Tag Archives: wheelchair

From The Sublime to the Ridiculous

From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

This blog post is brought to you courtesy of 2 iPads, an iPhone and 2 add-on keyboards.

Well, where do I start? Possibly with my so called support worker blaspheming about the 2nd keyboard I’ve dug out of my bag this morning. Yes, that’s right folks I have 2 of them! My trusty iPad 2 3G state of the art about 4.5 years ago, recently joined by the iPad Mini, (mostly because it has Siri, Apple’s voice recognition software that is built into the iPad’s operating system) aimed to reduce my reliance on fellow human beings. This is all very well in theory, until you find yourself in a technological void and the batteries have gone in the 1st of your ‘qwerty’ keyboards. Such is my life. Parts of each appliance works, but no singular tool will complete a task for me.

This situation prompted several memories of similar technological faux pas. Some months ago I attended the British Sociological Association’s (BSA) annual conference in the lovely surroundings of Glasgow Caledonian University. This involved a mammoth train journey, the usual pre-booking of assistance a week in advance and the finding of an accessible hotel room, all of which was going swimmingly until I found my way to the taxi rank. A very pleasant man asked if I could get out of my chair and into his taxi, to which I responded, “No, I need the ramp.” It is worth pointing out here that there was a beautiful fleet of white hackney carriages, relative bliss compared to where I live. The man dutifully got out with a perplexed look on his face brandishing a large key to open up the floor to unfold the ramp. He had never done this before and I was developing a sense of impending doom as he couldn’t do it now.

The ramp made an unhealthy, creaking noise sounding rather like a badly worn, octogenarian hip joint. The result had a definite contracture in the middle of it that should not have been there. The whole car looked as supple as me on a good day. He was able to manhandle me up this undulating ramp into the back of his vehicle, then came the need to fold the ramp back up into the floor. Well that just was not happening. I suggested he wedged of the 3 sections against my wheel, so he could shut his door and take me to my destination. Having got in there, I was not about to give up.

We did this and I arrived at my hotel in 1 piece. He unloaded me in the same, ungainly manner and I left him to the problem of folding his ramp back up into 3 and into the floor. I was sitting in the hotel reception, when I heard banging followed by a string of expletives. Rather embarrassed, I said to the receptionist and queue at large, “Terribly sorry, I seem to have broken his car.”

However, this was all nothing compared to what I had to do to get into my support worker’s grass-green, 3 door, Vauxhall Corsa. To embark on a journey in this vehicle I would stand, bodily hanging over the passenger door whilst my colleague folded my chair and slotted it behind the seats, I would then sit in the seat, bring my knees up to my chest, while my support worker lifted my feet into the car (sometimes having to force the issue a little). Once the seatbelt was on, I was comfortably situated with my knees rammed against the dashboard and my nose practically on the windscreen. On reaching our destination, the above description was applied in reverse. This was done on a weekly basis for around 4 years; ‘needs must when the devil drives’ and drive me he did! In fact, I think this qualified as suffering for one’s art.

I got into my university library this week in the most unique manner possible. There is something about universities where, at the end of term, they become building sites. At least ours does anyway. Every year around this time I begin to get a feeling of dread; my well-practiced routines will inevitably be disrupted by this maintenance work. This time my usual place of study is being renovated to become a teaching area, gone are the comfy sofas, coffee lounge and TV with rolling news. For years my only access to the news as it happened was in this coffee lounge. I have had to find a new haunt.

There are tables and a reading area in the library itself, no cups of tea and cake, but you can’t have everything. Disaster struck this week when I arrived to find a group of workmen busily digging up the tarmac and roping off my usual entrance with tape. Ever intrepid I found the side door and made my way to the lift that allows you to access the main counter; I found it, presenting in the 1st floor position i.e. above my head, with the buttons flashing different coloured lights. I have to say, more in hope than expectation, I depressed the button that should make the lift descend, no response. I prodded a few other buttons just for good measure, then asked a passing member of staff what to do. “Does it have a plug you can turn on and off?” I asked, thinking of the many times my digital TV box had done a similar thing. We found a switch, but nothing seemed to change except perhaps the noise it was making became subtlely different. Ever helpful n the face of my adversity, a staff member went to ring the maintenance department, apparently to turn it on and off required a special key. I sloped off for a cup of tea while he and the key were found and put to use.

Anyway as I said at the beginning, this post may have taken 5 appliances to produce along with a good old dollop of ingenuity, but we got there in the end. What can I say? The world loves a trier. We just have to make this thing go live now, see you in a day or two.

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Irony and Assistance 

I have always said that as a dyslexic writer I am proof that God has a sense of irony. I was reminded of this last week when my nephew, Hamish, decided it was time to come into the world, This was on the same day that our family said our final goodbyes to my mum, following a long battle with cancer.  In the same week I received a text message from my dad saying, “I am in hospital. Don’t worry I have had a TIA (transient ischemic attack) and am waiting to see the stroke bloke. I feel as fit as a fiddle now though.”

