So, May 2011, driving home from work, and had a car crash. Straightforward enough, but significant injuries. Hospitalised for a while and then home to recover. Spinal, pelvic, internal and head injuries, permanent nerve damage in hands and leg, frequent blackouts, severe mobility issues and in a world of pain, blah blah blah!!
I was again hospitalised following a bout of bad falls from blackouts and wasn’t allowed home until carers had been put in place. Goddamn social services! My allocated social worker was in fact an absolute angel and very good, despite the fact I felt she was trying to take my independence away.
On my first day home I had a lovely lady make me some food and put me to bed, all well and good I thought, oh how wrong could I be?
Next morning I’m in bed and a different ‘carer’ let herself in, calls to me and knocks the bedroom door. She enters my bedroom. I recoiled in absolute horror, because, there, standing in my doorway, was ‘Miss Trunchbull’s’ twin sister (Matilda – google it!). I kid you not. She smiled and all I could see were two rows of black rotting teeth, which is a pet hate of mine! I gagged. Swallowed down the bit of vomit and managed a smile.
To get me out of bed, she came around and lifted me out, not only was this an incredibly painful experience, but my face was pressed into a substantial bosom and a rather odorous armpit! Cue more gagging. As if that wasn’t bad enough, she then said ‘cor you’re a lot heavier than you look’ ... yes, well, thanks for that, my already fragile self really needed to hear those words tripping out of her mouth. Besides, pot and kettle my love, pot and kettle……..
Next on offer was a shower. Now, as blissful as this would have been, I didn’t feel someone who hadn’t mastered the art of basic personal hygiene would be best placed to providing it. So, I opted for assistance to the bathroom and washed myself thank you very much. Not the easiest of tasks but by far the better option I felt. I couldn’t help but look longingly at the shower though. Wondering if I was cutting my nose off to spite my face!
Much cleaner, we got dressed. Yes, that was a royal ‘we’. I needed a lot of help, but it was nice to be dressed. However, having a strange female, or indeed any female that wasn’t family or a close friend, do up my bra and put my knickers on for me was something of an unpleasant experience, and very undignified quite frankly. As one says though, needs must.
My next challenge was getting down the stairs. Safest and easiest way was throwing my crutches down first and then going down on my bum. A supremely efficient and effective method of relocating to downstairs I feel. All the activity and excitement had left me suitably exhausted and in a world of pain, at which I blacked out apparently (I have no recollection of this, my wonderful neighbour informed me of it later). When I came around, I was on a chair being hovered over by two worried individuals. My neighbour and good friend had called in just after it had happened. She called most days to check on me after that.
Once I’d come around a little and my neighbour was satisfied I was ok, the carer offered me some breakfast. Given the zero-star hygiene rating I had given her I was reluctant but opted for fruit and yoghurt. I mean, minimal contact with my food, simple and edible. Oh, how very wrong was !
Breakfast prep began by her hoisting her tummy onto the worktop so she could get closer to it. She then wiped her hands in the bum of her trousers and began chopping the fruit WITHOUT WASHING HER HANDS. I envisioned those very same hands washing a little old man’s undercarriage, and I just knew she wouldn’t have washed them when she was done at her last call. Dear lord, could this day get any worse? Yep it absolutely could. After chopping the fruit, she threw it into the bowl and then mixed it all up with those hands which, she then wiped clean… on her bum … again. I was about ready to cry but smiled nicely and said thank you! What the hell was I thinking??? With no intention whatsoever of eating my breakfast I asked for a cup of tea, because you just can’t go wrong with that. It’s a teabag, hot water and milk, simples. However, it’s so much nicer when you use a spoon to fish out the teabag instead of your unwashed fingers. Who even does that? My carer, that’s who! When she bought it in, I again thanked her politely (manners darling, manners) and she put it down on the table. Bless her, she offered to make up some lunch ready before she left. I declined, maybe a bit too quickly as my reply earned me a funny look. I hastily added a friend was popping in with lunch for us both later. An outright lie, but I would have starved first to be honest. Not that that would have happened any time soon, given the substantial padding I had to live off at the time.
So once more wiping her hands on her backside she left. No sooner I heard the door lock and her car start up in the street, I rang my social worker and told her to cancel the teatime call and any carers from that moment on.
I think to be honest I was just very unlucky, I’ve had experience since of some absolutely incredible carers, and also some truly awful ones. It really seems to be a lottery and my first experience wasn’t a good one. Its scarred me for life.
Refusing the assistance led to a lot more social services intervention and further adaptions being made around the house. These adaptions caused me great distress and I bloody hated them. They made me feel needy, pathetic with all sorts of negative vibes. My social worker totally got where I was coming from, she was on my wavelength. Somehow, and I don’t know how because I am very stubborn, she managed to make me see how necessary they were and that they were an aid to me living independently. She even got the ladies in the day centre to make a pink cover for my perch seat. This was then sprayed pink by my friend. (Perfectly perfect thank you very much.)
The one adaption I was eternally grateful for was the walk-in shower, it replaced a bath with an over bath shower. Oooooh it was right posh! I did however point-blank refuse the stair lift. Absolutely no bloody way! I mean you’ve all watched the Gremlins movie, haven’t you? The scene where the little critters have messed with the little old lady’s stair lift? Well there was no way I was going to be had like that! I had visions of being whizzed up the stairs faster than the speed of light, hair flying out behind me, and then being catapulted out of the attic only to land with a large splash in the River Usk. I’ll have you know the current of said River is incredibly strong and the likelihood of ever being seen again was entirely possible. What a tragedy that would have been for one and all. So, because of Gremlins, I crawled up the stairs on hands and knees, which was something of a laborious time-consuming task and came back down on my bum, which was substantially quicker.
