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Melanie Reid of The Times (UK)

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  • In Defence of Nurses

    ‘Several nurses were magnificent, many very good... Only one or two were candidates for my fantasy firing squad. Ah, the longed-for rattle of the AK-47’

    Formula One drivers: nerveless desperados. Accountants: dusty types who dream of Excel. Financiers: self-seeking villains. Mumsnetters: smug stay-at-homers with wealthy husbands. Models: skinny, gormless. Politicians: insincere, vain, priapic. White Van Man: ignorant and careless. Lawyers, single mothers, venture capitalists, footballers – well, you’ve got the idea. Unfairly or not, the world runs on stereotypes, a comfort zone of clichés, a universal shorthand. That real people are more multilayered than stereotypes allow is immaterial: once codified, one tends to be judged, packaged and stripped of one’s individuality by one’s occupation.

    I write, incidentally, with feeling. Pity me, for as a journalist I am destined, for ever and a day, to wriggle along in the company of Sir Fred Goodwin, Big Brother contestants and paedophile priests as bottom-feeders in the pond of public opinion. (Estate agents used to be in the sludge with us, but they’ve swum upwards a bit since the property boom.)

    Some stereotypes, however, are definitely more troublesome than others. Take the nursing profession, recently subject to a rigorous examination by my Times colleague Camilla Cavendish, leading to a remarkable opening up of debate on training and the admission from the Royal College of Nursing that something is wrong. Nurses, it seems, don’t care enough any more, let alone actually nurse people, leaving the job to unregulated, untrained healthcare assistants or auxiliaries.

    I find nurses a fascinating case of trapped-by-typecasting, not least because of their heritage: lady with the lamp crossed with the Angel of Mons, a semi-divine reputation dating back 150 years. This, ingrained in folk memory, is unfortunate, because it means seven out of ten patients or relatives who approach a busy nurses’ station still expect, subconsciously, even though the Crimean War is over, to be greeted by a be-starched handmaiden of compassion, a direct descendant of Florence Nightingale, prepared to treat them like Lord and Lady Grantham.

    The other three out of ten are men, often rugby players, whose stereotype of a nurse is of a sex-mad, pneumatic bit of totty who will, after a pint or six, throw him around the room, ravish him, then spend the rest of the evening telling him funny stories about what people who arrive at A&E have up their backsides.

    Both these myths lead to disappointment. After a year in hospital, observing nurses and auxiliaries at close quarters, I can venture a relatively balanced view of the profession.

    I agree with one staff nurse, who said mildly, “We are only human.” The profession has to be viewed without rose-tinted spectacles. Last time I looked, angels were in short supply.

    Today’s nurses reflect the society from which they spring. It is easy to condemn them as uncaring, lazy, materialistic, dumbed-down, vulgar, casual and self-centred. Some of these criticisms may be valid, but they are also suspiciously universal ones projected on to the young in all walks of life by older generations.

    If you want to change nursing, you have to change society. You also have to change the patients. Respect works two ways. Today’s sick are not ex-Crimean Army issue either, not deferential sufferers in silence. They and their relatives can be aggressive and unreasonable. Everyone’s a professional complainer. During my spell in hospital, I saw some patients whom, had I been forced to cope with their constant demands, I would have smothered at dawn. No question. Instead, the staff treated these people with civility and good humour.

    Over 12 months, I encountered several magnificent nurses, a lot of them in high-dependency units, many very good ones, many competent ones, and a very small minority I dreaded. It was the same for the auxiliaries: some were the biggest-hearted people on the planet, most were caring, only one or two were candidates for my fantasy firing squad. Ah, the longed-for rattle of the AK-47. I had a simple test: do you enter my bed space with the body language that says: “What can I do to make you as comfortable as possible?”, or with the intention of escaping? But the longer I spent with the staff, the more I appreciated what they had to put up with. I suppose I went native to some degree, but then I have always preferred the Studs Terkel take on humanity: listen to ordinary people’s voices and walk a mile in their shoes.

    I came away with admiration for a nurse’s ability to multitask. Could you a) intervene to unblock an airway on a dying man; b) tune a high-definition television; c) provide the phone number for a Chinese takeaway; d) possess a telepathic connection with the mind of the consultant; and e) evacuate 15 sets of bowels – often all on one 12-hour shift? And, incidentally, I fully support the idea that nurses dispensing drugs should wear a tabard saying, “Please do not disturb.” I’ve seen the pressure put on them while they’re doing a critical job.