That text sent about a gallon of ice-water down my spine and into my scull and I felt as though my brain had frozen in some kind of ultimate brain freeze. The past 12 months have been a great life lesson in the different workings of the male and female brain. I cannot for example think of a scenario where my mum would have broken such worrying news via text, then spend the following two hours being incommunicado by any modern means at my disposal. My local hospital is something of a grave yard when it comes to phone signal, so is my brother’s house but we will get to that later.
The TIA has meant that my dad is now unable to drive, to put this in context he lives in a comparatively rural area some 5 miles away from me and just for the record, I cannot drive either. I have not inconsiderable levels of support need, usually serviced by my dad arriving at intervals in his trusty Volvo to clean the house, change my bedding and take the ironing away to be done. The absence of motorised transportation has made life very interesting. My dad, the avid walker and adventurer, has now taken to to donning a rucksack filled with ironing to be done and taking it home.
This time last week we decided that we would go and see our new arrival, train tickets were duly booked as was the necessary boarding assistance for the rail travel. We turned up at our local station where I was greeted warmly. I do rail travel quite a lot and the station staff know me quite well; a definite advantage when travelling with a disability and normally alone. This was going to be a relative treat as I had my own onboard, physically able assistant.
We arrived at my brother’s house to discover that the camping bench he had ordered as an improvised shower seat had failed to arrive. Apparently for some unknown reason it had not yet despatched though we were assured that it would definitely arrive the next day. I could not get irate about the absence as I was too excited to meet Hamish.
When I met him, he was perfect. After this we went back to my brother’s newly finished house, a converted water-mill. Bedrooms were on the 2nd floor, the ground floor accessible rooms still have work to be completed so it was down to being carried up and down stairs by my younger sibling. I made him go a bit red in the face, so reverted to the soft-bum shuffle ably assisted by Pumba, the family Springer Spaniel. When I was at the bottom of the stairs I discovered that I had no mobile phone signal in order summon assistance to bring my wheelchair downstairs. Shouting was pointless as my father is hard of hearing. I hit on what I thought was a splendid idea and told Pumba to, “Go and fetch Grandad.” She dutifully obeyed. However, Grandad didn’t take the cue and thought Pumba had just come to play.
This led me to think about assistance dogs, and whether it was time for me to have one. I realised how useful it would be and it was comforting that Pumba would not leave me alone and sat by me until my dad finally came. Very reassuring. I began thinking about this instinctive bond between man and canine and discovered the idea of using dogs in this manner wasn’t new. The most well known use is as guide dogs for blind people which was first tried in Paris in 1780 when Josef Riesinger trained his Spitz to guide him. Johann Klein, from the Bling Institute in Vienna, mentioned guide dogs in his books of 1819 and the first guide dog school was opened in Oldenburg, Germany in 1916 to train dogs to assist war veterans.

Pumba providing encuragemeant half way down
I have one friend with a Canine Partners’ Dog. Canine Partners are a charity that provide assistance dogs for people with disabilities. Faye has found Odile a massive positive in her life, giving her confidence,companionship and physical assistance with tasks like getting the TV remote.

Faye and Odile
From my point of view I have always found dogs to be far more perceptive than humans, seeming instinctively to know when you are sad, distressed or happy; they are not self-conscious and will quite naturally come up to you and nuzzle you as if to say, “I am here, you are not alone.”

 

Adversity, Misconception and Disability Chic

A few weeks ago I ventured out to my local cinema to watch ‘The Theory of Everything’. This was the amazing film about the life of professor Stephen Hawking, the world renowned physicist and cosmologist. As well as his intellect he is perhaps, the most well known sufferer of Motor Neurone Disease. He was originally given a life expectancy of two years, however he defied the odds and has survived many decades longer than predicted, making major discoveries and contributions to the word of science and to the layman’s understanding of it.

Growing up when I did role models with disabilities were thin on the ground, the few there were only had connections to sport. I did my fair share of physical activity as a child I swam and was a keen rider having regular sessions with the Riding for the Disabled Association via my school and private lessons at home. It was only recently when researching an academic project that I discovered horse-back therapy, or hippotherapy, is a clinically recognised therapeutic intervention. The name has Greek roots, ‘hippo’ meaning ‘horse’ and ‘therapy’ meaning to ‘treat medically’. My support worker and I had thought it was a spelling error! This therapy has been shown to promote physical development, speech and confidence in individuals with disabilities.

Looking back, I don’t think I aspired to be successful on horseback in any kind of conventional, competitive sense. For for me it was an odd kind of escapism, these activities assumed an almost hedonistic quality. The hours swimming and riding were like a window on another life. I loved that I didn’t look “disabled” when I did them. Just as today I sometimes lie on my bed in an outfit to get an idea of what I would look like standing up and enjoy the appearance of my washboard stomach, only to have it disappear (somewhat depressingly) when I sit up again.

