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Melanie Reid of The Times (UK)

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    Originally posted by McDuff View Post
    Aren't you just doing in reverse, what you find distasteful in others posts? Why do they not have the right to be depressed or not feel as happy as they were pre-sci? Who are you to tell them they must feel as good as or better than before their injury?

    Obviously, how good or bad a persons life was pre-sci, factors into how/what they feel post-sci. There is no be-all solution to how we each end up feeling about our current life. Possibly, the more/the better a person had it, the more the person misses it, I don't know. And maybe this is a result of the consumerism of the Western Nations, as compared to the survivorism(prob not a word) of the 3rd World Nations.

    Any good/bad "feelings" a person posts, are subject to being renounced by someone else who does not feel that way.
    i'm not telling anyone they do not have the right to feel depressed or not. nothing in my posts have said that. nor am i telling them that they MUST. u cannot will others to be happy. but what i am challenging ppl to do is put their situation into perspective. to not just focus on me, me, me, me. i cant, i cant, i cant. i stated that we all are entitled to miss what we don't have. life is about loss a lot of the time. but to only focus on the negative parts of our lives, how is that productive? i have suffered from depression all my life. it sets me back. i just recently spent 2 weeks being down in the dumps, overwhelmed and questioning whether i am capable of doing what i know is expected of me. i don't know what separates ppl in attitudes and why some ppl bounce back in their outlook and others do not. but i know it is selfish to constantly think about me and my troubles and i get pissed off when i see that in myself and in others. if only we could try to the break the walls of depression and see and do for others instead of focusing on ourselves then maybe, just maybe change may happen.

    i'm not a sympathetic person and never will be. i'm empathetic but sympathy is something i have never been able to wrap my brain around. i still don't buy that ab life is better. i think it's just a different way of living. to argue whether one life is better than the other is about as moot of a point as arguing whether a pc or a mac is better. both are different but both allow you to do the same thing in slightly different ways. i look at some of my ab friends who had wonderful loving parents, yet i lost them due to drugs. or look at kids who are gay who kill themselves cuz they were bullied. but congratulations! they can walk, run, jump, climb a mountain. isnt life grand?::sarcasm::
    "Smells like death in a bucket of chicken!"


      I agree with a lot of your points. Lots of times, taking your mind off yourself and think/do stuff for others, will improve yourself as well. I know that if I can keep my mind occupied "elsewhere", it can help lower the pain level I deal with. Of course sometimes that pain is telling me something is wrong, so it's a fine line.

      All I know for sure, is for me, ab life was better. I am "ok" now but am in no way as happy as I was. When I was ab, I can't remember when I routinely lied about how I felt. Like last saturday I was in a lot of pain, I went to my brothers house, where my sister and family from Loiusiana were staying for Thanksgiving and I wanted to see them again before they left. When I arrived, my b-i-l, just in greeting, asked "how ya doin?". I told him "today is a day I just lie to everyone". Even though he knows a lot of what I go thru, it still took him a minute.
      "a T10, who'd Rather be ridin'; than rollin'"


        Home Truths

        A weekend away from the hospital is a challenge as well as a joy

        Times columnist Melanie Reid broke her neck and back after falling from a horse in April. Writing for the Magazine from hospital, she begins to appreciate the challenges presented by visits home.

        My dog has the ugliest smile in the world. She really does. As I lever myself out of the car and wheel up to the french windows, I see her leaping and wriggling with joy, her massive Staffordshire terrier jaws distorted in a grimace of delight. Think Tasmanian devil on Prozac. My dog is death on legs for small furry animals, but she adores humans with the kind of enthusiasm that makes you feel perpetually guilty, like when you were 22 and going out with someone who you knew was far more in love with you than you were ever going to be with him.

        I’m sure the animal behaviourists have another name for the smile, submissive ingratiation or something, but a little bit of anthropomorphism is surely harmless. We used to have a sheep-shy collie, a great useless lump of a dog, who smiled too, and if you made the mistake of paying him any attention he would slither slowly past your knees and into your lap and up your chest. “Ohmigod, he’s like a sticky boyfriend,” my niece once cried, as the dog pushed her over and devoured her on the sofa.