    And, yes, of course there are areas to be addressed. Young women who want to be entertainers, of whom there are many, should enter The X Factor, not nursing college. Those who sit in a gaggle at the nursing station and either ignore or glance with hostility at approaching members of the public should re-train with Ryanair. Those who cannot lower their voices should get a job as stallholders.

    And here’s a tip. Log rolls, the common slang for several nurses handling a prone patient, are not actually performed on logs. Sometimes the patient is conscious. It is not a time to discuss social lives, shifts and holidays, unless invited to do so by the “log”.

    And, finally, universities should get their act together. If I can tell, within a minute, when a new batch of students arrives on the ward, which are going to be great nurses and which should have joined Tesco, then the selection procedure is lacking. Must try harder, selectors. The minority fail the worthy majority. And a stereotype hangs in the balance.

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    • Hard-won Triumphs

      ‘The only way to win through, said the tall, burly Frenchman, is to be a bit mad, a bit crazy’

      At last, some good news to report. If recently I have sounded like a war correspondent, filing forlorn dispatches from some benighted front line, then this week I can say that the smoke has cleared, the enemy bombardment has faded, and we have climbed out of the trenches. Either I’ve been watching too much Downton Abbey or the battle for my body has taken a turn for the better.

      It started about five days ago with my wedding ring finger, the tip of which suddenly started to unclaw a little. A couple of millimetres. A flicker. Something that nobody but me would ever notice. Oh, it’s still clawed, still very rigid from the wrist, but I can now straighten the last joint on that finger ever so slightly. Then, next day, I noticed that the same finger on the other hand had similarly loosened up a fraction. That right hand, which looks as if it has been distorted and fused in a vice, has imperceptibly softened.

      We’re talking minuscule improvements here. Tiny easings. Changes so small that I torture myself that I’m imagining them. Waiting for nerve damage to repair is the longest long game in the world. Ask anyone with a brain or spinal cord injury and they will express the same frustration about the wait that never seems to end. The received wisdom on nerve regrowth is that, if you’re going to get any – and not everyone will – it will happen at a rate of about one millimetre a day. Which is about one inch per month. Which puts my feet at least five years away from my neck.

      But in the last week, almost as if the changes snuck up on me when I was in the slough of despond, I’ve noticed my fingers relax, my left foot become more responsive, and my power to walk return. The lesson seems to be that if you give the body enough time and, crucially, get free of infection, things happen. Apparently piecemeal. Randomly. But they happen. “Poke me in the ribs,” I commanded my husband this week. So he did. And I felt it. Only very distantly on the skin, but most definitely on the muscles beneath. And I remembered what my consultant had told me: that the nerve supply to the skin is separate from the nerve supply to the muscles. So I knew that inside, something was getting through.

      Then I got a couple of e-mails. One was from my sister who lives in France and burns with fierce conviction that I will achieve some kind of recovery. She told me the story of the garage owner in her village, who was paralysed completely down one side after a smash involving his lorry. He spent a year in hospital, bedridden, and was told he would never walk again, but he was determined. He used to try getting out of bed and walking at night. One night, a nurse found him. She didn’t tell him off; she offered to help him. From then on, whenever she was on night duty, she helped him walk. (What! No risk assessment? Without a physiotherapist’s permission? Gallic hospital protocols must be a damn sight more flexible than ours.)

      He progressed from then on; and four years after the accident he could walk on his own. That was ten years ago and now he’s building a 300 metre wall by hand. There is one particularly important thing, said this tall, burly man emphatically. Tell your sister that the only way to win through is to be a bit mad. A bit crazy. To fight like a rebel and believe you can make it.

      The second e-mail was from a reader who seriously damaged his neck in a mountain biking accident. As happens so often with spinal trauma, his injuries were different from, but not dissimilar to, mine and, like me, he had the possibility of some recovery. He also sounds the determined sort. He immersed himself in rehab in much the way I have. Despite being told that he could expect improvements for up to five years, he has only plateaued now, after seven. After endless “blood, sweat, tears & howls of rage and frustration”, he now uses a frame to get around his house, patio, decking and drive, in what he describes as a steady shuffle. And with the frame he can reach shelves, cupboards, fill the kettle, etc, and do many useful things without fear of falling.

      Could I have danced a jig, I would have. “That’s my goal,” I cried. “It can be done!” Critically, my correspondent’s relentless gym work has led to functional success. Functionality is all I strive for. Hearing nurses and physiotherapists describe what I do as “non-functional walking” made me angry but also, in truth, undermined me.

