Outsider In a world of limited mobility: Supermarket shopping on wobbly legs

This series of posts harks back to summer 2015 when I broke my foot, the first time I’ve ever experienced a debilitating injury.

After my minor outing to the opticians, I was craving a bit more going out time and so hit upon the rip-roaring adventure of a supermarket shop: food needed to be got and I needed an exit from the house, so it seemed like a good idea.

Of course I couldn’t make it to the supermarket alone, so I hopped (literally) into the car with my mum who’d promised me that the nearby Morrisons had wheelchair trolleys, as crutching it around the shop with my novice ability was going to be tiring, dangerous and completely useless (see first entry about carrying stuff).  Oh, and slow.  So, so, so slow.  I reckon it that I’m at least four times slower on crutches than normal moving about pace.

We arrive at the supermarket and I start to get the willies.  This seems to have been a bad idea.  The supermarket seems big and awkward, with lots of other people in it, and we’ve accidentally coincided with school kicking-out time.

As I stand at the entrance while my mum searches out the wheelchair trolley, I feel in the way and vulnerable.  My mum is taking an age and I’m now anxious that my decision to come along is causing an unnecessary fuss, and that I am going to be a bothersome nuisance; I could have just stayed at home.

I learn from my mum when she arrives back, tutting that the motorised wheelchair trolley was wedged in an area at the far end of the shop and getting it out was causing a considerable amount of difficulty.  Whilst this only serves to compound my embarrassment and certainty that it was a mistake to have come, my mum has only criticism for the incompetence of the staff and the store for not being immediately ‘disability ready’.  A motorised wheelchair, though?  I feel like a complete fraud!  I’m ok, I want to say, it’s only a temporary break after all; I’m sure I’ll manage…

Some moments later, my mother loses her patience: off she goes again, and comes back instantly with a bog standard, push around wheelchair.  With relief I plop myself into the chair, grab a basket to go on my lap – this chair will get me around the supermarket but it sure as hell ain’t got no trolley attached – and wheel off with half the list, determined to be an aid in this shopping expedition, rather than a complete encumbrance.

Half an hour or so later and I’m positioned by the checkouts in an attempt not to get in anyone’s way.  There are a few last bits and bobs to pick up, and my mum was deemed the more capable of retrieving them.  It transpires, you see, that supermarkets are not really designed for wheelchair users (not an original discovery, I’m sure).

I’m not talking about the fuss and the faff at the beginning, nor the layout of the aisles with obstacles of piles of specials, pop-up mini frozen counters or pretend market carts, chicane style all over the place… what I’m saying is that a lot of stuff is just too darn high up!  And not just too high up to reach but too high up to even see.

In some cases this impedes just my brand or price choices: Happy Eggs, supermarket’s own eggs, or the oh-no-I-can’t-reach-them-so-I-can’t-have-them organic farm eggs.  And as I wheel along the booze aisle I have the choice of three, rather than five, shelves worth of wine.  Boo.  But in the rice section, the powers that arrange the selection of bags of dried grains are clearly telling me that I shouldn’t cook paella, way over my head as those little pouches are.

Sitting in my wheelchair I feel a number of things: uncomfortably conspicuous and a bit of a nuisance – I’m not sure I like being more noticeable in this way -; somewhat indignant (or even self-righteous!) – why should I not be able to independently shop and have access to the same choices as my upright counterparts? -; and a little bit tired in a kind of powerless and vulnerable way – what a faff and palaver to go through, just to half-achieve something so run of the mill!

Then, suddenly, I feel something else: a girl, whose uniform denotes that she works at the supermarket, goes whizzing by me on a pair of crutches at some super speed to reach her till and start running things through the checkout.  She had moved with two crutches planted ahead of her then swung both feet through quite a distance where they limply, but effectively, propped her up long enough for the next purposeful crutch plant, allowing the swing to happen again.

I deduced that she must have some form of muscular disorder, maybe from birth, rendering her legs unable to take strides by themselves.  I also reckoned that she must have steely-superwoman arms and hands from the nifty way in which she got herself about.

Looking at her I feel humbled and, quite quickly, a little ashamed.  What fusses and new discoveries I’m making, what new difficulties and obstacles I’m experiencing, what new grievances I’m venting, and how temporary my impairment…

My mum arrives with the last bits to go through the till.  I abandon my wheelchair and manoeuvre my way through on limbs and crutches.  Six weeks.  I’ll probably forget all about it once I’m ‘back’.  Well, I determine, I better just write some stuff about it then, that way I jolly well won’t forget, will I?

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Outsider In a world of limited mobility: Cabin fever

This series of posts actually harks back to the summer, but I wrote them fresh as the experience unfolded, so I’ve kept them intact here.

Temporarily (and serendipitously?) living at my parents’ at this point in time, I couldn’t be in a better environment for this period of enforced convalescence. Both parents retired, I awake to breakfast laid out (quite a decadent affair*), have lunch fully prepared and dinner seen to, so no complaints possible there.  Makes me wonder, though, how anyone can manage with the loss of use of a lower limb without a parent or two around… saintly housemates or a devoted partner, I suppose.  Or with an immense amount of difficulty and no choice but to just get on with it.

Nevertheless, comfort and care though I be in and under, vaguely bored I have not escaped being.  The number one rule of working from home, as I do, is to bloody well make sure that you get out of that home once a day to avoid ‘rat-in-a-box’ syndrome.  So, again, without forgetting a) how lucky I am to be surrounded by unconditionally loving carers (M & D), and b) that my unfortunate accident (one dodgy moment in netball) has not unduly interrupted my working routine (er, yay..?), it has most definitely royally arsed up my ability to GET THE HELL OUT OF THE HOUSE which is undeniably necessary to my equilibrium i.e. sanity and, in seriousness, happiness.