        Anyway, Pip the terrier has been in seventh heaven recently, what with all the workmen supposed to be adapting the house, but really there to feed her sandwiches; and the return of her long-lost family at weekends. I’m of the Cesar Millan school of thought about dogs – I don’t believe rescue animals suffer abandonment issues – but there is no doubting the joy Pip feels when she has us all reunited in one room. There was one morning she was particularly comic. I was there; my son arrived on a flying visit from university; and my husband was eating a scrambled egg roll. She sat on my lap squirming, her head revolving in a triangle of helpless ecstasy. Whom did she love most? Me? Dougie? Or the food? Silly question really. In terrier world, what chance do humans stand against scrambled egg?

        Coming home regularly is starting to become a little less intimidating. One gets used to collecting vast bags of medication and all the peeing and pooing paraphernalia from the nurses’ station on a Friday night, and heading for the hills. One is almost an old hand at transferring in and out of the passenger seat, though one is aware one’s husband still holds his breath for a dangerously long time during the procedure. And – progress! – I can put on my own seatbelt.

        Last weekend was lovely because my big brother, who lives on an island in the Puget Sound off Seattle, and is a wizard with a saw, came to stay and attacked the kitchen table. He cut away the skirting under the tabletop so that I could, for the first time, get my wheelchair underneath. Such a little thing, but so significant. The old adage is true: there’s nothing quite like getting your feet under the table. Why, were I able to cut up my own steak, I might feel almost normal again.

        I suspected I would find the ramps in the house hard, and so it has proved. Even the sinewy Madonna arms and the brutal training on the pedestrian underpass ramp at the approaches to the Clyde Tunnel, with the traffic thundering by and Susan gently impassive to my tears of frustration, have not made it easy. One afternoon at home I transferred onto the sofa – another nerve-racking first, because inside you’re screaming, What if I can’t get back off? – and my son got in my wheelchair and tried the ramps himself. He’s a big, fit 20-year-old and he found them tough too, which in a way cheered me up.

        We are getting used to the new reality of mornings, reliant on the district nurse coming to do bowels and then the carers to assist with showering and dressing. I had hoped I would be independent in these things before now, but I have a way to go yet. So a succession of cheery, businesslike women bustle in and out of your bedroom and you lie and greet them with a smile, although inside the weight of helplessness and dependency is killing you. Remember, I keep saying to myself – if you wear the clown’s face for long enough, sometimes it becomes almost for real.

        The terrifying thing about leaving hospital after paralysis is fear of losing your bowel routine and experiencing meltdown, away from the umbilical cord of the ward and the nurses, who can change you and get you back in your chair in 15 minutes. So in the beginning, unless you are much braver than me, you don’t eat rich food, you don’t drink alcohol, and you don’t go out.

        But still it happened, last Saturday afternoon, with only the kindly brother around, his heart breaking for me, but unable to do anything. When in crisis, phone a friend… which is how I find myself in bed while a girlfriend I used to run a 5K circuit with, who still runs it, lucky woman, is excavating my lower bowel, only this time we’re not talking 5 kilometres, we’re talking 5 kilos, and I’m sobbing apologetically and she’s laughing and saying this is exciting for her – last time she did stuff quite as hands-on as this, it was as a community nurse with the Aborigines 15 years ago. I am left thinking how fortunate I am to have such friends. And – more darkly – what could I have done if I didn’t have them? Lain all night? Phoned NHS 24? It’s a question that goes right to the heart of the insecurity of being paralysed.

        Sunday night, I scuttled back to the security of hospital, never more glad to see the blue uniforms and feel the arms of the institution close around me. How was your weekend, kindly people ask. Mixed, I say. Bowels. And, like the brotherhood, we exchange knowing, empathetic nods. On the brighter side, however, I add, I managed to get my feet under the table. Plus my dog was really happy to see me.


          Awards and Anxieties

          ‘My award was handed out at a glitzy ceremony. At least, I’m told it was glitzy; I was in hospital eating macaroni cheese’

          Times columnist Melanie Reid broke her neck and back after falling from a horse in April. Writing from hospital, she is honoured by an award but worried by her abnormally low heart rate.