      The arrival of those wonderful, inspiring e-mails coincided with getting back on my “gutter” frame – it supports me upright under the forearms – and walking again. From somewhere came confidence and fresh legs; I found myself able to relax while upright, and place my feet much more easily. The weakness and the panicky feeling had gone. With Dave behind me, yesterday, I pushed the frame right outside the door of the little hut I call my gym, and stood, gulping in the fresh air from an upright position for the first time. I can’t describe how good it felt. “And she breathed the air and soared like an eagle, the world opening up beneath her,” cried my husband, making cawing noises and flapping his arms. “That’s a crow,” I said. Fondly.

      Be a bit mad. Be a bit crazy. Believe. That was the message. So lying in bed last night, still fairly euphoric, I hatched a new plan. I’m going to ask the boys to take out the sheets of rubber matting from the horses’ stables and lay them down, smooth side up, in a runway from the gym across the concrete. And I’m going to practise pushing my frame in a long straight line until I can indeed take off. This old crow intends to fly.

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      • The Bionic Woman

        ‘What would so many of us give to be normal again. We’d even knit stinging nettles without gloves on if it freed us from a wheelchair’

        You might call it an arms race, except technically it’s a legs race – a fierce engineering rivalry on behalf of the spinally injured. A handful of companies around the world are in hot competition to develop the best exoskeleton, a powered device to allow paralysed people to stand up and walk around independently.

        Suddenly, what was for years a sci-fi dream of avatars and aliens and terminators is about to become a reality for the wheelchair user, with several different machines in testing and one already in production for private purchase. Don’t ask about the price yet; just savour the possibility.

        Rival groups of engineers in California, New Zealand, Israel, Japan and the Netherlands are working on prototypes of strap-on lower body frames which can enable those who haven’t walked for years to get on their feet. This is a promise which is evidently closer than stem-cell medicine to delivery.

        The exciting thing is that these exoskeletons are not great clumsy contraptions, versions of Wallace and Gromit’s The Wrong Trousers, and they are bound to get even slimmer and lighter. Yesterday, at the London International Technology Show, a Californian company called Berkeley Bionics staged the European launch of eLEGS, a remarkably discreet robotic frame which lets paralysed people stand up and walk with crutches.

        eLEGS are being trialled in ten spinal rehabilitation units in the States and the hope is that early in 2012 some European spinal centres will follow suit. Berkeley Bionics originally developed a military exoskeleton called HULC, to allow soldiers to carry heavy loads without injury. In 2005, the company started on a device for people with spinal cord injury and now nearly 100 patients have used them – the oldest a man of 78.

        Stepping into the limelight too is Rex, an exoskeleton from Rex Bionics in New Zealand. Rex is the invention of Richard Little and Robert Irving, who met at school more than 20 years ago in Scotland. They both emigrated to New Zealand in the early Nineties. Both have mothers who use wheelchairs, so had first-hand knowledge of the obstacles faced. After Robert Irving was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis seven years ago, the two friends, engineers, decided to develop a walking device.

        Rex grew into a robotic frame which, without crutches, enables the user to climb and go down stairs, sit, stand, and step backwards, sideways and forwards. Rex is already being sold to individuals and the company says most people are up on their feet and walking without assistance in five minutes. The devices are said to cost six figures but that’s expected to drop.

        The third serious contender in the exoskeleton race appears to be ReWalk, from the Israeli firm Argo Medical Technologies. ReWalk is undergoing trials in Israel, America and Europe. Two versions of the device are being developed: one, for supervised use in hospitals and rehabilitation centres, is already available for sale in Europe for £77,000. The other, for the unsupervised use of those who have undergone training, is still under scrutiny, but it is hoped it will be cleared for sale soon.

        Of course, the whole issue comes crowded with doubts and caveats and more questions than there are answers. How will anyone afford this cutting edge technology? Aren’t they too complicated – Rex has more than 4,700 parts? What level of injury will they be suitable for? How practical are they? Do patients need to have some power in their lower limbs? Dare we really start dreaming?

        Andy Hayes, from Berkeley Bionics, is measured: “We do not want to mislead people or give any false hope. This device is for use in a safe clinical environment and we expect to launch a home version in 2013, working together with the spinal units, as people need to be trained on how to use the devices safely. It is our vision that we will produce a device for people to wear in their everyday lives and expand the use for stroke and MS sufferers, for a price that will be relatively affordable – but we are at the start of this journey.”

