I was confined to a wheelchair for about three months and I learnt much about the problems of the disabled in relation to transport and access. But I learnt even more about myself. As a physical educator, I had frequently worked closely with disabled people and regarded myself as being able to establish good rapport and to empathise effectively. As I became increasingly disabled I realised that I was in fact, prejudiced. Intellectually, I could cope, but as I was thrust inexorably into the realms of the disabled, I recognised that I didn’t want to be like them.
When I fully accepted that I was disabled, I enjoyed regular sessions of physiotherapy and the constructive help and advice of the occupational therapist. On one occasion, the therapist produced a swinging arm device which enabled me (after some practise) to feed myself again. This was a monumental leap forward in regaining my self-confidence and independence.
The device fitted easily on to my wheelchair but for some unexplained reason the wheelchair was recalled and I had to use any available chair. The feeding arm and tray did not fit these chairs and I had to be hand fed again. A change of wheelchair may seem minor but to me it was the most important thing in my life for three days and I was very depressed until the original chair was returned, thanks to the efforts of physiotherapists and the occupational therapist.
One of the treatments for polyneuritis is a course of steroids. Not all patients respond to this treatment, and some receive an initial boost and then relapse. In my case the effect was rapid and dramatic. From almost total inertia I perceived significant sensations of movement within 12 hours of the first injection. The first week of this treatment was joyous, I could feel sensations which had been absent for months. I could change position and sense recovery.
Recovery has taken a long time me. As I achieved greater control, I progressed from the wheelchair to elbow crutches, to a walking stick. I had to measure each footstep and to be careful about uneven ground. Heaving myself on to a bus was an effort while grip strength was still weak and once I didn’t quite make it: As I tried to step on to the bus I lost grip and leg strength and gently rolled back into the gutter. It was 10.30 a.m. and I am sure that the driver and passengers thought I was an early morning drunk.
Throughout this experience I was greatly sustained by the reassuring advice of the neurologist (and hospital staff and support services) and particularly by colleagues and friends who dispelled my loneliness and occasional depression and introspection.
My family were models of equanimity and reassurance. No doubt they view me now from a different perspective but like me they learnt much of value.
I learnt about myself, but, more particularly I learnt about the disabled. I am convinced that as a principle the disabled should have a much greater say in the management of their own, everyday affairs, and most disabled people wish to be treated ‘normally’, particularly in inter-personal relationships.