          It was a big decision. Should I do a Gwyneth Paltrow and blub? Or a James Cameron I’m-the-king-of-the-world moment and let my ego soar untrammelled? Acceptance speeches are so tricky to get right these days. Strike a sincere note and you’re wallpaper; go over the top and you’re pilloried on YouTube for time immemorial. Well, Oscar winners are, anyway. Back in the real world, the rest of us stammer through, chuffed to receive any kind of recognition for what we do.

          Last weekend I was greatly honoured to receive an Ability Media International Award, run by Leonard Cheshire Disability, for this column. It was one of many handed out at a glitzy ceremony held at London Studios. At least I’m told it was glitzy, because ceremonies always are, but sadly I wasn’t there in person because I was in hospital in Glasgow eating macaroni cheese and drinking weak tea.

          While I was very grateful to my Times colleague Magnus Linklater for representing me so stalwartly on the night, my input, a short “Thank you” to camera, was prerecorded a couple of weeks ago in hospital. I doubt it was as entertaining as those moments on the BBC Sports Personality of the Year, when the England cricket team, say, win some dubious runners-up accolade but they’re away on tour, so there’s a dodgy satellite link with the lads all lined up, and you can tell some of the jokers at the back have had a couple and are doing their best to wind up the captain and make him start sniggering in front of millions of viewers.

          Anyway, I put on some make-up, and tried my best to be articulate and succinct. What I said came from the heart. After my accident I had a desperate, instinctive need to express the emotional pain, and writing is the way I did it. In the beginning, when my hands did not work, I used a Dictaphone; since then I have spent countless late-night hours hunched over my laptop at a hospital bedside table, one-finger typing. It has been therapy; a lifeline; a way of rationalising the enormity of what had happened to me.

          But if the initial impulse was a selfish, ego-driven thing – a war correspondent dramatising my own war, or a soap opera scriptwriter with a good story line – then I am fantastically pleased that the result has been to help others. If, as the award citation suggests, I have inspired young people with disability to realise that they have a voice, that they too can have careers in the media, and if I have helped make busy, able-bodied people pause long enough to recognise the very thin line that divides them from me, then I have achieved something.

          The AMI Awards aim to encourage a more inclusive world for disabled and marginalised groups of people. The winners, drawn from the creative arts, have been chosen for work that inspires people facing major physical, mental, emotional or social challenges. Previous winners are Frank Gardner, the distinguished BBC journalist, paralysed in a terrorist shooting, and writer Sue Townsend, whose sight is impaired.

          The Ability Media Centre, run by Leonard Cheshire Disability, opened in Southwark, London, in 2009, and provides free courses in film, animation, graphic design, music technology and interactive media. More than 600 disabled people, many from disadvantaged backgrounds, have gained industry qualifications in radio, video, music and web production.

          For me, it was remarkable to learn how Leonard Cheshire Disability has evolved from what I remember – a charity running care homes for war veterans, started by a Second World War hero – into an entirely modern organisation that is the largest voluntary sector provider of care and support services for disabled people (21,000 at present) in the UK.

          I guess it’s all about capacity to change. Talking of which, there are AMI courses in Facebook, Twitter and all such interactive and digital tools, and maybe I should sign up myself, being a bit of an ostrich where such things are concerned. Why, I had to be personally handbagged by the deputy editor of The Times, who flew up from London specially, into using the dangerously sleek iPad that the paper has lent me. For it is true, boss, I do not know my apps from my elbow, and I have a mother’s instinctive reluctance to join Facebook, on the grounds it would be a bit like poking under the bed and reading my son’s diary. Is Facebook not the calling card of the under-thirties, and do the middle-aged not become mutton dressed as lamb if we go on too? Or do I just need more handbagging?

          I would be tackling my apps homework with more enthusiasm were it not for my latest medical complication – bradycardia, an abnormally low heart rate. My pulse, we have discovered, beats as slowly as 34 times a minute, which explains why I often feel “wabbit”, to use the evocative Scots expression for washed-out. There’s nothing wrong with my heart that not being paralysed wouldn’t cure (in more ways than one): it was low before the accident because I was so fit and generally very laid-back. Now it’s grindingly slow because my autonomic nervous system, which in normal people regulates body temperature and blood pressure, has been knocked out.

