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Thread: Melanie Reid of The Times (UK)

  1. #221
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    south eastern Australia
    Oh, I love reading her articles. I have read a book by the author she mentions, Jane Smiley. The book is called 'Horse Heaven', and I really recommend it.
    Thank you so much for posting Melanie's articles FPF.

  2. #222
    I really miss that horse-y smell. It broke my heart to leave KS, had to sell my horse. And move to the city, ugh, it was so repellent to me, I had a baby and a horse and a dog and a husband that got transferred.

    That 10 yrs in Houston were such an adventure!

    I still miss my horse, sure she's long gone, but she was one of the special ones. She didn't like men...she really liked me, luckily.

    LOL, Mel had a post-rehab wipeout. Many more to come, girlfriend!

  3. #223
    Welcome Martin.
    Francis,I enjoyed those pictures very much.

  4. #224
    Thank you, Linda.

  5. #225

    The Hobbit Returns

    The hobbit is back! Susan, my beloved physiotherapist from the spinal unit, came to see me last weekend.

    She’s been away getting married and honeymooning, oh way beyond the boundaries of the shire, across the misty lands of Erebor and Rohan to a Hobbit paradise in the Maldives, and all the while neglecting me shamefully.

    “Bet you felt guilty about deserting everyone,” I say. “Yes, of course,” she says, flaunting her tan. “Deeply.” An opportunity for her to dream up new tortures, though, and this visit she decided to see if I could crawl. Yes, crawling. Not something you ever really think about doing, unless you’re varnishing the floor or joining the Marines; and definitely not a technique you’d ever analyse. Until you have to. Exactly how does one make one’s body crawl?

    One starts, in my case, lying flat on your face on a bench. Then you raise yourself on to your hands, elbows locked, arms outstretched, in an impressive paralysed press-up; and then you walk your hands backwards while pulling with buttocks and hamstrings so that, all of a sudden – help! – your backside rises scarily high in the air and you are teetering on hands and knees in what the physios call a four-point kneeling position, but which actually resembles a randy heifer.

    What’s alarming for me is that my joints, as usual, aren’t giving me any feedback about where they are – other than feeling precariously near the ceiling – so unless I peer between my arms or look in the mirror, I don’t actually know what position I’m in. In a weird way it’s like playing with a life-size mannequin, only the mannequin is actually me.

    Now, I’ve been physically capable of getting into this kneeling position for a good few months; it’s just that I don’t often do it, and never without a physiotherapist present, because I don’t want to keel over and traumatise my amateur helpers for life. But today Susan is pushing the frontiers. “OK, let’s try a crawl. Move your hips left and slide the right knee forward. Then lean the hips right and do the same with the left knee.” She’s up on the bench behind me, stabilising me. Teeth gritted, I glance under my body at my knees and will them forwards one at a time. With a gargantuan effort, they obey me, sliding a couple of centimetres in turn.

    “Now do the same backwards,” she commands. And in grotesque slow motion, with me grunting like Serena Williams, the knees manage it. “Again!” she says, and this time I manage a few tiny slides with each knee, to the extent that I have to walk my hands forward as well. She helps me a bit, especially with the right leg, always tail-end Charlie, always recalcitrant, always requiring twice as much effort as the left. A reader sent me an interesting letter the other day rebuking me for being so hard on my right leg. “On the contrary,” she said, “you should give it extra praise, love it, be kind to it; it’s trying so hard to catch up; it’s done so well and come so far.” And she’s right; it’s just that my impatience gets the better of me sometimes. If the right were only as strong as the left, how much further on I might be.

    Anyway, for what the boast is worth, I can crawl ten centimetres, swaying like a yacht in a force 8. Your average nine-month-old could crawl a hundred times better, and faster, and probably cry less than I do. In fact the only superiority I’ve got over a baby is that I know how to say “superiority” and don’t dribble when I’m doing it. But, hey, I guess it’s progress.

    Before Susan leaves for Bag End, I do two small circuits on my Zimmer and demonstrate my (only just viable) ability to turn and sit down. Turning is so much harder than walking in a straight line, but so essential if anything I do is ever going to be functional. She remarks on an improvement; she notices that muscles in my ankles and hamstrings are now flickering automatically. Not that she goes so far as to compliment me or anything.

