The day finally dawned when Hubby accepted my disability and the fact that despite nearly one hundred sessions of physio over the past two years to help with reoccurring bouts of tendonitis, numerous sessions of acupuncture to help control the pain, and a meniscus op, he agreed to let me buy a wheelchair so I could enjoy shopping trips to large shopping malls, supermarkets, DIY stores and sprawling garden centres etc.
A well-meaning physiotherapist had advised him about a year ago, that if I resorted to using a wheelchair I would not bother to try and walk. Rubbish – let her walk thirty meters in my shoes: The pain is so intense at times, I can barely walk from the car to the supermarket entrance let alone up and down all the aisles and then stand in the check-out queue for twenty minutes. This means I often wait in the car while hubby goes shopping. Thanks to her, I became a prisoner of my disability until I rebelled and had a meltdown. Now I can walk until the pain becomes unbearable and then continue in the wheelchair as a last resort.
I placed the order for my wheelchair from a catalogue at a health shop in the local shopping centre. After about ten days, we received notification that my order had arrived and was ready for collection.
I stared at the chair as it looked tiny in comparison to the one I’d recently tried in Lee Roy Merlin’s DIY store. I sat down and my bottom became wedged in the seat as fat surplus to space available oozed out from every available aperture of the chair. I looked up at the sales assistant.
‘This chair is a child’s chair, it’s way too small for me’, I said as I tried to extract myself from the chair which almost groaned with relief when we parted company.
‘Mrs. Carole, maybe if you lost weight the chair would fit’, she replied.
I looked at her and then at my husband as he shuffled from foot-to-foot and then found something worthy of his attention on the ceiling. Whether husband heard my sharp intake of dragon’s breath and feared I was about to eat her alive I don’t know, but at this point he took charge and another wheelchair was duly ordered with an extra-large seat.
Its first real outing was on a trip back to the UK and it would be on the day when there was torrential rain. We both got soaked as we quickly discovered, you can’t hold an umbrella while pushing a wheelchair and neither can the passenger as it obstructs the view.
One of the disadvantages of sitting in a chair is that people talk down to you and often, in more ways than one. I am already vertically challenged but this further reduction in my social standing – pun intended – was a little disconcerting. You also become more aware of not only people’s bulging bellies but the way dogs eye up your wheels as a potential place to cock their leg and leave their scent.
Our trip into town culminated in me mastering the art of a three-point turn and putting my chariot into reverse and an about-turn when hubby parked me in a row of buggies with screaming toddlers. You’ve got to be joking!
Back in Portugal, I plucked up the courage to take my new wheelchair for a night out on the town. I felt excited, yet apprehensive. We were meeting friends, going for a meal then a meander down through the rustic town of Lagos before staying overnight in a hotel so we could all enjoy a drink or two.
This was not only the first time I’d taken my wheelchair on a night out with friends but the first time we’d used it around the cobbled streets of Lagos. Fortunately, we found some street parking opposite the restaurant which meant I could walk rather than wheel. I will add, that despite barely being able to walk more than a few meters. I have been told by a doctor obtaining a disabled parking badge in Portugal is nigh on impossible… and probably explains why most of the disabled parking spaces are empty except for foreign tourists.
For anyone who is unfamiliar with the quirks of pushing a wheelchair, or being the passenger, Lagos is not wheelchair friendly due to the steep, uneven, calcada, cobble-style streets with limited wheelchair-friendly slopes on kerbs.
As Hubby pushed me around the cobbled streets I began to giggle. My teeth rattled so much in reply to the uneven ground, I seriously wondered if my fillings would become dislodged which in turn led me to wonder how much fixant people wearing dentures would need to keep them in place!
Then, there are the landmines such as the missing calcada blocks which create holes just large enough for the front wheels of the wheelchair to get wedged in. The first one we found, due to lack of concentration whilst looking upwards at the Christmas lights, nearly catapulted me from my seat as the wheelchair came to an abrupt halt then lurched perilously sideways. We also had to contend with the raised drain covers and other assorted obstacles to the point the journey resembled drunken skiers trying to navigate a slalom course.
Other challenges aside, I was also on red alert looking for dogs’ poo which we jokingly refer to as landmines. It’s bad enough removing it from shoes, yet alone wheels and hands. Yuck.
Another quirk I notice when using a wheelchair is that some people talk down to you as if you are stupid or they trip over you while texting on their mobile phones.
Wheelchair challenges aside, we had an entertaining evening and a renewed determination to consult yet another ‘specialist’ for yet another opinion on my cantankerous knees and apply for a badge. We will see.