at home


It’s still snowing here.


Snow is one of those things about which Jesus definitely is Not Sure.

Just check out his plum tree. . .

The wee man is spending the day inside, but me and Bruce have been out with the camera. I love the transformative effects of snow, even on the greyest winter day.



It was very quiet out there.

Though Bruce tried his best to make a ruckus.

Spare a thought for poor Tom, though, who set off for Liverpool this morning and is currently stuck on a stationary train somewhere in deepest Cumbria. Familiar Words of Doom have been uttered: “Replacement Bus Service.” If he ever gets there, Tom will be spending a few days at a conference. This will be interesting for both of us, as we’ve not been apart since I came out of hospital. It feels significant. Tom is really quite amazing: as well as working extremely hard in the World of Spleens all day, he then comes home and performs far more than his fair share of household tasks so that I can save my energy for my rehab. I know I couldn’t have managed the past ten months without him, and he is top of the list of the many things I feel extremely lucky for. But it seems a good time for me to try a few days of total independence. I am doing quite well at the moment. I mean, I feel a little peculiar all of the time, but lately the little peculiar that I feel has been slightly less. My norm seems more normal, in other words. I have found myself wondering two things: 1)whether this constant-vague-peculiarity is really subsiding or my brain is just getting used to it and 2) whether people realise how generally weird things are for those who have had a stroke. (I know that brain-injury sufferers who have linguistic difficulties carry around explanatory cards to be whipped out in difficult public situations, and there have been several occasions over the past few months when I have wished I was wearing a t-shirt proclaiming “HELLO! I’VE HAD A STROKE.”)

Physically, I am definitely still getting better, though the improvements are slow and incremental and sometimes hard for me to see. In fact, other people seem to notice these improvements more than I do. On Saturday, for example, we ran into a physio friend of ours who regarded my walking as something quite incredible (which I suppose it is, considering that the part of my brain that was most damaged was the bit controlling my leg and foot, and that some of my medical team thought it was unlikely that I’d ever be able to walk without a stick, brace, and one of those electronic thingummies). Recently, when I’ve been out with Bruce, I have even tried running a few steps. This is really very difficult – there is nothing my left leg likes less than moving at speed – but over the past few weeks I have progressed from five lopsided steps to twenty five. It feels quite exhilarating.

While I am on the subject, and as much for my benefit as anything else, I want to record an experience of a couple of weeks ago, after which my gait seemed to noticeably improve. Mostly, on my daily walks, I just pootle along as best I can, but there is a nice flat stretch of about half a mile where I try to make every single component of my gait correct – this takes more effort than you would imagine, and Bruce often becomes frustrated with what he must regard as pointless dawdling when ahead lie innumerable sticks and squirrels. Anyway, I was covering this gait-focused half-mile a couple of weeks ago, and found that I was walking really well – the knee seemed to be working without locking (a recurrent issue), and my steps were smooth and even. This continued for about half a minute, and then I suddenly had a terrible attack of vertigo and nausea – I had to hold onto a tree while I waited for it to subside – and then took Bruce the shortest way home. There then followed the particularly evil bout of fatigue (mentioned in this post), but a few days afterward I found myself capable of walking six-and-a-half miles from our flat to the Modern Art Gallery and back. I have wondered since whether, at that moment, my brain finally made some sort of useful connection, and that this somehow caused the crazy nausea. In any case, since then, my leg has certainly had more strength and stamina and my knee has been acting more reliably.

Anyway, I seem to have rambled far away from the ostensible subject of this post – which was supposed to be the novel experience of doing my own washing up and cooking for a few days. On the subject of which, I better go and put my supper on. . .

limbo

Now, I don’t want to moan, but this space is somewhere where I like to be honest about my experience of recovery, so, to be frank, things are a bit rubbish at the moment.

1. We’d planned a short break this week on Barra and Harris, but one of Calmac’s ferries broke down; they cancelled our sailings, so no Hebrides for us. Boo.

2. With just a few days notice, the hospital have moved the date of my heart procedure back to the end of the month. I had mentally prepared myself for this to be happening very soon, and it seems strange now that it is not. Indeed, I feel rather at a loss for what I should do mentally: put it to the back of my mind? Remain in this weird state of expectant limbo for a further fortnight? I had also made plans for several happy things that were to happen after the op, and these have now been disrupted.

