Gin and Tonic never tasted so good.
We were sitting in the beer garden of a lovely English country pub, The Battle Axes in Hertfordshire. The sun was beaming down on us when Melissa pointed out the gin and tonic section on the menu. She didn’t need to point twice. She’d busted me out of rehab for a Saturday afternoon to go for a pub lunch and to pick up some bits and pieces in Tesco. I can’t imagine anyone has ever been so excited about a supermarket trip.
Melissa didn’t attempt to put her hands on the wheelchair to push me. She was the perfect person to go out with on my first real world escapade away from healthcare professionals.
“I’m not going to help unless you ask.” She announced as soon as we left the hospital and headed for her car. I was pushing my wheelchair up the little slope to where she’d parked. “I know how independent you are and that you hate people doing stuff for you when you’re well able to do it yourself.”
This is why we’re friends.
“Thanks.” I meant it.
When we’d reached the car and I’d lifted myself in, I talked her through dismantling my wheelchair. She didn’t need much instruction. She’s got this.
I was shaking with excitement as we pull out of the hospital grounds. I had no idea how much I’d been looking forward to escaping. I couldn’t stop beaming. Everything was like the first time again; the feel of the carseat – a whole different sensation – under my bum, the cool blast of the air conditioner, even the glare of the hot sun through the windscreen. I rejoiced in it all. I was like a child – or a pet. It was all I could do not to stick my head out the window and let my tongue flap in the wind.
I WAS OUT!
I wasn’t out in a hospital van. I wasn’t in an ambulance or an NHS transport vehicle. This was the real deal. I was out in a regular car with my friend. I couldn’t think of anyone I’d prefer to be out with (Hot Doctor was unavailable that day). We were just doing what normal people do on a Saturday afternoon. I was, for a short time at least, free.
And freedom, as everybody knows, equals gin.
The only decision I really had to make was which gin. Thankfully, the pub had a menu that offered options. How could I turn down ‘The Rose Garden’? Nothing says summer like Tanqueray with rose lemonade and fresh strawberries.
It was perfect. Every drop of it tasted just as good as it sounds.
We chatted, laughed, chatted some more, ate lunch and for the entire afternoon, I completely forgot that I was in a wheelchair, or that I’d been in hospital for the past 10 weeks, or that I had a Spinal Cord Injury. It was just me and Melissa, hanging out and catching up in the sunshine with the best G&T I’ve ever had (aside from Irish Gunpowder of course).
I kept it to one drink, though. To have more might mess with my medication or affect my wheeling and transfers. It wouldn’t do to fall trying to get myself back into Melissa’s car. Worse still, it would dilute how perfect that first one was. It simply couldn’t be followed up.
Besides, I needed my wits about me for a Saturday afternoon in Tesco.
True to her word, Melissa only picked things off shelves for me when I asked her to. Mostly, I could reach the things I needed. I’d promised my fellow inmates cheese and ice-lollies. I couldn’t quite reach the fruit pastilles, so I had to call for backup because everyone knows that fruit pastille ice-lollies are the best. I couldn’t show my face again on the unit if I brought back anything less.
It was easy. I managed to pick up all of the bits and bobs I’d been adding to a list over the past few days. I negotiated the aisles and the checkouts without causing serious harm to myself or members of the public. I was feeling pretty chuffed with myself and filled with confidence that if I could handle Tesco on a Saturday, I could take on the world. That rule applies even to non-wheelchair users.
Melissa dismantled the chair again for the last leg of the journey – getting me back to the hospital. I watched from the passenger seat and kept my instructions to myself.
“I’m not going to help unless you ask.” I told her, “I know how independent you are and that you hate people doing stuff for you when you’re well able to do it yourself.”
She shoots me a wicked smile. Because she knows…
This is why we’re friends.