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  • Writer's pictureClaire

6. Mildred and Doris - the Mexican Standoff ...

Updated: Nov 25, 2023

To introduce Doris, I shall have to tell you a little more... Sorry!! With my son now back living with me and working I spent my days alone (well, apart from Tikaani) and it was limiting to say the least. My family and friends were brilliant, and I saw them regularly, but I still wasn’t leaving the house that often. Unless my Boy Friday came in. Further assessment by Occupational Therapists and Social Services decreed I needed an electric wheelchair. This decision didn’t impress me greatly as you can imagine, and with my usual stubbornness I tried resisting. Going up against the big guns (Social Services and Occupational Health), was a battle I wouldn’t win any time soon. Resistance was futile. Unfortunately for me, they caught me at a low ebb. A time of momentary weakness. Low and behold, a few weeks later I found myself and Boy Friday being bundled into the back of hospital transport on our way to the Spinal Unit in Cardiff! Deep-deep joy (sincere sarcasm!). I didn’t want to be in that ‘ambulance’. That chair or anywhere else near a bloody hospital for more poking, prodding and general indignities. (Imagine a toddler tantrum, not wanting to do something, well that was me!) To say I was a tad grumpy was the understatement of the century!!

Well, surprisingly they were brilliant at the hospital and it wasn’t the staff I had the issues with, it was the situation. Boy Friday and I were taken to the ‘fitting room’ as I promptly named it, and it was there that I was interrogated at great length. I should add at this point that no waterboarding, thumb screws and definitely no jump leads attached to my boobies were used whilst extracting my secrets. They wanted to know how I was feeling, a stupid question to ask someone who looks like a sack of the proverbial and can barely string a sentence together I always think. Sometimes I wonder how they would react if I told them how I was REALLY feeling! (Insert evil laugh here) My mobility was tested, which was a real barrel of laughs, and they decided I was fit for the infamous - road test. The way they said it irritated me beyond belief. I think they thought they were giving me this most amazing present. It was on the tip of my tongue to ask if they expected me to fall to my knees bowing with gratitude. Excellent Manners prevented this….. and the fact that I’d never have got back to my feet. Lucky them! Besides it wasn’t their fault and I didn’t wish to appear an ungrateful little madam.

Back to the test drive. Apparently, everyone must test drive a contraption before they are signed off as the proud owner. Previously, as a Police Officer, my driving skills were nothing short of spectacular, well maybe not spectacular exactly given it was a car crash that had got me into this mess in the first place! But I had done an enhanced driving course. I naturally assumed (never ass-u-me, it makes an ass out of U and me both) driving the thing would be a piece of cake. Easy-peasy squeezy lemons. Yeah, right!

I don’t know how familiar any of you are with gaming? To me its an alien concept, one which I have no interest in whatsoever. This is probably because being soundly beaten on Mario Cart by a 5-year-old child leaves scars on a girl that can never be healed. The humiliation is just too great. Going back to my initial sentence; gaming, as you’ve probably gathered it is not a talent of mine. The expression on my face was priceless apparently, when the therapist wheeled her out (yes, another female designation). Just ask Boy Friday. Its steering mechanism was nothing more than a bloody joystick! I wasn’t sure what I was expecting. I think in my drug induced haze I expected something with an actual steering wheel. (yes, I know, rather silly, but you’re beginning to see how my brain works by now)

The Joystick was a shocker to be sure, but I guessed I’d better give it a whirl. Loading me in was a challenge and I instantly felt very unstable (as in not safe and I’m going to fall out kind of unstable). The seatbelt was reassuring, but I could have done with a rally car harness, which may have proved more satisfactory to my now traumatised self, than the flimsy little lap belt. This didn’t stop the feelings of panic and heart palpations though!

We left the hospital at a pace a snail would have scorned. I was terrified. The joystick steering wheel thingy was far to sensitive, and there was no way it could be adjusted apparently. Unsure as to whether this was indeed true or not, I had to persevere. It must have looked like I was drunk to the cars on the road. I was weaving all over the pavement and couldn’t get the stupid Go-cart to go where I wanted it to go. We were out for about half an hour. In that time, I managed to run into the road (there are no brakes), hit a lamppost and jump a red man light (technically). The chair slid into the road at a crossing when it was on green. Actually, I jumped a green light, but you get my drift. Oh, and I may have run over the therapist’s foot. To give him credit he did laugh. Good job he was wearing steel toecaps.

