The Worst Days.

As diabolically insane as this sounds, it’s sometimes all too easy to forget just how bad my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome can get. I get so caught up in the managing of day-to-day events like work and chores that I forget the reason why I manage these tasks so carefully, and then a relapse arrives.

I know it’s going to be a tough day when I wake up and can’t open my eyes. It usually takes several minutes and a monumental effort to finally prise my eyelids apart, and it’s rare that I can keep my eyes open for longer than a second or two. When Jarred switches the light on it feels like I’m looking directly at the sun, and usually aggravates the dull throbbing in my head. Even when lying down, my muscles feel fatigued and my joints ache, so much so that sitting up isn’t an option, and nausea ensures my constant discomfort.

Jarred will fetch me a cup of water and my medication from the kitchen, as often I cannot face eating anything for breakfast. Then, he will go about his daily business and allow me to sink back into sheets and fall asleep.

The sleep I get on these days is not restful, but is broken regularly by short spells of wakefulness before I drift off again. I will dream vividly as I lose track of time, and while the dreams I have when I feel this way are not nightmares, they’re not exactly pleasant either. Eventually, after approximately five of these dreaming sessions, I will wake up properly. I feel more alert and aware of the things going on around me, and my eyes stay open of their own accord. At this point I know I will not sleep for another few hours.

Jarred nips in and out of the bedroom between his daily activities to check on me, so I don’t normally have long to wait before he finds me awake. If I think I can stomach it, he will make me a small sandwich or a bowl of soup, propping up our pillows on the bedhead and lifting my shoulders, so that all I have to do is shuffle slowly until I’m leant against the pillows.

After eating, if I manage to eat at all, comes the hardest part of the day. My mind will be constantly active at this point, often focussing on tasks that I had planned to attend to that day, but my body simply can’t keep up. I grow bored and restless, but can do nothing about it. If I’m lucky I might be able to read a book for a little while, but even the smallest volumes make my arms hurt as I read. Often Jarred has brought through a simple board game likes snakes and ladders, which at least takes my mind off of my condition for a short while. Sometimes I will lean on Jarred, and he will practically carry me into the lounge where I can sit on the sofa and binge watch something on Netflix, but moving me from room to room is difficult for both of us.

As the evening closes in, Jarred will offer me another small something to eat, and will then sit on the bed with a basin of tepid water, washing my hands and face for me. By this point it is all I can do not to fall onto the pillows as Jarred lays them flat on the mattress, pulling the duvet over me as I lack the necessary strength to do this. It doesn’t take me long to fall asleep, but I will be plagued by spells of waking and vivid dreams for most of the night.

These spells can last for several days, or even for a week or two in particularly bad cases. They are undeniably strenuous for me, but also apply pressure to those around me. Similarly, the backlog of tasks not done often makes the recovery harder, as once I am able to turn my attention to them, I have so many to do that it is overwhelming. Fortunately, these spells are not common; as far as CFS goes, I’m one of the lucky ones.

Wheels of Steel: Another Short Story.

Opposite 10 Downing Street a crowd of photographers and news reporters had gathered, all hoping to get the best images of the new Prime Minister entering the house for the first time. As the police escort appeared around the corner the crowd erupted, and the cameras started flashing. In place of the sleek, black car the previous Prime Minister had arrived in was a small van, which drew somewhat less gracefully to a halt outside number 10.

The chauffer climbed out of the driving seat, ignoring the crowd completely, and opened up the back of the van. He pulled out a metal ramp, which he made sure was secure before the Prime Minister wheeled herself backwards onto the road. She made sure to wave to everyone opposite before making her way a few metres down the street to where a temporary plastic ramp had been put in place to get her onto the pavement. Once aligned perfectly, she pushed herself up the ramp, and stopped to push a loose strand of hair back from her face before making her way towards her new home.

By the time she arrived at the door of the house, the chauffer had cleared up the ramp and driven off, so the photographers got a clear view of her as the infamous black door slowly opened. Another plastic ramp, in a garish orange that clashed with the otherwise refined scene, was placed down, and the Prime Minister went indoors. When the door was closed firmly behind her, she was relieved to finally be away from the prying eyes of the news corporations.

“Welcome, Prime Minister,” the head of staff nodded her head politely.

“Please, call me Sarah,” the Prime Minister returned equally politely, “I’m aware that it is not conventional, but then I doubt that I am going to be a conventional Prime Minister.”

“Indeed, Prime Minister,” the head of staff retorted somewhat more stiffly.

Sarah made her way down the wide hallway, her wheels sinking into the thick, woollen carpet, leaving conspicuous tracks behind her. She was introduced to all of the senior members of staff that she would be working with, but the meeting she enjoyed the most was that of Simon the ginger cat. Being a friendly cat used to being around an ever-changing staff, Simon was more than happy to leap straight onto Sarah’s lap, and to be driven around the house at his leisure.

