I was 11 years old when I realised that the type of disability you had affected how people saw you. I had of course grown up with people pitying me and once a woman pressed money into my hand as I sat in my wheelchair whilst parked outside a shop with steps, waiting for my mum on a Saturday morning. A memory that makes me squirm uncomfortably to this day. Similarly, there was a time when my parents bought a cane chair from Argos and while we were standing in the street with the plastic wrapped chair, a passer by enquired if she could buy a ticket – she thought we were raffling the chair for charity.
These were isolated, bizarre, funny stories that we laughed about and shared with friends. When I was talking about this with another friend with CP, she told me she had been given a Scottish five pound note in a similar incident. I have to say I never elicited that amount of generosity, even when a tartan knee blanket was added to the equasion in winter. This experience of the pity of others was clearly a common theme amongst my peers in wheelchairs.
At this time I could still manage to walk short distances though I looked as if I had had a very impressive night on the tiles. This, combined with an impressive fall, had resulted in a very painful ankle. After a lengthy wait in Casualty we were ushered into a cubicle and a young doctor arrived. I should tell you that I was in my Blackbird wheelchair (the children’s chairs at this time were either black, blue or fire coloured and, for all their sleek sounding names, had the style and poise of a Reliant Robin). After glancing at me the doctor turned to my mum to ask what the problem was, so she told him about my fall. Bending down he asked me to stick out my tongue which I obligingly did, he continued by asking me to push his hands away, grip his fingers and then close my eyes and touch my nose.
After these bewildering instructions, he turned back to my Mum and asked, “What is her mental age?” Confused by this point she replied, “Eleven, she’s eleven.” The doctor looked decidedly irritated and bending down to me he asked, “What is 2 x11?” “Twenty-two,” I promptly responded. At the time this was the only part of the 11 times table that I knew!
This story has passed into family legend as one of the strangest medical encounters I have ever had for what was, in the end, a sprained ankle. Coincidentally, it was also the year of the Oscar-winning performance of Daniel Day Lewis playing Christy Brown, the writer and artist with cerebral palsy. I suppose the working hours of junior doctors meant he did not get to the cinema much. Perhaps if he had seen the film he would have asked me to write the answer using my foot which, even when pain free, is not similarly gifted.