I saw wheelchair sports as negative. I had been raised to believe the wheelchair had too many connotations of ‘laziness’ and ‘giving up’, for it to become part of a leisure activity or a positive tool to allow me to achieve. Society has certainly come a long way in the last 20 years or so, at least I thought it had until I picked up a newspaper and read the story of 12 year old Joe France who was denied entry to the Hawking film because it wasn’t being shown on any of the screens he could access. Ironically, this incident coincided with Disabled Access Day.

It saddens me greatly that situations like this are still impacting on the lives of individuals, a generation after legal measures aimed to make such experiences a thing of the past. This is also following a period in which Motor Neurone Disease has seen a massive increase in public awareness as a result of the ice bucket challenge. For the uninitiated this was a charitable craze that went positively viral, it involved individuals pouring buckets of ice water over themselves with the aim of raising money for Motor Neurone Disease. Participating individuals filmed this activity posting their endeavours on social networking sites such as Facebook and YouTube.

An article in ‘Society Now’ describes the craze as narcissism dressed up as altruism, and questions the motives of those taking part and the effect of these crazes on societal giving. They point out that when one cause is in vogue others lose out by default, not just in the financial sense but in the social sense as some causes cannot hope to capture the public’s imagination. Dyslexia is one, as is the needs of adults with Cerebral Palsy; we are not cuddly, sweet or life-limited. We struggle on with all the appeal of an elderly dog in a shelter waiting and hoping for someone to notice we are there.

For me the solution is to adopt the US attitude towards disability, to celebrate it and support the individual more. We are not all in the position of Stephen Hawking with supportive parents, wife and close friends; neither do we all have his intellect. Most of us are average people whose ambition is to go through life with a family, work and leisure activities. For this to be achieved the basics need to be in place…. accessible public transport, flexible working hours and a flexible benefits system that does not penalise for trying to gain paid work. Here’s to progress.

Too Much of a Bad Thing

One Sunday night about 18 months ago there was a knock at my door, I opened it to be greeted by a smartly dressed young man. He proffered his badge and informed me he was working to collect donations for a cancer charity. He gave me a statistic that one in three people will be affected by cancer during their lifetime and went on to ask if I would like to donate money regularly to fund research into cancer and its treatments. I responded that I would give money regularly to cancer charities when neurological disability such as cerebral palsy got the same level of publicity and financial backing.

I have to confess, it had been a bad day. I was coming to the end of my battle with Social Services to obtain support to enhance my quality of life, give me a purpose and help me achieve some life goals. Whatever I did, I felt like I was falling through the cracks. I felt very vulnerable with only family members and a bit of private support I was able to fund with my Disability Living Allowance. It exasperated me that people grasped the need to provide good support services and treatment for cancer but seemed to be blind to my situation.

However, three months ago now my political stance regarding cancer charities came back to haunt me in the very worst possible way. My mum, who had been ill for some months, was finally diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. You see the adverts on TV of people falling backwards having been hit by the tsunami of their diagnosis, that’s exactly what it was like. Cancer has always been in the background, like the mist and fog which comes with the onset of winter. The women in my family carry the predisposition to develop breast cancer, lumps, bumps and breast changes all of which were openly discussed. I was almost blasé, when my mum told me that a breast biopsy had revealed a high risk of malignancy and she had decided to undergo a mastectomy.

I have to say mum sailed through the whole thing; applying the same logic and fortitude to her recovery as in the past she had to my physiotherapy, that good old ‘no pain no gain’ ethos. Within a month she was back to helping me with physical tasks and even lifting my wheelchair in and out of the boot of the car, not medically recommended. I have to confess to breathing a sigh of relief as the risk, in my eyes, was gone and the panic was over.

Two things are interesting about the current situation: one, the cancer was a type that was entirely unexpected and two, the diagnosis has led to some odd conversations with my mum. For example, immediately after announcing that she had cancer she told me not to worry as my dad would be able to epilate my legs. This was the first of my personal care issues that she reassured me that dad was going to learn to support me with. I find it fascinating that of all the things she could worry about, leg hair was a priority.

I have now found myself judging mum’s health and wellbeing by whether or not she comments on my posture. Historically she has been like a human spirit level when it comes to how I sit and stand, whether my clothes are on straight and if my trousers need pulling up. When she has been really poorly, this level of awareness disappeared and I thought I would find it restful, but found that I do not. I have resolved never to internally whinge about this ever again.

Similarly, now dad has taken over many of the household chores he has begun to apply his engineering training and logic to various scenarios. He has a complex spreadsheet to help him organise the weekly food shopping, column headings are: item; need it; got it. Despite this he managed to forget the milk recently as they fell off the end of his sheet. Interestingly, mum has noticed that the food bill has inexplicably gone up.