          I take medication to raise the blood pressure and this is probably what’s causing the bradycardia. End result is cause and effect gone haywire – when I stand up and my blood pressure drops, the heart races up into the 90s in an attempt to keep it up. When I sit down and the blood pressure rises, the heart rate nose-dives. So now we’re trying medicine to raise the heart rate, which in this pharmaceutical Hades will no doubt cause me some other damn problem. I am trying to persuade them the best answer might be a pacemaker. I also consoled myself with the memory that Björn Borg, one of my teenage crushes, had abnormally low blood pressure, but when I checked I discovered it was a myth. He was pretty rubbish at acceptance speeches, though.


            The Death of Daydreams

            Paralysis put an end to harmless escapism; it crushed my imagination as surely as the nerves in my neck’

            You know one of the saddest things about being paralysed? It’s the loss of the capacity to have daydreams. Not the big plush dreams of the night-time subconscious, but the idle waking fantasies that make your inner life a richer place. Private, trivial stuff; the kind of thing that sustains you from childhood onwards.
            So gone are the dreams of how nice it would be to lose a stone and fit into that lovely dress for a Christmas party; or one day to ride a Grand Prix dressage horse; or to spend a languid summer walking the Pyrenean High Level Route.

            Gone are the dreams of ever being physically desirable again; of marrying a rancher from Wyoming (blame My Friend Flicka for that one); of running a 10k in under an hour; of becoming an effortlessly brilliant cook; of climbing those little local hills I have driven past so many times and thought, really must go climb that some spare afternoon.

            Ultimately, I suppose I mourn the loss of the boundless inner possibilities that daydreams bring as much as I do the loss of spontaneity and movement. Paralysis put an end to harmless escapism; it crushed my imagination as surely as the nerves in my neck were crushed. It’s so good to have dreams; I simply don’t know what mine are any more.

            This past week a sense of bereavement for these things has hit me like a train, turning me upside down emotionally. Fellow spinal-cord-injured people have warned me of precisely this. They say that over time you learn how to dream of different things. Ten years on, one man tells me, you won’t quite remember what it felt like to be normal – to wake up in the night and roll out of bed to get a glass of water; to wriggle under the duvet and put your icy feet on your partner’s legs to warm them up. The old you will have passed.

            One of my dearest friends, a farmer who downsized to paradise in Lot-et-Garonne, came to stay last weekend. The last time she saw me I was on a ventilator, eyes like slits from the swelling, using a printed alphabet to spell out the message, “This is purgatory” – so you could say she saw a pleasing difference in me. Ruthlessly practical, she set about helping me de-clutter the kitchen.

            “It has to be done, but you have to be in control of it,” she said. So I sat there in my chair as director of operations, and she delved into the murkiest, junkiest corners, pulling out things to show me. Throw or keep? “You have serious magpie tendencies,” she said sternly as I swithered over a cracked, 20-year-old Le Creuset saucepan lid, which has lacked its pot for ten years. “But it might be useful one day,” I said. “Throw!” she cried. She halved my surprisingly huge collection of baking dishes – “Let’s face it, you’re not going to be having big supper parties” – and savaged my numbers of saucepans and serving implements. “What on Earth do you need four soup ladles for?”

            Anyway, we have cleared enough out of the house to furnish two student flats, which is a shame, because today student flats come shiny and ultra-regulated and Ikea-ed, not like in my day, when you scoured skips for planks and bricks to make bookcases and huddled over the one-bar electric fire dating from the Fifties that your father had dug out of his workshop. Amazing any of us survived, isn’t it? And incidentally, there’s another daydream crushed – my son’s student flat is on the first floor of an old tenement, so I’ll never get to see it; won’t ever be able to imagine him in his surroundings when he phones. (Maybe just as well, some would say, given his inherited tendencies to untidiness.)

            I have developed the Freudian habit, at the weekend, of talking about going “back to work” on Sunday evening. And at work in hospital, training for freedom, things are progressing, though infinitely slowly. I measure life in tiny increments; in a knee that locks for a few seconds longer, or a shower where I manage to turn off the water and not drop the shower gel and wheel the shower chair those few agonising inches back far enough to reach the towels without buzzing for a nurse. I have been given my own room, which is bliss, but the downside is that I must continue to earn it by being as independent as possible and calling on the nurses for very little.

