ESSAY Ellie Rees

NWR Issue 105

A Minor Incident on the Way to Buy Toothpaste

The teenage years were over, both sons were safely ensconced at St Andrew’s University and they were happy and healthy. I had untied my apron strings and relaxed my guard. Then, on a summer’s day in 2004, my youngest son was involved in a minor accident on a country road on the way to buy toothpaste. It was no more than a shunt really: the other three people were unhurt, but sitting in the back and not wearing a seat belt, Jack’s head hit the roof of the car, which broke his neck, paralysing him from the chest down.

What came next has been movingly documented in Melanie Reed’s ‘Spinal Column’ in The Times. But what happens when the doctors and nurses and physiotherapists and social workers and psychiatrists have done all they can? What happens when the disabled person comes home?

This ‘disabled person’ was our twenty-two-year-old son. He had a future, though not the one we had all expected, and many adaptations had to be made, both practical and emotional. It was dealing with the necessary changes to the house that first helped us to cope with the emotional turmoil and our growing apprehension as the day for Jack’s return from hospital grew near.

Luckily we already lived in a bungalow, so the conversion for a wheelchair user was not as complicated as for some. We needed permanent ramps at the front and back of the house for wheelchair access. Door handles needed to be lowered and altered so that with limited hand function he could let himself in or out of the house. The guest bathroom was converted into a wet-room and the wall between it and his bedroom knocked through.

The wheelchair icon, the one printed over the door of public toilets and in designated parking places, is what most people ‘see’ when they think of disability, so we weren’t prepared for all the unseen paraphernalia or ‘aids’. When Jack came home for good after nine months in hospital, he wheeled himself up the decking ramp to the front door. His bedroom and newly converted wet-room were in place. So was an electrically operated bed with a special mattress, a portable hoist, a toileting wheelchair, a standing frame, a sliding board, a supply of incontinence sheets, boxes of leg bags (day and night), catheters, enemas and assorted drugs for spasms and nerve pain.
At first we needed all of this, and more...

Names and other details have been changed to protect the privacy of 'Jack'.

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