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I Am Not A Table

Updated: Jul 15, 2021

I've never been good at taking instructions even if the advice I'm given makes perfect sense.

I wouldn't consider myself to be rebellious. At school if there were only the two categories of people that every coming of age high school film would have you believe, then I was firmly nestled in the 'nerd' end of the spectrum rather then the 'cool kid' end and this has carried on into adulthood. I didn't have any of the advantages normally associated with nerdiness such as intelligence. I looked like I should have been a smart child with thick glasses and a huge bush of curtained hair that was somehow always messy but I struggled to concentrate and left school without any grades higher then a C . I was distinctively average which I put, at least in part, to an appalling memory which has only got worse with age. If I don't write it down its very likely I will forget it which has led to obsessive note taking in every part of my life. I have a daily To-Do' list which has every small thing I need to do that day with the exceptions of breathing and eating. The only thing I like more then a column of perfectly formatted bullet points is removing items off the list when I've completed them. For a while I always had the first item on the list as "write list" so I could immediately experience that warm fuzzy feeling I got by removing an item straight away. Jeez, how did I find someone to marry me?

Living in a spinal unit is very similar to being at school. You are given a weekly timetable of lessons to help you navigate the big wide world outside. Instead of Maths you learn bowel care, instead of English you have Skin care, instead of PE you learn wheelchair sports and instead of Geography you learned how fucking hard it is to go up a curb in a 20kg wheelchair. The cool kids still hide around the corner and smoke and everyone's favourite time of day is lunch. Really the only things missing are uniforms, pencil case vandalism and wispy bum-fluff beards.

One day I was flying along the corridors in my wheelchair on my way from hydrotherapy (which is basically swimming in slightly warmer water then a normal swimming pool), when I was stopped by a teacher (physio) for what can only be described as a bollocking.

"you need to be more careful with your feet out like that. "

"You are absolutely right, I'll get my shoes on" I answered sheepishly.

"Please make sure you do, your toes are hanging over the edge again"

She was right. I no longer had sensation in my legs so wouldn't know I was running over a toe unless the wheelchair slowed down. It wasn't the first time I'd been pulled over for 'inadequate safety protocol while in charge of a wheelchair'. I had form for both barefoot journeys and carrying hot cups of coffee between my legs. If the physiotherapists had a shit list run for rule breakers I was already on it. I listened to the instruction in the same way as a frequent flyer listens to the pre flight safety announcement. I listened with vague interest, smiled and promptly forgot.

I wasn't wearing shoes that day for a couple of reasons. The first was sheer laziness. Putting on shoes on is one of those daily tasks that is easy when you are able bodied but without the ability to physically push your foot into a shoe when paralyzed it's a fucking nightmare. Its a fight every time and one that often ends with the shoe being catapulted across the room as you try to squeeze it over the heel. That was a fight I wasn't prepared to take on while damp from the pool so my shoes were safe and dry in the bag on my lap. Also I had woken up that morning with toothache. Having toothache when you have just accepted a life with paralysis is, on balance, quite a minor issue but its one of those situations that's pisses you off way more then it should. Some might say it's the straw that breaks the camels back but that's one of those phrases I tend to steer clear of now I actually have got a broken back. Toothache that day had made the world a little darker and respect for my feet was at an all time low.

A few months later I was sat in a cafe with the in-laws eating the classic English staple, a fried breakfast. A fried breakfast or 'fry-up' if you are local to the British Isles, is a meal of warm meats and eggs eaten by millions of Brits every year. Historically a way to get fuel into then tummies of hungry farm workers, it's now the mainstay of builders and hungover students and one of the best ways to ensure a diagnosis of high cholesterol. This fry-up wasn't the best one I'd ever had but it was destined to be the most memorable. In a not-at-all rare moment of stupidity, I used my legs as a table not realising the plate, which was somehow hotter then the sun at the bottom but cold on the sides, was slowly burning its way through my jeans and into my skin. I would later find a blister the length of a pint glass where one side of the plate had been. I could try and blame the retro 1970's school tables that my legs didn't fit under as the reason I was driven to make myself a table but let's be honest, it was for two reasons, laziness and stupidity.

The result from my breakfast injury was weeks of appointments with a nurse for wound dressings to be changed and a much more difficult shower

process where one leg had to be outside the shower at all times. Work and social engagements needed to be checked against a diary full of nurse appointments for the next 2 months.

Less then a year after my final appointment with the nurse I found myself talking to my 2 year old son about why Toothpaste isn't called Teeth paste (I still don't have a good answer for this) and realised I was using my legs to rest hot plates on again, this time an omelette. I had apparently completely forgotten about the burn the shape of Africa tattooed on my left thigh when I took the hot plate and rested it on my lap while answering a very puzzling question about oral hygiene.

Thanks to the grade C Maths I left school with I've worked out that I've spent around a third of my time since hospital under the supervision of a medical professionals for dressing one of the 5 incidents of accidental self-harm. This includes including smashing my face as I mention in and an, as yet unidentified, injury to my ankle that has my leg currently bandaged from ankle to knee and twice weekly visits to Healogics (Wound Care Experts | Advanced Wound Care Centers | Healogics) . Shout out to the Healogics crew doing an incredible job. Quality bandage work.

I don't purposely take a fuck the police approach to self care and I'm not trying to single handedly bankrupt the NHS. I also don't have anything against nurses. I think they are fucking great and I've yet to find one who isn't both incredibly warm and hilariously funny. I've learnt a lot in their company and not just about how not to get Sepsis. I've left with injuries resolved, an improved knowledge of the best place for gin and tonics in the local town and what the plan is for that old building on the corner.

Every time I get a new injury I'm positive "this is defiantly the last time" and for a while I am ultra careful, but there is always a next time. This year I decided enough was enough and I needed to take a new approach to avoiding another leg or foot injury. Initially I pondered employing a self-brainwashing technique where I repeat "I am not a table, I am not a table, I am not a table" every time I picked up something hot especially if it contains eggs as this seems to be a common denominator. After thinking this though I decided to try something less vocal as I already stick out in a crowd so repeating a mantra about not being a table every time I'm in a coffee shop will only attract more attention, and doesn't help my unprotected feet.

The solution, as is so often the case, was to add something to the To-do list.

One sentence takes pride of place at the top of the list above the work and life admin topics. Five words simultaneously remind me not to use limbs as tables, makes me appreciate my health and helps me look positively at the day ahead. I have a new respect for my legs and long term these five words will save time and money for me and the hard working legends of the NHS. They are:

'You don't have toothache today'.

Whatever situation you find yourself in today just remember, you don't have toothache and that's fucking awesome.

If you do have toothache I'm sorry. Also please put your hot plates on a table.

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