            In the gym, I am practising “sit to half-stand”. Over and over again, up and down, throwing my head over my feet, pushing down through my legs and hands and lifting my backside a foot or so in the air. Trying, with every lift, to make it more controlled. Trying to stop the knees from collapsing forward. My physio, Susan, heartless as ever, has deserted me and gone on a short break to Athens – how dare she leave me? – so I am in the hands of the boss, Jon, who says he prefers being called Obi-Wan Kenobi to Yoda. Now he can be whichever Jedi master he wants to be as long as he lets me practise on the parallel bars, which he does if he thinks I’ve earned it. Twice over the past week I have had sessions where I have stood myself up, with minimal assistance, put all my weight down through my feet and – this is the really exciting bit – lifted my hands from the bars. For a few seconds I was not using my arms to bear my weight.
            Wobbling on my own two feet at last, while Jon waves his hands at me, Black and White Minstrel-style, to show me I’m doing it all on my own. Also, wallowing around like a stranded sea lion on my front on a gym plinth, I have discovered I can raise myself up, head back, arms propped straight in front of me, my entire torso, from the hips up, off the plinth. That’s a development. That really is. As Obi-Wan Kenobi once said to Luke Skywalker: “Patience, use the Force, think.” Mind you, he also said: “Why do I sense we’ve picked up another pathetic life form?” So I’m not getting my hopes up yet.


              Thanks FPF - you're doing a grand job. :-)

              I admire CG's attitude, and agree that sitting around feeling sorry for yourself is not helpful - but one thing worse than feeling sorry for yourself is having someone tell you to stop feeling sorry for yourself! I'm not sure setting the bar at Rwandan genocide is the answer.

              Of course everyone should try to get on with their lives, but often that's only possible with help and support. As Melanie Reid ponders: "I am left thinking how fortunate I am to have such friends. And – more darkly – what could I have done if I didn’t have them? Lain all night? Phoned NHS 24? It’s a question that goes right to the heart of the insecurity of being paralysed."


                Thanks yet again Fly Pelican Fly you evil SCI'd banker!


                  Originally posted by lifeonmars View Post
                  Thanks FPF - you're doing a grand job. :-)

                  I admire CG's attitude, and agree that sitting around feeling sorry for yourself is not helpful - but one thing worse than feeling sorry for yourself is having someone tell you to stop feeling sorry for yourself! I'm not sure setting the bar at Rwandan genocide is the answer.

                  Of course everyone should try to get on with their lives, but often that's only possible with help and support. As Melanie Reid ponders: "I am left thinking how fortunate I am to have such friends. And – more darkly – what could I have done if I didn’t have them? Lain all night? Phoned NHS 24? It’s a question that goes right to the heart of the insecurity of being paralysed."
                  i had to lol at this! cuz i was suddenly reminded of my parents yelling at me when i cried from frustration "why are you crying? who died?" or if i didnt eat something they'd shout "starving ppl in africa would be grateful to eat that food!" i just realised i pulled the starving africa ppl on yall. OH NOES I'M TURNING INTO MY MOTHER!!!

                  melanie is spot on. i dunno where i'd be without my friends. so many times i have pissed or shat myself and they have driven me home with me crying in embarrassment.

                  and then there have been times when i have had no one. and had to lay all night waiting for help, knowing it wasnt going to come and having to do for myself. dark dark times. so nice to have friends now to bail me out in a pickle and not think the lesser of me.
                  "Smells like death in a bucket of chicken!"


                    Thanks FPF for the new articles.



                      Yeah, yeah, yeah (said with impatience and rolled eyes). So war country kids distress is more important that gimp pain or I-lost-my-cellphone pain, or sexism or whatever. making a competition out of pain is an old game,... and still boring. There is time and compassion for all, but if you would rather make a competitive game out of it, in your own mind, then you win.

                      Oops, so sorry, you already corrected your error up a few posts...
                      Last edited by Tetracyclone; 7 Dec 2010, 8:38 AM. Reason: unnecessary


                        There is no point trying to measure suckiness - it is all relative.


