It’s been a while since I mentioned Melanie Reid, a journalist for The Times newspaper who writes Spinal Column on a weekly basis, every Saturday, in The Times Magazine.
Melanie Reid broke her neck and back in a riding accident in April 2010 and began writing Spinal column shortly thereafter. Her column is one of the first I turn to every weekend – after Caitlin Moran, obviously – being a total fan of Melanie’s brusque no-nonsense approach to living life in a wheelchair.
I love her writing for it’s honesty, humour, wit and love and I relate to it like no other writing on wheelchair life that I’ve read. Maybe because I’m a similar age to her, maybe because, like her, my paralysis is so extensive and happened so quickly. Whatever, entirely unknown to her, we’ve shared a huge amount of similar life experiences and, for me, the relief and release of just not feeling quite so alone with it all – this huge and unwelcome life change – is something I feel ridiculously grateful to this woman I’ve never met, or spoken to, for.
She achieves, for me, everything I hoped to do for others when I created my own Stiletto Wheels blog way back in 1997. She just does it better, in the glare of the public, on a much bigger platform. You, go, girl. As Oprah – my long term lifestyle guru – might say.
Today, Saturday 5 May 2018, Melanie wrote Spinal Column: access all areas? If only.
I started laughing out loud at paragraph one:
One of the primary laws of survival in a wheelchair is distrust. In particular, distrust of people who assure you that their place is easily accessible. “Oh, you’ll get in here no bother,” they say. “Loads of room for a wheelchair,” they enthuse. Then there’s the blithe, “Just a couple of steps.” And the one that strikes fear in your heart: “No problem, we’ve got some ramps.”
The truth of this is both painful and hilarious. It happens so many times and ‘…fear in the heart.’ So true. Melanie continues:
Years on, I am still learning this. The hard way. The thing is, a fit person’s concept of accessibility is always wildly optimistic. It doesn’t matter if they’re a member of your family or the head of a company: their assessment will be based on good intentions but a genuine lack of awareness of how unwieldy and precarious a wheelchair can be.
Cue: last week at the Boffi showroom in Knightsbridge, a huge step (about 20cm) and our Roll-A-Ramp full out with me, looking dubious. D said, “You’ll be fine.”
We then had a parallel experience to that described by Melanie in her closing paragraph:
… I went for a first appointment at a dentist’s surgery. Ground floor and wheelchair accessible, they said … which, translated, meant ramps for the steep steps at the front door. When put in place, these resembled the crevasse ladders on the Khumbu Icefall. I am no Sherpa. My power chair agreed: the front reared up, but the rear wheels simply couldn’t get traction. There followed a sad little scene, played out in full view of the busy road. Dave tried to push. A dentist in his scrubs tried to push. Several passers-by stopped and offered to push as well: I was surrounded by a gaggle of kindness and goodwill. But all I could think, as my wheels spun in the too tight angle where the ramp met the concrete, was how on earth, even if I did get up, would I get safely down again.
Thanking everyone, and apologising, as one does in these situations, I made an exit as quickly as possible, Dave muttering profanely behind me. If swearing were banned, I don’t know how he’d cope.
Okay, I was trying to see some Michael Anastassiades lights at Boffi which isn’t quite the same as going to the dentist; we were in Knightsbridge so no help offered as people simply scurried by, staring; and my D isn’t a Dave but the profanity from me and my D … Hilarious.
And, I didn’t get to see the lights.
Melanie Reid. Love her writing. Click across and read, though you will need a subscription sadly. I’d love to share her for free.