No more ‘Independence Day’ for this tentative road worrier

With multiple sclerosis, my list of lasts keeps growing

John Connor avatar

by John Connor |

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About a month ago, I embarked on what might have been my last-ever solo outing. You can file it away with my other lasts: sitting down and getting off the sofa on my own, walking without mobility aids, doing a controlled Frankenstein’s monster stumble into my bedroom, putting myself to bed, having an erection but — horrors — no orgasm. Though, through trawling research, I actually managed to arrest the latter by finding the right urologist. Before that it was a flat no.

My list of lasts is obviously finite, yet it seems endless. So what might have been my final solo adventure in my powered wheelchair was to the ever-so-exotic closest pharmacy, exactly 0.8 km (about 0.5 miles) away. Ah, the power of the internet. I had a National Health Service prescription issued by my dentist on fire in my pocket. It was for three extra-strength fluoride toothpastes.

Woo-hoo, the excitement. They only had two. I still have a chit to go back and retrieve one more. Someone else might have to drive or walk there to pick it up, or I’ll have to entice a family member to go with me. The trouble is I can hardly tempt my 27- and 40-year-old sons with an ice cream anymore. And Saint Jane (my wife) can’t even take a snow hour from bureaucracy, as she has an avalanche of the stuff to dig herself out of at the moment.

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Fortunately, she was off to a pharmacy in our local town of Sutton for a flu shot and asked if I wanted to come and get one as well. Sutton is on the periphery of South London. To even call it a suburb is somewhat of a disservice to suburbia. After us, it’s all countryside, heavily sprinkled with incredibly well-off towns. This is the very sterling heart of Southeast England.

OK, OK, enough of all the socioeconomic twaddle, Connor. I’m just trying to give you a flavor of my hometown. A few years ago, I’d happily wheel off to its outskirts to get a haircut. Four years ago, it turns out! Today, I just wouldn’t dare. Too many variables to control.

My own obstacle course

Navigating the lowered sidewalks (“pavements” in proper English) is more like the wheelchair equivalent of a course created to test the capabilities of tanks. A tank at least has a great big gun to blow up the designers concerned. They’d be very concerned to then get it right.

The majority of curb ramps are excellent; it’s the few that aren’t that cause the problem. The closest to me I put to the court. Instead of being flush with the road, it’s 2 inches above. Not too bad, except the contour of the sidewalk behind it is uber-steep. This means your front wheels jump up and your mean machine is then pushed farther backward by that rearing camber. Already dodgily unbalanced by the pace needed to jump the curb and clamber up that steep camber, there’s also the speed needed to get out of a busy junction. Phew.

It doesn’t end there. A wall is fast approaching, so a hard right is necessary with a switched camber that now pushes you back into the road. Without momentum, it would, so you have to throw the power on at the exact moment you turn.

I have no idea if daredevils are part of the present zeitgeist, but when I was a teen in the 1970s, Evel Knievel was all-conquering — well, until that last bit, anyway. I never thought I’d need to emulate him in my present condition.

And this is merely the closest crossing I have to negotiate. A companion can at least stand behind me. As it’s a matter of the chair’s balance, it takes very little strength to push it back at the apogee. Many is the time that Saint Jane has saved me.

The only problem with this journey was that my left shoe fell off later. My foot had been bounced off the footplate, and when I tried to put it back, I merely pushed my shoe off. On my own, I’d be bereft. Though in my area, everyone around me has been incredibly helpful when I’ve been on my own.

Perhaps living in the outer reaches of suburbia ain’t so bad after all.

Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


Jen Severn avatar

Jen Severn

John, I do sympathise. I live in a rural area in Australia where we don't have footpaths (pavements/sidewalks) at all. So I have a 'semi-all-terrain' scooter (what does that even mean?!) with proper suspension and inflatable tyres (tires!) for the cross-country outings. But it was too big to get into the polling booth on Saturday for our Voice Referendum. Oh, the shame -- I mean the result, not my barred entry. Luckily an election official noticed my dilemma, crossed me off and brought me a voting slip on her clipboard, turning away politely as I handscrawled my vote. My YES badge would have given away my sentiments on the matter, as had, I hope, my string of articles in the local paper, but it was good form anyway. But I digress ... I fully understand if you allow this comment through to the keeper. Clearly I'm still processing Saturday's result. Thanks for your work.

Cheryl Peterson avatar

Cheryl Peterson

John, Here in the states we have a very Americans With Disabilities Act. Though it’s slow going we do see improvements . I did some risk management work for a time and spotted your challenges. The good thing, and kudos to you, is that you’re aware of them and their “work arounds”. Good job!


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