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Wheelchair woes

October 23, 2015 1 comment

I think it’s Disability Awareness Month in the States. Or somewhere. And there’s a Disability History Month UK coming up in November and anyway, I’ve been ruminating on various things I learnt during the summer of 2015 courtesy of a broken ankle and 10 weeks of not being able to walk.

mel in wheelchair

Wheelchair plus Pimms. One of the better moments.

Before anyone gets offended, these are examples of behaviours but by no means what everyone does. Luckily, for every person who doesn’t notice/care, there is usually at least one other who goes out of their way to be kind and make allowances. I’ve been treated amazingly by family and friends, and thanks to the joy of the NHS with very little expense on my part, so this is not a rant – more a way for me to capture some ways that we could all make life a little easier for those around us.
I’m hyper aware that these words describe only *my* personal experiences of only one particular kind of temporary disability-I only hope that this small epiphany makes me more able to understand and help the countless people who have much larger challenges that, unlike me, they may never escape.

  1. Not being able to use your legs doesn’t mean your brain stops working. Suddenly finding that people talk to you like a child – or worse, not at all – is extremely disconcerting, and sometimes insulting. Sitting in a wheelchair also puts your head at a lower level than most other people, so do try to bend down to talk if you can, rather than look down and contribute to them feeling even more rubbish.
  2. Using mobility aids often means losing the use of your arms too. Crutches need both hands, wheelchairs need wheeling along, knee scooters and the like all need other parts of the body to make more effort to make up for the one you’ve lost the use of. This means that getting anywhere, and especially carrying things is frankly, an utter shag. Having to hang things around your neck, constantly carry a rucksack just for your phone and keys, realising that a small oversight of leaving one thing upstairs could result in a 20 minute sweaty journey to get back there to collect it. Even making a cup of tea means planning where to put the cup, how to get the hot kettle & milk to the cup from opposite sides of the kitchen and how/if to bother trying to get the steaming cup back to the chair you want to sit in as opposed to just drinking it where you made it next to the kettle.
  3. Wheelchairs can’t go down steps. No shit I hear you say, but when you’ve finally managed to drag yourself out of the house and you’re feeling chuffed wheeling along the pavement and find that the one place people park their cars/stop to natter/put their rubbish out is by the dropped kerb which is the ONLY place you can cross the road without wheeling into moving traffic at a level lower than car drivers can see you, it is f***ing infuriating.
  4. Constantly having to ask for help is psychologically diminishing, so if you spot something before they have to ask-just do it, wink and smile, don’t wait for them to speak up
  5. Everything needs planning part 1: Going to the bathroom from the bedroom in the morning – is there anything in the way that I’ll catch the crutches on, is the floor slippery, do I need my cast cover for the shower, does the loo roll need filling up, are there enough tampax in there… Every potential forgotten item is a long double trek back to where you started.
  6. Everything needs planning part 2: Going out for the day-who is driving, is there room in the car for crutches/ wheelchair/ scooter, where will you park and can you use disabled bays even though you’re not permanently disabled. If you can’t, how will you get out of the car without bending your leg? Is the venue wheelchair friendly, are the paths gravel (Gravel. Bastard). Is there a disabled loo or have they locked it permanently because people trash it, or do they use it for storage of kitchen items? Can you get to the disabled loo past the stacked highchairs? If you get in, can you get back out again without opening the door or reversing over a small child who’s escaped their parents. Is the person you’re with patient enough to navigate this shit for you and not resent you for it, and are they strong enough to push you and your chair up a hill if that’s the only way to get somewhere.
  7. Sitting in a wheelchair, being in pain, worrying if you’ll ever walk normally again, being constantly challenged by every day tasks is mentally, psychologically and physically exhausting. The person may be smiling when you see them; but you are not seeing the hours of tears, hundreds of painkillers, hearing the swearing and frustration, or counting the times they’ve actually wondered whether it’s worth going on at all.
  8. You’re also not seeing the enormous amount of extra effort their nearest and dearest are having to make, or how awful it is to watch the person you love go through all of this.

Pop in and see them, but be sure to make your own cup of tea. Offer to grab things from the shops while you’re there. Don’t assume that once the patient is at home that things will get back to normal. They may never be the same again, or at least for a long while-the impact is both mental and physical, and may linger in ways you hadn’t imagined – for the patient and also their families.

