In Sickness and in Health: Behind Nick's wheelchair, every step of the way

The one thing I knew before taking him on his maiden voyage was where the brakes were

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The Independent Online

Earlier this year, Rebecca’s husband Nick was hit by a car and seriously injured. Here, in one of a series of columns, she writes about the aftermath of his accident

For someone who never really got his head around the concept of single file (“what are you doing? Why are you walking behind me?” “Because other people have to use the pavement”), it seems rather cruel that that is now the default mode for Nick moving anywhere. I push him and he can’t see what I’m doing.

I’m still amazed that no one ever gave me any lessons when Nick was first put into his chair some months ago and I was handed the controls. That first day, I was so overwhelmed by the strangeness of wheeling my husband about, and looking out over his head, I didn’t think to insist on a run through. People asked where I was going to take him. “I don’t f***ing know” I said with rising hysteria. To be honest, there weren’t that many options at the time – a cafe or the hospital hallways. I was stressed because I hated that Nick was out in front of me, vulnerable, and subject to people’s stares after the relative privacy of the wards.

Once I’d got over myself, and realised that if Nick were ever going to feel fresh air again and have a sense of freedom, I had to help him, I got on with it. His feet were a major problem, thanks to the positioning of his chair. He was leant back quite far, with feet on supports that reached out in front. Feet that were the first casualty of a novice wheelchair pilot. “FOOOOOOOT! OWWWWWWWWW!” became the soundtrack to our journeys, as I misjudged the chair’s turning circle. At this point, someone, usually a bloke, would inevitably make a gag about three-point turns or bad drivers. I still consider myself to be rather saintly in that I didn’t run down any of these clowns.

The one thing I knew before taking Nick on his maiden voyage was where the brakes were. At least I thought I knew – it took me four months to work out there was another, much more convenient set by the chair’s handles. By that point, I’d found the hospital garden with its steep incline and managed to heave Nick up and down. Thank Christ I never needed to do an emergency stop.

My proficiency has improved somewhat, but Nick still loathes wearing his seatbelt. He says it’s too heavy on his lap, but I suspect it’s also the feeling of being trapped. In his previous chair, he always managed to undo buckle so now, to prevent him from releasing himself, his carers have to put a pen in the mechanism to make it open (no one tell Nick this, please).

Safety belts aside, I want to make the chair more appealing to him. I’d like to pimp his ride with a mod-style raccoon tail, and spotted a possible candidate in a market recently. “Fake?” I asked. “Fox” said the stallholder. I passed. It’s depressing enough for Nick to be in a wheelchair without attaching a bit of dead woodland creature to it. Perhaps I’ll look into cupholders. Thankfully, Nick seems to be taking to his chair a bit more, and managed a record six hours in it the other day (it’s hard work for his muscles to sit upright). In his wheelchair, as in everything else, I’m right behind him all the way.