February 2010 Archives

Time of the signs

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It's a source of amusement to me every time our beloved daughter sees a disabled sign and says, "Look Daddy, there's a picture of you." However, I'm not sure that the usual pictogram is the most flattering likeness I  have seen...


For those who haven't seen it, the above version is my reflection on the rather passive appearance of a wheelchair user.

A trip to The British Museum this week revealed an altogether more pleasing image in use there:


It does look rather like our heroic wheelchair user is doing battle with a diminutive Sumo wrestler, while under fire from Robin Hood, but it's certainly much more dynamic.

Incidentally, our hero obviously defeats the sumo, but Robin and his merry men are clearly unfamiliar with the Disability Discrimination Act as is revealed by the sign next to the stairs. I'm not sure how 'safe' this particular area looks, if you ask me.


OK, it's a small thing, but it is nice to see an image that suggests at least some level of independence, rather than the traditional tea trolley in blue so widely used.


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So, episode 2 of Dancing On Wheels airs tonight, and I shall be tuning in. But not for the dancing, per se.  I have mixed feelings about wheelchair dancing. Not other people dancing, you understand, but me dancing. Or not (I did cover the subject in one of my columns for The Times).

I must confess to having a bit of a problem with ballroom dancing altogether. Ballroom dancing is to dancing what Hangin' Tough by New Kids on The Block is to hip hop. I feel that dance works best as an emotional reaction to music, not buttock clenching displays of teeth, tits and glitter.

No, the reason I find dancing on wheels interesting is that it offers a great opportunity to watch how people react to wheelchairs and their users. Those people in the population who don't have regular contact with wheelchair users can end up weighed down with a whole heap of baggage -preconceptions, intimidation, or just mystification- and the programme offers the opportunity to unpack some of this stuff and get people a bit more used to wheelchairs.

You see, you can stare at the television. In fact, you're supposed to stare at the television. So maybe some people will watch and get a little more insight into what's involved in moving around the world in a wheelchair. As long as they don't expect us all to don the spandex and sequins...

pneu-man weeps on the sofa.

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What's in a name? Well how about this one...

The latest addition to my affliction collection (will this effing winter ever end?) is something that has been sensitively called 'walking pneumonia'. Yes, walking pneumonia.

It is a mild form of pneumonia caused by the Mycoplasma pneumoniae organism that allows the afflicted to continue in their daily activities, albeit in a rather lack lustre condition.

This goes a long way towards explaining why I've been feeling so rubbish of late, and coupled with the tapering of my Amatryptyline (see blogs passim.) it has given me the full freedom to weep great big man-tears about manly things. In this case Matthew Modine losing his best buddy in Full Metal Jacket. I have decided to use the opportunity to catch up on one or two movies that I have been meaning to watch.

Oh, I know, it sounds like a bit of a doss. But I do have a hacking, unproductive cough, sore chest, head-ache and a certain amount of dizziness (maybe it's Kubrick's 'verite' camera shake). So while I offer defiance, the truth is, walking pneumonia is proving to be anything but a walk in the park (cue consumptive La Boheme-style coughing).

On the shoulders of giants

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While talking of fatigue, and again in response to a posting on Andrew Farrow's fine SCI blog.

On the subject of shoulders, etc. I have been increasingly aware of two distinct schools of thought.

1. Don't strain your shoulders. They will give out and you will be further impaired. Avoid lifting, transfers, pushing up hills, sometimes all pushing is discouraged. I have even read recommendations that paras, even low level paras should use powerchairs to save on wear and tear.

2. The body is a machine. The best way to keep a machine working properly is to use it properly. Pushing a wheelchair does cause shoulder problems. But often these problems are made worse by the uneven development of the shoulder. Because pushing is narrow range of movement, the muscles in the shoulders become unbalanced. This often causes long term wheelchair users to develop rolled shoulders, almost a stooped look.

Professor Brian Andrews at Brunel who was instrumental in starting the FES rowing programme described how one of the many benefits of rowing comes from the action being pretty much opposite to the action of pushing a wheelchair. This can help the muscles in the shoulders to develop a more balanced shape, and also by strengthening the muscles it can help to prevent wear and tear on the joints themselves.

I tend to find from experience that the less I do, the less I am able to do. If I lead a sedentary life for a few days, I have less energy, more pain, slower bowel function and a lower mood.

Able-bodied people in their fifties are not encouraged to walk less in order to preserve their hips. While pushing and transferring are quite extreme movements, if the shoulders are kept strong and used reasonably cautiously I would expect them to last longer than if they are not used.

Ultimately, only time will tell.

Highs, lows and pants on your head...

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I've spent the last week surrounded by technological innovation, blue-sky thinking and a new attitude to mobility. All will become clear in the near future, I can assure you.

What I have found is that there are days when just meeting someone for lunch and a couple of hours of chat can leave me so exhausted that I have to lie down. This isn't everyday, but nor is it predictable.

And yet on other days I can work all day and then play tennis until 10pm in the evening.

I suppose I can't really ignore the fact that I am weaning myself off amatryptyline at the moment. It is a slow process, with a drop of 5mg per week, but while I have been taking it for neuropain, it is an anti-depressant. This leaves me with a nagging twinge of anxiety that it has been slightly insulating me from the 'life's a pile of poo' vibe that can come with grey weather, neuropathic pain and impaired mobility...

OK, so now to the pants: It was something Rob Brydon said on a TV panel show, where he described getting undressed, finishing with a flick of the foot and catching his pants on his head. You'd want to hear a "Ta-Daa!"

Anyway, I found myself with a pang of grief, because I could almost feel the whole movement. As is often the case, it's not so much the stairs or problems with public transport that cause a feeling of sadness. Rather, it's those moments of frivolous spontaneous movement that are so fondly remembered. And so keenly missed.


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