Along with all the other revolting adaptions I was then presented with Mildred, my wheelchair. M for Mildred as in M for manual – it will become clearer later! Her name was Invacare when she (yes definitely a she) arrived, which I took an instant dislike to. She was quickly renamed Mildred, and she has been Mildred ever since. However, I despised the bloody contraption, by giving her a name I thought I could maybe get my head around using her and wouldn’t feel like the freak show I feared I was.
I’ve found that being a wheelchair user is a very strange conundrum. People stare at you for starters. That’s just rude. They also think because you’re in a chair you’ve lost the ability of speech and address questions to the lucky soul who is pushing rather than you! Once again, bloody rude! In all fairness Mildred was a necessary evil. I could barely get around on crutches, and I wasn’t going out of the house because it was too difficult. Christmas time found her stuck in the corner with pink tinsel and fairy lights on, and they say no-one puts baby in the corner! pft, they do in this case! As a room decoration she sucked - Big time. At least she twinkled and looked passable in the dark when just the fairy lights were twinkling. That could well have been because I’d placed the lights on her in ‘V’ sign, and it made me giggle when I saw it rather than scowl at the damn thing in disgust. (Scowling is very bad for you by the way, gives you wrinkles and awful frown lines. Don’t do it, smile instead, Smile and Wave boys Smile and Wave!).
THE most incredible gift I received was from one of my old shift mates, and I shall be eternally grateful to them for their selflessness. The gift was the most amazing, intuitive and loving dog I’ve ever had the privilege to own, Tikaani. Tikaani turned out to be my keeper, my protector my saviour and my best friend.
I am truly blessed with amazing family, friends and neighbours who all pitched in to help me retain my independence. They cooked and cleaned and helped me shower when necessary, (yes, they had high personal hygiene) My two children were just 13 and 15 and it was a very traumatic time for them, I couldn’t look after myself let alone take care of them and be the mum I wanted to be for them. I felt it was unfair to expect them to look after me, and I didn’t want to burden them with that responsibility. Life is hard enough for teenagers as it is without the added pressure of being a carer to a mother who was really superwoman (I just hid my superpowers well). Whilst I’m fully aware that there are many many amazing young people who do this for their parents, it wasn’t what I wanted for my kids at all. I don’t think any parent want to be looked after by a child, the role is alien and feels so very wrong. They did an amazing job under the circumstances, but I felt I had an option. It was an option that many people maybe wouldn’t have. Tensions were high in our little home for a long time, the poor kids were under so much pressure and stress. My daughter was sitting GCSE and struggled with me being unwell and my lack of mobility. I’d had the school on the phone telling me she wasn’t coping, and that I should consider counselling for her. Whilst it was fantastic that they were giving her support that I couldn’t, it did little to improve the feeling of total despair and failure that had engulfed me. My son coped very differently, he just got on with things, kept it all to himself but, was undoubtably affected too. Eventually I sent them to live with their dad. I’m not proud of the way that I did that, I merely messaged him, told him I couldn’t cope with them and asked him to pick them up. A pretty-shitty thing to do to your kids isn’t it, and something I’ll always regret and hate myself for. When they closed the door behind them, it felt like my heart had imploded in my chest, such a physical pain and one that remains even now.
I had already written them a letter, explaining that I couldn’t go on and telling them I was sorry. The pain was horrific, I couldn’t do anything for myself and I couldn’t look after them. I was having the most horrendous nightmares of the crash, which I later found out was PTSD. There was no possibility of me being able to resume an active role on the streets with the Police, a job I’d worked my ass off for and absolutely loved. As far as I could see, I had nothing left to live for and I was just a burden on my family and friends. I spent the next few hours after they’d gone, getting my cocktail of medications out of the blister packs and onto the kitchen counter (I hate blister packs, you need a knife to get into them for goodness sake). Once I had a substantial pile of heavy-duty meds and painkillers on the counter, I was ready to say goodbye to it all. I was crying and cwtching (cuddling, for any non welsh people who may be reading) Tikaani. He was chatting to me as only a husky can and clearly sensed my distress. Amazingly, he jumped up on the counter. Something he had never done before and cleared every single tablet off onto the floor. It’s as if he knew!! I was distraught, it had taken so much effort to unpack them all and now they were scattered all over the kitchen floor. There was no way on earth I could get down to retrieve them. I had a decision to make. I could suck it up and get on with it. After all I was only in pain and immobile, and pain is just weakness leaving the body, right? Or, I quit and end it all. I looked at the dog and he raised an eyebrow and cocked his head at me, and I decided right there and then this wasn’t me. It was a massive turning point. Despite being heartbroken and physically broken I still had a lot to live for. I was still employed by the Police, well supported by my shift mates, line managers and HR Department.
I decided, despite the hospital telling me I could expect to be in a wheelchair permanently, I would return to full time work. I’d be a general superwoman - I would run, go to the gym and do anything I dam well wanted and more. Right, sorted… two fingers up to the consultants, score one to Flairey ..