This story is by Carol McDonough and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Anniversary? It’s near twenty years. Amazing. Who’d have thought I’d have lived, who’d have thought, I walk! Well, most of the time… My history? My vestibular physical therapist suggested your falls and balance clinic to my doctor’, I joke, ‘…because I’m a semi quadruped.’ The neurologist I’ve just met, smiles understanding.
2002 Rolling Landrover cab. Me? Passenger. Rock rock crunch crunch crunch crunch crunch. Stop. Not. Silence. Hissing. Whaaaat? Narrowly avoiding us bursting into flames (I’m told by cops later they can tell), I managed to turn off ignition, release seat belt. Roll out crushed cab crumpling like a teddy bear. Unaware: No door -ripped off. Try yell help. No breath? No diaphragm breath.
Man lept barb wire fence near curious cows. I’d fallen, almost, into cardiopulmonary resuscitation position. Pass out. Darkness… CaSandra? Sandra? Sandra? Crack eyes. Shut tight. Quick! Not before I ‘snap’ good Samaritan angels present for this woman fallen by the bank of fast-flowing deep river.
All these years later, I’m recalling vividly right now, you meeting my eyes with compassion. One more roll, we’d have been upside down in the river, injured in our seat belts. Horrors for ages. Drowning? Ugh. We live … so did my Chihauhua, Gypsy. She was alone in the bush, days… I worry about the young ones, injured for life. Me? I’m way older. It’s still tough, some days.
I wish I could draw, paint compassion understanding love and care… Those three wrinkly faces. Mind’s eye, I see them still. Smartly uniformed cop. Off-duty emergency department nurse, she’d swung behind two screaming ambos. Woman, carer for her disabled husband.
‘Glass in eyes!’ Cop: ‘No worries luv! Always got tissues in my sock.’ Nurse checks my vital signs with her hands. Carer-wife, carefully brushes away ground glass, holds my shaking hand. So gentle, such inner strength, so caring. Crack eyes. Cop’s gone. She’s helping man with Tom, still spurting blood. Pass out… again. Come to. Being strapped. Pain. Everywhere. Yelp! Head’s being placed in collar. So carefully they lift my mangled glass-cuts body onto stretcher.
Was it days or minutes later? Blurred. Doctor rushed in ward, ‘You’ll be in a wheelchair for the rest of your life. Sorry’. Rushed out. I hear whimpering. Me. Patients outside my curtains move restlessly.
Physio sung me a different story, hope-giving. ‘I think much is shock.’ More testing. Hands on this time. She had my films, my MRI. ‘We’ll have to work hard.’ ‘I will.’ She got me walking while an inpatient, enough to avoid the wheelchair, but, not a wheelie ‘fate’. Did the doctor ever know?
Pain. Endless pain. Living deep in the country, no car, unable to drive, angelic voluntary driver service. Two hours to our major hospital outpatients, it was. Months and months of weekly primary rehab. Every day, twice a day, must practice. Practice…
Rolling along, all these years later… Falls, why I’m here, Doctor. I fall like a tree, toes to nose. Folds just go. All those physio’s squats! In an instant, my brain loses capacity to enable my body to joints-bend. Here’s my review MRI. It too showed ‘white’ tiny vessel strokes. Now I was told. More shock. ’Love your splots’, I learnt inwardly. Helps me regain walking, always gratitude for that unnamed first physio, grateful for the two who now enable my valuable independent living. This last fall, my head whacked on granite. I lost it, playing with my granddaughters. Slowly, slowly, I’ve built up my wasted muscles. I had to. I want to live alone for the rest of my life. I manage, with help. One physio says, ‘It must be hard having to regain walking’ I shrug. ‘I want to live independently. We’ve proven with your skilfulness, I can regain walking.’
2013 Wheelie! Housefire next door caused a bigger stroke. Here’s that MRI. The Occupational Therapist suggested, ‘Disability electric scooter to make your living independence easier.’ Keeping independence was my draw card! I call my best friend Scoota, I wish I’d had her since 2002. Close by my back door, I discovered it gave me freedom to Ride to Trees, to the smooth asphalt path. Struggle with my sticks half the distance between the trees, three metres. Snailpace, I increase steps. Touch trunk! Joy! Patience-persistence -practice, I remind me. I’m walking free again! I love those ancient Elms, my silent cheer squad.
