Twitter told me over breakfast this morning that it is International Wheelchair Day and immediately my little blogging antennae began to twitch. My experience is short compared to others, and hopefully temporary, but in the last few months we, being my OH, other volunteer 'pushers' and myself, have learned a thing or two. So, in no particular order, and because I want to be quick with this post, just as they come tumbling out of my mind here are a few random thoughts on the subject of 'the wheelchair'.
- We were incredibly lucky to have been loaned this deluxe model by a client friend of my OH. The piece of black fabric draped over one of the handles is what I call the 'granny blanket', because ..
- .. whilst I swore that I would never, ever sit in it with a rug over my knees, I had to admit defeat and swallow my vain pride when I discovered how jolly chilly it can be sitting outside a shop in the snow with one's toes poking out of the plaster cast.
- My grateful appreciation of the lightness and folding nature of the chair itself. It has been a godsend to put in and out of the car, and wonderful to tuck into small spaces in restaurants.
- Then the question of Dropped Kerbs - the lack of them and the blocking of them. All of a sudden the discovery of a handy dropped kerb can be as exciting as the sight of an icecream van to a child. And when this is all over and the blissful day comes when I am allowed to drive again, I vow to try to never ever ever block a dropped kerb with my car - even for a single minute - especially when it is piddling with rain and freezing cold.
- Then Wheelchair Access - something which most fair-minded folk would agree with in theory but, unless a provider or a user of such 'access', might not have come up against in practice. Selfishly I had never noticed steps into shops, whether restaurants had lifts or the toilets were on the ground floor, or, even worse, ever got up to hold the door for a wheelchair user to pass through. But I will now - or I will when I can. And a huge thank you to all those who have opened doors and fetched ramps, - to the young men who even bodily carried me down a few steps in the wheelchair with great hilarity - and to all who have been smiley, sympathetic and encouraging wherever we have been.
- No thanks however to the few who have been quite incredibly grumpy and totally unsympathetic. Those who totally ignore your presence, seemingly wilfully stand in your way and then tut or sigh loudly when asked to 'please excuse us!'
- And another vote of no thanks to the member of staff from Sainsburys who, when asked where we could find a suitable trolley to use with the wheelchair, just grunted and gave a non commital shrug vaguely in the direction of what seemed to be the one and only available, but nonetheless totally unsuitable, trolley. Which brings me to
- Supermarket shopping in the wheelchair which was such a ghastly experience that once was definitely enough. Admittedly it was our Christmas shop and therefore destined to be a tad fraught in any case, but it had to rate as one of my worst wheelchair ordeals yet. The method of propulsion for the above trolley was by means of my hands. So picture if you can this scene. It is the early evening just a few nights before Christmas and one quite tired and fairly grumpy husband pushes an equally tired, but much more grumpy and also injured wife sitting in a wheelchair who, balancing her handbag and shopping bags on her lap is, in turn, pushing in front of the wheelchair a cumbersome and unweildy, square shopping trolley that is about level with her eyebrows. And with the lack of communication that commonly occurs between two grumpy people, when they go round the first corner the wheelchair goes in one direction and the trolley completely the opposite. Result - pulled shoulder muscles, near litigation between grumpy people and other customers, and possible expulsion of grumpy couple from the premises. So to all Supermarkets better, more user friendly wheelchair shopping trolleys please?
- Some friendly advice to 'pushers' - especially if your passenger has no independent control over her wheelchair and has already been nicknamed 'Nervous Nelly':
- please don't exceed the speed limit - at least not by too much
- please don't do 'wheelies' when going round corners - or keep going within a centimetre of the kerb edge
- please do avoid mowing down small children - and getting tied up with tiny dogs on leads
- please don't stand for too long right next to the exhaust pipe of an idling bus, or car, lorry or other smelly vehicle come to that
- please do keep a look out for pavement pot holes, Nervous Nelly is not keen on sudden and involuntary ejection
- please do continue to park me next to children in pushchairs - I love that bit
- please continue to make huge allowances for injured or disabled passengers who are liable to be a bit cranky at times
10 Finally, for now - although I am sure many more thoughts will come to me after I have hit 'publish' - I am not at all sure whether the mirrors in store lifts do any favours to ladies in wheelchairs :)