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The Hoist

6 April, 2015

When I broke my neck in 1998 I was told I’d never walk again. Of course that’s just a euphemism, walking is the least of a quadriplegic’s concerns. But I got the message; I was not a forty-something go-getter any more. So how was I to go from A to B?

The first shift I was aware of, from trolley A to trolley B, was interesting. Two chatting nurses were sliding me across, when one confided to the other that her husband had belted her – and the other went on strike in sympathy, with me pivoted half way between the trolleys. “Oh you poor thing” she sympathized, “that’s awful, what a brute.” Indeed he was a brute, and I would have joined in the commiseration and condemnation, if only to remind the two lovely ladies that I was still there feeling rather precarious; but I had a tracheotomy in my throat and couldn’t speak. I tried telepathy: “Hey girls, remember me?” When they did remember they glared down and plonked me on trolley B. “Thanks ladies” I wanted to say, “please remember that not all men are brutes.” I wondered whether a wink would tell them I was on their side, but thought better of it.    

"At the Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre the nurses taught the paraplegics how to move themselves and moved us quadriplegics using what I’ll call the Coat-Hanger-Hoist."

But from then on I was moved from A to B just fine. In the Austin Hospital in those days they had strapping young bucks who pumped iron in the gym to attract the girls and lifted us patients around to earn their gym fees – and some older orderlies whose backs had stood the test of time due to their orderly philosophies of sagacious movability. These guys were so quick and efficient that I wished I could have taken a couple with me when I was moved to the Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre. There the nurses taught the paraplegics how to move themselves and moved us quadriplegics using what I’ll call the Coat-Hanger-Hoist. The base of this device consists of two meter long feet on wheels that can be closed parallel to get into confined spaces or spread wide to straddle a wheelchair. On this base is fixed a crane like stand, and at its end hangs a 62cm wide coat hanger. The hardest part of the move is getting the sling under me, but once that’s done it’s a breeze.

 

The nurse hooks the sling’s corner loops onto the hooks on the two ends of the coat hanger, then pumps a jack-handle to lift me off the bed, then wheels me out and around, opens the feet with a leaver, and drops me on my wheelchair. It takes a couple of minutes of one little nurse’s time with no fuss or loss of any dignity the patient might have left. At least that was the way it was done in 1998 - the new millennium demanded new tricks.

On my all too numerous trips back to a menagerie of hospitals over the last decade I discovered that someone, somewhere in the bureaucratic behemoth of our hospital system decided that the Coat-Hanger-Hoist was so last-century that they had to be trundled down to the hospital graveyard with the wobbly wheelchairs and white elephants.

"What they were replaced with were shiny new machines that I’ll call H-Hoists - the H standing for huge, heavy, horrendous, and the shape of the hanging bit that takes the place of the coat hanger."

What they were replaced with were shiny new machines that I’ll call H-Hoists - the H standing for huge, heavy, horrendous, and the shape of the hanging bit that takes the place of the coat hanger. They come in various makes and models, but all run on batteries and come with color coded slings that hook onto the four ends of the H shaped device that pivots on a hanger from the end of the crane like machine. And they all function something like this:-

To get me from A to B in a H-Hoist takes an average of four nurses and orderlies (once it took seven) about quarter of an hour (once it took half an hour). The first thing is getting the sling under me, which is cause for much debate: This way? Top? Bottom? Around or between the legs?  The green straps, blue, orange? Whoops that can’t be right, go and get Joe, he knows how it’s done, what about Sally?

Eventually the committee takes a vote and gets the sling under me. Right way? Who knows? Now they push the great crane over my wheelchair (after I tell them about opening its feet). Then they try to lift the sling and me – but the battery is flat! “What do we do now?” “Joe knows”, “I’ll see what I can find on ward X”. Eventually someone finds a replacement battery that fits and is charged. Then the fun starts.

When they lift me up I pitch forward or tip back. But “don’t worry”, the H hanger has a handle, so a couple of nurses hang on to that for grim death to keep me sort of upright as the hoist lifts me up with my legs spread wide as if in stirrups in the maternity ward. While the two on the handle grunt and groan to keep me from pitching or tipping two more grunt and groan trying to get the crane to deliver me to the trolley - but now we have a problem. They can’t get me over it because the feet are too fat to go under it. They try this way and that way, “Joe would know”, from the top? “Didn’t Sally do it from the side?”

"While the two on the handle grunt and groan to keep me from pitching or tipping two more grunt and groan trying to get the crane to deliver me to the trolley - but now we have a problem. They can’t get me over it because the feet are too fat to go under it."

"Many of them are dedicated competent professionals, who are apologetic about the H-Hoist circus, but even with an expert ringmaster the performance would still rival those of the lion-tamer and the clowns."

Eventually a consensus forms that since I weigh less than a tonne they can pull the sling sideways so to land me on the edge of the trolley from where they can grunt and groan me into position.

After my procedure is (expertly, efficiently, excellently) done and dusted, I’m trolleyed back to where a repeat performance of the H-Host high wire act occurs in reverse to land me back on the edge of my wheelchair cushion with one leg tangled up in the air the other buckled beside the wheel. Any two of the bigger nurses or orderlies could have lifted me on and off the trolley in about 10 seconds each way – but they’re not allowed to. Many of them are dedicated competent professionals, who are apologetic about the H-Hoist circus, but even with an expert ringmaster the performance would still rival those of the lion-tamer and the clowns.

 

Those infernal hoists cost a preposterous amount of staff hours to do a ludicrously bad job that the Coat-Hanger-Hoist would do at a fraction of the cost and fuss. I am available any time to introduce the hospitals to a car crushing plant for their H-Hoists. And if they can dig up some of the good old Coat-Hanger-Hoists, I’d be happy to teach the staff how to use them. It would take about five seconds.

Dagwood Johnson is a sixty something man who sometimes likes to use a little black humour to find his way through the amusing roller-coaster of life. He has been living with C6/7 spinal cord injury since 1998. He is one of our regular volunteer bloggers.

Tags: Blog, Health & Wellbeing