Mum has developed more of an understanding of the necessity for television, the lack of which created a 2 day stand off when she was allocated the 1 bed in hospital where the TV did not work. She had been in there for 7 weeks and felt isolated from the outside world. It proved to me that the little things really do matter.

Once someone close to you has this diagnosis, you feel that it is everywhere. Dad and I went to the canteen at the hospital and the lady at the till asked if she could interest us in a cancer awareness badge, I told dad that I thought we were aware enough of cancer without the need for a physical reminder.

Dad’s car previously used to be an engineer’s mobile office and now routinely carries 2 wheelchairs. It has begun to resemble a patient transport ambulance. Dad is now becoming as conversant with the lingo of hospital as mum and me and has to work out what to do when both mum and I have a hospital simultaneously, which has happened more than once.

Dads are much less tolerant of NHS idiosyncrasies, he will ask the question, “Why is that desk so high?” and “Why are all the bins in this hospital foot operated when half the people in here lack the use of their lower limbs?” Compare this with mum’s perspective that yes, in an ideal world there would be a low counter but we have more pressing issues so, we have to pick our battles wisely.

The transition of moving from mum’s care to my dad’s is taking some adjustment for me. Dad and I are not so polished as my mum but, like many British institutions, we get there in the end.

My Official Birthday

The big day has arrived. I am now 36. Sarah, a lifelong friend of mine (we were on the neonatal intensive care unit together when we were born) is some 10 days older than I am. It is our tradition to go out for a meal on the middle weekend between our two birthdays. It was at this celebration that Sarah decided to remind me that as of today I (we) are officially closer to 40 than to 30.

The momentous day was marked by a new acquisition, my birthday present this year from my parents was a MacBook Pro. I had been lusting after one of these for over 12 months, being a fan of the iPad – in my opinion the most ultimately disabled friendly device you will ever find – I was keen to make the switch. However, there always seemed to be something that got in the way of my making the purchase. Anything with a Mac label, seems to cost about three times as much as a Windows or android operated machine, so it was a massive outlay and one that I never could quite seem to justify. Then the inevitable happened, Nuance, the computer company that makes the voice recognition software that I use to write, updated their software.

I always follow assisted technology developments via YouTube. I was impressed with the new developments in the software however, I noticed that the latest edition of Dragon NaturallySpeaking required at the very least windows 7.1. My home PC ran on the positively Jurassic Windows 7 and so I discovered that if I wanted to try the new Dragon software then I would have to update my PC, this was a scary prospect as I had been witness to several Windows 8 stress moments. Many people I know just can’t get the hang of the new Windows operating system. On occasion my dad will fill in for my support worker; we open up the document on his computer, a procedure that is usually followed by a five-minute rant about the fact that the machine wants his fingerprint and randomly seems to place downloaded files where you least expect them on the hard drive.

I have never really been a fan of Windows 7 myself either. The main Windows operating brilliance came when they developed the XP operating system. Had I known that the Windows 7 operating system was so different to XP I would have made the switch to Mac at that point. In the week I have been using Mac I have not once had an error message, or crash. Thus far I have found that even the voice recognition software I have had such a rocky relationship with, works better on a Mac which is interesting given that the same company produces the software for both systems. The Mac is just sleek all round – Steve Jobs I salute your immortal soul!

It’s been a week of changes all round in my household my mum is currently ill in hospital and my dad has stepped into the breach. This has been an interesting and steep learning curve on both sides of our relationship. I live alone and have done so for over 15 years. This situation occurred almost by accident. My dad’s job was going to be moving location from the Midlands to North Wales, and I somewhat petulantly refused point-blank to live anywhere that I couldn’t spell. I proved moderately successful at the independent living scenario first in sheltered accommodation, that was specifically designed for individuals with special needs and latterly in an adapted bungalow, which I inherited (without the adaptations) from my grandmother almost 7 years ago. Throughout this time my main support and assistance has been provided by mum – who has hovered in the background providing physical support with tasks like laundry, cleaning, transport and more recently even supplementary medical support when my feet disintegrated slightly and required regular medical treatment and dressings. It is fair to say that she did a fantastic job! The dressing she applied thereafter more durable than those put on by the professionals.

It has been interesting and eventful to watch my dad take on his new role as provider of care and support. I had never really thought about it before but disability and its management seems inevitably to fall to mothers, and mine is particularly good at the mundane organisational requirements that are needed to live successfully with a long-term disability. This week my disabled parking permit (known in the United Kingdom as the Blue Badge) is up for renewal. The process is simple enough, you go online, fill in a form, then take proof of entitlement, a photograph and £10 in cash to your local council parking services department.