Simons' New Friend from Wheels of Steel.

As Sarah entered her office, eyeing the large stack of paperwork already on her desk, she asked to speak to the caretaker of the house. A few minutes of fussing Simon later, Sarah heard a rough knock on the heavy door.

“Come in,” she said.

“You asked to see me, Prime Minister?” the caretaker replied.

“Sarah, please. There are going to have to be a few modifications made to the house, I’m afraid,” Sarah said, “If I am to live and work here in comfort, then I need full wheelchair access to all that I will use.” Simon gave an affirmative meow.

“Yes, of course. There are builders booked for this afternoon to install cement ramps at the front door, and also on the pavement outside,” he informed her.

“Fantastic. Now, what about the stairs?” Sarah asked.

“I have a team of engineers coming out tomorrow who will be fitting special stair lifts than can take both you and your wheelchair upstairs.”

“How considerate of you,” Sarah said, impressed.

“A shorter lectern is being built so that you may address the reporters outside as all other Prime Ministers have done, and I was wondering if you would need some mats fitting that would make it easier for you to get over that carpet?”

“That would be ideal, yes. It seems you have everything covered,” Sarah said, “Do you have experience at handling a wheelchair user?”

“My daughter uses a wheelchair, so I know the sort of things that cause problems. She’s a big fan, by the way. I’m only sorry that I’ve not been able to address any of these issues any sooner.”

“That’s perfectly understandable,” Sarah said, “Now if you’ll excuse me, it appears I have a lot of work to attend to.”

“Yes, Pri- Sarah,” the caretaker nodded, and left the room.

Sarah smiled. At least she had one member of staff on her side.

***

Sarah’s first day in the Houses of Parliament as Prime Minister was an interesting one. Although she knew her way around the Palace of Westminster very well, she was used to sitting at one of the back benches, on the very top row. All of the other seats had a flight of steps down to them. She knew that over the weekend a lift had been installed that would enable her to take her proper place in parliament, but she still worried that somehow, the access would go wrong.

Two guards nodded to her before opening the double doors to the House of Commons, where she was greeted with a round of applause. She was happy to see most members of her political party give a standing ovation, however ironic that may have been. Sarah moved onto the flimsy-looking platform lift that had been installed, and then began the longest and loudest descent into the House of Commons that had ever taken place. Finally, she reached the bottom, and took her place opposite her counterpart in the opposition, who fixed her with a long stare.

The House was called to order, and the days’ debates began.

“Forgive me, Prime Minister, but I am not going to take things easy on you because of your condition,” the leader of the opposition opened with. Sarah would have appreciated the sentiment had it not been said in such a condescending manner.

“In fact,” he continued, “I expect as much of you as I did your predecessor, although that’s not a great standard to reach, I know.”

Before Sarah had thought about it, she opened her mouth.

“Let me stop you there, sir,” she said curtly, before leaning into the microphone to address the whole house.

“No one should expect any less of me because of my wheelchair, or because I am a woman. Do not judge me by the standards of those who came before me, because I am not those people. In fact, you should expect more from me than any recent Prime Minister, because instead of participating in such farcical pettiness as to continually insult each other, I intend to debate and resolve real issues. Now if you have nothing constructive to add, I suggest we start to do what we are paid to do,” Sarah expected to be met with a stony silence, particularly from the opposition, but was astounded when every single politician in the room, bar herself and her rival, began to applaud loudly. Many even got to their feet, and it was several minutes before the house was returned to order.

After what Sarah judged to be a particularly productive day in parliament, when several pressing matters had been debated in detail, she was extremely happy to find that her small speech had made headline news. Her particular favourite of all the headlines was the one that called her “Wheels of Steel”.

***

“What’s on the agenda for today?” Sarah asked her personal assistant, a stern looking woman old enough to be her mother, and a close friend of the head of staff. Her assistant looked down her nose through her spindly glasses at the papers before her.

“Your first formal meeting with the Queen since your election, Prime Minister, at Buckingham Palace,” she informed the Prime Minister in a cold, clipped tone.

“Ah yes, I knew it was something significant. How silly of me to forget,” Sarah flashed a smile at her assistant, which instantly died on her face on recipient of a disapproving look.

Sarah was not surprised to find a large gathering of reporters clambering up the railings surrounding Buckingham Palace as her van drove onto the grounds. Sarah, not usually one to be overly concerned with her appearance, has been patting her hair into shape and checking her teeth for lipstick stains throughout the whole journey. She was relieved that their assigned parking spot was well out of sight of the reporters.

Sarah was escorted by the palace guards to an impressive room, with a ceiling that Sarah imagined must look tall even from standing height. The furniture around her was beautifully ornate, and fit perfectly with the rooms’ decoration. Next to it all, she imagined that her own chair looked rather shabby.