    With this entire recovery process, one of the biggest challenges is to describe how difficult movement is in the absence of any proper sensation. People see me on my feet and think, “Fantastic! She can walk!” But nothing is that simple. Sure, I can move my torso and legs a little on demand, and I can just about, by way of a distant tingling, feel when someone is rubbing my skin. But I have no real sensation, when I stand, other than the deep, constant burning of neuropathic pain.

    I get no messages back from my joints – the natural process called proprioception – telling me what they’re doing. When I haul myself to my feet and try to balance, it feels as if I am an amputee, propped on two deeply uncomfortable wooden stilts.

    I truly am a mannequin. That discomfort alone is exhausting; it makes me yearn to collapse into my chair, from where life, by comparison, is a whole heap easier. Part of the exhaustion, I now realise, comes from the need to concentrate all the time. Because my lower body will not – yet – do anything automatically, I have to watch it like a hawk, controlling it with my eyes: for example, I can’t tell that my knees are buckling unless I actually see them buckle; and by then it is often too late to catch myself.

    In the spirit-weak parts of the night, I often wonder whether, by choosing rehab or bust, in this most public fashion, I have trapped myself in a hell of my own making. Certainly, I have chosen the harder road. Certainly, I live with profound fears that, instead of eventually getting easier, things may get harder. But I can’t give up now; I’d let too many people down. Faux courage or real courage, maybe the two amount to the same in the end. Besides, the hobbit would never forgive me if I gave up now. And by next week I’ll have sat my driving assessment, which should open up new freedoms. If I don’t fail, that is. Now, remind me, how does it go? Mirror, signal, manoeuvre?

  6. #226

    Learning how to drive again

    After 35 years behind the wheel, old skills have to be reacquired

    Plainly, this is a classic anxiety dream. You’re in the driving seat, about to turn right across a line of fast-moving traffic. You have no pedals at your feet. Your right hand is glued to a peculiar lever that pulls to accelerate and pushes to brake or… help me, God, I’ve forgotten, is it the other way round? Your left hand, a useless claw at the end of an enfeebled arm, is trying to grip the steering wheel and spin it, but nothing’s happening. Any point now you’re going to wake up and say: “All that needed was Jeremy Clarkson in Lycra and it would have been the most ghastly nightmare ever.”

    Only you don’t. Wake up, that is. Because you’re not asleep. And because some kind soul in a Renault Clio has seen you indicating and is slowing down and flashing, inviting you to pull out in front of her. And your instructor is saying: “OK, she’s letting us out,” and you find yourself desperately flailing at the wheel with one hand and pulling the lever with the other and seeing the hedge on the opposite side of the road lurch terrifyingly towards you.

    Somehow, you make the turn without planting in the verge. And now you’re in the left-hand lane, your speedometer says 6mph, you feel totally not in control and there’s already a long, glittering queue of drivers behind you in the mirror, on one of the hottest days of summer, all of them muttering: “For Chrissake, who let THAT out on the road?”

    Dear reader, I have been driving for 35 years with verve and confidence. I have driven many hundreds of thousands of miles and never been in a collision. I was even, at one point in my career, a part-time motoring correspondent, driving flash cars for a living. I have driven 7½ tonne horse lorries and manoeuvred tractors and trailers and stood Land Rovers on their noses off-road. I am not, in other words, a wimp behind the wheel. But nothing – nothing – could prepare me for the infant-like helplessness of being put in charge of a modest little car and back on the road, post spinal-cord injury. Talk about having your bubble burst, big time.

    The waiting list for specialist NHS driving assessments is a long one and now I know why. It is for the patients’ sake, to allow as much time for us to get stronger. Mentally as much as physically. It’s fairly traumatic to be faced with the fact that you have lost such an intrinsic skill on top of everything else, to grasp that this is not about refamiliarisation with old powers, that rather it’s about radical surgery on your psyche. My date was with the mobile assessment centre, a cargo lorry parked in the grounds of a semi-disused psychiatric hospital south of Glasgow, where there is a network of meandering private roads and only a few meandering inmates to avoid.

