Tim Rushby-Smith: May 2008 Archives

Trophy rife

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Returning triumphant from the British National Wheelchair Tennis Championships, I would like to completely refute any comments that have been attributed to me about not wanting to take sport too seriously. Instead I find myself snickering like a demented Muttley and demanding medals.

All that clarified, I must confess that I was much relieved when the last game was over. I played far too much tennis and slept far to badly for someone of my advanced years. The sleep was deprived by the hotel's entry for the 'hardest mattress known to mankind' competition.

 The overdose of tennis was partly due to trying to keep my arms from seizing up by taking to the practice court on regular occasions, but mainly because the game is so damn addictive. Especially as any strong, topspinned clear winners on the practice court were distorted by the pressures of competition until they resembled the wafty swings of a foppish dandy fending off the odours of the poor with a lace handkerchief.

Still, I won. I won the singles (novice) and the doubles (c division) with my doubles partner Sarah Baillie, a former basketball player who played for GB in Atlanta and Sydney (Paralympics), but who is also new to tennis.

To be fair, the standard in the novice/c division wasn't hugely high and we all suffered from a bit of nerves. We had new balls for each game, proper umpires and everything.

The evenings were taken up with a bit of socialising, including the odd piece of what would probably be described as un-PC humour. It seems the combination of a whole bunch of competitive disabled people seems to encourage some of the darkest and most ruthless gags.

Still, big up Stuart Wilkinson and Trippletts tennis club for capturing a huge sack full of titles. My meager contribution included to the fine showing for Trip's Crips (tm).

And now I shall sleep all week and dream of a serve that doesn't disappear as soon as I think about it...



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No... Not extra large, but 40, see?
Yes, I have trundled over that particular hill, and I must say the view is largely the same. Not perhaps where I imagined I would be sitting at 40 (in a wheelchair, and all), but if you think a little too much, it's a wonder I made it this far.

I have received a fantastic array of cards initiated by Penny, each containing a memory or impression of me from down the years. From standing in a doorway with my terry-toweling nappy around my ankles (I was three, OK?), to tales of excess or witticisms cast around like grain. I'm touched that people think well of me, as I must be one annoying bastard sometimes...

On the subject of this annoying bastard, my ego has been inflated after I was recognised in the street for the first time last week. It turned out to be someone whose brother was in an accident on his bicycle a couple of months ago and has a T4 spinal cord injury. I hope that he finds the book useful. It's always a bit weird thinking of people who are just embarking on the long and painful journey back to picking up their lives again.

I had a few pangs the other day. Once when R insisted that I take my shoes and socks off to play with her in the sand pit in the park. I really struggled to work out what to do. Seeing as I can't feel my feet, am I supposed to avoid getting sand between my toes? Or should I be avoiding getting sand in my shoes? I did remove my shoes and socks, mainly because I was told to by an insistent nearly-three-year-old, but all that happened is I longed to feel the sand between my toes OR in my shoes. Then when we got home in the evening I found myself looking at the steps up to the front door, and spent the minute or so on the annoyingly slow platform lift remembering how I used to run at the steps and clear them all with one stride. It's the simple, energetic exuberances of spontaneous movement that I miss most keenly.

I'm busy trying to play as much tennis as I can to minimise the embarrassment potential as I hurtle towards the National Wheelchair Tennis Championships at the end of next week. I must point out that I am competing the the Novice division, which I think is a great concept.

In fact, I don't know why this model isn't adopted for all major sporting events. The World Cup (novices, or just people who are rubbish at football), Test Matches...actually, come to think of it, England seem to be following this model already.

Right, I'm away to prepare myself for the latest magazine photoshoot. Ah, the glamour. What? No, it's not for a 'glamour' magazine, I just meant..oh, never mind.


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An outing to the London Fields Lido to take advantage of the first summer of 2008. The first summer usually lasts about a week and takes place in May. The second summer usually lasts about a week and takes place in September. Between lie torrential rain, hail, hurricane, snow, floods, plague, pestilence, sleepy, grumpy, doc, dave, dee, dozy, beaky, mick and titch.

The Lido has been beautifully renovated, and feels almost Australian when it's sunny and over 20c. We had a great swim, my daughter R bedecked in armbands and a rubber ring, me with a float around my ankles (stops my feet scraping on the rough tiles on the bottom of the pool), and Penny pulling us up and down like a family tug. Once out of the pool, I sat with R and watched as Pen swam a few lengths.

 The swimming pool is another of those bitter-sweet environments. Whereas the playground experience gets easier as R gets more confident, it's going to be an awfully long time until I can take her swimming on my own. Watching dads taking their toddlers for a swim, and hoisting them on to the hip, or throwing them in the air, all these things pull at me. They pierce the protective layer painstakingly built up over the last three years, and suddenly it's all fresh and new again. In truth this happens a little less frequently these days, but summer will  increase the potential for such sharp reminders.