                          I'm a newbie here - I'm not SCI - I developed a really really rare form of RSD - a neurological disorder when i was in my teens and over the course of 6 months went from "normal AB" to no use in my legs and limited use of my arms. (in fact - admitted to hospital after losing the use of my arm (got some back with physio) and came out in a wheelchair). Over the years its worsened - I'm now 25, just graduated from uni, require 24 hour care etc and am currently living with my boyfriend at my mums whilst we fight the beauracry associated with getting our own place.

                          I have been a lurker on here reading the Melanie Reid articles (thanks FPF) and just wanted to comment on a theme that has cropped up on here - working. I have worked incredibly hard to get a degree and got a 2.1. Since I have looked for jobs I have got interviews - but suddenly the interviewer who is incredibly positive on the phone cools as soon as they see me coming through the door with my disability menagerie (carer, electric wheelchair etc). I haven't been offered a job. Surprised? Not now.

                          I live with severe pain which is only mildly controlled with heavy doses of oxycontin and ketamine but - despite that I'd LOVE to work part time to try and keep my mind engaged and off the pain. Yet, as someone mentioned here there is no support for people wanting to enter "professions" who have a disability - instead you are stuck in limbo - not able to work but, having attempted to train in an area I could work in with my disability it is much harder to get incapacity benefit. AGH!

                          In the UK the "famous" wheelchair users that AB's can name are famous for their sporting prowess (e.g. Tani-Grey Thompson) *just my opinion from asking my AB friends) so I really hope that Melanie keeps working and in the public eye so that more companies can start to consider that wheelchair users are worth investing in. Fingers crossed.

                          Thanks again for posting those articles.

                          Life on wheels - cheaper than a life of shoes!!
                          Life's what you make it


                            I think the point that cryptic is making is that it's ok to mourn your old life but there is a point where you have to get on with life. If you're 5-10 years post and still on the pity pot doing nothing more with life then mourning your old a/b life something is very wrong. "Stuff Happens" life should go on making the most of what you have left.


                              Originally posted by frogga View Post
                              you are stuck in limbo - not able to work but, having attempted to train in an area I could work in with my disability it is much harder to get incapacity benefit. AGH!

                              ... I really hope that Melanie keeps working and in the public eye so that more companies can start to consider that wheelchair users are worth investing in. Fingers crossed.

                              In a nutshell.

                              The whole point of the welfare reforms is not to get disabled people back into work, but to get them off benefit. The new criteria: 'able to do some work' covers just about everyone not in a coma - but it leaves many severely disabled people in a Catch-22 - ineligible for benefit, but functionally unable to secure employment without the sort of support that just isn't available, or economically viable unless you have the brain of Stephen Hawking.

                              Disabled people aren't any different to able-bodied people: the vast majority want to work. Indeed, not working is one of the most demoralising aspects of disability. When surveyed 8/10 incapacity benefit claimants said they hoped to get back to work, but this was twisted by government spokesmen into a claim that 8/10 claimants should be at work and not on benefit. With the drip-feed of fraudulent claimants regularly hitting the tabloid front pages extreme cases have been presented as typical, such that the public perception is that most 'disabled' people are just a bunch of free-loaders. Having softened up public opinion benefit cuts can be presented as a necessary correction of the 'dependency culture' rather than an attack on the most vulnerable members of society.

                              My own, admittedly cynical, view is that Melanie Reid will be used as an example of what disabled people can achieve - without recognising that her experience as an established journalist is scarcely typical of that of most SCIs.
                              Last edited by lifeonmars; 3 Jan 2011, 10:41 AM. Reason: added paragraph


                                latest articles....

                                Snow is Non-Negotiable in a wheelchair

                                The sound of snow padding on the Veluxes in the night used to be one of my most treasured things – the secret delight of life in a remote glen. We knew we would wake to a beauty that belonged, briefly, just to us and the animals. And even if we had to go to work that day, well, that was part of the fun: sweeping the snow off the pick-up, surfing bonnet-deep through the powdery drifts on the farm track – yeeha! – then heading into the city on roads as yet unploughed. How harmlessly arrogant we felt, once in the office, listening to the townies phoning in with excuses or moaning about getting stuck in suburbia in their useless fancy motors.

