Mary sat in the waiting room scrolling through social media, trying to avoid the news as it was nearly always miserable. An old man was coughing loudly in the corner, and on the other side of the room a mother comforted a snivelling child. The receptionist could be heard tapping away at her computer, interrupted only by the phone ringing.
There was a beeping noise and Mary’s name appeared on the large screen mounted on the wall above reception. She clicked off her brakes and manoeuvred her way towards the doctor’s office, knocking on the door in the vain hope that they would open it, but simply hearing a woman’s voice brusquely say “come in” from the other side instead. Mary pushed the door open with her feet while propelling her wheelchair into the room, and positioned herself opposite the doctor.
“What can I do for you today?” the doctor sounded bored.
“Well, it’s just these new pills you’ve put me on,” Mary began, “they’re very effective but they also have side effects.”
“And what would those side effects be?” the doctor pressed.
“Very vivid hallucinations,” Mary tried to sound as self-assured as she could while at the same feeling highly embarrassed.
“How strange, that’s never happened before,” the doctor said as she scanned the prescription on her computer for the list of side effects.
“Yeah, it was…weird,” Mary offered.
“So what did you hallucinate?” the doctor looked back at Mary.
“Well…err…and I promise you it all seemed very real at the time…err…I…um…I met an angel.”
“What?” the doctor said, flummoxed.
“I met an angel,” Mary repeated self-consciously, “and the angel told me that I would soon become pregnant with the child of…oh, this is ridiculous,…of God.”
The doctor barely contained her amusement, a small snicker escaping before she continued.
“Ridiculous indeed, to have children you’d need to be able to have sex,” the doctor quipped.
“Really?” Mary raised an eyebrow, “how did you pass medical school if you don’t think disabled people can have sex?”
The doctor opened her mouth but Mary interrupted, “Don’t even ask how, OK? I lie down. Sheesh.”
The doctor closed her mouth again looking thoughtful.
“There is one way we could settle this matter if it would put your mind at ease,” the doctor recovered her professional demeanour, “You could take a pregnancy test. I have some in my desk, and the disabled toilet is just around the corner.”
“Fine,” Mary took the pregnancy test from the doctor and left the room, returning 5 minutes later.
“May I have another please, I think I did this one wrong?” Mary looked somewhat sheepish.
“Sure,” the doctor handed her another and spent the next 5 minutes filing paperwork while she waited.
Mary returned looking even more sheepish than before, carrying both pregnancy tests on her lap.
“Well?” the doctor inquired.
There was a short pause before Mary replied, “I’m pregnant.”
Lounging back on the sofa Mary rested her mug of tea on her swollen belly, trying not to fall asleep. When she heard Joe’s keys turning in the lock she slowly sat herself upright, and waited for the rustling of hats, scarves, and coats being removed before the door into the lounge opened.
“Evening,” Mary said, noticing Joe looked somewhat distressed, “Are you alright?”
“Have you seen the news?” he said.
“You know I never watch the news,” Mary replied.
Joe sighed, “A huge hurricane has been spotted crossing the Atlantic and it’s heading straight for us. It’s due to hit in 24 hours; they’re evacuating the city tonight.”
“Is this what you call a joke?”
“No, Mary, I’m serious. We need to pack our bags and go. Now.”
“But the baby-“
“I know the baby’s due any day now but we’ve got no choice. It’s not safe,” Joe swiftly left the room, and Mary could hearing him dragging the suitcases out of the wardrobe. Awkwardly she shifted from the sofa to the wheelchair, the seatbelt of which had long since given up hope of keeping her safe, and rolled through to the bedroom. Someone would need to direct the packing or they’d end up with enough underpants to sink a ship but no nappies for the baby.
The train station was the busiest it had ever been, with all the ticket barriers left open as people streamed in droves towards the trains. As they approached the platform of the nearest train an official walked over to them.
“Have you booked a ramp?” he asked Joe.
“No,” Mary responded coldly.