Categories: Disability, Exercise, Health Tags: , ,

Melanie Melons. *sigh*

December 22, 2011 Leave a comment

So this is a bit of a weird one, and I guess the only reason I’ve started to think about it is that now I have a daughter I’m hyper aware of the smug/judgemental/scaremongering (delete as you see fit) media coverage that says that Eleanor is doomed to have the same physiology as me, which means, poor lass, that she’ll probably end up on the lardy side but at least she’ll have huge boobs.

The general assumption seems to be that having big boobs is a good thing, although given the media representation of larger ladies you’d be forgiven for thinking that we’re actually just an adolescent joke.

Barbara Windsor in Carry On Camping - clearly being appreciated solely for her acting talent

One of my clients a few years ago in the online agency world was a cosmetic surgery company, and breast enlargement was definitely their biggest seller. We had to be *very* careful which search terms their ads came up against (it’s a XXX minefield out there) but once you’d filtered out the porn element, what remained were lots of women who seriously thought spending £4K on bigger boobs would solve their personal and emotional issues. Now I don’t have a problem with cosmetic surgery per-se – frankly if I thought I could throw money at my excess 4 stone and it would magically disappear, I’d probably do it, but sadly liposuction doesn’t work for this level of excess so I have to face it that it’s my lifestyle/level of exercise I need to change, if I want to permanently look different.

Poo.

I did once go and ask for a professional opinion on having a boob reduction, on the basis that if I didn’t have the boobs it’d be easier to do more exercise, which would make the rest of the weight easier to get rid of. It was then that I was made aware of just how horrific a procedure it is – involving cutting the nipples off totally and re-stitching them further up the remaining boobage.  Makes me shudder.

I decided not to go ahead partly due to the ikk factor, and partly because if I’m going to be overweight, I’d prefer to *also* have big boobs, rather than being overweight with no boobs at all, and this has been my general thought process about boobs since they arrived. I say arrived because that’s how it felt – through no fault/with no input from me at all, they just happened, and changed the way that people have perceived me ever since.

There was no guarantee boobs were going to happen – my mum’s a size 8, and in fact I spent a good year of my pre-pubescent life desperately wanting boobs, and borrowing one of my friend’s trainer bras, putting carefully-arranged socks in them & thinking nobody noticed how daft I must have looked.

And then puberty struck, and within weeks they started to grow… and grow. It got to the point where I thought it was normal to change bra size every couple of months. After a few months I thought “Great, that’s enough now, you can stop”, but they just kept growing.

Jessica Rabbit - another serious actress

By the age of 14 I was getting giggling sixth form boys coming up & brazenly telling me they’d had a vote and decided that I had the biggest tits in the school… and being groped regularly… and compared to Sam Fox…  and being told (seriously) that I should consider a career in topless modelling, even though I was a total nerdy swot, in the top set for everything, planning to go to university, considering either medicine or law (my how things changed later, but that was the flush of youth).

Being called Melanie didn’t help with the annoying alliterative nicknames either.

If this sounds a bit moany, then that’s because it really can be a pain. Don’t get me wrong, I am not undervaluing the benefits of gaining attention from the opposite sex, and me and my boobs have had some great fun over the years, but the problem is just that well, they’re just always there.

They get in the way, sports are a logistical/gravity defying nightmare; clothes either hang so wide that I look like I’m wearing a tent, don’t fasten and need safety pins/a vest underneath or sometimes just make me look like a whore. It’s hard to look efficient and businesslike when you have these bloody things in the way all the time, and nomatter how much you and other people studiously avoid the issue, there are *always* moments when you catch people having a quick look, which is unnerving, and undermining when you’re trying to have a serious conversation.

Dolly Parton. Millionnairess, successful singer songwriter. but it's all about the tits.

Even breastfeeding, which is what they’re bloody well *meant for*, was harder for me because I had to hold my boob *and* the baby, there was no way of doing it discreetly like these lucky mini-boob ladies who pop the baby against their chest and you don’t even see the boob. For me once they’d been released from their (ugly and unsupportive) non-wired feeding bra, you couldn’t avoid the associated acre of boob flesh nomatter where you tried to put your eyes.