The week before my appointment, I looked out my birth certificate and the preregistration form I had already completed. All that I now needed was proof of my entitlement, birth certificates and photographs, on Sunday night I looked out the additional necessary documents and put them on the kitchen table. I had my birth certificate, and for some reason assumed that my dad had got the letters proving my entitlement to the mobility component of the disability living allowance. At my house, I asked dad if he had the letters I needed to renew my application, he responded in the affirmative. So, you can imagine my surprise when we arrived at the local council offices to discover that my entitlement letters had been left in the house. We had to retrace our steps and plan the journey for the second time. All was well in the end, but the procedure did lack my mum’s finesse!

Disability, Fashion and Moving in High Society

The first magazine feature I ever wrote was about disability in the world of fashion, this was a few years before BBC Three’s Britain’s Missing Top Model in which 8 young women with a range of physical disabilities competed to win a fashion shoot in Marie Claire. I had never seen bodies that resembled my own in the world of high fashion, so it became a groundbreaking moment for me.

Previously, the disabled body was confined to the pages of disability equipment or specialised clothing brochures. I was a star of one such photo-shoot for a range of special needs tracksuits, all zips and elastic, functional yes, but certainly not catwalk worthy. I did however, borrow the zip concept recently.

Skinny jeans have become a bit of a nemesis for me. I have tried to acquire the art of wearing this figure flattering item only to be defeated by my lack of body flexibility. Now skinny jeans seem to be remaining a high street staple so I wanted to find a way to make the look work for me. I took my 3 pairs to a local alterations shop, explained my problem and asked if the jeans could be fitted with a zip from the ankle to the knee to enable them to be taken on and off more easily. I was thrilled with the result, a perfect blend of function and style. The alterations cost more than the jeans themselves, but it was definitely worth it.

Adapted skinny jeans

Having a physical disability can all too often mean that style and fashion are denied us, or come at a heavy price. Earlier this year I developed ulcerated feet and I was told in no uncertain terms that my stylish ankle boots had to go and be replaced with orthopaedic soft fabric sandals. I was somewhat put out as I thought my suede/ leather flat ankle boots were sensible enough. From the look the podiatrist gave them you would be forgiven for thinking I had rolled into her office resplendent in six inch wedge platform sling backs. It’s funny but shoes were always one thing that really made me feel different, the thing that no matter what I did, marked me out as disabled. I would be wearing a nice dress and the look would be ruined by my specialist orthopaedic boots, clunky monstrosities in a very limited colour range of black, blue, brown and the much coveted red.

In my life normal shoes were a rare event, reserved for special occasions. I think I remember every pair of normal shoes I ever had and the event that each pair related to. For the wedding of a lifelong friend of my Dad I wore a green and while frilly dress and little black patent shoes. I was bridesmaid at a cousin’s wedding and I had a pair of white canvas pump type shoes to wear under my dress, then on family holidays to the USA and Denmark I had training shoes. I can remember saying once that the underside of my feet hurt after walking in my normal footwear for a while. My parents were puzzled and tried to determine the cause of my discomfort, after some detective work they discovered that it was the terrain itself. The soles on orthopaedic boots are thicker than average and I had never become accustomed to feeling the ground under my feet.

The ability to wear normal shoes was just about the one positive I found in losing my mobility. I no longer had to pay mind to the support my ankles and feet needed. I also didn’t have to worry anymore about how durable the sole was because yay, I wasn’t going to be wearing them out by dragging my feet. However, my joy was comparatively short-lived, I quickly discovered that feet that have been fixed in position by an orthopaedic surgeon do not necessarily comply with or like being introduced to heels. The one time I found a pair my feet could be cajoled into I snapped the heel off the left one when my leg went into spasm and the boot heel was behind the footrest. This resulted in several Star Wars related jokes about feeling the force. To add insult to injury my feet became chronically swollen due to my reduced mobility, so much so that I had to start wearing men’s shoes which are correspondingly wider. I saw the NHS shoe fitter and the made to measure results made my childhood shoes look positively hip. Even my Mum christened the boots the ‘Passion Killers’, which coming from her was a damming indeed.

My friend Lorraine, keen to help solve my footwear issues, told me that Evans one of the leading UK, plus size, high street shops, had EEE fitting boots available. It was a lovely experience to put on a pair of shoes that were meant for a woman. It opened up new possibilities in clothing; I could now wear dresses and I felt attractive. I was determined to hang on to my new acquisitions, I had over 12 months of fierce arguments with my podiatrist before ulceration forced me to give in. I agreed to give the Pullman sandals a go. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised, while definitely not Manolo Blahnik, they were not an assault on my femininity.

The Pullman Sandal

Last Christmas my aunty’s present to me was afternoon tea at the Ritz, we arranged to go along recently and I had a lovely day out with her. The Pullman sandals were donned along with my semi-designer dress. I have to say that I certainly did not feel out of place, clunky or unattractive, in fact I am beginning to think I was a posh Victorian and have inhabited high society in a former life. The Ritz had ramps for my wheelchair, the best dairy-free cakes I have ever tasted in my life along with an extensive range of teas, always a winner with me.

