Friday, 20 May 2016

Stumbles and Tumbles and Broken Bone Grumbles

Accidents happen. It's an inescapable fact and an unavoidable truth. It's not something you grow out of or learn to avoid. They will happen to you no matter who you are, no matter how much money you have and no matter what your level of ability or disability is. My injury means that I don't have the best grip in the world, and every now and then this results in a plate or bowl slipping out of my hand and smashing on the floor, going Greek as it were. Although I challenge anyone to go through life without accidentally breaking the equivolent of an entire dinner set's worth of crockery! Thankfully 9 times out of 10 what I drop is empty, however dropping a plate with an entire cooked pizza face-first, and having a jar of bolognese sauce tumble and explode onto the floor like a skydiver without a parachute, are experiences not easily forgotten! And the clean-up, dear god, don't get me started on the clean-up...

Come Dine With Me: Quadriplegic Special!
The accidents that truly separate the walkers from the wheelers however, are the ones that involve a physical impact. A young person walking in a field trips over, loses their footing and collapses in a heap; they immediately spring back up, check around to make sure no one was watching, maybe try and act cool like it was all part of an elaborate in-joke, and then be on their merry way again. Any nearby onlookers have a quick giggle to themselves and think nothing more of it. A wheelchair user hits an uneven bit of paving, their chair jolts to a halt and they're sent tumbling forwards into a heap on the floor, and it's a very different matter. There's no instantaneous chair remounting, not when your legs don't work. Instead you have to roll around and sit yourself up, then make sure you're all in one piece before using your arms to half lift/half drag yourself back to where you abandoned chair! Then it's a question of making sure your chair is upright and in one piece before contemplating how exactly you're going to get back into it. Meanwhile, a unified and audible gasp is let out by everyone within a 100 metre radius and soon a three-deep throng of concerned bystanders has encircled you and what started as merely a caster clipping a paving stone has quickly become Operation: Tip-a-Crip!

Personally, when this kind of thing happens (and it happens to the best of us), I'd much rather people crowded round me en masse than pretended I wasn't there and carried on about their business. Sure, I don't always need help when it's offered and it can be a little galling when it's given against my wishes. "Do you need a hand? Because whether you like it or not, you're getting one!" But I'm grateful to live in a society where strangers care enough about me each other to stop what they're doing and offer to help, because as monumentally embarrassing as the situation may be, the fact of the matter is simple: If people don't help then I don't get up! And it's safe to say I've taken part in my fair share of impromptu floor dives!

One such occurence took place just over four years ago on the way to the pub, when, for reasons I still can't quite grasp, I decided to put my backwheel balancing to the test and attempted to bump my way down three large, concrete steps just along from where I live. A sane person who valued their life would doubtless have tested this ability on something softer first, and with friends around to help in case it went awry. But not I, Gareth Death or Glory Herridge! It was concrete or bust! And moments later, it was my head that was bust, as I lay at the bottom of the steps, a warm liquid running down my face (steady!). Neighbours were beckoned, an ambulance was called and I was ferried to hospital to get myself glued back together.

When I tell my friends how I got the scar...
Another incident took place a couple of years ago as I was, once again, making my way to the pub (starting to notice a pattern yet?). This time however, I had rather courageously managed to make it slightly further than my own street and was cruising down the pavement at a leisurely pace, the high street beckoning. I came to a slightly uneven driveway with dropped kerbs, so slowed down and carefully manoeuvred my chair to the other side. It was at this point, whilst I was travelling at literally no speed at all, that one of my casters clipped the world's tiniest pothole, inexplicably causing me to tumble to the ground with enough drama to put a Premier League footballer to shame!


This time the driver of a car instantly pulled over and, along with another chap who was out walking his greyhound, helped me back into my chair, as I tried desperately to avoid making eye contact with the occupants of the other cars that were rumbling by, faces pressed up against the windows. Now you may have wondered why exactly I felt the need to establish what breed of dog the second man was walking? Well this was because, as we all know, greyhounds aren't exactly known as the most sluggish dogs in the world. These things can move! And unfortunately, as the dog's owner helped me off the floor, he had let go of its leash, and no sooner was I back in my chair than, like a bolt of lightning, the dog was off! Cue the owner sprinting after it whilst frantically yelling its name, as the dog shot round the corner and out of sight. Exit, pursued by a man. As bizarrely comic as this final scene was, I did feel a little guilty and sincerely hope he managed to catch-up to the dog! I'd hate to think the whole thing has made him regret being the Good Samaritan that he was.