So what’s the answer then?

They’re a mahoosive faff, but I don’t want to get them removed as it’s too icky.

Removable boobs, perhaps? or is that taking us back in a circle to comedy boobs again?

The token fat bird

June 19, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s been ages since I last blogged, mainly because I started a new job, which has been harder and longer work than I’ve ever done. It’s also involved a better salary than I’ve ever had before so I’m not complaining, but it’s been a logistical juggling act juggling long hours & stress, trying to see Eleanor before she goes to bed and also keeping a modicum of social life going on.

One thing that I’m super pleased that I’ve managed to squeeze in in the last couple of months is training for a “fun” triathlon, which I completed today. Most of you, like me, may wonder how the words “fun” and “triathlon” get to co-exist in the same sentence (never mind day), but the concept comes from the fact that it’s much shorter than a usual triathlon, and is meant to be a (relatively) easy introduction to the concept.

I only signed up to this by accident (ie: when pissed). A couple of friends were planning to do it together, and then one of them landed a new job in Qatar (about which I’m sure we’ll all learn more when we do our first trip); and since she’d signed up to swim/bike/run in aid of Cancer Research, and I’m a sucker for cancer causes, I felt like I had to step in to make sure the charity didn’t lose out.

So, the concept was 200m swim (8 lengths of a 25m pool – not too bad I thought), a 12.5K bike ride (longer than I would normally do but dealable with) topped off with a 2.5K run. Each of them I figured was do-able (the biggest worry being the run), so it was just a case of doing some training and going for it, right?

Me & Lorraine before we got too sweaty & hecticNot really. 8 weeks of 6am runs 3 x per week, plus a bike ride at the weekend, and I thought I was getting close, but my experience today involved being overtaken during every leg (even in the 7 minutes I spent in the pool), being the only person with seemingly more than an ounce or two of body fat, and (results pending) being probably the last person in the entire fun run to finish.

The weird thing is, I actually enjoyed it, and when people say that exercise is addictive, they’re not wrong. I’m already determined to enter next year, beat my time and raise more money.

If all this makes you want to donate a few quid on my justgiving page http://www.justgiving.com/Melanie-Mack0 then feel free.

Thanks & toodle pip.

Breaking the chain part 1

September 15, 2010 Leave a comment
Mel aged 5, Eleanor aged 2.5

Me aged 5, and Eleanor aged 2.5

This post  will no doubt be the start of a series of thoughts about the issues of food, exercise and weight management, and how to ensure I do the best for my daughter, in the face of worryingly body conscious early “tweens” , and the undoubted risk of the diseases of affluence such as heart disease that being unfit can only exacerbate.

For a bit of context, I’ve struggled with my weight for my entire adult life. I wasn’t a fat child – probably average, but remember starting to be body aware at around age 10, and already felt somehow less worthy than the very sporty/lucky girls in the class who could wear stretched jeans without a thought (it was the 80s… *cringe*). I was a pretty active kid, doing dance classes twice a week, enthusiastically swimming at weekends, and was on the school hockey team, and in retrospect all this probably staved off for a few years the creeping weight gain that began properly in my university years. Not surprisingly this coincided with a much increased intake of both alcohol and cheap unhealthy food, and a near total absence of exercise.

I’m certainly not blind to the old formula of food in – exercise = weight gain, and have twice over the last ten years lost around 3 stone, from a combination of reduced intake, portion control and getting off my bum more. This has taken monumental self control over several months at a time, and I’ve been incredibly proud of myself during the process, and while the effects last…
The weight loss industry isn’t as profitable as it is by accident, however, and as seems the usual rule, I have always gradually put the weight back on. Sadly it seems that my natural state is not to remain easily slim. I will battle on, and I’m sure I’ll lose more again, but in the meantime my priority has to be to prevent Eleanor from repeating the same destructive pattern.

As with most things once kids are involved, there are many different opinions on how to feed children, whilst hopefully avoiding the dreaded O word (obesity, in case you weren’t up to speed with the new social evil).

