There are two ways of looking at the challenges life throws at you: you can give in, be worn down by it or try looking at life from a different perspective. Whatever, it can be a struggle. Liz having to use a wheelchair for any outdoor, and some indoor, activities could be an example. For more than 20 years she has tackled the ‘dodgy knee’ fiasco. Having had a knee replacement, at a very early age, when she was young enough to be the grand-daughter, or even great grand-daughter, of all the other bed occupants, she found that this brand new, Teflon knee would not bend, not at all. They put her under anaesthetic to pull it about, attached her to some kind of torture machine, on two occasions, to try and get it to move with mechanical intervention. Nothing. Loads of physiotherapy. Nothing except a lot of guilt because the physiotherapists implied that this was happening because she wasn’t working hard enough at the exercises.
For twenty years she drove with a left-leg adaptation (resulting in two major car accidents when it went for a service because the mechanics didn’t listen to her instructions about what they needed to do so instead of pressing the brake they pressed the accelerator!) and she walked with a stick. She never attempted steps because she knew that would end up with weeks of pain; the one thing about a knee replacement, even if it doesn’t bend, is that the pain goes away.
During the last year, she knew that her ‘good knee’ (the one that had not been operated on) was deteriorating. We all knew this from the speed of her walking; there is slow and there is a ‘snail’s pace’. There was a lot of pain. Then one day it collapsed. It wouldn’t bend; it wouldn’t weight-bare and was excruciating. We needed some problem-solving techniques here. First there was the GP (big injection, lots of tablets, warning not to walk at all and a referral to the hospital), then there was the orthopaedic consultant who was helpful but recognised that if you have one fixed knee then it would be a disaster to have two fixed knees. He didn’t say that would happen but he couldn’t rule it out; the percentage rate of a successful knee replacement was clearly much reduced. He suggested seeing a consultant rheumatologist. The rheumatologist was great; another big injection. His advice was to put off the replacement as long as possible, keep having the injections and make sure you don’t have muscle wastage in the ‘good’, now ‘bad’, leg. All sounds reasonable but how do you get around? Does life just stop? Do you become ‘housebound’?
So we decided to look at the options. (I bet you are wondering where this is going and how it links to the Royal Yacht Britannia!). A scooter? One of those lightweight ones that folds up and goes in the car. Sounds like a good idea. We hired one for a week. This was a nightmare because it was not easy for me to dismantle and lift in the car. You can’t get away from the fact that scooter batteries are very heavy. Not only that, it was apparently very uncomfortable. (I say ‘apparently’ because I never tried it but it looked wobbly). You only had to look at it to see that two straight leg bouncing along the road wasn’t going to be the best option. So I suggested we tried hiring a lightweight wheelchair. This was much better; I could walk at a reasonable pace using the wheelchair as a Zimmer frame and Liz was more comfortable. So she bought one, even lighter, that came apart and had a leg extension to support her fixed knee. We had pace, speed and comfort.
Now we had to rethink things. We were already avoiding steps but slopes were now a no-go area because I’m too old and crumbly to push a wheelchair up a slope (No, an electric wheelchair wasn’t an option because it would be the same problem as a scooter). Suddenly supermarkets were wonderful places to go, flat, smooth floors, wide aisles but you don’t want to spend your day in a supermarket. Canal towpaths, old railway tracks, tourist attractions!
We had been to Edinburgh so many times, walked around the city, been to the Fringe Festival and knew that their pavements were not always the best. We had stopped off on Edinburgh in December 2018 on our way back home from Aberdeen. The Royal Yacht Britannia was about 200 yards from our hotel. This was definitely not the sort of place we would normally visit on holiday; we preferred gardens and the open air to indoor attractions. However, we both knew that this would be accessible to a wheelchair. It was too big an attraction, with too many awards, not to be fully accessible so we gave it a go. All these years we had been missing out on an amazing attraction. Each floor of the Yacht was accessed by a gangplank and each floor was reached by either stairs or a lift. Every floor was fully accessible to a wheelchair and there were lots of staff available to help if needed. Once you know the access is ok, you can relax and enjoy what was on offer. Sure, there was an amazing dinner room for the Royal Family to have formal meals with visiting dignitaries but the lounges and bedrooms, offices and sun decks were more informal. The walls had family photos showing members of the Royal Family out of the limelight, relaxing. The quarters for the staff were somewhat limited but the laundry and ironing room were huge. This was not what either of us expected and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, questioning why we had never been before! There was a tea towel on display in the Captain’s kitchen!! Not only that, they had so many tea towels on sale in the Gift Shop!!
The trip to the Royal Yacht Britannia made us think about day trips and holidays in a different way; there must be lots of places that were accessible and that we needed to think about not what we couldn’t do (like walking on the beach but we think we have found a solution to this) but all the things we can do; open our minds to a new world and stop feeling sorry for ourselves. Liz’s excursions in a wheelchair have made her see a lot of positives, including that it is a lot easier to get around a hospital in a wheelchair than trying to walk the horrendous distances, along miles of corridors, and feel completely knackered at the end of it! Bring on the holidays!!