3. According to the government, I am not disabled. This seems rather odd, since I find it hard to walk, cannot lift or carry, need Tom to help me in and out of the shower, and spend entire days poleaxed with fatigue. I was paralysed by a stroke five months ago; my entire time is taken up with rehabilitation and rest; and my GP has declared me currently “unfit”. But apparently none of this equates to disability in the eyes of the current administration. To explain: after I was discharged from hospital, my care team instructed me to apply for DLA, as it is the key to certain government services I now need, such as return to work assistance. DLA is not a benefit – it is not related to income, and is not means tested. It is there for those whose mobility or mental health means that they need certain kinds of help or care. Someone like myself, whose mobility problems have meant we’ve had to adapt the bathroom, buy a new bed, and incur considerable travel costs as I am unable to walk or cart myself about to rehab, would normally be considered eligible for the lower level of DLA, which would also enable access to aforementioned government services. But not in the brave new world of Cleggatron’s big fookin society.

This is not about money. It is about being disabled. At the moment, I am a disabled person. Anyone who has read what I’ve written here since February will know that I am trying my utmost not to be, but unfortunately, right now, I am. I do not intend to be a burden on the state. I am not claiming, nor shall I ever claim any government “benefits.” I am not the Tory Press’s mythical nemesis, sitting on my arse all day, draining the public purse. But there are certain services – specifically those which are going to help my transition back into the workplace – for which I should be recognised as a disabled person. Now I know that I am a disabled person, but the government does not recognise me as one. So what am I, then? My reaction to this news about my identity and social status has been extremely complicated. I hope the academics among you will excuse me when I sum it up as a sort of reversal or failure of Althusserian interpellation.

Filling in the sixty pages of that berloody DLA form was a thoroughly humiliating and evil experience. I would say, with the exception of actually having the stroke, its the worst thing I’ve been through. Actually, I take that back — the worst thing is that, after the grueling task of listing and quantifying in insane detail all the things I unfortunately cannot do, I then receive a letter from the government that effectively says that I must have been lying, because actually, I can do them. This is how the government go about telling you that you are not, in fact, a disabled person.

“From a seated position, you can prepare a main meal for one person.” (gee, thanks. Would you like to see just how hard it is for me to bend down to get into the cupboards or oven? And pray tell me, how does one sit down to use a stove designed for upright human beings?)
“You can carry a laden tray to and from the kitchen” (with this arm? can I? would you like to see me try?)
“Outdoors, without assistance, you can walk X hundred metres” (unfortunately, there are days when I can’t even haul my ass from room to room)

Right now I cannot face what an appeal involves – effectively going cap in hand to that clueless wanker at the DWP explaining, “sorry, guv, actually I am disabled.” I imagine this is probably the case for many people in my situation and that the hideous process of being recognised as a person with a disability is simply too much for them to go through. It is certainly too much for me.

Apologies for this extremely ranty post, and for frequent reference to state apparatuses which readers from other nations will no doubt find inexplicable. I hope you do not feel that I am griping, or asking for sympathy, or insisting on government hand-outs or anything. I am not. I am a proud, and very independent sort of person who would simply like to be recognised as someone who currently has a disability. I’ve been unsure whether or not I should mention any of this here – but I am so berloody angry, and have been so brought down by the whole thing that, short of turning this space entirely silent, it would be impossible to hide. And, as I said, I am trying to write honestly about what recovery from stroke involves for me, so it would be wrong of me to disguise how I am feeling, out here, in ideological limbo.

gang trigly

The easiest of Edinburgh’s hills (and therefore the first of my seven walks) is Castle Hill – the volcanic plug sitting at the highest point of the street that runs through the heart of the city’s old town and which is known as the Royal Mile. Our ascent (which, incidentally, covers a Scots not an English mile, and is therefore slightly longer) began at Holyrood – the site of the new parliament and the old palace. On one side of the street are the signs of monarchical privilege:

(the Queen’s golden unicorn rears it’s hooves above Arthur’s Seat / Mead Mountain)

And on the other, those of democracy:

(Hugh Macdiarmid’s poem Edinburgh is one of many set into the walls of the Scottish Parliament Building)

I was accompanied by Tom and our good friend the Mule, who is visiting this weekend. The Royal Mile abounds with much “Traditional” Scottish fayre – you just can’t move for bagpipes, whisky, tam o’ shanters, and tartan of questionable quality and authenticity. . .