Attempting to mount pavements was most disconcerting. There is a ‘foot’ between the front wheels and it ‘walks’ you up the step. For that function to be enabled you approach the step/pavement at a normal speed and the chair does the rest. That first tilt backwards had me shaking like an MFI wardrobe, I thought the chair was going to tip over, and I wasn’t wearing my pink crash helmet. Miraculously it stayed upright, but that did nothing to decrease my nervousness. This electric chair is a good deal further off the ground than my faithful little Mildred (who in that precise moment I loved) and the weight of the chair was also significantly heavier. My poor little brain couldn’t grasp that it was a safe place to be at all.

Given the minor hiccups navigating the ‘test’ route, I was sure (like in the car driving test) one major fault (hitting a lamppost) would be an automatic fail. Luckily for me that only applies to cars and not wheelchairs. Test passed!! Despite being ‘qualified’ as a suitable operator for the chair and being told there would be a short wait whilst it was made to measure, there was another obstacle to overcome.

The kerb outside the house. Until that had been addressed, and I had full access to the house, there was no chair coming my way any time soon. I spoke with so many people in the local council offices and achieved a big fat nothing. There wasn’t the budget, they didn’t do dropped kerbs anymore. The list of excuses I heard were never ending. That was until I contacted my local MP. Not being a fan of politics (there is not one honest one amongst them) I was sceptical to say the least. To my absolute shock, the MP replied to the email we sent almost straight away. Even more shocking to me was that, within a week I had workmen outside my front door, digging up the pavement and replacing it with a nice gentle slope. The non-existent ‘dropped kerb’. RESULT! I had to contact the spinal hospital once the ramp was done, and been inspected as suitable, to arrange delivery of the new chariot or, I could collect it myself. (I think they meant someone could pick it up for me). The minute the little ramp checking man was out the door I was on the phone to the hospital asking when they could deliver. Again, the option of self-collection was offered, one which I accepted!

Still on Facebook at the time I put a shout out for a man with a van, and a former shift mate said he could assist, but not for a few days. I was so grateful to him, rang the hospital back and said I could arrange collection. Just a few days and I would be an independent Flairey. (Gulps, loudly!!) (Did you just gulp for sound effect?!!!!)

Whilst spending a rare night out with some very old friends visiting from Scotland, I received a phone call for my former shift mate asking where I was. Immediately concerned something was wrong, I started to worry. It was only when he said all was ok, followed by, ‘I’m just outside your house with your new chair’ did the panic subside. That was a surprise and a half! In the middle of telling him I’d get a taxi home right away, he stopped me and said he could put it in the house for me and not to worry about coming back and spoiling my night. Again, I was overwhelmed at how kind people were and how much they were prepared to put themselves out on my behalf.

On getting home after my few hours out, I burst into tears. There she was, standing in the hallway. He had even plugged her in to charge up so we would be ready to go. (I bet you didn’t shed a tear for waterworks effect!)

Doris, complete with the awful joystick steering thingamejig

You’d think I’d have jumped in her straight away and hit the shops. You’d be very wrong. She sat in the corner of the room, gathering dust. Mildred was glaring at her in absolute disgust, (I had to reassure her many times she was still my favourite). Self confidence was at an all time low, and the thought of going out in public, where people would see me in the hideous thing wasn’t currently top of my list. All the insecurities were once again at the forefront. People were going to stare, (rude) they would just see the chair and not the person, and worse of all I thought they’d be feeling sorry for me – no, thank, you. I’ll stay indoors.

Sat on the bottom of the stairs in my crash helmet one morning I gave myself a stern talking to and, as my Boy Friday was arriving within the next hour or so I decided we would attempt her maiden voyage.

On his arrival, I was in my brightest pink fluffy coat and hat, ‘all aboard the skylark’ (for those who can remember!), ready for the off. Said maiden voyage was like the launching of the titanic, without the champagne (once a cop always a cop, drink driving is bad kids!). We sailed down the ramp and hit the road and we were off. As experiences go, it wasn’t too bad, and living in a quieter part of town there were plenty of places to practice my driving skills. Skills being a loose description.

