Life after Guillain-Barre Syndrome ….. Parking on the Handbag Shelf is Strictly Prohibited!

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!


Life After Guillain-Barre Syndrome ….. Spelling the Hind Legs Off a Donkey!

I’ve seen on various forums people asking advise on how to help patients in Intensive care who are paralysed by Guillain-Barre Syndrome. It’s a valid question and I know that my family and friends also questioned this.

My first month in ICU is a blur. I only remember snippets of things and of course my hallucinations! My parents sat with me day after day without fail. A lot of this time I was sleeping, but I always knew that whenever I opened my eyes they were there for me smiling, holding my hand and checking if I needed anything. Their presence was so reassuring and that in itself is what I needed most, just knowing that the ones I loved were there for me.

The physiotherapists in ICU showed my Mum how to exercise my arms, so every single day she exercised my fingers, arms and hands between therapy sessions. The medical team were really impressed at how quickly my movement came back in my hands and arms, and that was all thanks to my Mum’s hard work and dedication, and I shall be eternally grateful to her.

I couldn’t speak at all in ICU due to being ventilated and could only make a clicking sound on the roof of my mouth. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a chatterbox and can normally talk the hind legs off a donkey! Therefore, being unable to express the thoughts that were in my head was torture, especially as I was so scared and had hundreds of questions I wanted to ask. One of the ICU nurses kindly laminated the alphabet for me, with columns of letters on. People would hold the board in front of me, and point down the columns until I indicated with a slight nod of my head that they were in the correct row. They would then go along that particular row until I found the letter I wanted. Between us I could painstakingly spell out what I needed to say letter by letter. My friends and family that used to do this with me showed great patience and I never felt rushed. This meant the world to me as it meant I could communicate. At one point I spelt out “Am I dying” to which my mum told me I’d better not, bless her heart.

Although I was completely paralysed I could feel people holding my hands. This in itself was great comfort. Although I hated being stroked. Why is it that people like to stroke the hands, arms and hair of sick people?! I hated it, but often it was too much effort to communicate it so I just put up with it!

I loved listening to my visitor’s stories. It was great hearing what had being going on in their lives, even the bad stuff. People would often say that they didn’t want to burden me with their problems, as they seemed insignificant compared to what I was going through, but I wanted to hear about everything. Their arguments with their partner, the dog eating the child’s homework, the car failing it’s MOT. The mundane stuff gave me a sense of normality and made me feel human and “normal” again. Some people even managed to make me laugh during those darkest days which was incredible. Just chatting to me about silly things and telling me jokes, or perhaps eyeing up the dishy doctors!

Being punctual is also really important when visiting someone in ICU. When you are laying there, trapped in your own body, a visitor’s arrival is all you have to focus on (I didn’t even have meals to look forward to as I didn’t eat or drink anything for 10 long weeks) So if someone says they’ll arrive at 5pm and they arrive at 5.30pm, that half an hour can feel like a lifetime. Unable to text or call them, you just have to wait and wait for what seems like hours. However, the minute you hear that buzzer go and you know they’ve arrived, it is the best feeling in the world!

So my best advise to anyone visiting someone with GBS in ICU, is realise that just you being there is all they need. It will be a long journey so be patient with the patient!

Life After Guillain-Barre Syndrome ….. Available in sizes 8 – Wheelchair!

When I was discharged from hospital I was provided with a brand new wheelchair. At the time, in my excitement to finally be released from hospital after 6 long months (I never thought I would empathise with prisoners!) I didn’t look at the size and weight etc, I was just grateful to be given one. Over the last nine months, however, I’ve discovered that the said wheelchair is heavy and cumbersome.

It’s great that I have my new car with hand controls and the freedom to get out and about. However, the wheel chair is so heavy I couldn’t possibly get it in and out of the car by myself. There’s not much point driving myself to Asda, only to sit in the car park! Even if by some miracle I was able to get it out, it’s too heavy for me to self propel more than about 15 metres. Of course this has nothing to do with my body weight!!

I’ve certainly put on a little bit of weight since coming out of hospital. I have what I call my “Wheelchair middle” caused by sitting down for most of my days. To be honest I’m surprised I’ve not put on a lot more, as I can’t exercise. The only conclusion I have come to is that because everything I do takes far more effort than it would for an able bodied person, I am burning off more than average calories when doing very little.