This particular bagpipe shop is the real deal, though.

Further up, we passed the memorial statue of Edinburgh poet, Robert Fergusson (who you may remember from this post and whose poem, Braid Claith, provides today’s title). I was pleased to see him striding down the Cannongate as we were striding up, and stopped to say hello. Across the road is the White Horse bar which always puts me in mind of Dr Johnson. While staying here in 1773, he threw a sour glass of lemonade out of the window and almost got into a fight with a waiter. Things seemed a little quieter outside the Cannongate pubs today.

Here we are near the former site of the grim Old Tolbooth prison. . .

And speeding onward and upward as Cannongate turns into the High Street. . .

Walking became more tricky on the Lawnmarket (toward the top of the Royal Mile). Here the level pavement gives way to uneven cobbles which are difficult to pick one’s way over with a wonky leg and stick. The crowds are also dense and unpredictable – tourists struggle with their suitcases and drift in and out of gift shops. . .

Approaching the castle, we resisted the temptation to shake hands with a William Wallace who seemed much more obliging than pugnacious. . .

I was tired by this point, and it was great to reach the castle. By now, it was noon, and had turned into a lovely day . . .

I had a rest while Tom and Mule went to find some “traditional” Scottish ice-cream. Then it was time to head back to Holyrood again. While the gradients on the way up actually weren’t much of a problem, I found those on the way down much harder to manage. Descending is tougher on the knees and hips, and mine don’t have much stability as yet – I felt a little vulnerable and unbalanced negotiating the steep sections of the High Street, and by the time we were back on the Cannongate I was very tired indeed. Having been out and about for a few hours, however, fatigue was only to be expected, and overall I was very pleased with my progress up and down this first hill. I’ve only been walking on the flat with my splint and stick so far, and I was concerned about managing the gradients. But though the Royal Mile was certainly a little tough for my bad leg, I could walk up and down it no problem. Next week, however, I shall attempt Calton Hill – a shorter climb, but,with lots of steps and uneven ground, a steeper and much trickier affair.

Thanks for the photos, Mule!

scripts


(taking a break by Blackpool tower last weekend)

edited to add: if this is being read by Colin, the piping cabbie with a penchant for fairisle, the remarks that follow do not apply to you!

It has been a tough few days. After the windmill walk, I really was totally whacked and spent several days resting and doing very little. As well as being physically exhausted, I confess that during that time I also became rather tired of just being disabled. I imagine this is a common feeling, and one familiar to anyone in this or a similar situation. Overall, its not been a bad week: I spent a lovely afternoon in the Botanics with a friend and I managed to read a few books (this is progress) but there were certainly some low points. Tom had booked opera tickets for our nominal anniversary. Being among a tightly packed crowd of the opera-going Edinburgh bourgeoisie was sheer hell, and there was also an incident during the interval in which a woman was incredibly discourteous. This rather upset me, and I was also bothered by being physically uncomfortable during the performance. My foot was giving me jip; my leg kept seizing up and my neck and shoulders were in agony. This is run of the mill sort of stuff: theatre seats are unpleasant to sit in, people are just eejits, and, at the best of times, I’m not that fond of crowds. But the experience came at the end of a week in which I’d been allowing myself to become frustrated by everything: my limited choices of clothes and footwear; planning out each day around potential nap times; having to ditch something I’d been knitting for several days because of a dye-lot issue; the annoyance of not being able to reach up or down for things, get things out of cupboards, or put them back again; the fact that I am so damn tired most of the time that I can’t do very much at all. And last Wednesday, I was taking my daily turn around the park when I was filled with an overwhelming urge to break into a run. The urge in itself is perhaps a positive sign, but my inability to put it into action felt sort of terrible.


(I love photographing Blackpool.)

I have also been troubled this week by the fact that, as a young person who has suffered a major stroke, I appear to be inhabiting a sort of a script. The script is one which I do not actually feel myself to be acting out, but which the rest of the world assumes I am performing. I can read the script on the faces of taxi drivers when they ask what has happened to me, or on those of the adolescents who watch the way I walk in the park. According to the script, having a stroke at 36 is a tragedy, and I am now a tragic person. I have to take a cab to my physio appointments twice a week, and the encounters with the different drivers are very interesting. After the palaver of getting me and my leg into the car, the driver always asks what happened (expecting me, I think, to have a story about a broken leg or ankle). Now, I am quite used to the idea of having had a stroke, and it bothers me not a jot to talk about it, but other people’s reaction to the information can be peculiar and unpredictable. One cabbie immediately closed down the conversation by telling me he wished he hadn’t asked; another apparently dour and hardened chap actually wiped away a tear. Whatever the particular nature of their reaction, every bloke is terribly shocked by the news that I – a young woman – have suffered something that they assume happens only to old people. In their eyes, I am immediately transformed from an ordinary person who they think may have a couple of broken bones into a tragic disabled woman.