    My assessor was a totally charming woman called Janet, whom by the end of the afternoon I just wanted to hug and call “Mummy”. She got me in the lorry, grilled me gently about my injury, asked me to turn my neck and shoulders and did muscle-strength tests on my arms. She let me off the cognitive test stuff, which was probably fortunate, although I had spent a lot of time memorising the name of the Prime Minister and what month we were in. She quizzed me about my eyesight and my medication. Then I moved from my wheelchair into a low-tech simulator (aficionados of arcade games would be disappointed), where I was shown the basics of driving an automatic car with hand controls and had my reaction time recorded on a computer. Every time a red light came on across the windscreen-sized grille in front, I had to do an emergency brake in less than a second.

    After Janet was satisfied that I had the wherewithal, we went out to try it for real. In an NHS Toyota Yaris Verso, of all things (it made the “seriously uncool” section of the Cool Wall on Top Gear). My first serious problem was getting my legs to fit in – and not just because they’re paralysed, but because the car is obviously built for midgets. Once the useless giraffe thighs were wedged in – Janet pulling, Dave pushing, and me sitting there watching, thinking: “Hmmm, suspect this isn’t the car for me” – we crept off round the hospital grounds. My next serious problem (I have many) was grasping the knob on the steering wheel with my left, less good arm.

    At right-hand junctions, the feeling was that of a small child reaching up to a high table to stir a giant raw Christmas cake: the arm just wasn’t strong enough to grip the spoon, let alone turn it. Occasionally people would step out in front of me, not noticing the car was moving, albeit at 4mph, but they were never going to come to harm – Janet had dual controls.

    Can I describe how difficult it was? Not really. Rubbing your tummy while patting your head comes close. It was on a par with your first foreign country or your first able-bodied driving lesson, when there are so many things to think, do, see and co-ordinate that the concentration required is immense. For me, every bit of automatic, unconscious driving experience from the past seemed obsolete; you are starting from scratch.

    Twice round Le Mans, reaching a top speed of 6mph, and Janet says: “Let’s go out on the road.” Which is how I came to be on HM highway, under L plates, terrified at my incapacity but pretending to be brave. On the return circuit, I made it up to 29mph, for which my reward was a shot in a Vauxhall Vectra with tetraplegic hand controls, lighter steering and more leg room. At the end of my three hours, I was so mentally shot that I almost didn’t care whether I’d passed or failed.

    “Well?” I said to the sublimely encouraging Janet. “Pass or fail?” She beamed at me. “Oh, you’re going to drive,” she said. “Of course you are. We just need to make sure you get the right car for you, adapted so you steer with your right hand, then have a couple of lessons.” Somewhere in my head, birds started singing. Sebastian Vettel, don’t start worrying. Yet.

  7. #227
    Oh my gosh....she gets it. You all get it. This is what is so hard to describe to an AB or physio, just how difficult it is not to feel your feet! Ugh! If one more person tells me to look up when I'm walking I'm gonna have to smack 'em. How do I know what my feet are doing?!

  8. #228
    I love to read she thought it was difficult to drive, I hated it for a long time. But she is writing bad things about my favorite car, I loved my Toyoto Yaris Verso and I am tall, 1,72meters. And nice place for the chair in the back.
    TH 12, 43 years post

  9. #229

    Supermarket Irritants

    Things you never noticed before you were injured, part one. Shoppers in Tesco in the early afternoon are some of the most irritating creatures to be found anywhere on the planet. They are an entirely new species to me, these young pensioners, fit as fleas, Mr and Mrs I-wish-I-knew-what-I-wanted, who pick up packets and examine the contents and then loiter, discussing which to buy, as if choosing an eternity ring instead of a few rashers of bacon.

    “They’re chicken breasts! Just bloody well get on with it! Get a life!” I came close to yelling at one militant grey-pride couple who were blocking the two-for-one slot at the end of the aisle. I wanted some chicken myself, but I had to wait as Mr Sixtysomething picked up every single packet on offer, showed it to Mrs Sixtysomething and then tossed it aside in a haphazard heap. They were oblivious of their discourtesy, shrink-wrapped in their own tiny, fussy, displeased world. Mrs, who peered and sneered at the hapless meat, had the face of she who has a permanent bad smell under her nose; Mr the smug look of he who knows life is going to rip him off, every corner he turns, but who is way too smart to be caught out. I tried to imagine, momentarily, the hell of being them.