Aunty Sue and me at The Ritz

Rising to the Challenge

I am flying solo this week. Louise my assistant, who provides my academic support, is as I write Stateside and hopefully having a good and well deserved holiday in the sun.

It has been an interesting week all round in terms of my support needs as my parents, the usual provider of my daily support, have been on a trip to Italy. My Auntie Sue and my mum’s friend Maureen stepped in to fill the gap. With all of the absences, I decided to take the opportunity and set myself a little challenge; this blog post is brought to you via voice recognition technology which is something I have dipped in and out of over the years, with varying levels of success. I put on the headset, stare at the screen and many times my head goes blank. I think this has more than a little to do with my school experiences, allowing me to dictate work was considered somehow as giving in and allowing me to be lazy. For my generation of people with disabilities, aids in whatever form were to be used as a matter of last resort, and something to aspire to be without.

I have found that it is a completely different experience compiling something in your head and dictating it onto the page, than it is to type manually. I always feel somehow disconnected from the process; it never seems to flow as well. I like the tactile element of crafting something and if that gets lost, I end up having to concentrate so much on the act of talking that I lose the thread of what I am trying to say.

I have casual conversations in person quite easily, but if I have to think hard, or repeat myself, my body and brain get all scrambled and a word will suddenly decide to stay in the “no mans land” that exists between my brain and my mouth. This gets very interesting when having a conversation with my Dad who has a significant level of hearing loss and misses part of what I say to him. At some points it feels like I am in the middle of a neurological war of attrition, with Dad’s responses usually along the lines of, “What, what did you say?”, “Can you repeat that?”, “Say again.”

The whole process of dictating also feels far more public. I used to have a horror of doing my university exams in this way. I remember on one occasion as always, I was separated from the other students. Myself, my support worker and the Invigilator were in a room, a grand looking affair with an oak table. As I took my place next to my support worker scribe, the Invigilator remarked that I looked pregnant with thought. What was really going through my head was, “Oh My God! He is going to hear my answer and judge its worth and mine by default.” a pressure my pen- wielding peers didn’t have, they got a pass or a fail in private.

For me, disability means that concepts like privacy, independence and personal choice are a negotiated, sometimes “grey” area. I get exited about software that promises this freedom, however nothing has been created that gives me this autonomy so far. The IPad has proven to be the biggest leap forward so far. I can access ebooks, talking books, notes and papers on something I can carry around in a small bag.

Like most writers, the things I write about come out of my own life experience, the difference is I never get to write alone in a cafe, in one of those moleskin notebooks so beloved of my writing friends. Well, I could give it a go but there is a good chance that when I came to look at it again, I wouldn’t be able to work out what I had been trying to say! Sometimes I wonder if in the future my notebooks will be unearthed by a social historian, or end up on some kind of documentary like the ones you see on BBC2 about the evolution of the written word. I never complete the process of writing alone, in fact in my case the act of writing can give me a story to tell.

A few months ago while planning an art journal page I came across the quote by the author Neil Marcus, “Disability is not a ‘brave struggle’ or ‘courage in the face of adversity’ Disability is an art. It’s an ingenious way to live.” For me, this sums up my own views of my life as a disabled person.

 

Positive Thinking

This week I have been feeling good, the type of good I had almost forgotten existed. This improvement is I think, in part at least, due to the reduction in healthcare appointments. My feet have as they say ‘got with the programme’ and made a concerted effort to heal themselves. This means that I can now dispense with the unfashionable, but I have to say very effective, plastic/rubber combo, sock device I have been putting over my dressings. This device has lead to some very odd moments in my bathroom. If I had a camera in the room I would have produced some very entertaining footage.

Sexy foot protector
Sexy foot protector

A few weeks ago I was due to go away for the weekend and still had not perfected the art of putting the device on solo, after much thought my mum suggested putting on a nylon stocking so that the device had more of a glide. I have to say it worked like a charm and thus a six pack of supermarket, basic brand nylons were added to my disability essentials kit. Catheters, wheelchair, medication, nylons and I am good to go. I have alway wanted to make a slinky exit from a shower, shrug into a crisp, white bathrobe with my hair wrapped casually in an equally white towel. Yes, my bathrobe is white. However, most of the time it has a black stripe in the middle of it where it has got caught up in my wheelchair wheel, which is not that Hollywood.

Recently while at the railway station I decreed that in my next life I want to come back as tall as I am now, but have the use of all four of my limbs, just so I could have the experience of walking down the platform with some cool pull-along luggage in a matching figure flattering, long coat. Try as I might, I have never yet managed to achieve this look sitting down. Tempted by the displays of colour-coordinated trolley bags, I have on occasion experimented with a pull-along bag. This has mostly just resulted in my damaging the skin on my hand as a result of its unplanned union with the metal baggage handle and one of the components of my wheelchair. I tried to get a long, smart, wool winter coat once but my comparatively muscly arms and thin body means that any long coat that fits my upper body, made the rest of it look like a sack of potatoes.