The script the cabbies think I inhabit is summed up in the first two lines of a tune by fey Scottish songsters, Belle and Sebastian: “He had a stroke at the age of twenty-four / It could have been a brilliant career.” This song is a pointless piece of whimsy about youthful promise and lost potential, but what gives it force is the idea that something that should occur in the elderly has happened to the very young. Strokes occur in individuals of all ages – including fetuses – and are much more common in women under 40 than you might think. The shock I see on the faces of the cabbies says more about their lack of information than anything else, but I confess that the repeated experience of pity and/or lack of understanding from complete strangers is really starting to get to me. After one of the most tricky of these encounters (in which the sheer weight of the cabbie’s freaked-out sympathy was just unbearable) I met a woman in the physio waiting room who had a stroke eighteen years ago when she was in her twenties. Almost the first thing she told me when we started discussing our situations (as you do) was that it had been almost as difficult for her to cope with other people’s reactions to her stroke as it had been to deal with the implications of the stroke itself. She described being in the weird position of having to comfort people who assumed her life was over. This, she told me, made her a very angry post-stroke patient. I’m happy to report that, so far, the only reaction that has really annoyed me was from a nursing assistant who told me that “this must have happened for a reason” before spouting some gubbins about guardian angels and suchlike. So in general, I am not at all angry, but I do find these encounters with ill-informed folk hard to deal with. Part of this, I imagine, is that I am only now starting to come to terms with the difficult reality of being a disabled person in public; and part of it is probably that the trajectory of my own script is still uncertain. Perhaps, in fact, I am just a wee bit afraid of inhabiting the script that the cabbies and Belle and Sebastian have written out for me. I know I am not going to be the-person-whose-life-was-ruined-because-she-had-a-stroke-aged-36 and I really do not feel in the least bit tragic (I would laugh at myself heartily if I did) but it is true that I am not sure myself what my disability means yet. Dealing with that lack of meaning is hardest on days when one feels weak and wonky, and is made more difficult when the rest of the world seems to have already made up its mind.

Next time I am going to write about a completely different kind of human encounter — ie — the heartening and affirming effect of your correspondence. I’m about to begin responding to everyone who wrote to me while I was in hospital. This will probably take some time – everything takes time – but it is a process I will really enjoy.

In other news:

* I have set myself another goal. The windmill walk was entirely flat, and I feel it is time to attempt some proper inclines. Like Rome, Edinburgh is famed for its seven hills. Over the next seven weekends, I intend to ascend all of them in turn, concluding with the most tricky — that is: Mead Mountain. (Hurrah!) I am looking forward to this, and will begin with Castle Hill. I intend to walk up from Holyrood and negotiating bumbling crowds of tourists will, I imagine, prove more hazardous than the actual ascent. . .

* To manage the hills, I really need to work on my balance, my hamstring and knee strength, and the old dorsiflexion. I am going all out with the foot exercises and have acquired a balance board – fun!

* I visited the neurologist and asked to see the pictures of my brain. I’ve been reading all sorts of things about neuroplasticity and brain injury, and it was really fascinating to take a three dimensional look inside my own head! I could see all the areas of damage in my motor cortex — very interesting indeed. I just wish I could now take a look at all the repair work my neurological monkeys have performed over the past few weeks (what did they do with that blocked artery and to where did they re-route all of that lost stuff on my left side?) but I doubt the NHS budget extends to this.

on foot

I’m enjoying a lovely weekend at home after quite a tough week in rehab. We’ve been trying to get my foot to move of its own accord. I’ve spent hours thinking about moving the foot muscles; attempting (in vain) to move the foot; watching the foot hang there like a dead clawed-up thing; and trying not to think too much about the prospect of it remaining like that for good. It is difficult stuff. On the positive side, I’ve been using weights in the exercise class, and this really seems to help with the bilateral rhythm. Just giving the left arm something to resist again meant that, by Friday, I was able to move about to “Starship Trooper” and “Kung Fu Fighting” with a modicum of co-ordination. Bingo!