    It’s terrifying, for a former member of the working women demographic, who must carry out a high-speed supermarket smash-and-grab on the way home on a Friday, to witness a shop full of people like this: affluent, bored, retired couples burdened with so much time they can linger over large or small packets of chocolate digestives (“What do you think, darling?” “You choose, dear”); or spend five minutes deciding whether they need two or three tins of tomatoes. This, I realised, with a terrible clunk, was the land of the living dead. And I was stuck in it. I could no longer skip and sidestep and shimmy away.

    “Quick, let’s get out of here,” I gasped to my husband, dithering over the tuna because he forgot his glasses and can’t decipher brine from sunflower oil. “You’re being infected by a deadly grey virus. We are in mortal peril of ending up discussing the price of fabric conditioner.”

    Things you never noticed before you were injured, part two. Buying a new car used to be simple. Relatively. You knew what you needed, you knew your price range and you went and sat in a few. No more. Choosing a car when you are tetraplegic will take as much time as an honours degree. “You have a great deal to think about,” wrote my assessor in her letter of official recommendations. You bet I do.

    I need a normal-height saloon with automatic transmission which can be customised to hand controls. I need high and wide doors, ie, probably a three-door car; a wide door-opening angle; adjustable electric seats; massive leg room; low, narrow door sills; cruise control; easy handles; oh, and last but not least, four-wheel drive for our Ice Road Truckers farm access.

    On and on the list goes. I need something that doesn’t cost the earth, and has a roof big enough to hold a box with a hoist in it, which reaches down and automatically stows away my wheelchair once I’ve got into the driver’s seat. Oh, and I’m vain enough to want something that is neither frumpy nor ostentatious.

    I have booklets and brochures galore. But basically the only way I’ll find the right car is by going and sitting in a plethora of them – a huge task which makes me droop at the very thought. And then I have to get it adapted. And then grapple with the Government’s Motability scheme, which allows you to lease the vehicle, if it’s an approved model, and change it after three years, but is so hedged with conditions and carbon emissions that I already feel like getting a pony and trap instead.

    Things you never noticed before you were injured, part three. Sitting in a wheelchair, the world is small and when tragedy strikes, it grows smaller still. Who would have guessed that Horatio Chapple, the 17-year-old schoolboy killed by a polar bear while on expedition in the Arctic, was so closely connected to the spinal injuries community? His father David is the consultant surgeon at the Duke of Cornwall Spinal Treatment Centre in Salisbury, which serves people from all over the South and South West of England.

    Now, in the boy’s name, an appeal is being launched which could do so much to help improve life for spinal-injured patients in hospital. Horatio, grandson of the former head of the British Army, hoped to follow in his father’s footsteps and study medicine and had worked as a volunteer at the Salisbury centre. He was profoundly moved by the experience and had commented, so poignantly in the light of what was to happen to him, that spinal-cord injury was “one of the worst injuries that anyone could have”.

    Some time previously, his father had had the idea for the creation of an accessible rehabilitation garden for spinal patients, a sanctuary where they could seek peace and space; and develop new skills during their long hospital stay. Horatio had carried out a questionnaire with patients on the proposal. The idea of a Jubilee Garden, as it became known, both met with their approval and caught the imagination of the boy.

    Amid their unimaginable sorrow, his father and his mother Olivia have decided that Horatio would have chosen the garden project to benefit from funds raised in his memory. Thousands of pounds have already been donated in his name and passed to the Southern Spinal Injuries Trust, which is funding the garden. And if the appeal is successful, then the concept could possibly be extended to other spinal units nationally, providing a permanent memorial to a bright life cruelly extinguished. Sometimes the worst things happen to the best people; and sometimes a beautiful gesture like the Chapples’ can help redress that injustice.

    To donate visit

  10. #230

    Something to believe in

    As I write, a loyal, charismatic friend of ours, a fit, strong man, is critically ill in hospital after a sudden collapse. Another unspeakable tragedy has devastated part of my extended family.

    I find myself helplessly seeking for words to give comfort, mumbling: “Give them my love and tell them I’m praying for them.”

    Then I come off the phone and think: “Damn it, what’s the point of praying when the worst things are happening to the best people – the young and the smart and the generous and the kind and decent – and if there really were a God, none of this would be so? Good people would be protected from this.”