“You need to book a ramp 24 hours in advance if you want to board the train,” the official continued speaking to Joe.
“Oh I’m sorry,” a tired, grumpy, and very pregnant Mary said, “I’ll just call the Met Office and ask them to delay the hurricane so we can give you a warning in advance that I can’t levitate. This is an emergency evacuation, surely your ableist policies don’t apply now.” Joe placed his hand on Mary’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze. She fixed him with a glare colder than Medusa’s own.
“I’m sorry, but we need the notice so that we can ensure that a member of staff with the right insurance is available,” the official wouldn’t budge.
“We’ll find another option,” Joe looked down at Mary before turning and directing her out of the station.
“Now what?” Mary said once outside, the wind already picking up.
Across the road a bus pulled up.
“Bus then, I guess,” Mary started to move towards it.
As she approached the driver opened the doors, and shouted to her, “No room for a wheelchair, love, we’ve got a pram.”
“Then tell the mother to move, it’s a wheelchair space, not a pram space,” Mary stuck her foot in the doorway to prevent the automatic doors from closing.
“Not my job,” the bus driver muttered, even though it legally was.
“I’ll move,” the mother shouted down the bus, clearly more aware of the law than the driver was.
After much fussing with luggage and prams and the uncooperative bus driver, Mary could finally settle in the wheelchair space as they made their way out of the city.
“Where we headed?” she asked Joe.
“Heathrow airport,” a stranger interjected.
“They gonna try and fly in this?” Mary replied incredulously.
“Nah, but they can shelter enough of us in the airport itself, there’s hotels and all that. It’s still gonna get battered by this storm, but the worst of it is meant to be up in Scotland so we’ll cope.”
“Thanks,” Mary said, turning to Joe, “Can you ring round the hotels and make sure they have an accessible room ready for us? I really ought to get a hotel room in this state.”
“Sure,” Joe nodded, looking at the empty bars on his phone, “but there’s no signal. I’ll go to the top deck.” With that Joe shuffled away through the crowd in the vain hope of getting a signal. Mary was suddenly overcome by a wave of exhaustion, and within minutes was fast asleep.
Several hours had passed when Mary woke up suddenly, feeling a small but intense cramp across her abdomen and back. It disappeared almost as soon as it had arrived and Mary thought nothing of it until, as she was drifting back to sleep, it returned.
“Joe,” Mary hissed, “Joseph.” She shook him gently, as having given up on obtaining a phone signal, he had settled on the seat beside her and fallen asleep.
“Hmmm what?” a very drowsy Joe opened his eyes.
“I think I’m in labour,” Mary whispered.
“I’m giving birth,” Mary hissed.
“Oh, OK,” there was a pause as Joe came to his senses, then, “What? Now? You’re in labour right now?”
“Yes I’m in labour right now,” Mary returned sharply, much louder than she intended.
“We’re only a couple of hours from Heathrow, love,” the bus driver shouted back, “it’d be sooner but this damn traffic is holding us up.”
“I’ll try and hold it then,” she quipped back.
The next two hours were the longest of Mary’s life. The light of dawn illuminated a grey and gloomy sky hanging above a seemingly endless convoy of cars, trucks, and buses. Each pain became a little more intense and were already becoming more frequent. Mary tried not to wake the other passengers up, but wasn’t succeeding. Eventually Heathrow could be seen in the distance, and another half an hour later the bus arrived at its destination.
The driver ensured that Mary was the first off the bus, followed closely by Joe who carried all their luggage while his wife clutched her belly. They pushed through the crowd, quite literally treading on toes and disrupting queues, but no one seemed to mind thanks to the magic of a wheelchair.
“Which hotel did you book?” Mary asked.
“Signals down, I couldn’t get a hold of any of them,” he replied.
“Wonderful,” Mary said.
“Look, I’m sure they’ll be understanding of our situation,” Joe answered, heading towards the nearest one. They pushed past the queue at the reception desk, Joe interrupting another customer mid-speech.
