole and up over the back portion of the handle.

This absolutely beautiful cane is hand-made by a woodcarver. What a treasure! The detailing is stunning. The shop owner crafts each cane individually by hand, and uses dyes that are safe for the environment. Custom measurements ensure the cane is just right for you.

Image shows elegantly carved wooden cane, and links to Art Walking Sticks website.
Image shows the top of a smoothly carved dark wood cane against black background. The handle is somewhat derby-style, but curves downward and comes to a point along the bottom of the handle. Several ridges are carved into the back part of the handle leading down to the post. An ornate stamped brass ring connects the handle to the post.

Last, but most certainly not least: this is possibly the most stunning cane I’ve ever seen. The carving is not only incredibly beautiful, it looks like it would fit the shape of your hand like a glove. And look at that detailing on the metal! Everything about this cane is exquisite.