The author photographing his favorite room.
At the risk of challenging the squeamish or offending the proper, I have decided to share my bathroom with the world.
If you are disabled, you often can appear almost “normal” when you are out and about during the day. After all, you’re dressed, you don’t stink (hopefully), and you move from place to place quite briskly with the aid of your $30,000 wheelchair. However, most people never get to see you when you are at your most disabled: when you are dressing and undressing, getting into or out of bed, or when you aren’t using the bathroom. Today, I will explain the extraordinary measures I have taken to make my bathroom a happy place.
We bought our present home about five years ago, shortly after my wife had been diagnosed with myotonic dystrophy. We realized that she would no longer be able to climb stairs, and since I hadn’t been able to do that for many years, what was the point of remaining in a two-story condo? Housing prices were still very high back then, so we were somewhat limited in our options.
When we bought our home in 2006, it still had the original master bath as shown in this floorplan from a 1964 brochure.
We settled on Seven Oaks, a senior citizen development in the Rancho Bernardo area of San Diego. Our home had been built in 1964, and the bathroom had been left undisturbed – a monument to the shortsighted thinking of home builders of the time.
A few modifications turned an ancient bath into one that is modern, and completely accessible.
My first task was to redesign the bathroom in a manner that would allow me to get into it in a wheelchair and actually accomplish some of the functions one typically performs there. That redesign turned out to be simpler than I had imagined, once I realized that all I needed was the ability to close the door behind me and to transfer sideways onto a toilet or shower seat. In addition, I needed to be able to get close enough to the sink to be able to run the faucet and expectorate toothpaste. You can see my solution in the floor plans accompanying this article.
When we moved here, I was still able to stand, provided I held on to something with all of my might. Since my illness is progressive, I realized that wasn’t going to last very long – actually it only lasted about five months after we moved into the house. So I designed the toilet and shower seat to be high enough that I could slide from them back into my wheelchair when it was at its lowest level. My wheelchair has an elevating seat, so I could get into either of the other locations by raising the wheelchair high enough to slide downhill.
My shower bench is 23 inches high (like the toilet).
The sink was an easy matter to take care of. I simply had the entire counter and cabinets removed and then replaced the sink with a suspended model from Kohler.
My suspended sink lets me roll right up for easy access.
Those who know me well know that I am always thinking ahead. So I realized that even sliding downhill would eventually become too hard for me to accomplish. As a matter of fact, I am reaching that point right now.
To accommodate my overhead transfer lift, I had to design my own shower curtain. Here it is in the open position.
So I had an overhead lift system installed in the ceiling of the bathroom. Now I could use the electric lift to pick me up and then glide effortlessly across the room, right? Not so fast. There was the inconvenient matter of the shower curtain rod. It had to go. So I have been spending the last several days building a new kind of water barrier that could be moved out of the way of the lift and then replaced once I was seated in the shower.
Here is my custom shower curtain ready for use.
Several days? Yes, because my arms have become so weak that I can no longer hold an electric drill with any substantial security. In fact, I can’t even pick up what most of you would think of as an electric drill. I use one of the ultracompact lithium ion models which are not powerful enough to penetrate the 56-year-old wood surrounding my shower stall. But eventually I managed to get the various components in place.
The toilet. I have saved this for last, because I know most people don’t like to talk about this particular piece of equipment. However, for the disabled, it is almost always on our minds. When will we need one? If we find one, can we get on it? More importantly, can we get off? Reasons why I rarely travel more than a half hour from my home. You see, my toilet is my friend. I had a Toilevator installed beneath the toilet, which raised it 4 inches – enough to make transfers convenient. I also added a BioBidet 1000 seat.
My BioBidet 1000 toilet seat gets the day off to a fresh start.
This wonderful device almost eliminates the need for conventional hygiene (which with fingers that don’t bend or grasp is almost impossible anyway) and it makes me look forward to the beginning of each day.
I hope none of you have been reading this over dinner.