Fortunately the NHS have taken pitty on me, and in October I was measured up for a new light weight wheelchair, which should be delivered to me very soon. Not only does it weigh less, it has quick release wheels, that means it can be broken in to small parts to be put in my car. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to self propel any further in it, but time will tell. It will also look more “trendy” than my existing one and will hopefully be easier for the person who is pushing me.

Having a wheelchair has changed many things in my life. Things are so different when I’m out and about in one. It took me ages not to feel suffocated in clothes stores, as it feels like I’m in a maze with high walls made of clothing! I have to also give extra thought to what I wear. When I went to my brother’s wedding last year I chose a dress that flared out, so it would look nice when I’m sat down. High heeled shoes and flip flops are a no-go when you’re disabled, so I have to think of outfits that look ok with flat shoes. (I so miss my flip flops and heels!) I also get very cold in my wheelchair as I’m not moving. I compare it to being sat at a freezing cold bus stop for hours on end. I’ve invested in two long warm coats to see my through this winter. I’m very grateful that those massive long Dr Who type scarves are in fashion, as I can place one round my neck and across my lap, without looking like a little old lady under a blanket!

I always try to look for the positives in any situation and I’ve managed to find a couple relating to having a wheelchair. For some reason people talk to me far more when I’m out and about. Not just the staff in stores but also the random general public. I find myself laughing and chatting with complete strangers on a regular basis. The other massive benefit of course, is that no matter how busy the establishment I’m always guaranteed a seat!

Life after Guillain-Barre Syndrome ….. Choosing the Packet of Broken Biscuits!

If you have a partner when you get ill, it’s almost expected of them to stand by you, and care for you after you’ve been seriously unwell. I was in a relationship with someone when I got Guillain-Barre Syndrome, albeit only for a few months. He stood by me whilst I was in hospital, but the pressure and reality of what has happened to me, and the disabilities I am now left with pulled us apart.

Being single is a whole different ball game to being in an already established relationship. I don’t mean in regards to doing housework and looking after the children, I mean as a couple. Dating after Guillain-Barre feels virtually impossible. I’ve dipped my toes in the water, so to speak ….. And sunk!

The first and biggest obstacle is finding someone who wants a disabled girlfriend. Declaring on your online profile that you need a stick and a wheelchair is hardly sexy! A man can tap his chosen age range and post code in on a dating site and find a hundred single women who live close by. Why out of those hundred women would he chose the disabled one? It would be like going into a shop and choosing the chipped ornament, or buying that packet of broken biscuits!

So assuming by some miracle I’m lucky enough to win someone over with my charm and good looks (Ha ha ha, who am I kidding!!!!) then the real fun starts. Starting a new relationship involves looking one’s best. On a child free evening all I want to do is curl up under a blanket in front of the TV, catching up on all my recorded programmes. Dating involves taking the time to do my hair and makeup (Even at the end of the day) and deciding what to wear. Razor??? What’s a razor?!! I’ve not had to bother with one of those in a long time!!!! (Joking!) Seriously though it takes a lot of time and effort.

In all honesty, there are a few decent, kind men out there, who do have the depth and patience to be in a new relationship with me, and I recently met one. Unfortunately it didn’t work out for us due to a number of reasons. Hopefully my Mr Right will come along soon. In the meantime I guess I’ll just enjoy being not-so-young, free and single!

Life after Guillain-Barre Syndrome ….. Repairing Spaghetti Junction!

I’ve never been much of a night owl, and have always needed my sleep. Even as a child I would often ask to go to bed. Unfortunately my children don’t take after me! Since I became ill my need for sleep has gone off the richter scale! On a weekend if I don’t set an alarm, I can easily sleep for twelve to thirteen hours, and still be tucked up in bed by ten the following evening!

Needing lots more sleep in itself is not a problem for me. My daughters quite like the fact that we all head off to bed at the same time, and being single I don’t have anyone complaining that I’m going to bed too early! Fatigue, however is a massive problem for me everyday. I like to use the word “fatigue” rather than “tired” because I feel like a whining child when I constantly complain that I’m tired. I tend to use the term “extreme fatigue” to try and express that it’s soooo much more than just being tired, but I still don’t think people really understand how it feels.

It doesn’t seem to matter how much sleep I get, or whether I had my afternoon nap, the fatigue doesn’t go away. My fatigue levels are not always in relation to what I did the day before. Some mornings the minute I open my eyes I know it’s a bad day, even if I’d spent the day before doing very little. However, being taken out to the shops all day by someone is usually guaranteed to wipe me out the next day. I struggle with fatigue to some degree every single day, but some days are far worse than others. On these days even the smallest of tasks seem like massive mountains to climb, and I find everything over whelming.