Other walkers regard me oddly. Scooter and walking? No, it’s not either-or. Chorus of years: ‘Why’ve you got that thing? You’ll lose your walking.’ I quietly ask, ‘Do you drive to shops for your shopping? Or to walk the Botanic Gardens?’ ‘Of course!’ ‘Same for me. Scoota enables me buy supplies, reduces dependence, gives me choice and freedom. I scoot to ride or walk the gardens as I’m able. I love to gaze at our trees, ducks, water, the seasons, the changing light.’
Still, daily walking practice remains a struggle. When weather precludes, I’ve got to keep walking. Pace. Squats.’ Walk’ in bed. Start with shoulder blades, or start with bum, start with knees, now start with feet. Let, feel connections form, right through my body. ‘Walking’ on my back. Yay! I can now do it! Not so well, right side, stiff days. All help strengthen upright walking.
I’m wrinkly now, I remember three faces, I smile. They give me guts on the many days the toilet’s on the Moon, my kitchen’s on Mars. They gave courage to care – for myself, for others. ‘Don’t lose capacity’, I tell myself, ‘You can do it’. Year after year, I do. Mostly. Wobble! Grab on! Keep upright till sit. Rest. Try again. Much rest… orthopaedic bed, orthopaedic recliner-lifter chair.
My unit’s tiny. Two rooms. Mostly alone, I’m mostly content. My life wish? To live well every moment till I die. Best, gently cease breathing here, be prepared though, for hospital. My bright pink labelled hospital bag lives on the back of my door. I want to not be a menace for others. To care through awareness, that never stops – as I observe breath on limp days, on upright days. Every breath a prayer, said the Egyptian, St Antony the Great, sixteen hundred years ago. He’s right.
When out, vigilance. We’ve no path rules for pedestrians. No right side of road walking ‘travel’. Little awareness of others really. Mobile phones being tapped, earbuds, as a walker rounds a corner. I’m watching, ready to stop fast. Like a car, it is not instant. ‘Watch out’, alarmed, yell. Without my constant vigilance I could have hit that unaware mobile-absorbed pedestrian. Not one. Many.
Scooter gave, gives me life. But… A stick does not change one’s status. Much. Walker? More so. Disability scooter? Look out! Not look out for Scoota and me, but, look out for the dramatic changes in life status. Former ‘friends’ disregard. A vertical pedestrian exclaiming, ‘Watch out! You nearly hit me.’ If I have time, I stop. ‘Did I?’ ‘Look how far away I am from you.’ Bit abashed, ‘I was only joking.’ Looking up into the person’s eyes, I offer, ‘With respect, I’d like to invite you to see that that hurts me. I’m vigilant, I give way, even though my scooter status is the same as yours … A pedestrian.’ ‘Ah! Now I understand,’ each may say.
I’m sad for people still struggling with walking difficulty, their life made harder. Lip curling ‘I’m not ready for that thing.’ I ‘sing’ my joy of freedom, maybe illumining.
2019 Friend. She became our Shire’s Australia Day Awards Senior Citizen for disability access education. We stopped our steeds, making sure there was passing distance for walkers. Chatting about her Honour, she commented on surprise from some. What fell out of my mouth was ‘Many think because we are not using our legs, we are not using our brains for the common good.’ ‘That’s it!’ Her eyes gleamed, she smiled. She goes wheelie-walking, she names it. We often pass on the creek track under our great sunlit gum trees.
Walking…. Walking….. Walking!
2021 Scoota decided to roll backwards down our hill. Why? Failed motor, no brakes. Whaaaat? Backwards! Seconds for safety. Without thought, I yanked down hard, swung, crashed backward into the steep bank, stilled across the narrow pedestrian path. Relief. Realised Scoota didn’t fall down the gutter curb either. We could have rolled, if we had. I watch traffic lights, two highways intersection, trucks, just down there … Trembling … shaking hard. Horror! There’s a jumble, there’s a tumble, ‘If brain hadn’t stopped us! My brain must be rebuilding! It’s all happening again! No it’s not. You’re safe. You’re conscious. Crashing hurting everywhere, neck, yelp! What now?’ Eventually shaking stops enough for me to attempt to put my feet to the sloping ground. Can I stand? No! Crumple to seat. Someone, anyone, please come … It’s community market day, I was only quickly buying home-made bread …