I read an article by a writer called Melanie Reid who broke her neck in a riding accident and now uses a wheelchair. In it, she talked about her feelings when she was able to stand and walk with the aid of a robot called Rex. This got me thinking about my own feelings such as, “Could I walk down a railway platform with my glamorous baggage in a robot called Rex?” I concluded yes I could, but it would not be sexy, which sort of defeats the object for me.

Some years ago, I saw a consultant who told me and my parents that it was my comparative height that had put me in a wheelchair sooner than my peers. My mum felt partly responsible as I get my height from her side of the family. As I pointed out though, I would have ended up in a chair anyway and at least the height I am, I can reach more things for myself.

For the last few years I seem to have spent an inordinate amount of time bouncing around different consulting rooms being told to accept deterioration, that I am getting older. I felt as though, all of the medical professionals believed that it was someone else’s job to help me. Six months ago a new doctor joined my GP practice, he was like a breath of fresh air. You could go into the consulting room, explain your problem and he would work with you to solve it, he didn’t want to have to refer you anywhere else. He understood me when I said that when I was well I could write (like this blog piece), but when I felt unwell I could barely get out of bed. He actually thought it was worth trying to get me the ability to write back, rather than tell me to accept the loss as part of my deterioration. He made me feel that I was worth the effort on his part. It was so refreshing having someone recognise that I had to have a point to my life.

It was this same GP who started me on anti-depressant medication, something that I had been hitherto too embarrassed to ask about. I was troubled by the thought that my personality would begin to be controlled by chemicals and I would lose part of ‘me’ and also by the idea that my ability would be regulated by drugs. It felt like one too many things to be dependent upon. I was talking to a colleague at a conference recently and something she said really put things into perspective for me and made taking the tablets less troubling. She said, “If you were diabetic and it was insulin, you would take it wouldn’t you?” The upshot is, I have taken them for about a month and a half now at the proper anti-depressant dose and I feel human, not like a dead person any more.

The friends I have made at one of my support groups tell me about getting tattoos done to mark significant events and milestones in their lives. I was a bit tempted to have one done, but I thought that there was too great a risk of an infection, or poor spelling if I had words. I settled for a silver bangle engraved with ‘Resurgam’ (I will rise again). Four days later I promptly dented said bracelet on the engraved word, getting out of my wheelchair. Ironically, I feel that this makes it even more appropriate for me, I am a bit battered, but still rising.

Wheelie Good Omens

I thought things were going well. It has been a whole three months since the accessibility equipment gremlins last came out to play, so long in fact that I was beginning to think they had been successfully rehoused. Alas no. I got up last Tuesday to the sound of a loud hissing noise, my brain hurriedly came out of bank-holiday hibernation. What the hell now I sighed inwardly?

Those who follow me regularly will be aware of all my gadget-related nightmares. For all of you newcomers, the bungalow I live in is about 40 years old and six years ago, when I inherited it, the inside was internally demolished and rebuilt, mostly by my Mum and Dad. The result was a very spangly looking ensemble, which was dutifully equipped with every gismo you can get to make living with disability easier. The result was very definitely rehab chic, open plan and pneumatic cupboards. There really was no (parental) expense spared. Everyone with disability knows the manufacturers always put a few extra 0s onto the price for good measure. The thing they don’t tell you about is the hell you will experience when all these bits of kit that make you more independent decide to break down. My life is punctuated with phone calls that begin “Dad can you just…..”. Things got so bad with my pushbutton front door, that when it stopped working for about the twentieth time I gave up and had it disconnected. There does come a point in your life when less really is more. I pointed out to my Dad, who was keen to give the door one last try, that struggle as I may with the average front door, once it is locked it will normally remain so similarly, when opened it will do the same and, save for an act of God, it will move between open and shut without engaging in small acts of rebellion.
Needless to say, the all singing all dancing door has now been officially downgraded and I have had about 8 months of stress-free living. Anyway, the hissing was coming from the bidet loo. Water was trickling out of the wash nozzle, even though the tap was off. My first thought was limescale, a big problem where I live, blocking the valve. I dutifully attacked the nozzle with a heavy duty limescale remover, but there was no improvement and loos are just about the one appliance you can’t live without. Meanwhile, my Mum had arrived to help with my household cleaning. She examined the loo, promising to send my Dad down when he arrived home from work.

I couldn’t help but think that something else going wrong with the house was a bad omen. I had a trip to London planned and I get a little sensitive when I am going travelling. I begin to imagine that these little things are a sign not to venture out. The loo was easy to fix in the end, it was just a washer, phew! Perhaps, my week would be fine after all.

