Bulldozer

Since Halloween, Mum and Dad have seen me a few times here in Winchester, and have spent the entirety of Christmas and New Year with me at home in Somerset. In that period, they have failed to notice one thing. Whilst it is inconspicuous enough to avoid attracting too much attention, it is unquestionably staring them in the face, sticking out like a sore thumb. There’s no denying it; my wheelchair is bent. The arm supporting its controls and the bag that hangs underneath is drooping downward, although I have done my best to straighten it and minimise the damage. As you may have guessed, I wouldn’t be mentioning this if there wasn’t a half-decent story behind it. Only a select group of people know it thus far – and they all agree that after keeping it under wraps for so long, it’s about time I told it…

The flat in which I spend most of my time at university is not my own (as some of you will know), but the one in which my friends live at the top of the block next door. As the end of October approached, it rapidly filled with various Halloween decorations. In the kitchen there was a neatly-carved pumpkin in the windowsill, numerous plastic spiders scattered around, a blood-spattered tablecloth and several balloons floating above the floor. Remember the last two – to be honest, I’m surprised they haven’t given me PTSD.

Picture this. It’s late on the evening of 31 October, and I am conversing casually with Lara, Nora and Ben when someone absent-mindedly begins throwing one of the balloons around. Let’s face it – what else are they good for? Very few people can resist batting them back and forth like Roger Federer on a Wimbledon winning streak, so it wasn’t long before we were all joining in. The strikes against the rubber became increasingly ferocious as we tried harder and harder to outdo each other, so the balloon quickly gathered speed. Nora passed it to Ben on her left. He shot left again towards Lara – and before I knew it, it had darted in my direction. It missed my hand. Engrossed in the ferocity of our competition, there was only one thing I could do as it fell beside me. In a flash, my seatbelt was off and I was diving head-first towards the balloon. Looking back, if I’d had any sense I would have made sure my chair was switched off. Needless to say, it wasn’t.

My entire bodyweight pushed the joystick forward as I dangled helplessly over my armrest, and the chair ploughed through the table before me like the world’s most pathetic bulldozer. Since I was hanging upside down throughout, those few seconds were a rapid blur, and I very quickly ended up in a miraculously uninjured heap on the floor. Nora and Lara were similarly lucky, since they narrowly missed being pinned against the wall, and their laptops likewise avoided an untimely end as they teetered on the edge of the table, mere centimetres from disaster. Ben was out of the danger zone, which meant he had a clear view of the whole thing, much to his considerable amusement. Even if he pictures it now, I think he still finds it funny! We could all laugh once we had established that no harm had been done, and we still do months later. We returned the table to its rightful position, straightened the laptops and got on with our evening, watching The Great British Bake Off. The only evidence that anything had happened came via a tear in the tablecloth and my chair’s bendy battle scar.

Oh, and Mum and Dad visited again last weekend. They didn’t notice then either.

Mason

Five Flights Of Stairs

When the security guard told me I’d have no choice but to stay where I was last Monday night, I knew what ensued could be both interesting and amusing. The lift in Lara’s block of flats had broken, and because she lives at the very top of it, I was obviously unable to get to the ground floor in order to reach my own flat. I instantly considered myself lucky that I wasn’t stuck with a group of people I didn’t know so well, and even more luckily for me, Lara and her flatmates were all too happy to have me. Once security had confirmed that the lift would not be fixed until the morning at the earliest, I retreated back into the kitchen – where we all usually socialise – to hatch a plan, while Lara and Ben went to my flat with my ID card to collect some of my things. They swiftly returned with a change of clothes, the leads for my laptop and phone, and my pyjamas, among other things – and they were all in a bag Deacon had lent them, which I still need to give back! My orange manual wheelchair was also summoned, and it waited patiently in the corner of the room for its call to action. Lara then very kindly said I was welcome to sleep in her bed, and that she would take the floor (insisting that the cushions from the sofa in the kitchen can be very comfortable when laid out correctly). We therefore had the sleeping arrangements covered rather quickly, and showering was a doddle too, even in a shower not designed for a disabled person like my own. I just had to keep my balance on my knees as best I could, without a seat to use!

The real challenge came the next morning, after Lara and I had giggled our heads off in the middle of the night thinking of names for disability dating sites (don’t ask). I would have to get downstairs somehow in order to reach my 9am lecture, and we had initially agreed that I would be carried downstairs in my manual chair with everyone in the flat bearing some of the weight. When we got to the top of the long staircase, however, we discovered that a Plan B would be needed, and fast. Ben had been confident that he would be able to lift the front of the chair all on his own, but it transpired that he had severely underestimated its weight with me sitting in it, as he immediately hurt his back upon trying to lift it. I joked with him beforehand about the risk of injury to anyone who tried hauling me around, but I was not actually expecting it to happen – thankfully, after apologising profusely multiple times, I think the risk of a lawsuit has now subsided. With Ben out of action, I then tried crawling down the stairs myself so that I wouldn’t hurt any more of my friends, but these stairs had sharp metal edges that dug into my legs and impeded my progress. Our third attempt finally got us to the ground, and it was one that I took part in on my own two feet, with Lara and Ryan each supporting one arm as Nora carried my wheelchair down behind us. Fortunately for her, it was a whole lot lighter without a passenger, and her back would emerge from this unscathed.

Our little trip meant – as the title of this post suggests – that we had to traverse the entirety of A Block and descend five whole flights of stairs. The support I had was sturdy enough to mean that falling over wasn’t really a concern for me, but it was for the other two – since I, the only non-walker of the trio, was going quicker than they could! Lara feared that I might end up pulling her over, and Ryan was losing the circulation in his  arm holding mine, so we stopped and started again wherever we needed to. Eventually, after many a hop, skip and jump (since I couldn’t get an entirely firm foothold on any of the stairs), we got to the bottom and I was able to transfer to my chair, much to Lara and Ryan’s shared relief. Once Lara had gotten to grips with pushing me along on the slopes of the steepest city in Hampshire, it was a straightforward downhill run to the lecture theatre – but going back up was a different story. When it was time to do that, Lara had to bend over in order to push properly and avoid slipping, so her inability to stand up straight – and my considerable weight – caused her more than a little bit of discomfort. Before long, the lift had been fixed, so she didn’t have to endure this for very long, but after all of her help and kind hospitality, buying her mac and cheese for lunch was the very least I could do. I am tremendously grateful for the assistance that everyone in her flat gave during the ordeal – above all, I think it served as a strong reminder of the importance and value of friendship. I just hope the lift stays reliable for a while…

Mason