Today, I admit to being a rebellious Grandma. My soul was wilting. After six weeks in hospital without feeling the sun’s warmth upon my face, implosion was nigh. An escapade with my chariot (four-wheeled walker) has avoided a full-blown meltdown. My medical team kindly granted day leave, ‘providing you have a carer‘, due to Melbourne having a public holiday*.
I sent text messages. A carer, anyone? None of my children were able to rescue me, and friends being too far away, desperation let to creative solution. I moved to Plan B; developed a carer in my imagination. I assured hospital staff that a carer was waiting in the hospital foyer, ready to take me into Melbourne’s glorious spring sunshine at 11am and would return me to base by 5pm. The plan was that I would take the walker as a support while in the company of my ‘carer’.
So began my first adventure into the big wide world with the chariot that is my new ‘car’, my new vehicle of freedom, my new way of getting from A to B. We made it to the street, oh breathe the fresh air, feel the breeze on my face; I start to revive; which way, I wonder? Any way, just get away from here! Catch a tram? Where to? Southbank, I decide, a place where I would like to sit by the (lovely brown) Yarra River, immerse myself in the mainstream and watch the world go by. Just as the tram lurched off, heading to its next stop, lovely daughter-in-law Angeli phoned, offering to collect and take me to her family for the day…but by now I am on my way, holding on to my chariot (brake, where is the brake?!) doing solo and holding on with the tram’s sway, so I said ‘thank you’ very much, I will be okay. I really think I need just some time out, with me and myself and now I have got this far, I think I can do it. So thank you, Angeli, for your kind offer, I will continue on my way.
So began my first experience of engaging in life with a physical impairment (disability or whatever the word is, for describing something less than full physical capability) that requires support. I boarded the tram just fine, my chariot rolled on at street level, but when we came to get off, there were two steps. A kind man saw my predicament and lifted my chariot to the street. Thank you.
Now I was in Swanston Street, and among thousands of people, enjoying the public holiday and football parade fever. I bravely pushed my chariot forward, past Lonsdale, Bourke, Collins and Flinders Streets, across the Princes Street Bridge, to Southbank (where, at HWT Tower, I worked as a journalist, 1994-2004). Steps everywhere. Find a lift. Bathroom? Is there a ‘Disabled Person’s Bathroom’? Apparently not. I parked my chariot in the toilet door, as a way of stating ‘cubicle engaged’. That mission accomplished, I entered the food court, people like bees around the honey pot, ready to find some lunch. Sushi and rice paper rolls. Yum. Now to find a bench on which to sit and eat them, while overlooking the Yarra.
Fond memories of sitting here, 10 years ago, when daughter Amanda was rowing with Melbourne University Rowing Club, and we would meet up after her training sometimes, and eat soft-serve ice-cream, precious mother-daughter time.
Now, I am sitting here alone with my memories, and luxuriating in the spring sunshine, watching boats go up and down the river, people from all walks of life strolling along the promenade, families, couples, single people like me. Connected in embracing a gorgeous day, all the more so, being on an escapade. Freedom. Soaking it up. Life, absorbing it. Recharging my soul like no man-made medicine can.
I became aware of a woman in a wheelchair beside me. Me with a chariot and she with a wheelchair. Me by now holding my manuscript of The Diary Healer (doing final edit) and she holding a piano accordion. She asked ‘Do you mind if I play?’. ‘Please do,’ I said. My maternal grandpa, who died when I was aged seven, played a button accordion and my lasting memory is of this gentle man, playing a tune sitting on the bench beside his front door.
So by now I am sitting in the shade of a tree, on a bench, overlooking the Yarra, editing The Diary Healer, to the accompaniment of beautiful accordion music. I learnt that Meg, the woman in the wheelchair, had been born without a thyroid (a condition with a long name) and could not speak, let alone do other things, until she was six years old. She is half way through a degree in theology, and she was sitting on her motorised ‘chariot’ today, giving pleasure to others with her music, and especially me. Inspiration, too.
What a treat, what a lesson. Don’t let disability stop you from doing what you want to do. Do it anyway. I am glad I had my little escapade. I walked my chariot all the way back to the hospital, a distance of 2.2km, and took a picture of the late afternoon sun shining on beautiful St Paul’s Cathedral along the way.
I returned to my hospital ward before 5pm with a smile and said ‘I have had a great day’s leave’. Me and my chariot, and the imaginary carer. Next week, I go to rehab, to learn skills to help remain independent in a world that is designed mostly for humans with two able legs and arms. This is the start of a new adventure. This Grandma is determined to embrace and make the most of it, and be resourceful, resilient and inspired by others less fortunate than myself.
*(The Victorian State Government granted a public holiday today, Friday, for an Australian Rules Football grand final to be played tomorrow, Saturday — only Alice in Wonderland or the Mad Hatter can possibly understand the reasoning for this, but I played the card to my advantage).