One of the things I’ve found most frustrating since becoming disabled is my lack of independence. I can no longer just pop to the shops if I want to buy something. If I suddenly have a last minute date I can’t just nip off to the shops and buy a nice top! Instead, I have to rely on a friend or relative to take me, and push me around in my wheelchair. My wheelchair is cumbersome and heavy and is hard work for the person pushing.
My eagerly awaited new light weight wheelchair arrived a couple of weeks ago, only for it to be too small. My existing wheelchair is a perfect fit at 18 inches. However, they ordered my new one to be 16 inches. I’m no Barbie doll but I’m not seriously overweight either. Yet, squeezing into that wheelchair I felt like ten tonne Tess! When they took the sides off the wheelchair my body flopped over the edge, I felt hideous and embarrassed. Consequently they are having to order me an 18 inch, and I have the pleasure of another four month wait. Patience has never been a strong point of mine, but since having Guillain-Barré syndrome I’ve certainly learned to be more patient!
It’s not just about the unsuitable wheelchair that’s the problem. When someone is pushing me I have to ask to look at everything I want to look at. If I change my mind and want to go back to the same item twice I feel like I’m being a pain. I become a character in a “Little Britain” sketch, pointing my finger shouting “I want that one” So not only do I have to ask someone to take me out, I’m at their mercy when we arrive!
I have a good friend who is a similar age to me. Due to a serious illness she had to have a double amputation, and consequently wears prosthetic legs. She has been a great friend to me and a true inspiration. We understand each other’s struggles and she has given me invaluable advise in dealing with my new life as a disabled person. When she first suggested I registered for Shopmobility I was a bit apprehensive. However, after getting more and more frustrated at my lack of independence I decided to give it a go. Once we’d arranged the date I found myself getting extremely excited at the prospect.
So today we headed off to the Shopmobility in Fareham, Hampshire. Armed with my ID and proof of address I had butterflies in my tummy. The volunteers at the shop were friendly and helpful. After filling in an application form I had to go in the car park for a lesson and test. After being shown how the scooter worked I had to do various manoeuvres including a figure of eight and reversing. The woman was satisfied that I could control the vehicle and that was it, I was free to go!
So off we went side by side on our scooters. Throughout the day I was shocked at how many people looked at us. We came to the conclusion that because we are both blondes, in our early forties, people probably thought we were out on a jolly, just messing about! The staff in the stores were brilliant and gave us both a lot of help and support. However, the public weren’t so obliging. On entering the shopping centre a woman gave my friend the most horrific dirty look. How dare she have to step slightly to one side to allow my friend to turn the corner. I realise pedestrians have the right of way, but the looks we got from people for being in the way are so unnecessary. They should just be grateful their legs are in perfect working order and they don’t need to use one.
The basket on the front of the scooter has a really handy chain in it to stop thieves swiping any shopping bags. In one shop I was so distracted by a gorgeous handbag that I crashed into the glass shelf. The shopping basket got caught and I had to force myself backwards off of the shelf. I then promptly got stuck and couldn’t get out of the section I was in! Luckily my friend has had plenty of experience, and supported me as I found a way out!
I kept forgetting to reduce my speed control when I entered a shop. I nearly took out a whole row of shoes in one shop, whilst reversing, because I forgot to adjust the speed! I also embarrassed myself in another shop by getting an item of clothing attached to the velcro that held my stick in place on the back of the scooter. Fortunately a member of staff saw the funny side and helped remove the item!
I was really proud of myself when I independently went in to a changing room. After trying on my clothes I could hear a beeping sound. I assumed it was the shop’s security system or something. However, I wasn’t so convinced when the sound followed me. The lights on my scooter were flashing and were making a horrible, loud beeping noise. My friend decided to press any button she could find and finally the noise stopped. Somehow I’d managed to put my hazard lights on!
Luckily no members of the public got injured during my adventure! I nearly crashed into an elderly person’s leg when I accidentally leant on the accelerator whilst queuing for my lunch, but fortunately I stopped with millimetres to spare. I think the whole of Fareham breathed a sigh of relief when our scooters were returned in one piece and we headed home!
I am so grateful to my friend for telling me about Shopmobility, and showing me how to use it. I am a self confessed shopaholic and knowing I can now take myself out shopping, without having to rely on others, feels life changing to me. It’s something I always used to take for granted, but now it means the world to me. I think maybe I should invest in some “L” plates for next time!