If you're wondering why I'm so maudlin, it may be in part excused by the ominous rumble of my 40th birthday, groaning and wheezing as it comes lumbering over the horizon. It is tomorrow. With this in mind I should like to take this opportunity to unveil the first phase of my mid-life crisis...


(Rest assured, I shall NOT be sporting leather trousers any time soon)

Thoughts on pain

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I have just been sent a link to the McGill University website in Montreal. This I found interesting. I never realised that my pain is part of a wider Cartesian discourse. I think therefore I...OW!

"Until recently, most people who considered the problem agreed with the concept first proposed by French philosopher René Descartes in 1664 that pain is an alarm that signals injury to the body, that pain stimuli travel to the brain and the brain registers them. Pain, according to this theory, is therefore necessary, unavoidable and inevitable.

That was before Dr. Ronald Melzack came along. He is a McGill psychologist widely regarded as one of the fathers of pain research because of the pivotal Gate Control Theory of pain that he developed with Dr. Patrick Wall, a British biologist.

First published in 1965, it suggests that a "gating system" in the spinal cord opens or closes to increase or decrease pain messages to the central nervous system and the brain. It also argues that the brain has a dynamic role in the way the body processes pain depending on experience, genetics and other psychological influences.

When the theory was published and absorbed, it caused a sensation. Researchers in disciplines ranging from zoology and physiotherapy to anaesthesiology and dentistry saw new possibilities and followed up. So did Dr. Melzack.

In 1971, he published what is still known as the McGill Pain Questionnaire.

It asks patients to evaluate their own pain using words like throbbing, shooting, stabbing, sharp, cramping, gnawing and burning and then decide whether it is mild, moderate or severe.

Melzack recognized that such descriptions were subjective but he argued that they could be quantified. Today, doctors and nurses around the world use the questionnaire as a useful tool for diagnosis.

Then, he turned his attention to phantom limb pain - the real pain that people feel in a limb after it has been amputated or after they have suffered a serious injury to the spinal cord.

This led him to argue that the brain has a built-in "neuromatrix" of nerve cells that creates patterns of physical sensation, even when the part of the body they map is no longer there. 

"Where do we go from here?" he asked in 1999 in an article in the journal Pain.

"I believe the great challenge ahead of us is to understand brain function.

"The brain generates the experience of the body," he wrote. "Sensory inputs merely modulate that experience; they do not directly cause it."

Melzack had turned Descartes' theory on its head."

There. See?

Roll models

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A trip to my old spinal unit today for a caliper fitting. I am still trying to walk, despite physics and biology offering irrefutable evidence that this is
1) Impossible, and
2) a really silly idea (see 1)

And so I persist with the extensive leg-scaffolding that allows me to 'walk'. This does have other health benefits. It's good for my circulation, and because putting weight through my legs helps preserve bone density so my legs don't snap like twiglets whenever I transfer. This happens because the body re-absorbs the 'unwanted' calcium from the bones, and then coats them with Marmite (one of these facts may be untrue and yeasty tasting).

I had hoped to master the caliper walking thing in time for the book launch. I planned to leap up mid way though my speech and shout, "It's all been an elaborate hoax!" But I fear this would have been too cruel on my family, who would probably have joined an angry crowd in 'stoning' me with copies of my own book.

Anyway, there I was in the spinal injuries centre...
Signage belonging to the sponsor of some of the facilities was being taken down as part of their rebranding. With it came their 'inspirational picture' of a man in a wheelchair sitting in front of a microlight aircraft. It led to an interesting discussion that reminded me of some of the thoughts around my book. Namely, what makes the best inspirational story? A picture of someone overcoming immense odds to climb a mountain in a wheelchair, or a picture of someone doing something that is more likely to be achieved by the people who are being inspired? And how do you come up with something that has the widest appeal?

I thought a nice image of someone in a wheelchair with a spectacular view behind them. One would obviously have to choose the view carefully. Grand Canyon? Yes. Beachy Head? Maybe not. I remember an early cover idea for my book showed an empty wheelchair on a beach. I think it was supposed to be sombre and reflective, but to me it looked as if someone had just been dumped in the ocean. This was before I had finished writing the book, so it's just as well that 'sombre and reflective' now sleeps with the fishes.

So here's the problem: How do you come up with something that inspires everyone and is both extraordinary and achievable? I didn't say I knew the answer. As I was leaving, I noticed that the sign had been covered up with a piece of white paper, on which was printed the words, "TEMPORARY SIGN".

Oh, and here's a picture of my new mechanic. She's a bit slapdash, but her rates are very reasonable...

Wheelchair mechanic.jpg


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