The doors opened precisely on time, and Sarah couldn’t help but resist the urge to stand up, even though she physically couldn’t. The Queen walked slowly into the room in a delicate, baby-blue outfit, followed by a parade of lumbering corgis with tongues lolling from their mouths. The dogs were very keen to explore the new Prime Minister, particularly her chair, and Sarah decided that she definitely preferred Simons’ affection.

The Queen seated herself opposite Sarah, and seconds later a butler appeared with a pot of tea and some biscuits.

“There’s some Yorkshire tea brewing in the pot, ma’am,” he said to the Queen.

“Ah, thank you, much better than that Lancashire tea Philip bought the other week.”

Sarah smiled awkwardly, her hands clasped in her lap to prevent them from being licked away by a corgi.

“Well, I must say,” the Queen began, “that ever since they put all the new ramps into this section of the palace for our meetings, I’ve had trouble keeping Philip from skateboarding indoors. I’ve told him countless times that the skateboard is for the garden only, but he can be ever so childish. He’ll ruin the carpet.”

Sarah suppressed a smile, but couldn’t help but laugh when there was a well-timed thump from outside the room, followed by the crash of something valuable-sounding breaking. The Queen rolled her eyes.

“Still, it’s been much easier for my darling corgis to move around, the stairs do trouble them so,” she continued.

“I can only imagine the difficulties they have,” Sarah returned politely.

“Now, to business-“

***

The following day, Sarah was booked to open a new school just a few miles from Downing Street. She couldn’t help but feel that in comparison to her usual duties, this would be a breeze. As the van pulled up outside the new building, a generic cube of bricks and glass, Sarah was greeted by the usual crowds. By this point the chauffer had moving the wheelchair in and out of the van down to a fine art, and Sarah had a few minutes to pose for photographs and answer a few questions, before heading to the crowd gathered on the playground, huddled beneath umbrellas against the summer rain.

A small stage had been built on the playground by a plaque on the wall of the school, which was still covered by little velvet curtains. A rickety ramp lead onto the stage, and as Sarah took her place on the stage, she said a private prayer for her own safety. Once on the stage, she didn’t feel much better.

The head teacher introduced the Prime Minister to rows of bored and cold children, most of whom seemed more interested in the news reporters by the school fence than the event itself.

“Now,” the head teacher said,” before we open the school, the Prime Minister has very kindly agreed to answer three questions. Raise your hands if you want the chance to ask her something, and be polite. You represent our school!”

A flurry of small hands immediately appeared over the children’s heads, and a girl in the middle of the group was chosen.

“Why are you in a wheelchair?” she asked innocently. Sarah had counted on this being one of the questions asked, and was certainly not offended by it, but the teachers looked heartily embarrassed.

“I suffered a really horrible illness as a child that left permanent injuries, and they mean I can’t walk,” Sarah answered calmly, hoping to reassure the embarrassed teachers. The girl who has asked seemed to be satisfied with this answer.

A second child, a boy this time, was chosen.

“How can you be Prime Minister from a wheelchair? My dad says its political correctness gone mad, but I don’t know what he means by that,” he queried. This time the teachers looked as if they wanted the ground to open up and swallow them whole where they stood.

“The job involves lots of things like sitting at a desk or table, doing paperwork, or talking to people. You’d sit in a chair to do them, so the wheelchair poses no difficulty there. What your dad means is that he thinks I’ve been elected purely because I’m in a wheelchair, and not because of other things like experience or knowledge, although I assure you that is not true.”

The teachers dared not brave another question after this; ten minutes later the school building had been opened, and Sarah was mingling with teachers and parents in the schools’ dining hall. Sarah actually found the questions posed to her by children to be far easier to deal with than some of the adults, who ignored the wheelchair to such an extent that it became clear that the wheelchair was all they could see. She was relieved when, after half an hour or so, her staff came to escort her home to deal with some more pressing matters.

As soon as Sarah had returned to her office, she switched on the small television in the corner of the room, where it was pre-programmed to a news channel. Immediately she was confronted with images of herself answering the children’s’ questions as the news reporters discussed the issue of political correctness in politics. Sarah rolled her eyes; she was surprised that it had taken this long for people to start such a discussion.

Pet Therapy.

In the middle of September, shortly before Jarred was due to return for his final year of university, we decided to adopt a hamster. Having had one as a teenager I already knew what resources we would need, and how to provide the best care for it, and so a couple of days later we had purchased and built a cage. Once it was kitted out with food, water, bedding, and chew toys, we were ready to adopt a furry companion.

Being unsure whether the nearby pet shop was accessible or not, Jarred went to purchase the hamster himself. He selected a 6 week old female Syrian hamster, with short black and white fur, and round, pronounced ears. Apparently, she had been in an enclosure with several others like her, but while she was running around the cage like a caffeinated Crash Bandicoot, the others were all huddled together in a ball in the back corner. He simply couldn’t ignore such an inquisitive and spirited little creature.