        Apropos of all this, my friend Annie reminds me of the Hans Christian Andersen tale of the 11 princes, brothers, who are turned into swans by their evil stepmother. Only for a few hours of darkness every night are they allowed to be human again, and only because their solitary sister is painfully combating the spell by knitting stinging nettles into shirts for them. Princess Elisa toils away under a vow of silence, her hands permanently blistered from the stings, knowing that if she finishes all the shirts by a certain day her brothers will be permanently released from the spell.

        What would so many of us give to be normal again, even just for a few hours of darkness. We’d even knit the stinging nettles without gloves on if it meant freedom from the imprisonment of a wheelchair. But maybe, just maybe, this time someone is actually doing the knitting for us – and just maybe they are getting closer to finishing the shirts (only one of Elisa’s brothers is left with an unfinished sleeve and consequently the wing of a swan).

        We have to be hugely positive about these machines. Of course the NHS can’t afford them. Of course, right now, they lie beyond the reach of all but the enormously wealthy. But, with time and the size of the spinal “market”, the cost might come down to that of a high-end power wheelchair – £15-£20,000.

        Spinal units in Britain and Europe must beg the money from trusts and research bodies. The devices must be further refined and developed; and their rehabilitation uses explored. That will only come with large-scale use. The amount of time and money that has gone into exoskeletons, that sense of an explosion of will and energy, suggests that this is an idea whose time has come. You only have to watch the clips on YouTube and see the smiles to understand what walking again means.

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        • Ab Fab in Gymland

          ‘Carrie and Kathy wheeze like pit ponies with the effort of trussing me in the harness. Neither can stop laughing’

          There is not a satsuma or a black bin liner in sight, but I have to admit that one corner of my gym looks like it belongs to someone who’s into autoerotic asphyxiation.

          Bolted to the ceiling there’s an electric hoist and dangling from it is a full body climbing harness, all carabiners and fail-safe clips and padded groin straps. Underneath sits a treadmill, cheap as chips off Amazon, and a Heath Robinson assortment of frames and ramps and blocks of rough firewood. No S&M warehouse ever looked as dark or as puzzling to the uninitiated.

          Welcome to my pleasure dome and the torture device that I might yet trademark as a Melomat. When I was in the spinal unit in Glasgow, you see, I was lucky enough to use a slick Swiss machine called a Lokomat, which, while supporting my body weight, helped me walk on a treadmill. I credit it with re-wakening so much of the movement in my legs – or at least speeding up the re-awakening. After I left hospital, I missed my 20-minute walks desperately: the progress in my leg power slowed; my ankles swelled and stayed swollen; my stamina declined; my whole body craved the sense of movement the machine provided. That remains the case to this day.

          Sadly there are, according to the Spinal Injuries Association, only two Lokomats in spinal units in Britain – in Glasgow and Wakefield – with no outpatient or private access to either. At around £170,000, plus staffing costs, how can the NHS justify such machines for the relatively tiny constituency that would use them? This is no MRI scanner, no wide-ranging diagnostic tool. I understand Standing Start, the admirable private spinal rehab centre in Cambridgeshire, is fundraising for a Lokomat, but the reality is that most people who’d benefit from the machine are stuffed.

          I decided, therefore, to create my own. In an act of semi-madness, I bought, from the internet, a rehabilitation treadmill capable of going as slow as 0.2km per hour. I couldn’t get proper measurements; I didn’t know if my wheelchair would fit on it; and no one from the company would phone me back to tell me. It was reduced on Amazon to about £1,600.

          My son Douglas, who as well as doing a degree in clubs, Red Bull and losing iPhones is also studying engineering, came home to tackle the ominous flatpack. “Hmmmm, always a bit worrying when the instructions are in Chinese,” he said; and a couple of times we had that horrible self-assembly moment when you look in the box for more parts and there’s nothing there. At first the computer refused to work and we thought we were doomed, but he got it going in the end. The treadmill is as tinny as a child’s cheap Christmas present: one fast pounding from a 16-stone rugby player would surely finish it; and the handles, unfortunately, are six inches too low for me and non-adjustable. But – touch wood – the belt turns.