Several other things have felt like real achievements this week. I finished off some socks for Tom. These are the first thing I’ve knitted to completion since having the stroke. I look at them and I see much more than a pair of plain socks in Noro Kureyon (a yarn I will never knit with again). I see the days of effort in which I struggled to make my fingers move and my elbow to support the weight of both my left hand and the knitting. I also see the difficulty of learning a well-known skill from scratch, and the joy of being able to do something I love again. There are hours and hours of many small achievements stitched into this unassuming and uneven pair. Tom likes them very much.

I’ve also been building up my stamina and strength in more ways than one. This morning I decided that I should try to walk to the place where I had the stroke (on one of my familiar paths). I felt it was important to do this: it happened in a place that I am fond of, and I didn’t want to get hung up about it; for it to be somewhere marked with fear and permanently associated with a horrible event. I was worried both about the walking (one and a half miles there and back) and about how I’d feel when I got there. On both scores it was difficult, but I was fine. I stood there and of course I thought a little about how it felt to fall over on a cold February morning after a gun seemed to go off in my head. But I also thought about the many other times I’ve walked there. With its birch trees, its blackbird and blackberry filled hedgerows, its happy views of the allotments, its motley traffic of runners, pedestrians and cyclists, it is a path that I love to walk along and I know that I shall walk along it many times again. And, seriously folks, I walked for one and a half miles! With my gammy leg and my dead foot! And then I came home and slept for two hours.

I also enjoyed a far less taxing walk in the Botanics yesterday. It was marvellous simply to move about in the sunshine encountering so many signs of Spring (I became foolishly excited when we spotted a bee). A garden really is a very healing place in which to spend time, and I am looking forward to wandering in the Botanics with Tom many times again as I recover. I particularly enjoyed photographing the fresh colours and textures in the alpine garden, so here are a few pictures from there to close.




I got rhythm

My relationship to music and rhythm has altered over the past few weeks. One of the bizarre and unaccountable effects of the stroke was that I appeared to lose my musical ear. My Dad is a musician; I grew up playing several instruments, and, in one way or another, music has always played a significant role in my life. Like many people, there is often a song in my head, and when I’m pottering about on my own, I like to whistle or hum it. A week or so after having the stroke, I was in the hospital shower and tried to sing. I was distressed to discover that I couldn’t find a melody and that all that came out of my mouth were tuneless ramblings. I tried to put this problem to the back of my mind: there were more pressing issues to deal with, and an acute ward is no place for singing practice. However, on my first weekend home, I put on Ella Fitzgerald, tried joining in with “The Frim Fram Sauce” and found that I couldn’t sing a note. I also noticed a few other odd sensory effects, which I suppose may have been related to this phenomenon: I often had a ringing or whooshing in my ears and perhaps because of this, I did not really enjoy listening to music at all. Also, my sense of smell was heightened to a most peculiar degree and odours that I would usually have found pleasant to encounter became almost unbearable. Now, I have not read any research about this, but I am assuming that the monkeys at the controls in my head had become somehow confused. Perhaps there was some injury to the sensory, as well as the motor part of my brain, or perhaps the monkeys were too distracted rewiring my leg and arm to pay any attention to my olfactory or musical abilities.


(Gibbon)

But, unlike re-learning my motor skills, it appears that the monkeys don’t actually have to teach me to smell or sing again. As time has gone on, these sensory anomalies seem to have simply faded away. The bad smells and weird sounds have disappeared; I’ve begun enjoying listening to music again, and I can now sing along to Stevie Wonder or whistle the theme from the Hebrides Overture with no problem at all. Happy day! Yet while my melodic faculties appear to be intact, the same cannot be said of my physical timing. I aint got rhythm.

