I’ve had an operation on my foot. It’s actually very prosaic – I’ve had, in the parlance of middle-aged women around the world, ‘my bunion done’.
Not, when the block they put on my foot had worn off, that the pain was any less. I had an uncomfortable night or three, and the dratted thing still causes me to wince occasionally, nearly four weeks on.
But I gritted my teeth, determined to be a good girl and stuck my foot in the air for the requisite 23 hours out of 24 to reduce the swelling. For three weeks, the only excursion I had out of the house was to the hospital.
Probably against medical advice (I didn’t ask in case they said no), I also went to the wedding reception of friends at the Savoy. I donned wide trousers and a posh top, and hopped, with my anxious partner and crutches, into central London. Once in the reception room, my heart sank as I saw lots of potential for standing around and sipping champagne, while leaning on tall bar tables. I asked for, and was given a chair, and my foot also had one of its own.
And poof! Suddenly, I was invisible. Without meaning to be rude, people talked above me, round me, and not to me. Ridiculously self-conscious enough in a swanky venue with a lop-sided walk, my normal confidence just shrivelled, and it suddenly occured to me that this might be how people in wheelchairs felt every day.
It’s like if you’re below eye level, you’re literally below the radar. Finally in desperation, I stood up, to pick up the threads of conversations which had started without me. Eventually, people realised I had experiences and opinions, as well as a crutch.
I’m pleased to say this has scarred me – hopefully for life.
This way, I stand more chance of remembering that people in wheelchairs may have limbs that don’t work any more, but there’ll be nothing wrong with their hearing, conversation or brains. And to pull up a chair and look at them face to face, rather than talking to the tops of their heads, or indeed, not at all.