Friday arrived and I had a knot in my stomach. My inner child briefly whined that London is big and scary and did we really have to go? Yes, I said, putting my foot down and dragging us both out of the door. I got on the train seamlessly, thanks to the lovely organised Virgin people in red that seemed to appear from nowhere proffering ramps. This has got to be the only way to travel. I felt my stomach begin to relax. I was on the train, there was only one stop, what could go wrong? I turned on my Daisy talking book player to make a start of, ‘The Bell Jar’ by Sylvia Plath. The machine’s automated voice informed me, “Low battery. Powering off in one minute.” Well I did ask the question. Let’s just say that I was relieved to have done the paperwork for the London meeting with my support-worker instead of trusting in technology.

Two hours on a train with nothing to do, other than to just sit back and wait for inspiration to strike. I figure it has worked for JK Rowling, then I really would be able to afford to write. I managed to grab one of the train staff as I desperately needed a cup of tea and couldn’t see any sign of the refreshment trolley. I asked for help from a passing member of staff in getting a cup of tea. This lovely young man went and got me one for no charge. This must be a week for good omens.

Adventures of a Sociologist

This week has been a productive one dare I say it. Although looking at my diary I was a little depressed to see that I had three hospital appointments within a 48 hour period. I have began wishing that health care had loyalty points like the Air Miles scheme. Seriously if it did I reckon I would probably have made it round the world by now in first class style. As it is I have to content myself with a lukewarm cup of tea and a slice of dried out toast in the cafe at the hospital.

At the moment I dread my medical interactions. My case is managed by three teams, all of whom have differing Ideas about how to manage my care and treatment. A few weeks ago we had the great, ‘Who is responsible for swabbing the pressure sores on Anika’s foot?’ I rolled up for my regular hospital review which includes any arising issues. I dutifully mentioned my sores. I had not been feeling that great and my legs were stiffer than normal even with the high doses of muscle relaxant drugs that are pumped directly into my spine. I have to concede that yes, pain does make spasticity worse.

One of the specialist nurses took a look and suggested a swab, and then had a mini debate about whose responsibility it was to do a swab of the offending wound. I thought this seemed a little petty. Inwardly I fumed, I don’t care who does it, you, the Queen or even God, whilst outwardly involved deep breathing and keeping a tenuous grasp on my cool. It seems that the swabbing process is not as simple as you might expect. The physical act is simple enough. Lightly introduce small cotton bud like implement to wound and put it in a tube and send it for testing; no big deal. The issue is, ‘Who pays?’ Apparently GPs are charged by the hospital if a swab is done there, whereas if it is done at the practice there is no extra charge. This, as one of the hospital staff pointed out, is far more economical. Also, if they didn’t swab they would not be treading on the toes of the other teams treating me. To cut a long story short, the swab got done and showed an infection. I took the required medication, (it was simple really), I am newly invigorated thanks to antibiotics and ready for a challenge.

This is just as well as I am going to the British Sociological Association’s council meeting on Friday. I started planning for this a month ago and it is only one day in London. The thing is disability, particularly mobility problems, can turn the simplest journeys into a Herculean task. I read, ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ as a child and watched Michael Palin’s 90s recreation of it many years ago as my family were glued to it. They all have a wanderlust that in adult life I have singularly failed to acquire. For me London is a positively exotic destination. When you have to book Boarding Assistance for your train a week in advance and have to arrive 30 minutes before it departs, a day out begins to feel like a package holiday. Also, if I want a specific wheelchair accessible taxi I may have to book it 14 days in advance to avoid the special school and social service transport issues that arise during rush hour. At times my days out and trips to conferences begin to resemble one of those holidays ‘On the Edge’ you see on TV.

Having made it to London, I then had to deal with the people that I met there! The taxi that was taking me from the train station to the venue, dropped me off at the wrong destination. As I looked at the high rise flats I began to question if this was a suitable venue for our meeting. Now, I am not one of those disabled people that gets ratty if you try to help them. I frequently look a little bewildered and unsure when my face is at rest, so am accustomed to Good Samaritans offering assistance. This happened on that day.

A very kind lady buzzed me into what turned out to be residential flats and not the conference centre I was expecting. We quickly established that I was in the wrong place. She was reluctant to leave me in the hallway, as this is a security risk apparently, so she grabbed my handles, pushed me down the road and advised me to wait in the reception of a children’s soft-play area two doors down from the flats and advised me to wait there until my fellow Sociologists arrived for our meeting. She then nipped over to Tesco Express to get me a cup of coffee, I took the opportunity of her leaving to come out of the soft-play area and discovered where I needed to be was only around the corner.

So if you see a 30-something in a bright orange wheelchair, looking a bit bewildered in London one day, it’s probably me. And I only drink tea!