          To the ceiling joists the joiner bolted a primitive electric hoist, £50, also from Amazon, which looks like it’s designed for lifting engines out of small cars. Between the treadmill handles and the running board, resting upon blocks of wood, we wedged my walking frame to give me something high to lean on. My pal Ian, from the Lomond Mountain Rescue Team, trawled the internet and found a fearsome industrial abseiling harness, the kind young alpinists might use to dangle off high-rise buildings to clean windows in order to fund a trip to the Himalayas. It cost £200.

          And thus the Melomat was born. The first time I used it, I brought in the professionals: Susan and Margaret from the spinal gym kindly gave up a Sunday afternoon. They made it all seem very safe and controlled; the fun only began when the amateurs took over.

          It’s like Ab Fab in gymland. My friends Carrie and Kathy, smokers both, are wheezing like emphysemic pit ponies with the effort of trussing me in the harness. Neither can stop laughing. Dirtily. “Darling! The possibilities!” The front wheels of the chair just fit on the running boards of the treadmill. The back wheels rest on wobbly blocks of split pine. Carrie clips the hoist onto the harness between my shoulder blades, Kathy presses the button and I am jerked skywards. Subtle this hoist is not. Neither is the harness. It rides up and asphyxiation looms. “Are you all right up there?” calls Carrie, gazing from kneecap height. (Why are all my girlfriends so tiny?) “You look a bit purple.” I am lowered so that I bear my own weight through my feet and arms; my windpipe is released; and the hoist is only there as a safety device.

          And so we press the start (the treadmill buttons, thankfully, have English as well as Chinese on them) and as the belt starts to creep at 0.2km per hour, so I start to walk. Thus, with the aid of one dwarf on each side helping to place my recalcitrant feet, this bondage version of Snow White strides out in slow motion, gazing down loftily at her little helpers and barking orders. “Put it up to 0.3k…Straighten my right foot…quick! Help! Hit the red button…NOW! No, not that bloody button, the other red button… Where are your glasses? Aarrghhhhh!” Don’t buy any propaganda you hear about sex games. Believe me, despite the harness and the dwarfs, being dragged off a treadmill backwards, choking, definitely lacks eroticism. Though it affords spectators unlimited amusement.

          At under £2,000, the Melomat is 85 times less expensive than the Lokomat. And fragile and wonky as the set-up may be, it works. I am able to walk on it for four minutes, then sit and rest for a few minutes before I do another four. Four minutes’ walking equates to about 70 steps.

          I have, thanks to the generosity of various friends, completed three sessions. After each one, my legs are completely cooked, my calf muscles burning. But every time I do it, my walking rhythm improves marginally and my legs get stronger. All I need to do now is open a book on when the treadmill will break down.

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          • Wow, I was waaaayyyyyy behind. Enjoy ladies and gents.

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            • Thank you once again F.P.F.

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              • Many thanks! Has anyone ever tried writing to her?

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                • Pelican, we love you! Thank you so much for delivering our drug of choice....a generous dose of Melanie!

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                  • Thank You very much FPF. I enjoy these very much. The one about Fergus the horse was a tearjerker.

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                    • Chances missed and chances taken

                      ‘In the enjoyably absurd world of Downton Abbey, Matthew’s spinal injury is an absurdity too far’


                      After Nigel Pargetter fell off his roof in that cliffhanger edition of The Archers, the spinal community positively buzzed with excitement. Wouldn’t it be fantastic, people said, if he survived with a broken back and thereby started a story line that would do so much to raise awareness of spinal injury. Imagine the immense good it could do. The scriptwriters, alas, were less generous: they killed off poor Nige and the chance was lost.

                      But wait, here comes Downton Abbey’s Matthew Crawley – could it be that Julian Fellowes heard the cries of disappointment from wheelchairs everywhere and decided to rectify the situation? Matthew survives the trenches but is paralysed from the waist down, a perfect dramatic device that ensures the heir, although still alive, is now a goner in the sex and procreation stakes.
                      Dramatic, yes – but believable? Did anyone with serious spinal injury survive the First World War? In the enjoyably absurd world of Downton, Matthew’s injury is an absurdity too far. Instead of dying of complications from paralysed bladder and bowels, or compromised respiratory and vascular systems, as most spinal-injured people did until the Sixties, let alone pre-1920, Matthew merely looked like he had a bad case of flu: pale, plaintive and motionless.

                      In last week’s episode, of course, any grip on reality totally evaporated. Matthew’s legs started to tingle and he made a miracle recovery, springing to his feet from his wheelchair. Months bed and chair-bound, and he didn’t even wobble. Take it from me, Lazarus has more credibility.

