Permobil M3 Corpus – my review

In January I got a new wheelchair – a Permobil M3 Corpus. It’s taken me a long time to write this review, because every time I went to do it, something happened, either to me or to the chair!

Me, sitting in the new wheelchair, outside on the deck on a wintry day

Getting a new wheelchair is not easy. It’s time consuming, from the first time you meet with your Occupational Therapist, to doing a trial with the chair, to trialling new cushions, to getting a quote, to submitting to your medical insurance company, to waiting for approval, to getting approval, to putting the actual order in for the chair, to the chair arriving, to the chair being delivered.

And then there’s dealing with the company that supplied the chair, who decide to withhold the cushion because they made an error with the invoice. Yep, really. And it took 4 months to solve. And came down to $112, which later became $12 that they “forgave” because they made a mistake. (I didn’t wait that long for the cushion. I got that a week after the chair was delivered to the store because I complained. The chair cost almost $40k, and we were quibbling over $112 that became $12 – and all their error. But I digress…)

And then the chair comes, and you have to get it just right. Heights, lengths. Length to the joystick. Tilt of the joystick. And you have to find where the screw is for the exact alteration – and can you do it yourself, can someone at home help you, or do you need to call the shop and get someone out. And then all the extras. Bags, chargers, iPad mount.

Finally, when all this is done, you can start to enjoy the chair!

Let the real review begin.

Pros

This chair really makes a major difference to my life. Accepting that I needed a wheelchair wasn’t a huge adjustment for me, and my first chair was wonderful. It was fast and agile, and robust. It had places to add things and I had tilt added to it when my MS got worse and I needed to tilt to help with my fatigue.

Increasing fatigue and stamina issues have brought weakness to my arms, and I can’t reach the same way as I used to. I have T Rex arms – mostly good movement from the elbows down! However, with the right tools, even T Rex is unstoppable!

The Permobil M3 lifts the seat up to 14 inches. I am still finding ways that this is useful. The obvious ways are to be able to reach things in cupboards at home and off shelves at home. And being able to talk to people over counters that are too high for seated people. But it also makes doing tasks in the kitchen easier. As I’m weak, my arms find it tough to reach up to stir a pan, butter bread, any of those types of task. By raising my height so that gravity is working for me rather than against me, I can complete more tasks. Here’s a photo of me stirring gravy – a simple task made much easier by being able to be higher than the usual wheelchair position:

And, of course, I can sit at those tall tables in pubs!

The Permobil M3 also adjusts in many different ways. Legs lift, the back reclines, the whole seat tilts.

Me, in my wheelchair, reclined, tilted, and with my legs elevated!

There’s the position that works best for driving around the house and fitting through doorways. There’s the position that just feels right for regular sitting around. With all of these different alterations, it’s hard to get back to that sweet spot again. The Permobil M3 has an answer for that. It has a memory function for 3 spots. Want to return to that “normal” driving about position? Press two buttons and you’re taken there. It’s an excellent function, because without it, you never feel like you get to the right positions again. For those who drive, the best analogy I can give is when someone else has sat in the drivers seat and moved the mirror. With the press of two buttons you get back to your comfortable driving spot and you can see out of the mirror!

Another excellent point for the Permobil M3 is that cables are hidden, switches are robust and things generally make sense. Flying with a wheelchair requires you to put it in manual, so that the ground crew can push it about without driving it, and to disconnect the batteries. All of this is really simple with this chair – and there’s no tempting plugs, switches or cables for ground crew to grab hold of or detach.

And the chair really is just like a big Meccano kit. With a couple of Allen keys and a screwdriver you can alter pretty much anything.

Cons.

First – it’s expensive. Really expensive. I’m lucky that my insurance covered, but it means that everything attached to it – repairs, replacement parts, you name it – is expensive. Want a light package for it, that’s not covered by insurance? $1800!

And it’s heavy. 400lbs compared to 350lbs for my previous chair. Heavy also means robust, but it also means you have to think through lift capacities for vehicles and so on that little bit more.

For all I have detailed just how flexible it is, when you find things that aren’t flexible, then it becomes annoying! It switches off after 30 minutes – and there’s no way of altering that in the set up. Being in a meeting, and then wanting to tilt the chair differently as my body becomes tired, means switching the chair on, and everyone hearing the “beep beep”.

The arm rest lift up easily, but also have no side panels. It can leave you feeling unsupported, if you’re used to having something there, with less place to tuck in blankets and coats in the winter. There’s also less places to add gadgets.

The cons of the chair itself, for me, have been very few. The cons for the accessories are huge, though.

When I ordered my chair, the company I was buying it through generously gifted a number of items that weren’t covered by insurance. The profit on a $38k chair was definitely worth it to them, even though their customer service wasn’t – another story, another time. However, let me outline the items in increasing cost!

First, the $88 cupholder.