    Even me. I’d have been protected. In the overall scale of righteousness and moral justice, I never did anything bad enough to deserve the fate that has befallen me. Oh, I’ve written some thoughtless stuff that I regret, have done a few stupid things over the years, but I never, ever deliberately set out to hurt anyone and always tried to treat others as I’d like to be treated. Kind of averagely flawed christian-with-a-small-c.

    Yet the thunderbolt came for me all the same, didn’t it? If you go the whole hog and believe in divine predestination, then on the fateful day, God said: “Right, that’s her number up. Zapow!!!!” and that was me skewered.

    That’s the trouble with religion. That’s the point where belief, faith, call it what you will, fails the ultimate test of humanity. When prayers are shown to be as futile as pulling the wishbone on the Christmas turkey. When life deals the most unfair hand, terrible things happen at random to lovely people, or natural disasters sweep away thousands.

    And you turn to God or Allah or whoever and say: “Well, where exactly were you? How could this happen on your watch? Wasn’t it your job to stop that? Do you take us for fools? And now it’s happened and we’re bereft, do you expect us to flock to the church for platitudinous comfort because there’s nowhere else to go?”

    Well, of course you do and we’ve all seen vicars and ministers at funerals – wise, intelligent, pragmatic men and women – battling to justify the unjustifiable. And they know it. Nevertheless, they trot out the baloney of “this is the darkest hour when our faith is most severely tested”. You bet it is, God, you bet it is.

    For years now I’ve felt this same visceral anger when young British soldiers have died in wars where religion is the excuse for conflict. Raw teenagers who joined up because they couldn’t find work at home, or sought adventure beyond their PlayStations; kids who had as little concept of God as they did of Godot, who lost and are still losing their lives in the dust of Afghanistan – purely because fanatics decided to blow them to bits in the name of extremist faith.

    There is, for me, an obscenity in dying in someone else’s war, conducted, purportedly, in the name of an allegedly superior form of superstition. The coldly rational are entitled to ask the questions: why the no-show, Allah and God? Why not prevent the deadly squabble at CEO level?

    So I’ve never been a believer, though I’ve always, until now, had that wishy-washy episcopalian tolerance that takes occasional comfort from church ceremony, be it for crises or at carol services.

    Truth be told, I’ve sometimes envied the sense of belonging that real faith brings – that suspension of scepticism – but I’ve never been able to share it. And let me stress, I have been hugely grateful to those – friends and strangers alike – who have prayed for my recovery since my accident.

    I thrive on the love and kindness that this represents. I acknowledge that such things bring positive energy. I accept help from any quarter, rule nothing out. Shameful as it is to admit, I have not been above attempting the odd sneaky bargain, usually at night in my hospital bed: “Dear God, just in case you really do exist… if you could just get my left thumb working, I’ll stop swearing. And, if you could maybe see your way to bringing my right leg to life… well, I promise I’ll try to go to church.”

    Right now, however, reeling from the personal sadness around me, fresh out of platitudes with which to comfort the breaking hearts close to me, the only certainty I hold is that grief is indeed the price we pay for love – and no higher being can change anything. Oh, I tell a lie, I have another new certainty: that there are far worse fates than spinal cord injury. At least I am alive to support and participate, and still able to give hugs (after a fashion) and laugh a little.

    Naturally – for my life is the usual malscripted soap opera – it never rains but it pours. I am beset by another full-blown infection, one that makes my head swim and my feet swell and has drained all the power from my feeble muscles. I haven’t walked for days. God, or more likely antibiotics, will set me straight in 48 hours or so, but in the meantime I count my blessings and turn to the dog for distraction.

    “Come on, you, make me laugh. I need a smile.” “What’s it worth?” she says, eyeing me calculatingly. “You know I won’t get out of bed for less than that bowl of week-old leftover beef casserole that’s lurking in the fridge. Back left, bottom shelf. Behind the Lurpak.”

    “OK,” I say. “It’s a deal.” So she gets out of her basket, puts her front paws on my knees and dutifully bobs up her top lip to reveal her teeth in a hideous parody of a smile, snorting the way only Staffies can snort. “Honestly,” she says. “I feel like a performing seal.”

    “You are,” I say. “You are. But right now we need you badly.”

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