I was waiting at home when he returned with our new pet, who was in a little plastic carry-case with transparent sides. She was sniffing and running round, trying to take in all the new sounds and smells, one of which was me. She stopped in front of me, and put her paws against the plastic, sniffing the air vents expectantly.

We lowered her gently into her new cage, and almost immediately she began to explore. She was so small that she couldn’t turn her wheel without a little help to start it moving first, and climbing up the vertical tubes into each compartment proved to be a challenge. She was not phased, even when on multiple occasions as she neared the top, she lost her footing and slid all the way down to the bottom. Once she had visited every corner of her cage, she packed as much food as she could into her cheeks, grabbed some bedding, and began to make a nest for herself in one corner.

It didn’t take us too long to assign our little friend a name. She was christened “Tribble”, after the small, furry creatures that feature in an old episode of Star Trek.

Tribble is a great companion. Despite being nocturnal, she is relatively active during the day, often popping out of her nest for some food and water, or to rearrange her nest. The highlight of the day comes in the evening, as she wakes up properly; she absolutely adores running around the flat in her hamster ball, and as soon as we show it to her, she’s out of the cage and into the ball faster than Usain Bolt. Then it’s a case of changing her food and water, and perhaps adding a little bedding, or a treat to nibble on like a grape or slice of carrot.

Cute.jpg

Once a week, her cage gets a full clean, receiving fresh bedding as well as food and water. While Jarred disassembles the cage to clean it, I occupy Tribble in her little plastic case to prevent mischief, giving her a paper towel and a treat. She is now so comfortable with me that quite often, she will make a little bed out of her paper towel, and will curl up into a Tribble-like ball, falling asleep against the warmth of my lap.

It doesn’t matter how rubbish I feel, or how bad a day it has been, Tribble brightens every single day simply by existing.

 

Diary of a Hamster.

Monday:

The big human is always first to leave the human nest, wrapped in soft things that would make nice bedding. He go to food stash and makes brown liquid from powder. He then sit by my den, and switch on big screen with moving pictures. He control it with plastic thing that is bigger than me! It is also not edible.

I go on patrol of den when he sit by me. This way, he think I just patrol cage, not that I like his company. I don’t think he notice yet. On my patrol I eat, drink, and then pee in big wheel. Then I sleep.

The smaller, wheeled human come through later. She go to food stash and she swallow small, round things whole! She has some water, and then go again. When she come back, she is wrapped in different soft things, but if I try to borrow some she get cross.

I sleep.

When I wake up, smaller human has a screen, a bit like big one, on her lap. She is tap, tap, tapping on one part, and strange symbols appear on screen. She seem very interested in these symbols, but I do not know what they are.

I sleep.

I wake up again. Sometimes I’m alone, and I rearrange things in cage as prank. Sometimes they here, and I do patrol again to see them.

I sleep.

It start to go dark, and humans switch on mini inside sunshines. I don’t think they see in dark like me; I eat lots of carrot. They get bigger portion of food from stash, put it in pot, and stir it. Then they put it in smaller pots, and eat it. Then all the pots need wash, which big human does, while small human looks at big screen.

I get excited because I know after pot-washing time come playtime. They put me in big, blue force-field, and then let me run around their whole den! They can cross it in few steps, but I need lots of steps. While I run, I bump into things with loud noise, and the humans laugh. They point tiny screens at me sometimes, but I don’t understand.

In their nest room they have another hamster, black and white like me, in blue force-field like me. it only in one corner, on front of stash where soft bedding they wrap around themselves is kept. It annoying hamster. When I move, it copies. I run toward it, it run and stop at exactly same time. It follow me. When I try to scare it off, my force-field bounces me away. The humans seem to find this amusing, and make loud noises with voice.

They fill up my water and food stash, and hide treats around den. Sometimes I get carrot or courgette, but my favourite is grape. I love grape. They get my force-field and take me back to den. I hunt for treats, then sleep, because running make me tired.

After a bit I wake up. Humans still sat by me watching big screen. The small human swallows more round things, and then they go back to human nest. I think this is when they change into new soft bedding wrappings. At this point I start to run in wheel, making loud sound so they can hear me, and don’t miss me. It go very dark.

I sleep.

Tuesday:

The big human is always first to leave human nest…

M.E Awareness Week.

MEAW Summary

M.E Awareness Week 2018 runs from 7th to 13th May – here’s what you can look forward to on Diary of a Disabled Person:

25% of all donations received during this period will be in turn donated to the M.E Association, a charity supporting sufferers of the condition.

6th May; How bad can M.E really get? Find out in special blog post “The Worst Days”.

10th May; Q&A Session. Submit your questions about living with M.E on the “contact” page by 10th May, and I will try to answer as many as possible in a short video.

13th May; What are the most ridiculous theories about M.E? Find out in “The Many Theories of M.E”.