Feeling somewhat pleased with myself for not crashing into any bins, cars or mowing anyone down, I attempted to mount the pavement, (in the chair! Get your mind of the gutter) amazingly that was a resounding success. Getting off the other side not so much. No drop in the pavement. Performing a three-point turn, which was probably more of a 15-point turn in the pavement, finally had me ready to reverse off the pavement. All the fears of toppling over came flooding back and I started to panic. Thankfully with a lot of reassurance from my Boy Friday, we managed it and I was soon rolling off again. Trundling along the pavements I noticed several things. Firstly, the sheer volume of dog poop that was on them (Gross! Pick up after your pooches peeps). Secondly, the terrible state of repair they were in. I suffered whiplash on more occasions than I care to remember due to bloody great holes in the path. Thirdly, people have no idea that you shouldn’t park across drop curbs. They are there for a reason. Several times I had to make a detour because a vehicle was blocking the crossing point. Since I was rarely on a schedule it made very little difference to me. It did however irritate me if I was going to an appointment. I ended up leaving earlier to account for possible blockages and doggy do-do avoidance and therefore prevented it becoming an issue.

As if pavements weren’t enough of a challenge, some shops proved to be even more so. To the point I stopped going into them because the chair would catch in the clothes and then I’d have a struggle to pick the stupid hangers up. I spent more time apologising and feeling really embarrassed than I did shopping. Once I was more confident in my stupid joystick steered chariot, this became a great source of entertainment. If I was having a down day, I would strategically plan my route around certain shops to incur maximum carnage. It became a military operation of the highest standard. I’d get dressed up in bright pink clothes (because colour makes me feel invincible) and take a leisurely trundle around the worse shops in town. I ensured I went around every single clothing and shoe display that was in there. The sound of coat hangers clattering to the floor in my wake was something that caused me great merriment and immense satisfaction. How I never got banned I will never know. I created total devastation. In fairness to the staff, they smiled and just let me get on with it, something that amused me too. I also stopped apologising for being a nuisance. On a serious note, so many shops don’t give a thought to store layout from a customer perspective. Particularly the larger stores in smaller towns that have limited floor space. I chatted with one of the assistants in the shop about it, and she told me they were sent a store display layout they had to follow. No consideration for the size of shop floor they had was ever considered. A smaller store was required to display all the same things as their larger counterparts and, in the same order. No wonder the stores were so crowded. Head office weren’t and still don’t, take into account each stores’ differences. One plan to fit all. Well, no, it doesn’t really! Ultimately, for wheeling chairs and pushchairs it can be a total nightmare. I find 'coat hanger clattering' a great source of amusement and it’s one that never fails to make me to giggle.

The world is set out for able bodied people. I know this and I really don’t believe I should expect any preferential treatment.

I did, however, think it was quite important to be able to get out of my house. I would have happily continued using the ramp Papa Bear made for me but, the ramp checking man - from Delmonte, he say ..NOOO .. the ramp checking man, he is un ARSE!!! Bureaucrats, who needs them?

If its accessible to me brilliant, if it’s not, I’ll go elsewhere, no dramas mate. There are always options, sometimes it just requires a bit more thought and planning, something that was rather alien to me. I like to think I’m getting better at this planning lark, although I somehow think my Mr might beg to differ on that one!

The town I lived in was an old market town, many, if not most of the buildings are listed, a fact that makes it difficult for shop owners to make their premises easily accessible. In all fairness most of them actually have portable ramps which is awesome. Today I do pretty much all my shopping online because I just can’t be arsed with the faff of going shopping. It’s a real chore for me, and one I never particularly enjoyed anyway.

As you can probably guess I finally accepted the mechanical wheels and decided, that like Mildred, she needed to be personalised. She became Doris because she was D-rivable. It makes perfect sense to me. Honest!

Poor Mildred was soon left home more often than not because the shiny new Doris gave me back some serious independence. Given the sheer size and weight of her, it was next to impossible to get her in anything other than a minibus with adaptions, and ratchet straps to hold her in. Not pretty, nice nor dignified. So, on social occasions Mildred was hauled out being that much smaller and easier to manoeuvre in smaller places. Also, she folds in half and can be popped into the boot or backseat of just about any vehicle. Doris just doesn’t have that luxury and quite frankly I refuse to have one of those vans that carry you around in the chair. Riding in a car is traumatic enough even now, so being subjected to it in a highchair, which to my mind is unstable and held down with ratchet straps is not my idea of fun.