                                That arrogance has been punctured in the most profound way by my new dependency. Now snow is a threat, a dangerous form of imprisonment. And the woman who once loved the physical challenge, the deeper the better, looks out at a winter wonderland and notes gloomily that, a) Nanook of the North didn’t need a district nurse to survive and, b) The only way I could get into the cab of a pick-up these days would be if someone wedged me on the prongs of a forklift.

                                Last weekend, then, on my latest visit home from hospital, arrived the perfect storm. Snow fell hard overnight and we woke on Saturday not only to that, but to lifeless radiators and that most mournful of things, a stone-cold Aga. Plainly, the oil had run out. Captain Mainwaring, denying naturally he was in any way responsible for this, went into overdrive, leaving messages for oil distributors and plumbers; in between which came the call to say that, owing to the weather conditions, the carers couldn’t make it. The district nurse, meanwhile, told us she was stuck in another village. And I put the duvet over my head and wondered, variously, what else could go wrong and exactly why I was opposed to a nice bungalow in town. Or possibly in Spain.

                                As I am learning fast, after you’ve been badly injured, you discover that there are many, many good people in the world. Among them is my local oil supplier, who sent a tanker within the hour, battling through treacherous conditions. Among them too are our plumbers, who struggled many miles down the A90 to discover that we hadn’t run out of oil, rather that the fire safety valve on the fuel line had failed. Reprieve for Captain Mainwaring and a warm house again. Meantime, my stepson went to fetch the district nurse in the 4x4, and once in the house she refused to leave until she had done the carers’ job as well, helping me to shower, dress and get up. For all these many kindnesses, thank you becomes an inadequate phrase.

                                The next morning, as yet more snow thumped down, we set off for hospital as soon as we could. Another steep learning curve. Snow is totally non-negotiable if you are in a wheelchair. The small wheels at the front will not penetrate it; the back wheels spin when you exert force. You cannot push yourself through it and so must be pushed. Your footplate then acts as a snowplough, collecting a great drift over your trainers, round your ankles and up your trousers. And, as you discover the minute you get out of the car, when people clear pavements, they do not clear them to wheelchair width. Which effectively makes wheelchair-users completely housebound in this kind of winter weather, although I did hear of one spinal patient whose mates took him to the park and tipped him over so he could make snow angels.

                                “What have you got on this week?” asked an old friend. “Just standing up,” I said. “Over and over and over again. It’s my job.” My gym routine at the moment is simple: arm weights and leg bike in the morning session; then in the afternoon, I perch on the edge of a bench, grasp the parallel bars and raise myself up and down to standing, each time trying to make the movement slower and more controlled. Once upright, I have very little conception of what’s happening – think baby giraffe – but I try to stay loose and balanced over feet I can’t really feel. I’m only truly aware that my lower legs these days burn constantly, as if in a deep-fat fryer; that my knees and ankles lock like stone statues (painfully so, especially at night), but I will just have to get on with it. The positive interpretation to put on all this, of course, is that the pain might be down to a return of sensation and the stiffness due to muscle ache. Plus my physiotherapist, Susan, cheered me up when she came back from holiday and rewarded me with a “Brilliant, Mel!” when she saw me stand, this being possibly the nicest thing she’s ever said to me. Either she’s getting soft, which is unlikely, or I am still making progress.

                                On the firm advice of my doctors, this will be my last column until into the new year. First came David Allan, director of the spinal unit, playing bad cop, then my consultant, Mariel Purcell, playing good cop, to tell me they think I’m over-tired and should take a break from writing so I can concentrate on my rehabilitation. For once I am doing what I’m told. I will remain in hospital for every gym session over the Christmas period, and, weather permitting, go home on the non-gym days. The new year will bring my countdown to eventual discharge, so I must concentrate as hard as I can right now on myself. My wonderful support group of Times readers will understand, I’m sure, and be there for me in January. I wish you all a very happy Christmas and please, if you are swithering over whether to buy a mohair nose-warmer or rose-petal-stuffed underpants for the person who already has everything, then donate the money instead to The Times Spinal Charities Appeal. For if I’ve learnt one thing this year it is this: what matters this Christmas is love and health, not useless material stuff, nor whether your table decorations are fashionable.