MEAW Details.jpg

 

 

Body Negativity.

Just about every other article on the internet right now is about how we should endorse body positivity, and put a stop to body-shaming under any circumstances. On the whole, I agree with this sentiment. Someone shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed and embarrassed for the way they look; I was permanently teased throughout school for having frizzy, uncontrollable hair, glasses, and crooked teeth, as well as somehow managing to be simultaneously too fat and too thin. While I believe that a healthy weight should be maintained where possible, my concern on this front is for health and health alone, not how someone appears. In fact, I fully support women who have the confidence to display their beauty whatever their size. Women like WWE Raw wrestler Nia Jax have proved that size bears no relation to looks whatsoever; she’s walked down the catwalk at a fashion show and the ramp down to the ring with equal confidence, as she should do.

However, body positivity does hold one small but vital caveat for me. How the heck am I supposed to love a body that has repeatedly tried to kill me, and malfunctions more often than a British Leyland car? It seems like I’ve spent half my existence being poked and prodded by medics, and they’re not marvelling at how healthy I am. What might look alright on the surface may as well be a carefully decorated cake that tastes like damp and mouldy cardboard (disclaimer: I don’t know how this tastes, and I don’t want to find out). I try not to care too much about how big my wheelchair makes my butt look, but I still find it a little difficult to love a body seemingly hell-bent on self-destruction.

The media constantly tells me I should love my body no matter what, but no one in the spotlight seems to recognise that no matter how much love I give my physical body, that isn’t going to fix me (Coldplay style). I can stand in front of the mirror, wink, and say “you got this” in a cheesy teen movie voice as often as I want; my body is not going to suddenly and miraculously repair itself, however much I would like it to. It continues to amaze me that a thought pattern as shallow as this has taken hold of everyone so completely that they refuse to hear a word uttered against it.

On the other hand, a lack of general body positivity doesn’t mean I hate myself entirely. I think I can take pride in my relationship, my achievements, my work, and my writing. I think I’m an alright human being to be around, although I’d verify this first with someone who knows me well. I also think that there’s more to me than how I look. Body positivity really is great; it’s just not the be all and end all we think it is.

The TARDOW: Another Short Story.

Matt steered his wheelchair into the rickety lift that looked as if it couldn’t take the weight of a child in a pram, let alone a fully grown man in a powered wheelchair who was soaked to the skin due to the torrential rain outside. As the lift door jerked closed behind him, he pressed the button for the 3rd floor, and was relieved to feel the lift start to move upwards despite the button failing to light up. The walls of the lift scraped and screeched against the walls of the lift shaft as it made its painfully slow ascent.

Even from inside the lift Matt could hear the thunder storm rumbling away outside, the eye of the storm almost directly overhead. He tried not to think about the fact that he was riding a metal contraption inside a metal box inside a metal lift shaft, telling himself that he was being ridiculous. However, as the lift finally stopped at the third floor, and the doors began to open, lightning struck the building. Matt was aware of a blinding flash of light and a searing heat, and then nothing more.

The Lightning Strike from The TARDOW

***

“Oh my God, this is awful.”

“As if he doesn’t have enough to deal with.”

“Poor man.”

“Shhh, he’s coming to.”

Matt was aware of whispering voices coming from all around him. He opened his eyes, but it seemed as if lightning had been burned across his eyeballs, for all he could see was an intense, bright light. He turned his head from side to side, trying to gain some idea of where he was as his vision gradually returned. He was lying flat on his back on thin, hard carpet tiles, and was surrounded by smartly dressed men and women.

“Coming through, give us room to see the patient please,” a stern voice came from the stairwell as the doors opened to reveal two paramedics in their dark green uniforms, lugging huge and heavy-looking bags towards Matt. They quickly made their way over to Matt, crouching down beside him and placing their bags alongside his wheelchair, which seemed to be steaming gently.

“Now then Mr, can you tell us your name?” one of the paramedics said as she took a finger-prick blood sample.

“Matt, Matt Mills,” he replied hoarsely.

“And can you tell us what happened?” the other paramedic was recording his blood pressure readings.

“Well, I was in the lift and then I think, maybe, it must have got hit by lightning because there was a bright flash and intense heat, but that’s all I remember,” Matt struggled to make sense of his jumbled thoughts, and fully expected to be laughed at for his unlikely theory.

“He still has his wits about him then,” one paramedic said to the other.

“You mean, that’s really what happened?” Matt asked.

“Apparently so,” the paramedic replied.

“You seem to be OK, but I’d be happier if we could take you to the hospital and have you checked out by a doctor,” the other paramedic said, lifting supplies back into the bulky bags.

“Sure, my wheelchair-“

“We can’t take it in the ambulance I’m afraid,” one paramedic said as she helped Matt to slowly sit up, “but given that it’s just around the corner we’d be happy to walk with you to the A&E department if you want to keep your wheelchair with you.”

