Last night I went for my first real outing, over to Cowes on the Isle of Wight for a cocktail party, during Cowes Week. It felt like quite an adventure!
We drove to Southampton (which I found rather stressful because the traffic was heavy and quite stop-start and erratic, which I dislike at the best of times!) and took the Red Jet hi-speed ferry; as soon as we arrived at the ferry terminal I started to feel a little panicky, especially when I saw that there was a huge queue waiting for the ferry. It is always busy during Cowes Week.
Well we got the tickets, and by the time we came out most of the queue had dispersed onto the boat that had just come in. They have no special arrangements for people in wheelchairs, so we just joined the queue and that was the point at which I thought 'I don't want to do this'. It was partly the stress of getting there, and partly the knowledge that I was going to get a lot of attention on the other side, as it was the first time I'd seen most of the people at the party since the accident. However, while we were shuffling forward in the queue, Mr H. spotted a friend of mine who was also coming over, a happy, bubbly girl, and she sat with us and really saved my evening, as I had recovered my composure and cheered up by the time we arrived in Cowes.
Wheelchair arrangements on the Red Jet were - basically - non existent. We were advised to wheel it on backwards whereas forwards was a lot easier; then there was the question of where to park me. The only place we could find was right at the front where the rows are a bit shorter so there is space for my little wheelchair on the end of the row. On the return journey, one of the staff started moving luggage to make a space in the luggage rack for me! It was as if they never had passengers in wheelchairs, maybe they always go on the big ferry with a car? (the Red Jet is foot passengers only). But even so we were surprised.
I read a blog recently by a lady who had evidently recently had head surgery and was talking about how people stare at people in wheelchairs. Not in my experience: they are more likely to ignore you! People walk directly towards you and leap out of the way at the last minute; stand in the way until you say 'excuse me', bump into you. Maybe I should put a comment on her blog suggesting that the staring was not because she was in a wheelchair, but because she had a large white bandage on her head!
The party was good, the sun came out after a cloudy, wet afternoon, and it was lovely to see the girls from my office and the staff from our head office; everyone was really pleased to see me out and about, which made me realise how much they had probably been worried about me and not quite knowing what state I was in. I also realised that when sitting in a wheelchair and chatting to mostly girls, you are sitting with your head at breast height, which is rather off-putting in a conversation; when I mentioned this, Mr H. promptly wanted to swap places with me!
By the end of all the sitting up and a bit of standing on crutches, my leg had developed the tight band around it, which feels a bit like a giant jubilee clip being tightened; and my knee and hip were sore and aching. My body was very grateful to fall into bed at around 10pm, but I did feel good for having gone out and experienced more of real life and what it felt like in my current state - as one friend put it, a 'fact finding research trip'!