Despite the Nerves, I Attended My First Family Gathering in 2 Years

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by John Connor |

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I know that here in England, COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted for about two months. But trepidation has now been instilled in me.

It doesn’t help that the vast number of people catching the virus are still a daily news item, nearly two years after the start of the pandemic. I’m surprised that no TV company here has come up with a regular weather-style presenter standing in front of the requisite map. That would be, er, sick!

“It’s hot COVID-19 variant territory out there, folks. It’s particularly high in the northeast and likely to be sweeping across the whole region. Please wear your face masks. For the unvaccinated, best to stay indoors until further notice!”

I was facing a dilemma about whether or not to attend a family gathering at my sister-in-law’s house. It didn’t help that the wife of one of my many, many nephews got COVID-19 only a couple weeks ago. While I had my second AstraZeneca vaccine jab in April, its efficacy likely will have dropped to 67% by now, experts say. That percentage may seem high to some, but I certainly don’t trust my immune system, which has been ravaged by disease-modifying therapies.

As my wife, Jane, somewhat gleefully pointed out, I had been willing to sit in a marquee full of strangers during a comedy festival only a couple weeks ago. “That was sort of outside,” I mumbled uncomfortably as she left the room. Thankfully, I managed to say it just quietly enough that she didn’t hear me, which is very unusual for moi!

Still, I felt I’d maintained my self-respect.

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The second problem is that I couldn’t go in my powered wheelchair, which wouldn’t fit in my sister-in-law’s house. So, my old manual one would have to come out, and we’d have to take a large, steel ramp with us to get in.

The third problem was that although we’re lucky here in London that every black cab is wheelchair friendly, booking one in the deep outer suburbs of our enormous capital is next to impossible. Of my two previous regular cabbies, one was busy and the other didn’t reply. (I hope he made it through the pandemic!)

After discussing it, Jane said she would be willing to drive, and therefore not drink.

We’ve never tried to get me into my specially adapted van in my manual chair. It turned out to be tricky. Luckily, my usually useless right arm decided to be helpful for once and enabled us to get me over the centimeter hump between the wheelchair lift and the van itself.

When we got to the party, a mob of my strapping male nephews gathered to help. I was humped over all the awkward steps into the house, then slowly pulled through the extremely narrow, freshly decorated hall, and whizzed out the kitchen and onto the new patio deck. Well, at least it’s new to me. I think the last time I was in their house I could still walk a bit.

At the end of the now fully redesigned garden was a sturdy shed, replete with a highly enticing built-in bar. It all looked fantastic, and there were myriad offers to help me get there. I knew my relatives, and I especially knew myself. The thought of getting a lot of drunk partygoers to get me back up from the sunken garden afterward was extremely stupid — even if they are family!

I was tempted.

family gathering | MS News Today | A backyard photo at night shows a family party with John Connor's relatives, complete with balloons and an outdoor bar

The photographer is photographed at a recent family gathering of columnist John Connor’s relatives and in-laws. (Photo by John Connor)

So, I sat in state — not in a state! — on the patio. Usually, I feel trapped at a party when I can’t move. I often find myself becoming an observer rather than a participant. But not this time.

Suddenly, it was 1 a.m., yet it felt like we’d just arrived! This sensation was aided by a constant stream of cocktails being placed into my good left hand.

I was right about all of our alcohol intake. Slapstick routines followed while getting me back out of the house and into the van. Everyone thinks it’s easy to push a wheelchair. But maneuvering one takes a bit of practice, and the supreme overconfidence of a drunken novice is scary.

Well, that sobered me up. Which was handy!


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.


Wendy Hovey avatar

Wendy Hovey

John, this is you at your best! I laughed my way through it with you. And felt so happy that you got to be there and actually enjoy this event.


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