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  • Writer's pictureClaire

11. Trying to become normal ...

Updated: Nov 25, 2023

I just wanted to be how I used to be.. Eventually I accepted, that version of me had gone so I had to find the new me. Or at least the newer version of me, the one with accessories! Which could be adapted to suit.

I looked forward to my baby brother’s wedding so much, but I also dreaded it. Despite looking fab-u-lous darling, from my holiday and wearing an incredibly bright pink and orange dress, (panic purchase a few days before the wedding), I knew I’d have to make use of the chair, and I really wasn’t feeling the Mildred accessory. I utilised Bill and Ted right up until the reception, smiled through the pain until I absolutely had to give in. Mildred, at that point didn’t feel so bad as everyone else was sat down too! My kids were brilliant, they made sure I got to dance, I say dance, they wheeled me around in time to the music, rocked me backwards and forwards, span me around at speed (thank god for seat belts), had me doing chair wheelies and generally made sure I was involved in every way possible. I even rocked myself. Go me.

It was a beautiful day out, my sister in-law looked breath-taking and baby brother didn’t scrub up too badly either. It was another turning point, dancing was still possible, and I didn’t even get to scuff my shoes. Result. Here was something positive, I could wear 6-inch heels and not run the risk of falling off the damn things. This amused me greatly. I know; but it’s the little things that make the difference!

My confidence improved rapidly. This was aided by my Boy Friday, who, once my manoeuvring skills were on point, bought a skateboard to go around town behind Doris. I ‘drove’ and he hung on for grim death to Doris’s handles and we pulled him around the whole of Abergavenny. I can’t remember ever having made so many strangers laugh in my life. Weirdly, despite the fact it was attention drawing I enjoyed it because I felt the attention was focused on my Boy Friday.

My lovely boy said something to me that really struck home. We were trundling over to watch his rugby game. Prior to going I was very anxious. Would he be embarrassed, would he mind me going in Doris or Mildred, was I going to embarrass him in front of his friends? His words to me were thus; “Mum, I’d rather have you rolling along beside me or in front of me in a chair than having you sat on my shoulder watching over me.”

I guess that really needs no further comment. One of my greatest fears was what it looked like to my kid’s and their friends and if they were embarrassed by me. They were all unfounded fears. Kids adapt and in the main accept things for how they are. Some quicker than others.

My confidence soared, so much so that I ventured out ‘solo’ in Doris to one of my many numerous Doctors’ appointments. It was raining, I almost bottled it and rang my favourite taxi company, but decided I needed to bite the bullet, man up and get the show on the road. In anticipation for the predictably wet weather (we do live in quite possibly the wettest place in the world) I’d invested in a few wet and cold weather chair accessories. The first one was what Is described on Amazon as a Wheelchair Cosy. A showerproof sleeping bag type thing that is fleece lined. It instantly became ‘The Worm’ and it still is, the worm! I would say as accessories go it’s the best! Not only does it protect against our Welsh winds and the lighter of our rain, it also keeps my back warm.

Moi in Mildred snuggled in a blue waterproof cosy toes. Also in image is #1 son

Despite the sheer awesomeness of the worm, I was still getting wet on my upper body. There are a lot of shower proof Ponchos on the market, but I wanted one that was totally waterproof and covered me from head to toe. As a child I grew up on farm, I remember my Papa Bear having this amazing Oilskin waterproof set. They kept him bone dry in all weathers so that’s what I wanted. For this, I visited industrial clothing web sites and found exactly what I was looking for. A heavy weight, fully waterproof Poncho that slipped over my head and had popper leg straps to prevent it billowing out and taking off. It was superb. It fitted over the back of both chairs and covered me down to my feet and kept me completely dry. I would have liked it in Hi-Viz Flo-Pink but was only able to get it in bright yellow. Which was fine, yellow is bright colour therefore makes me invincible and invisible. There is nothing worse than being wet and cold. Well, there is, but either way they’re not pleasant experiences. Because the Poncho is not made for wheelchairs, more for standing around on the docks. (Not as a prostitute, as a worker) I did have to make some modifications to it to prevent splash back and getting wet which involved a small amount of duct tape. God I love that stuff.

Having trialled the Poncho on trips out with Boy Friday I knew it would be ok and I could put it on myself without too much drama and the aid of a picky-up-stick to fling the back of it over Doris’ handles.

This established, I was on my way. Luckily, the Doctors was 5 minutes trundle away from my house. Despite my last solo adventure in Mildred being something of a trauma I was feeling significantly more confident in delectable Doris. Boy Friday and I had been out practicing my driving skills on many occasions and I have to say I was getting rather good. We’d even done a route recce. How organised was that!! I still had the palaver of getting over the lip of my front step, so I’d purchased a shallow ramp to leave at the front door which made life a lot easier. Once out, it was just the gentlest of touches on the stupid joystick thingy (yes, I still disliked it!) up the ramp, locked the door, reverse into the road and off… Despite being in a powered chair, I still struggled in the rain on the camber that was on the pavements. To my horror I had slid into the road at a Pedestrian Crossing previously on a rainy day. I had no idea how to stop that occurring again. On that occasion I was with Boy Friday and he hauled me out of the road to wait for the lights. So, because of that, I elected to travel on the road as much as possible. Also, there was significantly less dog poop to dodge on the road. Nobody wants that stuff wheeled into their house!