Finding a place for it was tough, so we settled on the front. The first time one of the dogs tried to fit between the chair and a cabinet, the screw holding it bent. The cup part is too small for the water bottle I drink from all the time and the cup is rigid, meaning that full water bottles were unsafe in there.

Photo of black rigid cup holder attached to the front of the wheelchair

Solution? Replace with a soft climbers chalk bag and/or an insulated water bottle holder. Cost ~$20.

Water bottle in a soft pouch shaped like a fluffy orange monster attached to the front of the wheelchair

Next, the $252 underarm pouch.

I was excited by the thought of this and underwhelmed by it in reality. I was looking forward to an easily accessible pouch that had some security, being under the arm rest, for those time when you’re on the skytrain and so on. Instead, $10 of black canvas made a hard to access, tiny pouch, that barely holds anything! One day, it caught on a door as I was going through it and the whole flap ripped off.

Black canvas pouch, roughly 8 inches by 6 inches, with the word Permobil in white, hanging under the arm rest of the wheelchair

Solution? Replace with a pouch that can be removed and stowed securely, and closes with a zip, printed with my own artwork. Cost – $20.

Blue pouch with large dog logo hanging from the side of the wheelchair by a carabiner and a strap

USB port – $209

Under one arm rest there is a USB port, for charging mobile devices off the chair’s battery. This capacity is a game changer, particularly when your iPad is your communication device and your iPhone is your safety lifeline. And, in meetings, it’s how I take notes. Well, first off, for someone with dexterity issues, it’s really, really fiddly to get the connector in. I ended up having to lift the arm rest up most times – not the most surreptitious way to do things in meetings. Then – remember the chair shutting off every 30 minutes? Well, that means the charger shuts off too. Long meetings, the need for a charge, often switching between devices, and then it goes off? Nope. Not much use to me.

Small black box suspended under the arm rest, with a USB port in it

Solution? I went back to my previous charger from Crippled Concepts, a disabled designer in the US. Since I bought mine years ago, it now comes in a fancy lil case! Most importantly, the charger doesn’t shut off when the chair switches off. Equally, it’s on the left arm of the chair, closest to my iPad, so it keeps the cables over there, rather than trailing across my body, as would happen on the right side. Cost – $50 US plus shipping

Small black metal tube, with three pins in the bottom - the iPad charger

Charger plugged into port on console, with cable attached to iPad

Backpack – $272

This backpack hangs from two hooks on the chair – hooks that are slid into the back structure of the chair. The hooks are very useful! The backpack – not. It’s a semi-hard shell, with a zip that goes around 3 sides of it, and splits it in half. I use my bag on the back for the jacket I want on or off, the bits of shopping I pick up, the empty reusable shopping bags, a binder or clip board on the way to a meeting. It’s not possible to use the backpack for any of these things. A binder, perhaps, but then it’s full!

Solution? Replace with a tote that can be easily accessed, and easily removed, printed with my own artwork to match my pouch. Cost – $20.

iPad mount – $489

The Permobil supplied tablet arm and mount is over complicated, over priced and does not work. There was no position where the arm rest would lie flat because the upright was too long. The iPad arm is in a fixed position. To move it out of the way, it flops out perpendicular to the chair. This really isn’t practical if you are eating in the restaurants – the iPad is at kicking height for everyone who walks past. The mount itself is a RAM X Grip tablet mount which means that the grips stand up by roughly an inch. It makes it really difficult and uncomfortable to try to type, swipe, touch on the screen – all of this for someone with limited dexterity.

Close up of iPad mount, with protruding grip, and the wheelchair console balancing on the mount

Solution? A piece of copper pipe, sprayed black and a squash ball to make the lower bracket work, and my old mount – the excellent TabGrabber, which is flexible and robust enough for me. Cost – $75 US plus shipping

Small copper pipe, painted black, with a squash ball on the top, and the lower end of the TabGrabber attached to it.

TabGrabber arm attached to the iPad

Since I’ve had the chair I’ve also had something break – one of the flappy paddles that changes speed just came off in my hand. If anything, I’m light on things like that. I don’t have hand spasms. It just came off in my hand. It was covered by the warrantee, but took over 3 weeks for the part to be delivered – it only came from Nashville?!? How come Amazon Prime delivers in 2 days, but medical supplies take so long?

I’m really pleased with the chair. It did take months for it to feel like it was molded my shape and my needs – the head rest tilted slightly, the console tilted in slightly. It’s quite the thing to see people’s reaction when I sit at the big tables or go up to get something off a higher shelf in a store! The ability to recline, put my feet up and alter my position in a million different ways has made a huge difference to the amount of time I can spend at dinner or in a meeting before my body finally gives up. The add-ons are a huge let down – if you have to pay for them yourself, don’t bother them. In fact, even if someone else is paying for them, don’t bother, because they just end up taking up space at home. However, the add-ons are a tiny fraction of this chair. It’s well built, robust, adaptable, and (mostly) has the customer in mind!

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