Small step closer to independence

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In February, a mountain biking crash in the Whakarewarewa forest left Laura Stuart a paraplegic. She shares her journey as she learns to embrace her new reality.
Laura Stuart.
Laura Stuart.

WHAT a week and what a long weekend.

Never in my life have I wished for the weekdays to roll around until now. Not that I had a terrible weekend but when you are rehabilitating every day counts. I did have a fantastically normal weekend-wheeling around the Auckland Botanic Gardens, museum and beach.

I also met friends at cafes for once rather than at the rehab unit.

What will hopefully not become normal is being strapped down in the back of the mobility van like a piece of cargo. One highlight (in a "B" type fun way) was wheeling myself 1km to the shopping mall which only took 40 minutes, and rewarding myself with a banana smoothie.

Pure stubbornness and fending off my concerned partner got me there (I apologised later for my argumentative demeanour). After all that wheeling, my exhausted arms protested the next morning and I had to have a half-time break washing my hair.

As soon as Tuesday 9am rolled around I was back in the gym, hand cycling, lifting tiny 1.5kg weights and relearning how to lift my bum off the ground while sitting.

This is crucial for everyday activities like getting out of bed and into my wheelchair, as well as getting into cars.

Since only my arms, chest and back muscles work I am cursing the fact that I have a long torso in proportion to my arms. I have to try to curl my back to increase the space between my bum and the ground-if only I had the proportions of an orangutan.

I am surprised how fast my strength has returned.

Last week I could hardly lift my bum at all, this week I have been making the most of my rekindled strength, lifting myself and wriggling about in my chair like a restless child. And after seven weeks of wearing a neck brace the orthopaedic surgeon finally gave me the all clear.

I tore my neck brace off as soon as I got the news (and my partner promptly put it on for curiosity sake). Now I feel and look like a lollipop-but a free lollipop at least. I still forget that my neck can move so my still eyes get an extra workout straining around the corner.
But being able to feel the breeze against my neck is one step closer to feeling human again,
although I am concerned that my head might just roll off my neck.

I think I might invest in a scarf just for comfort.

Now that my bones are healed and my neck is free I can really start pushing the physical rehab. Dealing with the emotional side of my new life is the real challenge. It's the mundane everyday things that are most frustrating-like the arduous process of getting up and going to bed, or trying to reach things when my legs are in the way, or navigating my way around a kitchen carrying one dish at a time.

It is tempting to just give up and let others help me.

It would be much more efficient that way. But the little voice at the back of my head keeps telling me to stop being lazy. So this week I managed to scrub the tops of my feet in the shower, carry a pumpkin to the microwave (it was really big), put on my underwear (worse than trying to squeeze into a pair of undersized skinny jeans), and balance sitting up all by myself.

Every little step is closer to independence!

- Laura's Journey runs in the Rotorua Daily Post every Saturday.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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