Girls day was long overdue and came at just the right time. Things on the ward were becoming more and more dramatic and difficult. Personalities were clashing and I’d found myself retreating to avoid conflict and a whole lot of crazy among my fellow patients. I didn’t have the capacity for either sympathy or support. It was mentally expensive and my emotional cup hath runneth dry.
Melissa and Gemma rocked up on Sunday morning with the promise of haircuts and manicures – just what I needed. After 3 months of looking quite grim, I was ready and waiting to go.
Even more exciting than the prospect of feeling half human again was the surprise they brought with them. Fresh off a plane from LA, our wild American friend Hadley was in tow with the news that she was back in London to stay. That called for a ladies lunch in celebration. It was time to be good to ourselves.
I’d been a bit worried about social situations. I couldn’t shake a sense of anxiety for my first big day out among crowds and along high streets. I’d already started to discover that some people disappear once your disability causes any kind of inconvenience. (God forbid they might have to get a train across the city to see me). It made me nervous that I was making things awkward for others, but I was also quickly learning that the people who matter won’t ever find it awkward. The people who matter were crossing not just cities, but seas to visit. I’d had a steady stream of visitors from all around the UK and Ireland since news of my injury first broke and the value of many friendships has been reinforced.
So it was with the girls.
It was as if my wheelchair was invisible. Nothing had changed. Within minutes, chat had turned to new jobs and old jobs, holidays, homes and shoes, partners (or lack thereof), old friends, new friends, good friends and ‘just friends’. We caught up while getting our nails done and later when sitting around a table at Bill’s. (You’ll be glad to know that the Watford restaurant is pleasantly wheelchair friendly and staff very helpful.)
All of the things I’d worried about were wiped out in one sitting; how I’d explain to them that I now pee in a bag; how I’d pressure relieve in public without embarrassing them; how I’d survive fatigue or navigate cobbled streets and narrow aisles in busy shops without making a scene.
I’d been overthinking it.
I should have given my friends more credit. They didn’t care about bags or tubes or how long I had to wheel off to the disabled toilet for. Hadley was only too happy to have an excuse to order another glass of wine. The conversation didn’t pause for even a moment when I pressure relieved by bending forward to hold my feet. The girls couldn’t care less what shape I was bent into or what I was holding on to. They were refreshingly oblivious.
I should have given myself more credit too. I handled the cobbles on the street like a pro rather than someone who’d been in a wheelchair for only 3 months. I like to think that it didn’t appear to be my first big day out since I’d become disabled – although if you asked the shoppers I gleefully dodged in and out of on the downward slop of The Harlequin in Watford crying ‘weeeeeeeeeeeee’ as my wheelchair gathered speed, they might not have agreed.
In the hairdressers, the lovely (if a little condescending and a lot overpriced) stylist tried pushing my chair, thinking that was helpful. I read the horror on Gemma’s face. It clearly warned ‘I wouldn’t do that if I was you.’
I firmly insisted – twice – that I’d really prefer if she didn’t. She seemed a little baffled but went along with it as she tried to tell me that the haircut I was asking for was not what I really wanted. Shouldn’t I keep it a bit longer?
I firmly insisted again that I’d really prefer if she’d cut it to the length that I’d asked.
She did and I was thrilled with the haircut, though slightly irritated by her bending over into my face to tell me with very clear, slow speech how nice it was to meet me.
In another mood, I might have imagined myself ‘spasming’ in the neck and ‘accidentally’ head-butting her.
But I wasn’t in another mood. She meant well and all she managed to achieve was to reaffirm how brilliant the girls were. I smiled to myself that I was lucky enough to have the kind of friends who adjusted naturally to my new situation. No dramas, no worries. I was still me and they were still themselves.
And my anxieties flittered away.