My gait is irregular and fitful. It has taken me a while to get used to the new brace and stick, and for a good few days after their introduction, my steps with these assistive technologies remained lolloping and camel-like . Once I’d got used to them, I progressed to a kind of ungainly waltz, the stick leading the way on the first beat in the bar. This week’s great achievement is that, after hours of grueling strengthening work on my hip and upper leg, I can now manage to move forward without dragging my left foot. At their best, and for around a hundred metres, the stick and the legs now work together in neater and comparatively natural 2/4 time. So there is some progress here. But, despite many dextrous advances, the gross movement in the left arm remains worryingly uncoordinated. In an effort to correct it, I’ve joined the Astley’s upper body exercise class. It really has taken a great deal for me to do this: I’ve never been to an exercise class in my life and despite the public silliness you see displayed here on a regular basis, I am in reality a rather private person. Throwing shapes in company is not really my idea of fun. Added to which is the problem that, at the moment, my left arm has diminished function, very little strength, and an unfortunate mind of its own. Sometimes it wants to join in with whatever the right arm is doing; other times it just refuses to play at all. Anyway, to be frank about it, I’ve been too ashamed of my left arm’s erratic behaviour to go to this class, despite the encouragement of my therapists and my pals on the ward. But I gathered my resolve and went along for the first time on Thursday morning. It was pretty horrendous. This was not because of the atmosphere: the physios are uniformly brilliant and the usual gym banter is enhanced by the presence of the blokes from ward 1, who are always good for a laugh. The class was so difficult because, however hard I try, I just can’t move my arm in time. As the class is conducted to the sounds of jangly 70s disco, a basic sense of bodily rhythm is pretty much essential.

While everyone else was “mowing the lawn” and “doing the crawl” to the beat of Ra Ra Rasputin, I was flailing about in a manner that was unpredictable and woefully out of time. So I did not enjoy the class at all but however unpleasant I found the experience, I also knew that no one was judging me for not being able to dance like a diva, and that the only way the arm was ever going to regain rhythmic function again was through practice. So I’ve put my feelings of ignominy to one side. I returned to the class on Friday and shall continue to attend this week in the hope that, with the assistance of Bony M, bilateral rhythm will at some point return.

In other news

1. The highlight of my day is opening the post. This generally turns up at lunchtime, and is a far more welcome arrival than the food. I love to read your cards and letters and it cheers me immensely to look at the jolly display they make on my institutional pinboard and shelves. At some point I will say more about the profound effect your correspondence has had on me, but for now, a giant THANKYOU to you all.

2. The grey complexion of institutional daily life has been made immeasurably rosier by two members of ward staff who fully understand my fondness for tea. These women refer to me as the Tea Jenny (a fine Scots moniker) and humour me with the regular provision of a full pot instead of a meagre beaker. If you’ve spent any time in hospital, you will know that there is never enough tea, and that some members of staff (whose approach to ward culture and protocol can be worryingly similar to that of Kim Jong-Il) assert their power by restricting the consumption of tea within strict measurements and guidelines. Is it coincidence that my kind tea givers also happen to be knitters? I think not.

3. Last night, I watched a film that really annoyed me. Though I did not enjoy the film, the annoyance I felt while watching it was strangely reconfirming and really made me feel like me again. Hurrah! I’ll try and write another post about this if my hand holds out today.

in praise of tools

I am at home for the weekend. This is very exciting. I’ve done some lovely everyday things: I put my left hand through it’s kneading paces, and baked a loaf of bread. I sat with Tom and Jesus (cat) on the sofa, listened to JRR, and knitted a little. I pottered about. Just like usual, then. That I am here at all is due to some carefully focused physio and OT, my own dogged persistence, and the great tools that I’m using to supplement my physical abilities. Over the past four weeks I have been inspired by the simple design of some of these tools, and filled with gratitude both to their designers and to the tools themselves. In the days immediately following the stroke, my body was extremely weak and had no idea how to manoeuvre itself : how to accommodate or deal with its own weakness. Initially, the nursing staff had to use a giant hoist to haul me out of bed. This device was time consuming for them (requiring two bodies to move my one body) and demeaning for me. To get to the bathroom, I had to first plan my functions some time in advance, before being rolled about, lifted, and suspended in a giant sling. Covered with blankets, lolling helplessly, with my bare arse exposed through a convenient fabric window, I would be wheeled in mid-air down a busy corridor to the loo. I had no idea how to get my body to work with me or how to use the tools that were available to maximise my independence. Then someone introduced me to the Sam Hall Turner.