I don’t have a very good understanding of medical stuff, and only got a “D” in my biology GCSE! From my what I can make out, the fatigue occurs because my body is so busy trying hard to get messages through my nervous system, in order to carry out normal activities like moving and walking. Because my nervous system has been destroyed by the Guillain-Barre Syndrome the messages reach dead ends, and so the brain has to find them a new route. Imagine driving through Spaghetti Junction and every corner you turn you are faced with a “Road Closed” sign, and eventually after trying several different options, you have to come off and take the country roads! Also my body is constantly trying to repair the damaged nerves, which is a full time and tiring job in itself! This is exhausting for my body and consequently it doesn’t have much energy left for anything else! I think this is also why my memory is so bad, as discussed in a previous post.

Luckily my children are wonderful and help me out every single day. I also have brilliant parents and an amazing network friends, who all chip in. Without everyone’s help I wouldn’t be able to live my life as I do. All the things that each person does add up to make a huge difference to my life, and I am very grateful.

Right, time for me to put the kettle on, get out my onsie and park myself in front of the TV with a bar of chocolate….. Don’t judge me, I’m extremely fatigued I’ll have you know!!!

Life after Guillain Barre Syndrome ….. The Air turns Bluer than my Badge when I Can’t Park!

To some people I think Disabled parking signs must appear to read ….”Parking for Blue badge holders AND People popping quickly into the shop, lazy, waiting to pick someone up, using the ATM or unable to find any other spaces, ONLY”!

The disabled parking bays are always the best. Close to the entrance, extra wide and often free of charge. I appreciate how tempting these spaces are, particularly if you are in a rush or the car park is full. However, to a person needing a wheelchair these wide spaces are essential, or if walking a long distance is a problem, a space close to the entrance is a necessity. I’ve actually driven away from places before because I can’t park in the disabled bays. I try to convince myself that all the spaces are being used by blue badge holders, but I know they’re probably not. I’ve seen people blatantly walk out of shops and back in to cars which are not displaying a badge, and they don’t care at all.

It’s the same with disabled toilets. I’ve waited outside them for ages before, only to see people come out with various things, including, toddlers, a mahoosive guitar and loads of clothes they’ve been trying on (I’m convinced those clothes were stolen, but I’ll never know). My wheelchair often can’t fit into the normal cubicles and there’s not always a safe place to leave it. I know that some disabled people need the toilet urgently, and waiting could cause them unfortunate problems.

The good news is that getting cross about parking spaces means I’m on the road again. (Yay!) The DVLA took my licence off me after I became ill, and then returned it to me with a clause saying I must drive an automatic car with hand controls. In August 2014 (11 months after I last drove) I had a two hour driving lesson, where I learned to drive purely using my hands. I’ve been driving for twenty five years, so to suddenly change what I’ve been doing all these years didn’t feel natural at all!

The driving lesson was invaluable, as a week later I picked up my new car. I was shaking like a leaf and sweating profusely as I drove it off the forecourt! My Dad is one very brave man for sitting in the passenger seat as I drove the 20 miles back to my house! I cross my ankles when I drive to stop my feet trying to get in on the action! My right hand controls the break, accelerator and indicators, whilst my left one steers with a steering ball. Wow, that ball can turn corners fast, I feel like a boy racer! After many sharp breaks and wheel spin accelerations, my hands have now got to grips with how much pressure is needed, and it is starting to feel natural. The down side is I often can’t thank other drivers for letting me out of junctions etc, as both my hands are occupied. I hope they notice me nodding my head and smiling! I don’t drive far because of my fatigue, but the freedom of having a car, and the feeling of being behind the wheel again is amazing.

I genuinely don’t think people mean to be cruel when they use the disabled bays or toilets. I think they are just being thoughtless or may be in a rush. They probably don’t appreciate the effect they could be having on someone who really needs them. That’s one of my reasons for starting this blog. I want to share awareness of the awful illness that is Guillain-Barré syndrome, and how life can be for a newly disabled person. Maybe if people are more aware of the difficulties and struggles we face perhaps they’ll park somewhere else or use a different toilet. Then they can walk that little bit further, happy in the knowledge that they are fit and able to do so!