Driving unlocks new level of freedom

By Katie Holland

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A mountain biking crash in the Whakarewarewa Forest in February left Laura Stuart a paraplegic. She shares her journey as she learns to embrace her new reality.
Laura enjoyed having eye-level conversations this week. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
Laura enjoyed having eye-level conversations this week. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

THIS WEEK has been full of my biggest highs and lows yet. If you asked me when I was 28 what the worst thing about being a paraplegic was, I would've said not being able to walk and run.

Now, at the wiser and older age of 29, losing the use of my legs has been the easiest part of my journey thus far.

Not having control of my bowel and bladder has been the more challenging issue to date. This is potty training all over again.

I have almost trained grumpy Bertha Bowels to perform on command. My morning ritual has been made much easier with the arrival of my custom-made throne-like commode chair which I fit into snugly instead of being at risk of falling down the hole in the middle and into the toilet.

Now I am learning how to self-catheterise, I am faced with a new hurdle of a spastic bladder. The result is lady-made lakes every three hours and a downpour of tears - waterworks coming from both ends. Hopefully my ADD bladder is due to a very nasty UTI rather than just being permanently hyperactive.

Yes, it's so bad I am praying that my bladder is at war with an evil bacteria army.

When I do have control, my progress has been more successful. One highlight is learning to transfer from my wheelchair into a car. I had one session last Friday with my physio.

Laura enjoyed having
eye-level conversations this week.
PHOTO/SUPPLIED
Laura enjoyed having eye-level conversations this week. PHOTO/SUPPLIED


By Saturday I was sneaking out into cars with my partner like naughty teenagers - but unlike teenagers, my mum was a partner in crime also.

Practice makes perfect and I didn't face-plant into the steering wheel or get stuck between the chair and car frame, as my physio had feared.

By Wednesday I was ready for my driving lesson, and even managed to get into the car without (too much) assistance.

Being able to drive was another level of freedom. It felt so normal I almost forgot that I was paralysed - except I was using a modified vehicle.
Laura Stuart

Hand-controlled brakes and accelerator take a little bit to get used to, as does the sensitive door-knob spinner on the steering wheel. One-arm steering is also quite a workout, particularly given my left arm is the weak appendage.

Now that I can get into cars and drive, I will be able to drive down to Rotorua for Anzac weekend. That's right - they are releasing me for a weekend to see how I cope in the wild!

Last weekend the nurse made the mistake of leaving the wheelchair next to my bed unattended. I couldn't resist the challenge. I didn't even need my banana board bridge! Not all my transfers have been successful and occasionally I find myself stuck between the bed and chair.

It was particularly difficult when my bed broke awkwardly on an angle (I spent the night sleeping semi-upright). Thankfully my partner is always there to save the day.

The real highlight was entering the vertical world for the first time. I got the chance to use the standing frame and winch myself from sitting to standing. What an amazing feeling it is to be at eye level with everyone else (or at least chest level, which is normal for me) rather than having everyone looking down on me.

I could have a conversation with people rather than people chatting literally over me. And I didn't even pass out from low blood pressure or have the slightest hint of losing my eyesight. I also got to do some real wheelchair tricks, like learning how to roll up on to curbs and do rear-wheel manual off curbs. Popping over wooden obstacles on command, I felt like an excitable Tux Wonder Dog. I haven't experienced such feeling of joy since riding my new bike the morning of my accident. I can now roll a wheelie for 11m before falling down - way further than I ever could on a mountain bike.

Maybe wheelchairing just suits me better.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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