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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