The Challenge of Everyday Life
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Wolfgang Illek is a quadriplegic. He has been paralysed from the neck down ever since a cycling accident that happened 18 years ago. However, he refuses to accept defeat. What does his daily routine look like, you ask? Like this!
My mobile phone wakes me up. My assistant will be at the door any moment – I open it via an app. I require help from others to get out of bed. Joe and Flo, my two caregivers, know how to hoist my 80 kilograms to the morning toilet routine with as little strain on their backs as possible.
This is the most productive hour of my day. I put my body through its paces in my fitness room using machines specifically designed for people suffering from spinal cord injuries in order to maintain mobility and stimulate digestion. Then my assistant straps me onto a standing board and secures my knees, hips, and chest. This is how I perform my standing workout. I can keep it up for up to forty minutes – a real challenge for my cardiovascular system – and use the time to work on my laptop simultaneously.
By now, my wife Lena and my daughter Marie are up and about preparing breakfast. I drink from a straw because I can’t lift a cup to my mouth with my hands. I am also incapable of buttering a slice of bread. I really miss performing such everyday tasks. Yet my four-year-old daughter is already a great help. Today, for example, she wrapped a roll in no less than three layers of cheese for me.
I have an appointment in Salzburg – a two-hour and ten-minute drive by car. I steer my converted VW bus with my left hand by means of a trident on the steering wheel. I accelerate and brake with my right hand. Pulling the lever back means accelerating, pulling the lever forward means braking. The transmission is automatic. It works like a charm; I was even allowed to keep my trailer licence. I start the car via a touchscreen, while I activate the indicators with my head via a button on the headrest. My caregiver sits in the passenger seat. I have already clocked up over 300,000 accident-free kilometres in this manner.
Business lunch. My assistant pushes me through the city to the restaurant. Cobblestones are cumbersome, as I can’t propel the wheelchair by gripping it with my fingers, but only with the friction of my gloves. When choosing food, I need to make sure that it is served bite-sized so that I can pierce the pieces with a fork wedged between my palm and glove.
Computer work in the office. I operate an upside-down mouse with my left hand. This allows me to press the button with my little knuckle, but I need to readjust my brain as the mouse movements are mirror inverted. I use my right hand to operate the trackball, whose four buttons are assigned shortcuts. The rest: voice commands to correct spelling mistakes.
I deliver a lecture on the challenges faced by people suffering from spinal cord injuries. My torso musculature ends at the collarbone, which means I need to breathe entirely through my diaphragm. It’s incredibly exhausting! If I don’t pay attention to that while speaking, I start feeling dizzy.
When I have evening appointments, I always weigh up whether I should return home or book a room on site. The problem is the skin. Pressure sores can result in long-lasting complications. Besides, I wear a permanent catheter. I need to make it home, even if I get stuck in a traffic jam. My loved ones are already asleep. The assistant helps me settle into bed as quietly as possible. Good night!