Challenging Habitat Blog

Achilles – take 5

Boat design is brilliant. I’m not talking about beautiful, sleek and fast hulls, efficient rigging, righting properties…as great as this might be when you’re up for a sail. I’m thinking about the interior. Galley, heads, cockpit, navigation station – all designed for perfect functionality and everything within easy reach.

I never would have thought that it could bother me having to get onto my crutches just to negotiate the one step across the narrow aisle between the kitchen sink and the cutlery drawer. But it is a bit of a nuisance having to give up the comfort of leaning with one hip against the cupboard, crutches safely positioned, having two hands free for doing daily tasks in an almost ‘normal’ manner. Serves me right for having forgotten to take a teaspoon across with the teabag in the first place. Of course, I could fish the latter of the brew with my fingertips.

On our boat with its well-designed galley, such issues would not arise and I wished I could get up on deck and into the cabin to live there now.

Achilles – take 4

A well known restaurant in Plymouth’s Barbican housed in a building associated with an even better known alcoholic drink that bears the city’s name and goes well with tonic water and lime offers disabled patrons the services of a special lift. It’s one of those without a cabin (i.e. when leaning against the wall, clothes or skin get dragged and potentially trapped between the moving and static elements of the contraption) and once settled within, the occupier has to push the ‘up’ or ‘down’ button for the whole duration of the journey. All of that is fine considering the alternative (for me: bum-shuffle up a flight of stairs in public – see Achilles – take 2).

However, the lack of consideration about how we get in and out of the lift is a little annoying. Using two crutches means that I haven’t got a free hand unless I balance on one crutch and one leg while swinging open the heavy door. On the way into the lift, it’s not so bad: a case of positioning oneself advantageously and applying technique (see Achilles – take 3) with force. On the way out, the door has too much of a ferocious closing mechanism for me to swing it open and prevent it from hitting my face on its return journey by ramming my crutch into the floor in good time and position. Instead, I applied my shoulder to overcome the door’s initial inertia, only to stumble, once it gave way more easily, with a clutter behind the chair of a startled diner. Not very dignified at all. More importantly: it could have hurt or worse had I not managed to stay on all three (two crutches and one leg).

I can’t imagine how much more difficult this is in a wheelchair (must ask someone with experience soon).

The situation is no better at my workplace, with the exception of Plymouth University library: Here we have a lift for the disabled that opens the door automatically when arriving at the destination. Just like a ‘normal’ lift. Bravo for design! Safe! So easy to make me feel considered and smile!

P.S. When the term ‘lift for the disabled’ is shortened to ‘disabled lift’ I used to consider it lazy language. Come to think of it, it may be an apt and mildly ironic expression coined by those in the know.


Achilles – take 3

The ‘door-kick and stop’.

When occasionally carrying something bulky in the past, I thought it annoying that those posh stainless steel buttons with a wheelchair printed on it only feature on the ‘outside’ doors of Portland Square Building at Plymouth University, but that’s it. Inside, not a single door is ‘accessible’ and if you enter the building through the wrong door, you have to negotiate one of these veeery slooow open glass cage lifts to get up one level, to the ‘proper’ lifts.

Now I’m carrying myself on crutches through the building to get to my office on 5th floor, with four 4 heavy, self-closing doors in the way. Opening one of these requires just enough kick with the rubber stopper on the bottom of one crutch to swing it a little more than required, then quickly preventing the door from falling close with said rubber stopper, while getting ready to easy my way through with the help of the second crutch.

Never mind the door slamming after me, it should have been fitted with an opener…

Achilles – take 2

DSC_1095Stairs: British medics strongly discourage the use of crutches on stairs and if you ever tried you know what can go wrong…although I’ve been shown how to do it safely in Hong Kong.

Alas, here, the method of choice is the ‘bum-shuffle’. Not very dignified!  Apart from that, it requires somebody to keep stairs reasonably clean, a daily challenge when you’ve got a large dog who is shedding his winter coat.

Oh yes, dog: Scapa is used to long walks on weekends with me and will have to wait for a while before I can do that again!




Temporary plaster

I never thought much about Iliad and Achilles, but subconsciously thought my tendons as ‘immortal’ as Thetis tried to make Achilles by dipping him into the Styx. Well, on Friday, I learned they are not when I tore one of mine while – what else? – exercising. ‘Rubbish!!!’ was the general consensus among the onlookers, not least because the accident deprived 19 others of the last 10 minutes of communal sweating.

The reason I write about this here are the challenges I now encounter as a person with (temporary) impaired mobility. First, how would I get up from the floor of the gym onto which I collapsed and into the changing room to shower and change? Never mind that, after a quick assessment and application of an ice pack, the first aiders carried me into a taxi to the minor injury unit, where I was offered a wheelchair. An hour or so later, I re-emerged fitted with a non-load bearing plaster and two crutches. Next, my husband David got a lift from our friend Ann to where I parked my car and collected me.

Relying on people to transport me and fetch and carry everything that can’t be carried in my little rucksack will be a part of my life for the coming weeks – and theirs. We’ll see how well the built environment is suited to let me carry on with daily life.

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