Sunday, 27 September 2015

To Ask or Not To Ask, That is The Question...

Recently I've noticed a fair few articles have popped up online that have all been along the lines of, "What Not To Say To/Ask Someone In A Wheelchair" and has then laid out a list of verbal taboos when conversing with a gimp (Taboo No.1: Don't refer to them as a gimp!) So I dutifully read through and processed these lists, coming to the conclusion that, on the one hand, I can understand how certain topics of conversation or actions during conversation may upset or offend certain people (disabled or otherwise), but on the other hand, able-bodied people shouldn't have to feel on edge and be constantly wary of what they're saying around someone with a disability. And part of me can't help but think that reading multiple articles where you are told, "you must make eye contact at all times" and "whatever you do, don't mention their disability" are going to make people terrified of even starting a conversation with a disabled person lest they offend them and be branded a wascally wheelchair wacist by judgemental onlookers (who, for purely alliterative purposes, all talk like Elmer Fudd)! Personally, I've always been terrible at making eye contact when talking to strangers, but this has nothing to do them and everything to do with me being a somewhat socially awkward soul. And as far as not mentioning their disability or ailment goes, I'm of the firm belief that if you've gotten off on the wrong foot with someone then try and lighten the mood by throwing in a bit of humour. Hell, what's the worst that could happen?!

Joking aside, I can honestly say that, in all the years I've been in a wheelchair, I can't think of a single instance where someone has offended me with anything they've said or asked. Don't get me wrong, there are certain things that I won't *ahem* stand for, and if someone were to grab the back of my chair and start pushing me without my permission then they're liable to lose some fingers. But as far as conversation topics are concerned, anything goes really. Certain topics and questions come up on a fairly regular basis, but every now and then a curve ball is thrown in to spice things up! Children are especially entertaining to chat to, as without hesitation, they will ask the first thing that comes into their heads, often as adults look on in embarrassed horror!

So with that in mind I thought I'd create a list of my favourite insert number when finished twelve questions/utterances that have been directed towards me during my time in a chair. For the full, immersive experience, click 'Play' on the video below before continuing:

1) Do you mind if I ask/Can I ask you something?

By far the most common thing I hear when talking to someone for the first time, and it's always building up to the same follow-up question. So instead of having them wait for my permission to awkwardly ask with a sympathetic look, the inevitable "how did you end up in a wheelchair?", I now cut-out the middle man completely and just say, "car crash". Cue the other person staring in amazement, as if I'd made a deal with the devil, sacrificing leg movement for telepathy. (I totally did!)

2) What's wrong with your legs?

If the first question was the most common thing I get asked by adults, then this question is the most common thing I get asked specifically by children. What follows is me trying to explain the complex intricacies of the human spinal cord, what happens if you damage part of it and how, in fact there is nothing wrong with my legs at all, as the child nods in bemused bewilderment!

 3) How do you go to the toilet?

I was asked this a few years ago by a primary school boy and it's still the only time I've ever been asked it but it stuck in my head as I thought it was a fairly profound question. As far as that child was concerned, all guys pee standing up, but if you can't stand up then how the hell do you go?! Obviously I couldn't answer it without immediately getting hauled off by social services to sign a certain register but kudos for the astute enquiry wee man!

4) Do you sleep in your chair?

That all depends on how much I've had to drink!

5) Can you still drive? How does that work?

Pretty common questions among both children and adults which, if I'm in the car at the time, will result in me giving a little demo, revving the engine with the push/pull hand control lever, and if I'm not in the car, will result in me explaining how it works whilst poorly miming the actions!

6) Are you actually disabled then?

I got asked this corker a couple of months ago by someone in the pub, so I told them, "not really no, I'm only in this for the parking spot". You could argue that alcohol played a factor in this question, but seeing as this took place around lunchtime, it must've been one hell of an early start!

7) How fast does that thing go?

The wheelchair equivolent of pointing at someone's legs and asking, "so how fast do they go?"

8) Driving and texting, you could lose your licence! (Whilst pushing and using a mobile)

9) So who looks after you during the day?

A guy randomly asked me this stonker a few weeks ago and if it hadn't been early morning (I am not a morning person!) I probably would have burst out laughing! Instead I fell back on sarcasm and replied that, "surprisingly I manage to look after myself!" I wasn't particularly upset or annoyed, more amused at the assumption being made. The London Paralympic legacy was obviously lost on him!

10) Can you, you know, have sex?

I'm usually asked this question under hushed breath, the other person leaning in whilst gesturing downwards, as if being in a wheelchair so long had made me lose track of where my penis had got to! Yes, people in wheelchairs can have sex, although *flicks through Kama Sutra* the er...Lustful Leg and Suspended Scissors are probably out of the question!

11) Besides your wheelchair, what's the one piece of kit that you couldn't be without? 

Oh the number of times I've been asked this, and yet my answer always remains the same: "Why the multi-purpose Active Hands gripping aids of course!" *nod nod wink wink*

And finally...