Even though I tried to share my backside out between both chairs, there was still friction between them. I had to separate them on more than one occasion. Tikaani, particularly didn’t like the interloper in our pack and preferred to snuggle up against Mildred. I think this was due to the weird little buzzy driving type noise Doris made; he was not impressed. Mildred bowled along in stealth mode. He much preferred that. Who can blame him anyway? I preferred it too!!

Tikaani did let me down the winter we had a fair amount of snow. It was pre-Doris, and I had the fabulous Idea that I would use him to pull me along in Mildred. Being a Husky Malamute cross, you would have thought he would have known exactly what he had to do. His look of disgust at the fluorescent pink harness I purchased for him should have been a warning to me that it wouldn’t go well.

I harnessed him up while sitting in the chair, he even stood perfectly for me to do it, lulling me into a false sense of security. Then, when I gave him the command to ‘mush’, he just looked at me, raised a furry eyebrow and promptly lay on the floor and again, began licking his meat and two veg. Loudly in protest! Realising rather quickly that I wasn’t going to distract him from that guilty pleasure of his anytime soon, I coaxed him back to the lounge with a Dentastick (it’s really important to look after your dog’s teeth) and made him sit though Snow Dogs. Seven times!! Making sure he understood what was required. As teaching aids go, I can’t really recommend it, he still refused to ‘mush’, and had taken to growling at the dogs on the TV. However, as films go, its great and is probably one of my favourites. Check it out if you’ve not seen it. It’s a Disney film, you know it’s going to be awesome just because of who it’s made by. (Yes, I adore Disney films, and yes, I have a vast collection)

Nowadays, Mildred is my go-to chair, particularly on our regular adventures, she’s portable and there is less on her to get damaged. My circumstances have also changed dramatically and that has made a difference on which chair is used. I am on my second Mildred now, the first one served me well, and I think over the years had everything replaced on her. I was finding her very uncomfortable and with our travels I needed comfort and a lot more support, particularly after a flight when I can be in absolute bits. The old chair is now used when our grandson visits. He is a perfectly able-bodied rugby playing 11-year-old, who will probably kill me in a few years for sharing this little gem. He quite happily spends hours wheeling himself up and down the drive in Mildred, pretending to be a Tour Guide/Solider/Police Officer. His imagination is limitless! When we are out and about, he also likes to push Mildred, which is something I find so very sweet. The Mr's Niece is the same, she has no qualms whatsoever about bowling me along.

Another reason Mildred is taken away over from Doris is this; a friend of mine who is paralysed from the neck down, had his £20,000 electric wheelchair damaged on a holiday flight. The whole joystick had been snapped off in the hold either during the flight or whilst loading it on board. This meant that he was totally unable to use his chair for the duration of his holiday. I forget how he managed, but I know it cost a lot of money to get it fixed as it wasn’t a straightforward machine like mine. Think Transformers (Robots in disguise) and you’ll be somewhere near.

Doris has her place in my life, she’s great to jump in and hop on a bus to go out for a few hours. I liked to get a picnic packed, load up my kindle and travel to Cardiff and back. You meet so many people, weird and wonderful people on a bus, it’s a place for one of my favourite pastimes; people watching! She’s also particularly good to go to a rugby match in, as she’s a considerably higher than Mildred, you don’t get smelly farts in your face! Yes, that happens in Mildred, far more frequently than I care to think about. Also, she’s great to go out in, display wrecking on the down days as she’s MUCH wider than Mildred. I love that she’s adjustable, she tilts backwards and forwards to aid getting in and out and she also raises up and down which is great if you’re in a crowded situation. Like the rugby. Most importantly she’s sooooo comfortable it’s unreal. I recently got her a toy boy, Trev the trailer. He’s awesome too! Hitch him on and we are off on our travels!!!

My girls now tolerate each other, and likewise I tolerate them. They are a necessary evil. An evil I can’t do without. As the blog progresses, more chair adventures will be, exposed! For now, I’m signing off. As always, many thanks for dropping by to read and share my journey. Much love, Flairey. x

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