A lot of people still seem to think that the “We bore no truck with fussiness, so my kids eat anything” route is the way forward, and that’s what my parents did with both me and my brother. I can understand the horror of waste instilled in them from their war years parents, but for me it certainly wasn’t a successful strategy.
My brother now eats anything, and always did, so it didn’t change him in the slightest. As for me, I am still repulsed by the majority of the things I hated as a child, and we all had to suffer endless hours of tears and tantrums, throwing food on the floor etc as I was forced to try/not allowed to leave the room until I’d eaten things that physically made me gag.
Those things are almost entirely foods that although I like the flavour of (bananas/ tomatoes, peaches) the texture just makes me gag and I can’t keep them down.
It may be churlish to bring up my own constant yo-yo dieting and daliances with bulimia, but I can’t see a way that creating negative associations with food is ever going to have a healthy result.

Now Eleanor’s a toddler, and sadly past the early weaning “eat anything mushy I give her” stage. Currently I give her a selection of relatively healthy items to choose from at mealtimes, and throw away what she doesn’t want. Yes there’s food wastage, but her intake is balanced over the day and she does try different things of her own volition at different times and if not forced.

I just hope I can begin to break the chain. I know this is only the start.

Two wheels good?

August 22, 2010 1 comment

I write this in my third week of using the new London hire bikes, and must say I’m hugely impressed.

Trying to get rid of the post baby fat hasn’t been easy due to mad timing schedules whilst commuting and working, so this seems like a great way to fit the exercise around a trip I have to do anyway.

For those who haven’t given them a go yet, this is the scoop:

  • At the moment it’s open to “Pioneer” (beta) members – anyone over 18 who has a UK registered credit card and an address to receive the key fobs can register, but it’s worth remembering that it’s still the trial period so a little patience is needed – it’s not perfect yet.
  • Members pay for three things:
  1. £3 deposit for the key fob (like you do for an oyster card)
  2. Access fee. This ranges from £1/day, to £5/week or £45/year. These can be set to automatically refresh, so what I did before I was convinced I’d use it that much was sign up for the £1/day membership on auto renew. The 24 hours starts when you first put your fob in the cycle dock. I’ve now used it so much that I’ve upgraded to annual membership already.
  3. Hire charge: This is free for the first 30 minutes, and you’ll find that this is more than adequate most inner London rides. £1 for 30 mins-an hour, then £4 for up to an hour and a half. They’re clearly setting the charges like this purposely to encourage short hops rather than longer journeys/stops on the way, and I haven’t had to pay a hire charge yet.
  • Once you’ve paid the deposit & access fee, you can use the bike as many times as you like within that period, so if you do three journeys in a day, each 30 mins or less, they’re still all free of hire fees, so all you pay is your access fee of £1 (or equivalent of less if you’ve signed up for a week/year).
  • In a few weeks/once issues have been ironed out it’ll be open to casual members; who will be able to swipe their credit card at the docking station.
  • There are loads of docking stations around central London, although there seems to be a huge gap around Covent Garden. It seems that the locals have dreamt up ridiculous nimby-ish excuses for not wanting the docks nearby, but I’m hoping this will change.
  • There are no locks or helmets provided, so you need to take a helmet with you if you want to wear one, and make sure you dock the bike in a docking station rather than leave it somewhere while you have a coffee.
  • If you’re not a confident London rider then take your time planning your route and stay on back roads. There are tons of them and it’s actually really pleasant to discover lots of lovely leafy Georgian squares and residential streets, 2 mins from a heaving multitude.
  • Free maps of docking stations can be found here.
  • There’s also a free iPhone app, which shows you where the docking stations are, but also how many are full/free in realtime.
  • If you arrive at a docking station and there are no bikes left, or no docking stations free to park your bike, you can find out the closest other docking stations on the info screen on the dock. If you arrive and can’t dock your bike your access period is also extended by 15 mins so that you’re not paying extra because you couldn’t find a dock in time.
  • Until the usage trends and logistics are learned and understood, there will inevitably be docks near train stations emptying with commuters, and those near offices filling up to bursting, meaning bikes won’t always be where they’re wanted at any one time. There are little lorries with trailers going around the docks specifically to redistribute them as necessary, but it’s going to take some time until they have it totally smooth.

I’m chuffed to bits – have done loads more exercise, turned up quicker (if a bit sweaty) to most appointments and enjoyed the process rather than cursing on the tube.

Give it a try!