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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: , ,

My thank you letter sent to the local NHS

July 9, 2015 Leave a comment

Hi there
I’d just like to say a massive thank you to Watford General, West Herts NHS, your A&E teams, orthopaedic surgeons, GPs, paramedics, ward nurses, radiologists, fracture clinic staff, physiotherapists, porters, cleaners and support staff for taking care of me over the last few weeks.
I fell badly and broke my ankle a few weeks ago, and my treatment has been efficient, friendly, effective (and free at the point of delivery, yay) and I have been treated with respect and dignity throughout.
I’ve never broken anything before, and the only times I’ve visited hospital for myself has been to be born and to give birth. Prior to the last few weeks I had little need and only a vague conceptual appreciation of the vast and complex workings involved in looking after a population’s health.
All I can now say is well done and thank you all.
I was relieved of pain, transported to A&E, seen within what seemed like barely any time, diagnosed, operated on the next day and looked after on the ward with the utmost of care and attention, and despatched home another day later with a plaster cast and a care plan (and seen again by an out of hours plus my own GP when I developed a possibly unrelated allergic reaction that made living with the plaster unbearable.)
Everyone has been welcoming and caring. Everyone has listened to me when I was in tears from pain, high on painkillers or frustrated by itching and immobility.
And everyone has wanted and helped me to get better.
It’s not over yet but I just wanted to express my heartfelt thanks for all that you and all the staff do all day. Ignore the papers. Ignore the politicians. The real people who need and use your services think you’re brilliant.

Please feel free to share this with the hospital, the trust and the NHS community in general. You rock.

Melanie Mack
Watford

Categories: Health, Watford Tags: ,

Race, jog, walk… but do it for Life

August 3, 2010 1 comment

Each summer since 2005 (and once before that) I’ve sent around begging emails, asking for sponsorship for running or walking Cancer Research’s Race for Life. We all get a lot of sponsorship requests and it’s easy to succumb to charity fatigue, so I’m sorry to add to it further – this post is an unashamed reminder that you can still sponsor me for this year’s effort, and to say thanks to those that already did. You can still donate here until the 14th August 2010, and if you miss this year, keep an eye out for next year as I *will* be doing it again..

2010 was my 5th Race for Life.

Clive and David in 2004

Clive and David in 2004

My plan is to walk or run the Race for Life every year to remember Clive, our best man, who died in October 2005. He was 34 years old, and is survived by Marianne, and their son David, who was 2 when he lost his dad. Now that I have a daughter myself there is an added poignancy to this story. It’s hard to lose one of your best friends, but knowing the relationship me & Jules already have with Eleanor, who is now 2, I cannot bear to think of the impact it would have on her to lose either of us at this stage. I’m also deeply sad that she never got to meet her dad’s best friend, or he to meet her.

Since Clive’s death my lovely friend Kay has been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after years of chemo and pain has now thankfully been given the all clear.

This is by no means unusual – I am forever hearing stories about other people’s loved ones who are suffering or losing their battle. Individual battles rage on, and the war is far from over.

So far I’ve run around Blackheath twice, and walked Blackheath, Regent’s Park and Cassiobury Park, Watford. (I missed 2008 as I’d just given birth, but I don’t think I’m doing too badly so far..)

Including 2010 so far I’ve raised £2,594 in donations (including Gift Aid), plus my entry fees, and if this post raises just another £20 it’ll still be worth it.

Roll of honour:
2006 http://www.raceforlifesponsorme.org/melanieclark
2007 http://www.raceforlifesponsorme.org/melanieclark2007
2009 http://www.raceforlifesponsorme.org/melaniemack
2010 http://www.raceforlifesponsorme.org/melaniemack2010

Thank you for reading, and caring.

M
x

Tuesday is the new Friday

July 6, 2010 2 comments

I write whilst waiting for my bottle of dww (dry white wine for the uninitiated) and large bottle of sparkling water to arrive at the table, and pondering on the events that led to Tuesdays being my favourite night of the week.

5 years ago I was in my 12th year of living and working in London, and had realised that working in the online media industry, with it’s attendant parties and indulgences was not doing my health any good. Add to this the long drawn out and painful death of our best man, Clive, from bowel cancer (a family tendency, it now seems, but exacerbated by a diet consisting almost exclusively of steak and lager) and it was obvious that I too was on a one way route to health destruction.

Given that I have the self control of a very persuadable gnat, I knew that I’d never stop drinking or eating as much without some kind of excuse, so through a series of tenuous and not very financially astute reasons, I came to the answer- a Vespa ET4, 125cc.

With visions of slim Italian girls in Capri pants, touches of Motown cool and the promise of free parking and no congestion charge, the deal was done.
Interest free credit – check
35 mins to work (compared to an hour on the train) – check
£70/month payments (less than travelcard) – check

Apart from all the above reasons, I also had a cunning plan- if I was driving the scooter, I couldn’t drink! Therefore, I would stop going out, “for one drink” and rolling in singing show tunes at midnight after a £50 cab ride home. Saving money, my health and probably my marriage at the same time.

Bonus.

It worked for a while (subject to a few “sod the scooter I’ll pick it up tomorrow”s ), only became a real handicap when I got pregnant (now there’s an excuse if you’re looking for one) and suddenly realised that the bravado of “they’re all arseholes” could easily mean that my unborn child died and a whole world of fear was unleashed.

Fear of death for someone else’s sake is a great leveller for health and safety.

Fast forward two years and being a mum of a toddler continues to be the best way to stop yourself drinking too much. Quite apart from the fact that facing a loud and energetic 2 year old with a hangover is a huge disincentive, there’s also the logistics of going out in town, when there’s a nursery pick up to do and/or babysitting to organise.

Happily a compromise is possible because both Jules and I are working 4 days a week, and on his day with Eleanor (Tuesdays) I take full advantage of not having to do nursery pick up by quaffing far too much wine with the lovely Anya, and occasional others. Once a week is perfect – I feel like I’m still having an active social life, can stumble around my old Soho/Covent Garden haunts but still have the rest of the week to (apparently) be healthy.

You can guarantee that Wednesday mornings are always my worst time of the week though. Serves me right.