“OK, sounds good,” Matt allowed the paramedics to gently manoeuvre him into his wheelchair, which had stopped steaming.

“We’ll have to attend to our business another time,” Matt caught the eye of the person he had been supposed to meet.

“That’s perfectly understandable. I hope you feel better soon.”

Matt switched on his wheelchair, and was somewhat surprised to see that it appeared to be working correctly. Still feeling shaky he decided that his best bet would be to lower the speed and drive carefully, but as soon as he pressed the relevant button, the world around him disappeared. Once again he was surrounded by a bright light, where all dimensions in space and time were meaningless. Almost as soon as the light had sprung up, it disappeared again, and Matt found himself perched on the foothills of a mountain, surrounded by dense forest.

Matt gazed around him in amazement. The trees were so dense that almost no light penetrated through the canopy above him, and the only thing he could see beyond the woodland was the steep mountain-side soaring upwards, illuminated by the suns’ light. What could be seen of the sky was clear, with no signs of a storm in the vicinity, and the air was cleaner and fresher than Matt had ever imagined it could be.

Suddenly, a giant feline emerged from the woods to his left, running at full pelt on strong, muscular legs. It looked like some kind of prehistoric tiger. The giant fangs protruding from its mouth seemed to suggest that this was, in fact, a sabre-tooth tiger.

Matt froze in fear as the beast stared back at him, equally bemused. Then, behind the creature came the sound of running footsteps disturbing the ground, and without a second glance in Matts’ direction, the tiger bounded away again.

Seconds later, a group of dirty, hairy men burst out from the undergrowth. They halted their progress almost immediately in surprise, and stared with intense curiosity at the spectacle before them. Matt returned the compliment, gazing at the rough spears they clutched in their grubby hands, and the way they could not quite stand upright. Their unkempt hair was as wild as the look in their eyes. Save for the carefully placed loincloths in the picture books, these men looked almost exactly like the cavemen he had read about as a child.

“Where am I?” all Matt could think was that he must somehow have stumbled across a historical re-enactment group, and a very realistic one at that.

“Huh?” one of the men, who seemed to be the leader, grunted.

“Where am I?” Matt repeated, “this façade is very good, but I’ve had a difficult day and I simply wish to find my way home.”

“Man,” the leader said.

“Yes, I’m a man,” Matt tried not to sound too exasperated as he considered playing along with their game, “Now can someone please help me out here?”

“Men,” the leader pointed to himself and his companions.

“I know,” Matt said between gritted teeth.

One of the men from the back of the group pushed forward, and knelt down in the dirt by Matt’s wheelchair. He seemed completely entranced by the wheels.

“Ah yes, the invention of the wheel, perhaps the most significant invention of mankind ever,” Matt smiled encouragingly.

“Eel,” the man tried to repeat what Matt said.

“Look, you don’t have to keep acting. Wheels or not, I’m not stupid,” Matt began to grow impatient. Slowly, he started to move his wheelchair towards the men. They all leapt backwards suspiciously, except the one knelt by the wheels.

“Eel!” the man proclaimed more excitedly.

A flicker of doubt crossed Matts’ mind.

“Erm, you really don’t know what this is, do you? I don’t think you even understand most of what I’m saying,” Matt said. He was met with blank stares.

“Although I think I just helped invent the wheel,” he muttered to himself.

He looked around him to find a suitable path, desperate to try and find a way home. Finally, he picked out a gap between the trees just wide enough to accommodate him, and slowly he made his way towards it. Bored with his slow pace, and wanting nothing more than to get home, Matt decided to increase his speed setting. Almost immediately, he was once again surrounded by the bright light that he had experienced before.

This time, when the light faded, Matt found himself in the middle of a busy street, bustling with activity. On each side of him were market stalls laden with products, with vendors all shouting over one another amidst the clamour to attract customers. The women wore heavy skirts and dresses in plain, dull colours, with only the skin on their faces and hands showing, their hair wrapped beneath small, lace headdresses and caps. The men behind the market stalls were grubby and unkempt, and no men other than vendors could be seen at all. Children ran screeching up and down the street with iron hoops and wooden toys, clattering and yelling all the while. Many were barefoot.

A horse and cart turned onto the street and clattered forwards through the crowd, people stepping out of the way at the very last second. Matt tried to move backwards likewise, but found that his wheels were trapped on the uneven cobbles. The driver of the coach fixed him with an impatient glare as he drew the carriage to a halt, and shouted down to him.

“Make way!” he yelled.

“I’m stuck,” Matt called back, “I’m sorry, but I think I need some help.”

“Just get out of whatever it is you are in,” the man returned, “and move out of my way.”

“I can’t,” Matt replied, “I can’t walk. I’m an, an- invalid.”

Everyone around him stopped what they were doing immediately, and gawped at the scene before them. Matt was aware of a red flush creeping across his face.

