Paying my respects to the fallen for the first time in my wheelchair.
In the lead-up to Remembrance Sunday, I felt anxious. I was apprehensive for several reasons. Firstly, I had never attended the Remembrance Parade up in London. I didn't know what to expect. Secondly, I decided to travel in my wheelchair and not use my prosthetic legs. Realistically, I would never have managed to stand around on my legs and then march around London; it would have been far too uncomfortable and exhausting for me.
Typically, because I couldn't manage walking that far and that quickly, I would have ruled myself out of going and stayed at home.
Why would I think that way? The answer to this question is complex.
Whilst I was at Headley Court, amongst the amputee cohort, there was competition to get back on our (new) legs as quickly as possible. This unspoken contest was, in my opinion, healthy; it helped me get back up and walk. But after giving it some thought, it was rather unhealthy too.
For some patients, it was never going to be an option for them to walk around on prosthetic legs; for others, they used a mixture of prosthetic legs and their wheelchairs. It was using the right tool for the right job.
I was fortunate; less than two months after my injury, I was up on my new prosthetic legs. I used the parallel bars to support me, but I was taking my first few steps to long-term recovery.
However, we regularly had surgery to get more functionality from the legs we had; this meant we had to start the process all over again.
A few years after I was injured, I had another visit to the hospital for major surgery. This meant I was off my legs and in a wheelchair while I recovered. On my return to Headley Court, I talked with another patient who had only been recently injured; he was on his legs and walking around. He came across to reassure me that if I tried hard enough, I would be on my legs soon. His intentions were good, but he didn't know I was already using prosthetic legs; he thought I was lazy. I sat there feeling crushed; I felt like a failure.
This feeling of failure, for me, comes from using a wheelchair. I'm confident I'm not the only person who feels that way. This sentiment means I won't do some of the things I want to because if I can't do it on my legs, I won't do it at all.
I don't particularly like using a wheelchair. People treat you differently in a wheelchair. They ask you very personal questions about why you use one. Our cities and streets aren't wheelchair friendly. Getting into shops can be challenging. I often find vehicles parked on pavements, which causes all sorts of problems. What has been left on the floor usually ends up on your hands if you don't spot it in time; I'll leave that to your imagination. You can see why for some, using a wheelchair is a problem; however, it shouldn't be seen as failing.
I enjoy taking my kids to school in the morning and picking them up afterwards; I get to spend some time talking to them before and after school. I always use my wheelchair to do this; it makes my life much easier for all sorts of reasons. Not least because I'm exercising, I am getting some fresh air and spending time with my kids. I'm not failing at life; I'm using the right tool for the right job.
This brings me back to my visit to London; I wanted to pay my respects to those who had made the ultimate sacrifice. And I wanted to march with members of the CASEVAC Club. But, going to London in my wheelchair made me incredibly anxious; in the week leading to the parade, I was trying to find ways to pull out of the event. However, I decided it wasn't just about me. I wanted to show others who feel the same way I do that using a wheelchair isn't a failure. It's simply using the right tool for the right job.
Our symbol is the ostrich feather of Saint Bessus - protector of soldiers on the battlefield. Our motto means 'unequivocal saves'.
Travelling up to London was well worth the effort; it was great to see friends I had spent years rehabilitating with at Headley Court. I'll make the trip up again in the coming years, and yes, I'll use my wheelchair.