12) I really admire you and/or I couldn't do what you do.

Ah this old chestnut. In truth, it's not something you really think about before it happens, "how would I cope if I was in a wheelchair?" But regardless of whether you think you'd be totally fine with it or whether you think you'd be immediately booking a one-way ticket to Switzerland, the reality is that the human body and mind have an amazing survival instinct and you will naturally, often without realising it, adapt to and overcome whatever obstacles life throws at you, no matter how insummountable they may seem from the outside. So don't admire me for living, admire me for being a snazzy dresser with razor sharp wit!


Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Shouldering The Pain

Quick anecdote before I get going today: A few days ago my computer died. Well, not so much died as coughed and spluttered before repeatedly going into cardiac arrest, which I believe in technical terms is referred to as crashing. So I bit the bullet and formatted the hard drive so I could reinstall Windows which resulted in me losing years' worth of porn everything I hadn't already backed up. But it would all be worth it in order to stop the constant computer meltdowns and subsequent spike in my blood pressure. And sure enough, after hours of rebooting and reinstalling through the night, it roared back into life and stayed that way for a good couple of hours before crashing again! Expletives were uttered. So now I find myself nervously tapping away at the keys whilst glancing up at the screen every few seconds and frantically hitting 'Save' at the end of every sentence, wondering when the next blue screen of death will strike! And as far as fixing the computer goes, apparently the next step involves removing cables and parts, in which case it'll be on with the trusty, general purpose Active Hands Grip and out with the tools! And if it still doesn't work after all that, my patience will have well and truly run out, and there will be only one thing for it: (Warning: Music accompanying video is NSFW).


Anyway, moving on. I've been in a chair now for a little over 10 years and in all that time I've never really had any issues with bodily wear and tear. Sure, I've suffered through the occasional pressure mark, UTI and dreaded stomach bug, and my waist could definitely do with being a couple of inches slimmer, but my body has held itself together remarkably well, all things considered. Until recently that is, when the first (possibly overdue) crack in the armour appeared in the form of a shooting pain in my left shoulder.

At first I thought nothing of it, that I must have just tweaked a muscle or trapped a nerve during wheelchair rugby training. But after it not only persisted for weeks, but also worsened, I decided to make an appointment with a specialist at the hospital. And after an x-ray, an ultrasound and some complimentary NHS poking and jabbing I was told that I had weakened my rotator cuff and had some fluid trapped in a bursar up there which was the cause of the pain I was feeling. I was put on a waiting list for an anti-inflammatory injection, given some gentle exercises to help strengthen the area and told to rest my shoulder as much as possible. And therein lies the issue...

If I'd been told this BC (before crippling) then it would've been a simple case of laying off the football, badminton and any other arm-related exercises (minds out of the gutter!) for a few weeks whilst it healed. But being spinally injured, especially at an independent, quadriplegic level, means that you rely on your shoulders and use them more than any other part of your body, so resting them completely isn't really an option. Your legs are made for constant use and weight bearing, hence the thickness of the bones and size of the muscles, your arms and shoulders are not (this is about as anatomically in-depth as I get). The basic actions and movements required to get out of bed, get washed and get dressed on a morning are enough to put your shoulders under some serious strain, and that's before you even start pushing your chair about and transferring in and out of vehicles! The only thing you can do, bar shipping in carers, a hoist and an electric wheelchair, is cut back on any sporting activities you do and hope that's enough.

So I took a few weeks off training, only going on the gym handbike once or twice a week at a low level of resistance, and did my daily shoulder exercises. I don't know if this weakened rotator cuff is completely fixable or whether the exercises and injections are simply going to be quick fixes and this is something I'm now stuck with. I guess only time will tell. My real fear is that this is the start of gradual deterioration in my shoulder which will eventually lead to loss of strength and ability. As someone who went from lying in a hospital bed, relying on people to wash, dress and feed him, to someone who lives almost completely independently (I never have and probably never will be able to get to grips with ironing clothes!), I think my biggest fear would be going back to being dependent on others, and I'm sure I can't be the only one who feels like this. I'm aware that eventually I probably will lose some strength and ability, and I may need to accept more help at that point, as many able-bodied people do as they advance in years. But I'm hoping I can delay that as long as possible, at least until my hair has started greying, a substantial number of wrinkles have formed and a couple of marbles have rolled out of the bag!

I do think that whatever happens though, it's important to remain positive throughout. I would like to think that with a strategically placed injection or two, coupled with continued exercises, my shoulder will be pain free and back to full working order in a month or so. But if the worst comes to the worst and it continues to deteriorate, well I'll just have to adapt to the situation. Hell, it's not like I (and countless others) haven't adapted to a heck of a lot worse! If you've suffered a spinal cord or similarly life changing injury, battled through the hard times and come out stronger on the other side, then you can pretty much handle anything life has to throw at you.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to pop some ibuprofen, get the side of this computer off and start poking around with terrified confusion akin to a binman carrying out open heart surgery!