MM encased in a very attractive bright yellow waterproof poncho over the worm

The rain predictably got heavier on the short journey to the surgery and it was lashing against my face with a force that stung. The wind had picked up too, and I was regretting my decision to be independent on this day. It would be easier to roll home and ring a taxi! As I was over halfway there it seemed pointless to return home, so I continued. I had to get on to the pavement eventually, but I had been on it before, it was narrow and full of dog poop but had no camber, so I was relatively safe. The stretch of road is like a wind tunnel, and my lovely yellow Poncho became unattached from its tethers and promptly blew up and covered my face. In my panic, I pushed the stupid joystick a little hard, shot forward at speed and came to an abrupt, bone crunching halt. Into a lamppost. Ffs! Who erects a lamppost on a narrow pavement in the first place? My head was still covered in bright yellow Poncho. I was getting rained on and more than a little bit cranky. I was also stuck. Doris had got entangled in the lamppost. I tried for a few minutes gently going forwards and then backwards to get detached. Nothing worked. Having relieved my face of its cover, I decided my only option was to reverse out at the speed I’d driven into the thing. Luckily for me there was a clear path behind into the road if I needed the space. Another huge gust of wind had the Poncho billowing about my head again and I was in fear of taking off. In disgust with it, I pulled it off completely and thread it through the handlebar. I needed full vision for my next task. I waited until a few cars passed. I pretended to be on the phone as they went by in the hope, they wouldn’t notice I was actually stuck to a lamppost. I think I got away with it. So, road clear, vision unobstructed, and by now soaked to the skin, I pushed the speed button right from ‘Tortoise’ (or beginner) up to ‘Hare’ (catch me if you can!) and pulled the joystick back as hard as it would go. I disengaged from the lamppost and bounced down the pavement into the road. I neglected to think about the angle I would fly off the pavement, luckily for me, I was straight in line with it and took off like Appollo 13. Obviously feeling rather smug with myself I did a quick fist pump and gave Doris a well done pat and told her what a good girl she was. I informed the poncho that it was in the doghouse, and we’d be addressing it when we got home. I wasn’t running late for my appointment, because I liked to leave early to account for selfish people blocking dropped kerbs, dog poop avoidance, and any other catastrophe that I may encounter. Poncho now falls under the catastrophe category.

As I rolled onwards, the rain typically got even heavier and I could barely see a hand in front of me. I was soaked to the skin, the fleece jacket I had on underneath the poncho doing little to keep me dry. Hair was in rodent’s tails hanging down my face and my hands were blue with cold. Was I a happy bunny? No, I bloody wasn’t. Finally, on my arrival at the doctors, the automatic door slid open and I ‘stood’ in a cue with another 4 patients, dripping, a lot. 3 people had the cheek to make a comment about my lack of wet weather gear. I merely growled at them and indicated the back on the chair, not trusting myself to speak. One brave person even suggested it would be better if I had it over me given the weather outside. Oh! Really! I’d never have thought of that by myself. While you’re at it, you don’t need to speak to me slowly. I understand you perfectly, and I am not deaf, so you have no need to shout at me either. To say I was p****d off is mild, I think.

I gave up making eye contact with anyone, especially as they only seemed to be offering stupid advice…

The receptionist called me forward, and asked, oh, is it raining outside, haven’t you got a waterproof coat? My measured response was this; ‘No, no, I just showered with all my clothes on in the wheelchair and came out as I was, because the coat goblins have run off with my coat and hidden it’. Then she laughed, sarcasm wasted - flew over her head at a rate of knots. She was the recipient of a ‘Paddington Bear hard stare’. Which she was totally oblivious too. To top it all off she then added insult to injury and told me to ‘take a seat’. We’ve all had it at least once, and mostly I’d make a joke, today I wasn’t feeling remotely humorous, so I growled at her and rolled off with as much dignity as I could muster… which given that I looked like a drowned rat, wasn’t much.

When my name popped up onto the board indicating it was my turn to go in to see the Doctor, I rolled, with a rather haughty expression on my face and my nose in the air past the receptionist. Possibly due to the fact I had my nose stuck in the air and wasn’t exactly looking where I was going, I accidentally ran into a ‘caution wet floor’ sign at speed, sending it flying and drawing yet more attention to myself. The lovely receptionist (immense sarcasm) tutted and earned herself a glare of epic proportions, and I drove off. I started to giggle to myself; technically, I’d just failed to stop at the scene of an accident. My Doctors door was wide open and in I went, still giggling, and I obviously had to explain why. As I regaled her with my trials and tribulations in just getting to the surgery, we were both laughing like a pair of hyenas, she was particularly amused at the sign smashing, she’d heard the noise. Once we’d managed to control our selves this wonderful woman, who I’m so grateful to have as my Doctor, said to me … ‘ Ironside, you really are a tonic, I wish all my patients had your attitude to life and the ability to laugh at themselves, you really are the most stubborn person, but I think that’s what will get you through this.’ I was dumbfounded by this comment, I’d just told her about my awful journey to see her and then she drops that on me! Once the appointment was over, I decided to call into the café just around the corner as it was still pouring with rain and blowing a force 9 gale with the aim of waiting out the storm. I was there until closing time. As; A, I was exhausted, B, I was experiencing vast amounts of pain and C, my ‘fabulous’ yellow poncho was soaked on both sides, and, it was still bloody raining. I decided to use the time and do some self-examination. Not the physical kind, you filthy animals. The internal self- examination, there’s a word for it but I’m dammed if I can remember what it is. Anyway, you know what I mean!

Over a gallon of tea and half a Victoria sponge I concluded this… Normal is whatever I choose it to be. I can do anything I put my mind to. Sometimes it may take a bit of planning, and preparation but anything is achievable. Adapting was the key to me having any kind of life. Now this ain’t rocket science, its common sense but until you realise it for yourself, it will never happen.

I still loathe my delightful accessories, and I suspect I always will, but what they give me is independence, freedom and the ability to go places and do the same things as everyone else. On the upside, I’ll always have a seat in a crowded pub when my mates are all standing…

Thank you for reading this installmen. See you soon! Much love Flairey. x

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