How I love the Sam Hall Turner! This ingenious device enables someone with weakness in one part of their body, but a little strength somewhere else, to successfully transfer from one seated position to another. Its design is simplicity itself: an upright handle and two heavy circular plates, the top one of which rotates. While sitting, with my right arm, I could position my left leg and foot onto the plate, grab the handle, lock my knees securely, and rise to a standing position before someone rotated me to the angle of a waiting wheelchair. It is brilliant for the nurse because it involves no heavy lifting, and it is brilliant for the patient because no-one has to lift you. Through your own volition, you rise upright, and are simply whizzed round into place. Here is an illustration. You must picture me in the place of the woman with the specs.

I am told by experienced nurses that the turner is a relatively new invention, and that it has, in some contexts, revolutionised patient handling. I don’t know who Sam Hall was, why his name is colloquially attached to the turner, or precisely when this device first came into common use, but it really is an invention quite brilliant in its ease and simplicity.* It has also played a significant role in my recovery, since it was through repeated attempts to aim for that handle that I told my brain to “find” my left arm, and taught the arm to reach again.

I’ve now spent a month on wards with folk with a range of neurological conditions, and am constantly impressed and fascinated by the many ingenious methods of transferring different kinds of differently abled bodies from one surface to another. The most basic methods and devices –those that, not coincidentally, involve the least amount of carer intervention– are definitely the best. A simple sliding board is not just a device to get you from A to B, but a tool that you use, reinforcing the fact that your body is doing something. This is incredibly important. The role of simple tools in enabling personal independence is perhaps the first premise of Occupational Therapy, and something I’ve always been very aware of. Many moons ago, my mum was an OT, and my childhood was spent in the light of her enthusiasm for the many great devices that enhance mobility, ease, and function. I never thought I’d experience this enthusiasm from the other side, as it were, but I am so very grateful for it. Within days of my having the stroke, my mum had whipped herself up to Edinburgh with a bath board and a handy-grabber, and was making plans with Tom to make our flat accessible. Thanks to the simple tools that she thought of, and some others that my physios have equipped me with, I can now haul my wonky ass around the rooms in which I live both safely and successfully.


(please excuse mucky shoe and blurry photo)

Quite unbelievably, given the floppy and broken state of my body four weeks ago, I can now rise to my feet without the Sam Hall turner. In its absence, my gratitude and awe are now focused on two other brilliant tools: first, the humble shoe horn. Until my foot and leg were transformed into unmoveable lumps of flesh I had no idea how amazing a tool a shoe horn was. Without a shoe-horn, I would simply be unshod. With the horn, I can put my shoes on myself. And finally, the most wonderful tool of all: my toe-up leg brace (pictured here). Over the past few weeks, I’ve tried out various walking aids –frames, crutches, braces — and this brace is a real miracle. The zimmer frame was terrible for my posture, balance, and gait, and I was completely useless on the elbow crutches, because of my weak left arm. After four weeks work with the muscles of my trunk and chest, I now have reasonable upright balance, and there is a little left side movement coming through my hip, buttock and quad. Yet, despite the fact that my leg below my thigh is still basically just a huge hunk o’ useless meat, thanks to the incredible stabilising, swinging, and springing effects of this brace I can actually walk about without a wheelchair. This brace — a miracle of simple, flexible engineering — enables me to stimulate the muscles and joints that will eventually enable me to walk unaided, and also helps me to achieve the most natural gait I can under the circumstances. Next time I’ll try to write about the particular challenges of learning to walk. . .

In the meantime, you may be interested to know that, after watching my friend Mel’s deft demonstrations, and four days of frustration and persistence, I have finally managed to work my hair into two rudimentary plaits. These plaits are not neat. Indeed, they are so untidy that I fear they may merely enhance my current rather institutionalised appearance. But they are plaits, and I plaited ‘em. I am pleased.

Unfortunately, I am returning to institutional life this evening in order to get the best out of my intensive physio and OT. If you felt like sending a cheering card, then please do, but there is no need to send anything else — what with Tom baking me pies etc I really have everything I need at the moment. If you include your address somewhere on the card, I can write and say thanks when I’m up and about again.

So here’s where I am for the time being:

Kate Davies
Ward 2
Charles Bell Pavillion
Astley Ainslie Hospital
133 Grange Loan
Edinburgh
EH9 2HL

thanks everyone. More progress next week, I hope.

*if anyone has any information about the provenance and invention of the Sam Hall turner, I’d really like to know more about it. And if you are involved in mobility and independence either as patient, therapist or care-giver, I’d also be really interested to hear about the tools and devices that you find indispensable.

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