Double leg amputee fighting for power wheelchair, recliner

A St. John's woman who lost both her legs below the knee is fighting Eastern Health for a power wheelchair and a recliner.
Double amputee Rosemarie Tulk talks about the days her toes got infected and she lost her legs. 1:22

A St. John’s woman who lost both her legs below the knee is fighting Eastern Health for a power wheelchair, and a recliner.

Rosemarie Tulk, 50, spends almost all her time in her non-motorized wheelchair. As a result she says she is in constant pain, and has developed bed sores.

"From the time I get out of bed in the mornings, till the time I goes to bed, I'm sitting in a wheelchair, which I have an awful bad tail bone and twisted spine, so I'm suffering all the time," said Tulk.

The other chair she owns, a small leather-style one is difficult for her to transfer in and out of. Only with the help of a homecare worker is she able to get out of the chair and back into her wheelchair.

Tulk said she can’t spend time in that chair reading or watching television.

"It's no comfort in this one," she said. "The wheelchair is so high and this chair is so low, and it's hard on the butt."

Tulk said having a leather recliner would allow her to transfer on her own and relieve some of the pressure on her lower body. And, it would be better sanitary-wise.

"I have a lot of stomach problems, and if I have an accident and I can't get to the bathroom fast enough ... and it's something you can clean off, and get the smell out of it anyway."

Tulk said she would buy a recliner if she could afford it. She lives in Newfoundland and Labrador housing. She receives a monthly budget of $650 a month.

Denied, denied, denied

Tulk said she was turned down for a recliner because Eastern Health only offers one type of chair. She said it’s a moving chair for people who do have legs, valued at $1,000.

Tulk said she was turned down because it would not be suitable for her, but doesn't understand why she can't get a chair that's less expensive, and would serve her better.

She said her request for a power wheelchair was also turned down.

"I don't know why. Seems like everything I ask for is denied, denied, denied," she said. "And then what I'm doing is wondering who can I phone, should I phone this one or that one. It's only a headache for me being so sick."

Losing her legs

Tulk wasn’t always an amputee. She lost both her legs within the last two years when she banged her toes going up a flight of stairs.

"When I’d fall, I’d catch myself with my hands, but this day I just couldn't catch the fall," she said.

"My big toe started turning dark, and it took no time, it was black ... And I had blood clots in my toes, and no circulation was getting in to them, my toes, so this was the gangrene setting in and I had to lose them."

Power wheelchair also needed

On top of Tulk's daily struggles to get comfortable, her apartment is not equipped for a person in a wheelchair.

Tulk says she hasn't had a proper bath in 19 months. She uses the sink to wash. (CBC)

Tulk said she hasn't had a proper bath in 19 months, because her tub is not wheelchair accessible.

She said she has fallen twice because she gets tripped up on some raised flooring in the hallway. The ramp from her front door outside is too steep, Tulk said.

She said having a power wheelchair would give her more confidence around the house, prevent falls and allow her to go outside more often with her homecare workers.

Tulk has had her share of health problems. She's been diabetic for 25 years, needs eye surgery and has problems with her liver and kidneys. But she said learning to live without legs has been the most frustrating.

One of the wheels on her wheelchair has fallen off twice. She said the idea of falling and having another blood clot scares her.

"It’s not because I wants it, but it's a need - I got to have it."

Tulk's options

In a statement emailed to CBC News, Eastern Health said it approves chairs for people like Tulk based on a number of criteria, including age, income and need. Tulk said an occupational therapist has recommended she be approved for the chairs.

The health department is looking into the concerns.

In the meantime, New Democrat MHA Gerry Rogers has taken up Tulk's case. She said there should be a way to help patients like Tulk who don't fit into government's criteria.