                      Ah, it was merely spinal shock, intoned the doctor. He should recover to lead a full life. And as Matthew started to jump like an impala, the family planned his wedding. “April! Matthew should be walking normally by then,” declared one lisping lovely. Yeah right, and now millions of viewers think spinal injuries just need a few weeks in bed before everything returns to normal. No pain, no suffering, no sores, no impotence, no heartbreaking rehab, no lifetime in a chair, no curmudgeonly carers. Tomorrow, Matthew will probably be speed-waltzing. Thanks, Julian Fellowes. For nothing.

                      Talking of carers, it is time, finally, for my husband to leave me. Not permanently, you understand, just for a brief respite from the job he never bargained for: that of driver, drug runner, dresser, comforter, cook, fire-lighter, motivator, friend and fetcher for the wife who fell to earth. Time, finally, for me to man up to a few days of sleeping alone and coping without his fierce protective spirit and his outrageous sense of humour. And only occasional curmudgeonliness.

                      “It’s not you I need a break from,” he kept saying. “I just need a change of scenery. Need to get away from all the things that need doing around here.” But of course it is me; me and the changed lifestyle that I have enforced on him. Carers everywhere will identify with this. Although you may love the person you care for, you are shackled by their needs as much as by the unchanging surroundings; the unswerving routine; the constant, if low-key, sense of responsibility; the absence of spontaneity. And if you don’t get a break from it you can end up with despair and even hatred in your heart. I know – I used to care for my parents.

                      So dear Dave loaded up the car with golf clubs and wet-weather gear and headed east in search of freedom and a few days without early morning alarms and the gentle chorus of “Could you...”/“Would you...”/“Please can I...”/ “Can you pass me...”/ “Have you...”/“Oh dear, I’ve dropped...”/“Help, I’m stuck...” which inevitably makes up the bulk of social intercourse with a tetraplegic.

                      There are three things that upset him and which I try my hardest to spare him. One, tears. He can’t stand it when I cry because it makes him feel helpless. “Nae greetin’!” he roars comically if he sees my face start to buckle; and often he can catch me in time and make me laugh. Two, crumbs. He hates it when I get bits of food in my lap, because it reminds him of his granny. Which explains why I don’t eat toast. Three, emptying the dishwasher. Which is how I have come to assume this task: it takes me at least half an hour, cantilevering over the open machine and piling clean plates onto a tray balanced on my lap, then wheeling them over to the cupboards. Lifting a china dinner plate is the very limit for my right finger and thumb. Personally, I eat and drink off plastic now, because such utensils are nice and light.

                      Self-sufficient as I purport to be, I didn’t feel ready to sleep in an empty house, so a dear friend came to house-sit. Night-time alone, nevertheless, conquering the vulnerabilities of the small hours, is a desolate feeling. “Take more drugs,” said Carrie, ever the pragmatist. We had an irreverent week: chocolate and junk TV. Dave came home a day early saying he’d missed me, and recounted the kind of adventures only he could have, including going for a long walk in the rain and drowning his phone, and making friends with a grave digger who called himself a bereavement operative.

                      Back in the gym, something rather astonishing came of something bad. Recently, my ankles have become too swollen to fit in the cumbersome splints I wear when I walk to stop my feet dropping; and my appointment with the orthotist to refit them is not until next week. I therefore decided to forgo the walking and practise sit-to-stand on the parallel bars.

                      But, in a moment of madness, once upright, I decided to try a few steps along the bars without any splints. “I just want to try,” I told a doubtful Dave. And I did it. Left foot, goody-goody foot, moved straight and obedient, and right foot – amazingly – lifted, crabbed, tilted inwards, but stepped forwards too when I willed it. No miracles, just eight groaning, grunting, gasping, exhilarating, exhausting steps forward. Welcome to the real world of spinal rehabilitation, Matthew Crawley.

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                      • Sitting here, with tears rolling down my cheeks.

                        Heart-rending stuff.

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                        • I did try writing to Melanie, well send her a small present, and I sent it to a Spinal website office that knew her address but I never heard back. I do hope she liked it.

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                          • http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00k56pz

                            an interview with her.

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                            • Dear Frances144,

                              I live in Hong Kong and am unable to listen to the interview: "not available in your region". Any possibility of posting it on YouTube? Thanks.

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                              • I think that would be in breach of BBC copyright.

                                Leave it with me and I will see if I can do something!

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