With usual activities off the agenda of netball, a long walk, popping up to London to hang out with boyf, getting in the car to see friends, yoga, rock climbing, tennis, going to a gig, walking over to brother’s house to pester him and potential future sister-in-law (blah blah, doing active, social stuff)… I have had to settle for other ways of breaking up the periods of: sitting in front of computer; sitting down for a meal; and crawling, bum-slipping, or actually using my crutches in the correct and incorrect manners up and down the stairs.

Yesterday, therefore, I demanded to be taken to the opticians. Oh yes, the opticians. My new glasses are too loose on my face and constantly slipping down my nose, plus, being larger than before, they end up getting smudged by my eyebrows (bit weird) and so they’re constantly a bit foggy.  Ergo, I absolutely MUST be taken to the opticians.  Quick trip in the car, stumble stumble of crutches, chat chat, momentary blindness, glasses returned, better fit, which size bottle of glasses cleaning spray should I get (medium)… and then I’m back home again.  Oh… balls; that wasn’t as momentous or distracting as I’d hoped. A new plan needs concocting for tomorrow… oh yes, I know – The Supermarket!!

(*muesli pre-soaking, at least three types of pre-cut fruit, a selection of juices and tea in the pot if I’m up early enough for it to still be warm!  Spoilt?  Yes.)

Outsider In a world of limited mobility: Daily routine, interrupted

This series of posts actually harks back to the summer, but I wrote them fresh as the experience unfolded, so I’ve kept them intact here.

I am temporarily experiencing life with limited mobility.  I wouldn’t be so bold or ignorant as to state that I therefore understand what it must be like to live with a permanent physical disability, but I’m bloody well getting to know that anything other than full-limbed mobility comes with more every day restrictions and frustrations than I’ve ever previously taken the time to try and imagine…

My first point of upset is that I can’t go anywhere with a cup of tea.  Or anywhere with anything, for that matter.  In true British form, though, it’s the cup of tea that seems to grate most.  One small hop-shuffle-wobble, and a tea disaster would ensue; were my hand actually free to clasp a mug, of course.  No, as I stumble around in my attempt to navigate from one place to another with giant, cumbersome, cyborg boot and crutches, the most I can do is take my slightly damaged self from A to B, all ever so slowly and precariously; loading myself down with baggage – or a cup of tea – doesn’t even come into it.

A second simple example to outline my minor plight (a broken foot) comes from working in the study today, when I start to feel a little chilly.  Oh dear, the sun has moved, no longer streaming straight into my window; its warmth is gone and, in its place, a breeze wafts in. The window is mere metres from where I sit.  Nevertheless, the simple act of getting up to close it has turned into a bit of a physical challenge in my current state.  Thus, the following sequence:

  • Retrieve crutches from somewhere they’ve fallen, hopefully nearby;
  • Place handholds in H-shape in front of me – like the nice physio lady told me – ;
  • Push down on those and through good but pathetically weak leg, plus anything else hopefully supportive within grab’s reach, all the while ABSOLUTELY NOT bashing boot-laden, gammy foot on floor.
  • Once balancing on one leg upright (hurrah!), rearrange crutches into “walk” mode and set off to window negotiating anything left on floor to make route trickier.
  • Reach window, shake crutch off wrist where it then slides to floor – shit – and close window.  Task accomplished!
  • Repeat more or less in reverse, hoping temperature doesn’t rise in room any time soon requiring window to be open again.

No, my suffering is not large, but compared to ‘stand up, walk to window, shut window, walk back, sit down’, it’s a pretty damn laborious ball-ache, really.

Another complaint of top annoying things about being on crutches (I suspect this list to get boringly long) is the palaver of bathing…

I fractured my fifth metatarsal (like the footballer I am not) on a Monday evening.  By Tuesday afternoon my fat foot was fat-boot clad and I was crutchmobile, or thereabouts.  Various trips to medical facilities, becoming accustomed to my new state, and the exhausting impracticability of basic movement, meant that going about having a wash was firmly off the list of the day’s events.  Wednesday morning, and I had no more excuses.  The bathroom awaited me, but the bathroom had warped into a newly scary place: all ledges and angles and sharpness and hardness: ceramic, metal, plastic, fibreglass, enamel…  Add water to all of this and I was in a slippery minefield of potential woe.

A flamingo-style shower was definitely out – horror stories of falls in showers resulting in car crash-style injuries were reverberating in my mind (fractured ribs, punctured lung…). So bath it was.  Keeping modesty intact, here goes the summary-

Getting into the bath: Not so difficult; we have handy handles on the bath for some unknown reason. I could kind of sit, brace, swing and lower easily enough.

The washing part: Pretty standard as fat-boot is removable.  I daren’t go near the foot itself, though, for fear of awakening a painful beast, so it shall remain as dirty and smelly as it wishes.

Getting out of the bath: Here is where it nearly all came a-cropper: a one-legged, slippery person, on a bath tub edge, with no handy hand holds outside of the bath, and nothing else to grab onto?  I was just one wet backside slide away from another trip to A&E…

You will undoubtedly be relieved to know that I conquered the bathroom on this particular occasion; through some inelegant scrabbling around with the toilet seat and a precarious, free-standing towel rail, my ablutions were concluded for the day.  No medal for heroics deserved, of course, but I feel victim more than vanquished as I begin to understand an altered world. 

Hobbling off from the bathroom to complete the start of the day with the getting dressed routine, I already feel a little battle weary at the time and energy this simplest of tasks has demanded.  I’m not sure I can be doing with it, not every day.  Nope, for the next little while, a bit dirty with a broken foot is going to have to be my thing.