“An invalid? Out of bed? Why does your wife or mother not take care of you?”

Thinking quickly on his feet, or wheels as may be more appropriate, Matt said, “I have no wife, and my mother died giving birth to me. I am alone and must care for myself.”

“I think you’ll find that’s what workhouses are for,” the man in the carriage uttered with deep contempt, “now stop interrupting everybody’s business, we have more important things to do than interact with an invalid.”

Matt could feel his blood boiling in his veins.

“I cannot help being an invalid with no wife or mother,” Matt retorted.

“Clearly the Lord has cursed you for some terrible sin, now move!” the man roared.

Matt pulled backwards on the joy stick, feeling the wheels slipping against the damp, muddy cobbles as he desperately tried to move backwards. He twisted around to look over his shoulder, and discovered a particularly uneven slab that seemed to be impeding his movement. Given that no one around him was about to help, Matt did the only thing he could think to do. He increased the speed up to full, and this time anticipated the white light that surrounded him.

This time when the light cleared, Matt found himself on another wide street, with tall buildings of glass and concrete rising up on either side of him, seemingly touching the sky. Along one side of the street, maybe three metres off the ground, was a metal rail, and their seemed to be some sort of bus stop half way along the pavement. As he watched, a long, metal cabin with no apparent driver glided around the corner rapidly, hanging from the metal rail. It slowed to a halt by the bus stop, and some people clambered off before others got on, and then it moved off again. It was only then that Matt noticed the absence of any other vehicles on the ground, although there was something akin to an aeroplane trail drawn across the sky.

The pavement of the street was smooth and even much to Matts’ delight, and men and women scurried back and forth across the street carrying important-looking briefcases. Their clothes were brightly coloured, and it appeared that both men and women paid equal attention to their appearances, with many men sporting overt make-up and glamourous hairstyles alongside their female compatriots. Few children were visible, but Matt suspected that, as it appeared to be the middle of the day, most would be at school.

Many of the adults appeared to be talking to themselves until Matt spotted a small device tucked into the left ear of every person that passed him, a glowing image of an apple just visible. The ear pieces were seemingly linked to the watches they wore on their wrists, and almost no one appeared to be carrying a phone at all.

Most people completely ignored Matt as they passed him, so wrapped up in their personal business that they seemed almost unaware of the world around them. However, one by one, more and more people noticed his presence. Everyone who looked at him seemed perplexed, judging by the double takes, sideways glances, and raised eyebrows that Matt could see. Some avoided going near him at all, while others simply walked past without a word.

It took Matt longer than he cared to admit before the idea occurred to him that he was no longer in a past that he had failed to learn of in history, but was in fact, in the future. How far in the future was virtually impossible to tell, there being no signs of newspaper stands in the vicinity.

After much gazing around him, trying to take in and understand his surroundings, a little girl ran up to him and tapped him on the knee.

“Why do you use a wheelchair?” she asked, “My mummy’s a doctor and she says that no one uses wheelchairs any more now that there are medi-frames.”

“Medi-frames?” Matt asked, confused.

The little girl opened her mouth to reply, but a woman who appeared to be her mother came running towards her.

“Marissa!” she said loudly, “You know not to run off like that.” She was all set to continue reprimanding the child until she noticed my presence.

“God, I’ve not seen a wheelchair since I finished my training ten years ago!” she exclaimed.

“Your daughter was telling me that no one uses them anymore, they use something called a medi-frame?” Matt asked.

“Yes, yes,” she replied, “we can treat most diseases nowadays, replace some damaged sections of the nervous system even. But for the few things we cannot treat, we make medi-frames. They are specially designed robotic exoskeletons, built exactly to an individual’s parameters, that integrates with their nervous system. Have you not come across them before? I didn’t realise anyone lived like this still.”

Matt decided not to tell the truth, certain that even in this futuristic society, the idea of time travel would seem preposterous.

“I’m not from round here,” he said meekly.

“Well, what is it you suffer from?” she asked.

“Cerebal palsy,” Matt replied.

“Goodness, we’ve all but eradicated the condition by taking extra measures to prevent it occurring in the first place. The few who do suffer from the condition are treated soon after birth, most never experiencing symptoms for their whole life. I’m afraid for the few whose condition still persists, a medi-frame is all we can offer.”

Before Matt could stop himself, he said, “Well, it sounds as if great progress has been made since my time.”

“Your time?” the doctor asked.

Once again Matt was forced to improvise, “Oh, this isn’t a wheelchair, it’s a TARDOW. A Time and Relativity Device on Wheels.”

“There was time travel in the past? There is no record of this,” the doctor frowned.

“Ah, this was a bit of a one-off accident,” Matt explained.

“Oh,” she said.

“Yeah, when this baby hits 8 mph, you’re gonna see some serious sh-,” just in time, Matt remembered the presence of Marissa.

The doctor frowned slightly, and then broke into a grin.

