Rolling Through Paris

Rolling Through Paris

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I know some handicapped people literally climb
mountains, compete in races and love the thrill of extreme sports…all
on wheels. Those people will have a grand time in Paris.

Due
to chronic pain, I’m one not of those people. In the US, I lived in a
very flat city, where everything was new, and handicapped parking,
automatic doors, escalators and elevators were in abundance. My clunky,
standard issue wheelchair worked fine in that environment, but felt
more like a medieval torture devise on the streets of Paris.

As
my husband would push me over the stone streets, I was tossed about and
could be heard moaning, groaning and at times shrieking. I felt like a
broken rag doll with Tourette’s Syndrome. We started looking around to
see what the disabled locals were using, but we saw very few people in
wheelchairs, unless we were in the Louvre, or one of the large stores,
like Printemps, and we noticed an absence of handicapped motor
scooters.

If you want to see
all of Paris, the best thing you can bring along is a good pusher. The
sidewalks are rarely smooth, in fact, frequently made of brick or
stone, and the streets can be hilly. Even the new ramps can have slight
curbs to them so a scooter or motorized chair would be difficult
without assistance. A sports chair would be ideal, but they aren’t
always portable. Many of the buildings are being restored and the
scaffolding on the sidewalks will force you into the street, where
you’ll discover the law requiring people to clean up after their dogs
isn’t being observed, so be careful where you wheel and—at the same
time—watch out for those famous Paris drivers.

That
said, a cup of coffee at sunset in a small street side café overlooking
the scenery after finding that perfect little shop or museum makes the
extra adventure worthwhile. If you’re coming as a tourist, take a taxi
whenever possible. We’ve always had great experiences with them. I’ve
never used the Métro because of the stairs, although we sometimes
travel by train. If you’re driving, and you’re looking for parking,
look for the blue signs with a capital “P” that have handicapped signs
on them. However, even some of these have stairs leading to the
elevator and in some, the space is too tight to navigate the chair into
the hallway to get to the elevator. Fortunately, I am able to walk
short distances and my husband frequently has to fold the chair in half
to squeeze through these spaces. If you park in one of the underground
garages, don’t even bother to get out of your car until your companion
checks everything, including making sure the elevator is working, and
that it goes to the street level.

We’ve
lived here a year, and some of the elevators that were broken when we
arrived are still out of order. If possible, being dropped off in front
of your destination can be a safer bet, while a companion parks the
car. There are stairs everywhere, but there’s a surprising number of
people that smile and automatically come to help carry people in
wheelchairs up and downstairs. Many times, when my husband carries me
up, people behind us pick up the chair and carry it behind us.

We
don’t get as much help as we did a year ago, but I think that’s because
a year ago we looked completely overwhelmed. This is apparently a
universal look, and I’m reminded of Blanche DeBois, (from ‘A Streetcar
Named Desire’), who “always depended on the kindness of strangers!” If
you’re using a cane or walker, the streets have many benches and cafés
to sit and rest. I’ve also seen tourists using the specialty cane that
has a fold-out seat, although you’ll usually be pulled to the front of
any line. You might consider a cane that has a flask inside… for
medicinal purposes, of course!

The
“street chair” we finally chose was lightweight and foldable for
transport and has removable, inflatable tires that ease the bumps and
bruises of the uneven streets. I carry a tire patch kit in my purse.
The chair is scaled down in size to fit through tight spaces. With my
old chair, we would sometimes remove the foot rests if we couldn’t
manage a tight turn. This makes a huge difference, when managing tight
turns.

If you’d like to see a
collection of gorgeous, high quality canes while in Paris, you won’t
want to miss Madeleine Gely, at 218, Bld. St Germain, in the 7th. (Tel
from the US 011-33-1-42-22-63-35). It’s a closet size store founded in
1834, and the prices are very high, but the canes and umbrellas are
works of art. In true Parisian style, it’s not accessible in a
wheelchair, but the woman working there was obviously well experienced
in assisting someone inside, where you will find a stool on which to
sit.

I admired an antique cane
made of ebony, with a sterling handle that had a cupid horn player and
flowers engraved on the handle. When I win the lottery I’ll be going
back for it. They are open from 9:30 – 7:00 pm and are closed on
Mondays.

A store with
practical medical equipment is Le Materiel Para-Médical, at 1 rue
Danton in the 6th. (Tel: from the US 011-33-1-43-26-43-45). BP’s Chuck
gave me the name of this establishment (see “Individuals With
Disabilities in Paris” under the subject of Sightseeing, Hotels and
Shopping, on the BP Discussion Boards). I found a great selection of
wheelchair pillows. I bought my new wheelchair here. They also rent
wheelchairs, but the day we were there the people assisting us did not
speak English. I also bought a metal cane that has a plaid tartan
design on it. Leave it to the French to know how to accessorize!

Remember
that most pharmacies are closed for lunch, at nighttime, and on
Sundays. You can usually find canes of the same quality as the ones in
US drug stores, as well as cane tips. If you’re walking with a cane,
put good cushions in your walking shoes, and a new tip on your cane to
ease the burden of the uneven sidewalks.

An
aside: my French hair stylist in the US always brought back boxes of
little vials she swore were the best treatment for her aching legs.
After watching her down a few, I read the ingredients. The first
ingredient was alcohol. Bring your French / English dictionary and read
the fine print closely before buying anything. A common window display
in pharmacies is a selection of black support hose with a French lace
panty-top. I have fun picturing the nursing homes, with stylish elderly
women using walkers, wearing their sexy black support hose. Far be it
for the French to give up sex appeal for comfort! I’m learning a lot
from these women!

Madeleine Gely
218, Bld. St Germain, in the 7th.
Tel from the US: 011-33-1-42-22-63-35

Le Materiel Para-Médical
1 rue Danton in the 6th.
Tel from the US: 011-33-1-43-26-43-45

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