One area that continues to catch me out on occasion is what should be a straightforward daily ritual - Getting dressed. Some of the techniques we use may come as a surprise to those who have not considered the additional complications that come with paralysis. For example, did you know that we have to wear our socks inside out to prevent the seam that runs across the toes of most socks from marking our skin and causing a potential pressure sore? Or that we have to remove any buttons, studs or flaps from the back of trousers and jeans for the same reason?
In truth, the whole process has been made somewhat easier by moving to Australia, where it rarely gets cold enough to wear half of the clothing that it rarely gets warm enough not to wear in the UK. But certain items are essential for legal reasons, and the challenges offered by dressing often carry the additional complication of having to be faced in the morning, when I am barely conscious. By the way, this means any time between 7am (rarely) and about 11 (sadly more common).
In order to better enable the reader to appreciate just what is involved, I thought I would highlight a few of the more common struggles.
1. The half superhero.
This was a new one for me. Heartening that even after ten years with a spinal cord injury, I still struggle to dress myself. It happened this morning, and was certainly due to a lack of decent sleep. I began by slipping one of my legs into my undercrackers and then straight into my jeans. This can feel like a time saving sequence, and usually passes off peacefully. So far so good. However, my dressing routine was then interrupted by a howl of anguish, and the bedroom door was thrown open by a small child clutching a Lego minifigure covered in porridge. Once the crisis had been resolved, I then put my other leg into my jeans and then attempted to get the foot into my undies. It took me far too many seconds to identify what the issue was, and the ensuing tangle was far from dignified.
2. The arsey bustle.
This one will be familiar to any SCI swimmers out there. After a dip, the most practical approach is to drape a towel over the seat of the swimmer's wheelchair in order to keep the cushion a bit drier. When clothes are then applied, the dresser discovers that swimming seems to have added several inches to the waistline, and doing up the waist button and flies has become an impossibility. As you may have gathered from the name, the usual cause is that the towel has used the clamminess of post-swimming buttocks in order to invade the victim's clothing.
3. Toe jam
When applying a shoe, the dresser finds it impossible to get their heel into the piece of footwear. After much straining and swearing, the withdrawal of the foot reveals a mangled mess of twisted toes. Upon further investigation the shoe is found to contain a sock/pair of socks/champagne cork/Lego minifigure covered in porridge.
4. Sleeve it be
This is not intended as a boast, but my shoulders and arms are on the larger side these days. It's an occupational hazard that comes with being a wheelchair user, and it can make buying shirts and t-shirts challenging at times. I prefer not to be impeded by my clothing, but nor do I want to go straight to the kaftan option.
5. Off the cuff
In preparing to make a presentation/accept an award/deliver a eulogy/sit a job interview, the dresser puts on a crisply laundered and freshly ironed shirt, only to discover that in the journey from the ironing board to their body, the shirt has picked up some unspeakable and definitely stainy substance from their wheelchair's tyre.
6. Tie died
Having sponged into a smudgy mess whatever goo has populated the shirt cuff, the dresser must now turn his attention to the tie. This baffling accessory can be fraught with potential complications, even for a biped. It can end up in the soup, or over the shoulder in the slightest of breezes. Just tying the damn thing to the right length when the wearer is permanently sat usually takes about eight goes, and even then it inevitably peeks too far out of the bottom of the suit jacket (see below) like the tongue lolling from the mouth of an overheated labrador.
7. The Quasimodo
The perennial problem of formal attire. The wearer dons a suit jacket and spends several minutes pulling at the side flaps and tucking the bottom of the jacket in all the way around, only for their first push to make the whole thing to ride up and completely conceal their neck and ears, while the lapels open like the mouth of half-starved baby bird.
I have been assured that a decent tailor can make a suit that prevents this from happening, but I have yet to have a post-injury suit tailor made. Apparently, the difficulty faced by the tailor is the same as the one presented by conductors waving their arms around in time to the music.
Faced with the difficulties associated with suit jackets, some wheelchair users choose instead to opt for a waistcoat without a jacket. I can see the advantages, and I'd love to be able to adopt it, but the Mod in me just can't face the idea. It's just too... well, Status Quo, isn't it?
I'm sure there are more, but you get the general idea.
As for getting into and out of a wetsuit? That's definitely a tale for another day.