Five years ago today, on 27 October 2010 (I think), I had my first proper operation. If I remember rightly, it was to lengthen both of my hamstrings so that my legs would be less tight and learning to walk would be easier. It was a serious low point in an otherwise memorable year – I did get to go to the British Grand Prix, after all – and the six weeks that followed the procedure, with both legs in plaster, were among the worst I’ve ever had. Ironically, considering the operation was meant to increase my independence, I was totally dependent on everybody else. Even when the plaster finally came off, after what seemed like an age, nothing really got easier for quite a while. In the hospital, when my legs moved free after being stretched out in front of me for weeks, the scream I let out was one that can only be described as blood-curdling and one that even dogs could’ve heard. When I got home and settled back into normality, I was still in discomfort, and I’d also lost a fair amount of weight with the lack of movement or exercise. By this stage, Christmas was only a few weeks away, and that wouldn’t be the best time to “lose sparkle” – as someone at school put it – for anyone. My mood was rotten, and part of me really believes that that Christmas was slightly ruined because of it.
In the subsequent months, my then-normal physiotherapy at school continued to try to get me back up to strength, whilst hydrotherapy in a special pool at the hospital got my legs moving again in the comfort of the water. This must have had some benefit, but I didn’t really help myself. Five years down the line, I’m not walking and there have been no real changes as a result of the operation. I didn’t do any of the exercises I was supposed to at home, nor did I try walking on my sticks. Some might say it’s laziness, and maybe that does come into it somehow, but mainly I believe it’s down to the simple fact that if I did start walking, getting around like everybody else, it’d be a massive culture shock. Life from a wheelchair is all I’ve ever known, and I’m not sure I could deal with everything changing into something completely alien to me. This is my life, and from my chair I’ve learned to be independent in other ways. I can dress myself, make tea and toast, shower independently and get around my house. To an able-bodied person these things wouldn’t warrant a second thought, but they are achievements I am proud of. I try to act and treat others in the right way, and I’d like to think I haven’t misjudged this very often. I’m also grateful for the chance to discover new abilities from my own perspective, as a disabled person – judge me if you like, but in many ways I’m comfortable just the way I am.