The most recent calamity however, and the one that inspired this blog entry, happened only about 6 weeks ago and, in a shocking twist of events, actually occurred as I was on the way back from the pub! Now I know what you're all thinking: Alcohol + wheelchair - core stability = catastrophe of my own doing. And occasionally it does, but nowhere near as often as you may think. Also, before I lose all symathy here, I should point out that on this particular evening in question, I was behaving myself and had only gone out for a few social pints in the evening, so when I left the pub at around 10pm I was by no means the shambolic, rolling wreck I have been in the past! Plus I'd done the sensible thing and, instead of doing the 45 minute uphill push home, had jumped into a taxi and been dropped off in the car park a mere 50 metres from where I lived. What could possibly go wrong?!

Quite a lot as it would happen!

I failed to notice that my chair wasn't close enough to the taxi door when I transfered out. This lead to me briefly teetering on the edge of my seat, before pulling myself backwards onto it, causing my cushion to runkle up behind me in the process, and leaving me somewhat less than ideally sat. Once the taxi had left, I made my unstable way down the bank, towards the path that leads to my flat. So far, so good. However, linking the sloping bank to the footpath is a rather unforgiving (and at that time, mud spattered) dropped kerb that sits at an awkward angle, is fairly worn and as such has several differing gradients, meaning a brief backwheel balance is required to get the casters over the lip of the kerb and onto the path. Unfortunately, due to my unbalanced seating position, I didn't feel comfortable enough tipping my chair back and instead decided to simply use brute force to push my casters over the lip of the kerb and onto the path.

Monumental error!

As soon as my casters were on the lip and I pushed forward to get them onto the next bit of gradient, they spun sideways, causing my entire chair to whirl to the right. My left caster rode up the kerb and then bumped off it, jolting me forwards so that my chest was now resting on my thighs, my head was between my knees and I was facing down the bank (stop laughing). And then the unthinkable happened...

My chair began to move!

Not just a little. It began to roll; down the bank; picking up speed, and there was no realistic way I could see of halting it (I said, stop laughing)!

Like this, but with poise and grace being replaced by uncoordinated terror!


I knew full well how this ride was going to end; with me in a heap on the floor. I just prayed for it to be an unscathed heap. The concrete kerb I was veering towards at some speed, sadly had other ideas and beckoned my right caster towards it, clipping it and causing my face to bury itself into a mixture of kerb and road from almost point blank range!

Game over man, game over!

Blood quite literally exploded from my nose and continued to pour out at a somewhat alarming rate, as I lifted my head up, slightly groggy from the impact. Moments later a neighbour from across the street, who had been standing outside her front door at the time of my face plant, came rushing over with her young child. After establishing I wasn't dead but was still in need of medical attention, she phoned an ambulance as the little boy, rather than being scarred for life by all the blood, decided to chat to me about what had happened and why I was in a wheelchair, perhaps seeing some potential correlation! A few more neighbours from various houses on the street came over to check I was okay and soon there was a nice, little welcome party waiting for the ambulance to arrive from the nearby hospital. And it did arrive, three hours later!!

Three hours slumped at the side of the road, nose blooded and swollen, feeling sorry for myself as I tentatively dabbed my tender nostrils with a tissue to try and ease the thick flow of fluid (I apologise to anyone who's eating whilst reading this)! And do you know what? Pretty much every single one of those neighbours stayed out with me the entire time! As the temperature dropped and Saturday became Sunday, one of them brought me out a cushion and blanket to wrap round myself and keep warm, and another was on the phone chasing up the mythical ambulance. They stayed outside with me until 1:30am when the ambulance finally arrived (from mainland Europe I can only assume!) and the paramedics scraped me off the ground, tossed me in the back and carted me off to hospital, cleaning my face up en route so I looked slightly less like a member of an underground bareknuckle boxing ring!

The 1st rule of Disabled Fight Club is, you do not walk about Disabled Fight Club!
Anyway, to cut a long story short, once at the hospital, I was poked and prodded by various doctors and nurses of the highest calibre, given an MRI scan and found out I had, unsurprisingly, broken my nose. Fast forward to the present; the swelling and pain have mostly dissipated thankfully, although my nose is still slightly skew-whiff and in need of rhinoplasty (which I'm sure many people would agree was the case even before I broke it)!

So there you have it: a brief rundown of some, but by no means all, of the embarrassing tumbles I've taken and the overwhelmingly helpful response I've received every single time from strangers who didn't have to go out of their way to help and could just as easily have kept on walking, armed with a comical anecdote to tell their friends. And besides the odd scuff, scrape and broken nose, it's mostly just a case of injured pride more than anything else. I'm sure I'm not the only one who doesn't like to admit when they need help (I'm a man dammit!), and if it's not needed then I'll politely decline. But in those few instances where help is genuinely necessary to make life a hell of a lot easier, then you can bet I'm bloody grateful to be offered it! I mean, what's the alternative? Lying there star-fished, grinning like an idiot whilst trying to look cool?! You wouldn't catch me doing that, no sir!


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