“My wife needs an accessible room and she needs one now, she’s in labour,” the words fell out in a rush.
“All our accessible rooms are already full sir, but we do have some other rooms available,” the receptionist replied calmly.
“Will it fit a wheelchair?” he asked.
“No, I said all our accessible rooms are already full, sir-“
“Then you’re no help to us,” Joe hastily turned on his heel and headed to the next hotel, followed by Mary.
He repeated the process only to get the same response, and went from hotel to hotel to hotel, all of them informing him that accessible rooms were apparently rarer than an endangered species. Even seeing Mary’s increasing distress as labour progressed didn’t help. Utterly exhausted, afraid, and in pain, Mary broke down in tears in the midst of the airport.
“I don’t want to have my baby with everyone looking at me,” she stuttered between tears. Joe also began to cry, frustrated by the unwillingness to help others in need displayed by everyone they had come across.
“I know, I know, but I don’t know how to fix this,” he replied.
A woman wearing an air hostess uniform approached them, her heels audibly clicking on the tiles despite the noise in the airport.
“There is somewhere private you can go,” she said, “if you need it.”
“Yes, yes, please, anything,” Mary wiped the tears mingled with sweat from her face.
“This way, and I will fetch a doctor once you’re settled,” the air hostess guided them through what seemed like miles of crowded airport, stopping every few minutes as a contraction took hold of Mary. Finally, the air hostess opened the door of the room she had in mind. It was a disabled toilet, although in fairness there was an adult-sized changing table attached to one wall, which the air hostess was already pulling down.
“I know it’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing,” she said.
“What’s your name?” Joe asked, receiving a steely glare from Mary.
“Star,” she replied, before dashing off to find a doctor.
Slowly and carefully, Joe helped Mary climb on the table, putting a bag beneath her head as a pillow. A few minutes later there was a tap on the door and a doctor appeared, followed by a nurse, both in bloodied scrubs having clearly been put to work at least once already. Mary couldn’t have cared less, simply being relieved to have a private place to give birth, albeit a humble bathroom. Another contraction detonated through her body, causing Mary to grit her teeth in an effort not to scream.
Two hours later an exhausted and sweat-covered Mary was handed her little boy, who’s first cry could be heard from outside of the room. Mary’s head flopped back onto her pillow as she held her little boy, tears of relief now adorning her cheeks as Joe kissed her forehead gently. Time passed at an unknown pace until a knock was heard on the door. Mary cast Joe a puzzled glance as he crossed the room. He answered to find three boys stood outside, one holding a pile of clean, fluffy towels, one holding some bottles of water, and the other holding a tiny baby-gro.
“We thought these might help,” the boy holding the towels offered, “these are spares in the staff laundry room.”
“And these were from the pharmacy,” the boy with the water added.
“And this was my first baby-gro which my mum kept as a memento, but she said you can have it now,” the third added.
“Wow, boys, this is wonderful. Your mothers must be very proud of you,” Joe accepted each of the gifts and added them to the pile of luggage in the corner of the room, except for the baby-gro. Instead he gently lifted the baby from Mary’s arms where the nurse had left him after his first bath. He stirred slightly in his sleep as Joe gently unravelled the many towels from the baby, before dressing him even more carefully in the baby-gro, which fit perfectly.
“Can we see the baby?” One of the boys said expectantly, as they were waiting by the door.
“Of course,” Joe said.
Mary watched, smiling, as Joe carefully set the baby down in her wheelchair before going back to open the door properly. The boys stumbled in excitedly and rushed to the side of the wheelchair, where they spoke only in loud whispers.
“What’s his name?” one of the boys asked.
From the changing table where she still lay, tired but content to watch the world go by, Mary replied.
“Joshua,” she said.
I hope you enjoyed this year’s Christmas special which was inspired by some ideas put forward by fans of Diary of a Disabled Person. I certainly enjoyed writing it.
I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas, and I will be back next week with the New Year special.
Until then, Merry Christmas!