“Considered a great work of cinematic literature nowadays, they study it in school,” she said.

“What year is it?” Matt asked.

“2123,” she replied, “and what year are you from?”

“2018,” Matt returned.

“Ah, the Trumpian era. A troubled time for society if I remember correctly,” she said. Matt couldn’t help but laugh.

“Just a bit. And lovely as this world is, I think it’s high time for me to return to the Trumpian era, where I belong,” Matt lined up his wheelchair for a run down the street, unable to resist the temptation to re-enact great cinematic literature for his compatriot. He set off at full speed down the pavement, and just as he was about to return the speed to the middle setting, he yelled “8 mph” as loudly as he could. What he couldn’t have known was that his wheels left two trails of fire blazing in his wake.

As Matt had anticipated, when he returned his speed to the middle setting, he was surrounded by the white light. He was relieved to see that, as the light faded, he was sat in the office he had left his own time in, having predicted that since slow speeds sent him to the past, and fast speeds to the future, the middle would return him to his own time. The paramedics were collecting their materials and making their way over to the lift, clearly unaware that Matt had ever been away. Everyone else in the office seemed to be losing interest. Aware that nobody would ever believe him if he tried to divulge his ventures, putting it down to some undocumented side effect of being struck by lightning, or just putting it down to his disability altogether, he kept his story to himself. The only sign of his adventure was the small grin that was just visible in the upturned corners of his mouth, assumed by those around him to be a muscular spasm.

 

Off the Rails.

Trains; the sworn enemy of wheelchair users. They’re one of the biggest obstacles disabled people face on a daily basis, and what is perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this, is that there is no need for them to be this way.

I’m not one with the money or time to travel around the UK on a regular basis, and my commute to the office where I have my “proper” job is so short that it takes me longer to wash my hair than travel to work. Still, I’ve had a few experiences of using the trains, and have used three significant, large train stations; York, Leeds, and King’s Cross in London (think Harry Potter).

The first train station I visited was York. I had been on a weekend away on the North York moors with a group of friends from University, and had travelled up to the destination on a mini-bus provided by another local university. On the Sunday, we travelled to the centre of York because Christmas in York is what dreams are made of, but the bus had to return early, meaning we had to use the trains.

The train station was one of the most accessible buildings I had ever seen, with smooth floors, a complete lack of steps, and space to manoeuvre. I was escorted to the correct platform, where a ramp was already waiting for me in the doorway of the train, and a wheelchair space had been reserved for me in the carriage. The doors of the train were a little tight to squeeze through, but that was my only criticism. Having heard horror stories about the treatment of wheelchair users on trains, I was surprised, but welcomed the unexpected consideration of disability.

After 40 minutes, the train pulled in the station in Leeds city centre. The doors opened, and I was expected to levitate onto the platform, despite prior warning that someone disabled would dare to use their facilities. My friends ran off to get a porter and a ramp while I sulked in the doorway, and eventually a ramp was provided by a very grumpy porter. The station itself was also highly accessible, despite being quite an old building. It seemed mad that the building would cater so well for accessibility, but the trains themselves didn’t.

A few months later, I went to London for the very first time. Leeds failed to provide a ramp and porter, as did King’s Cross, despite warnings in advance of needing the support. Again, King’s Cross itself was so accessible I could have cried, but the return journey was the same, despite even more prompting to provide the resources I needed. I ended up hopping on and off the train while Jarred lifted my wheelchair on behind me, as thankfully we had chosen to use my manual, foldable wheelchair.

Whilst actually in London, we used the tube to get around. Only half of the stations themselves were accessible, and even less provided access all the way to getting on an off the tube, meaning that many tourist attractions required Jarred to push the wheelchair for a long time to get there. There was still a significant gap between the train and the platform, even on the “accessible” carriages. A couple of times, my wheels even got stuck in the gap, and total strangers would have to help us out.

Recently, I booked some more train tickets to London. The website was virtually impossible to navigate, and it took a significant search to find the form describing what sort of seat/space I would need, and what times I would need a porter and ramp at both ends of the journey. Eventually, the tickets were booked, and then something happened that hadn’t the year before. I received an email with my “care plan” listed out explicitly, with what times I would need support, and what seat I would have in the accessible carriage. All I had to do was print this out and show the piece of paper to the porters to prove that I had booked support, and it would be provided. Amazingly, the system was very effective, and it worked perfectly.

You could argue that someone disabled shouldn’t have to book a train 24 hours in advance to gain access to a ramp and porter, and that you should be able to turn up, ask for help, and receive said help. We can’t be spontaneous, while others can, and it is frustrating. However, being able to get on the trains at all without a fight was something special, and is a welcome improvement upon the old system.

They could, of course, negate the problem entirely by having a little common sense; trains that line up exactly with a standardised platform height with a minimal gap, like they modified train stations to do in Japan…