Future Proofing

Futureproofing – Part 1
I began writing these posts for my children. I wanted to share with them the things that we weren’t likely to talk about over dinner, or at family gatherings or just hanging out. I wanted to tell them how special they are to me, how essential to who I am, how they have shaped my life and to thank them for letting me into their lives as they grow and change.

So much has happened in the five years that I started writing. Weddings and grandchildren; better management of my pain and continued improvements in my walking and gait; shifting to a home near a beach in preparation for my husband’s looming retirement. But most of all, I have discovered a growing determination to look time squarely in the eye and to fight its ravages – I will not go gently “into that good night”.*

Futureproofing has been on my mind for a couple of years as I get older. Where to retire and when to relocate? How to support family, and how to ensure never to become a burden in any way to family? How to maintain my upper body strength and minimise muscle and joint disintegration? How to keep improving my walking gait? What does quality of life mean to me? What will make my heart sing?To sum up, how to live a full and satisfying and even exciting life?

“Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” – Dylan Thomas*

First thing to tackle has been to find a place where I can take my stand. No more coping with Wellington’s cold winters. I didn’t think I could manage one more. The decision to move was difficult. We have a son and daughter law with two little ones in Wellington, a daughter and son in law with a toddler and another one on the way, and a son and daughter in law in Auckland.

What was important in deciding where to live? It had to have warm summers, be near a beach, be accessible to family, a place to tempt grandchildren, a place to welcome and draw people to, a place to retire to. And, we realised, a place that my husband could work from until he retired. I wasn’t worried about proximity to medical services. My instincts tell me not to make it a problem. It’s on my radar, but barely.

Our kids were right to advise us not to decide to live somewhere because it was close to one or other of them – the world is mobile and our kids may not stay in one place. We have moved our kids backwards and forwards between cities as work dictated.

So here we are on the Hibiscus Coast. Where people come on holiday. Thirty minutes from the CBD (don’t drive in peak hour traffic) yet a world away in culture and stress… And house prices. We up-sized, got a better quality house, more land and we are 600 metres from a fabulous and mostly empty beach. For pretty much the same price as the home we left in Wellington.

Oh, how I love this beach! In summer I wheel down in my wheelchair with my crutches clipped on twice a day. At low tide so I can walk the length of the beach. That’s my rehab and therapy. At other times I wheel down then walk into the surf and just stand there as the waves sweep over my thighs and higher. My heart sings! The locals have come to know that when they see my wheelchair at the top of the boat ramp I am somewhere on the beach.

The locals, my neighbours, are all here for the same reason we are. They love the beach. All summer long people wander along the roads that lead down to the beach wearing only their swimming togs with a beach towel slung over their neck, or round their waist. Some carry a body board or surf board or paddle board. My husband is not alone in pulling his kayak on its trolley along the 600 metres to the beach. People of all ages and all unselfconscious. Oldies with their wrinkled saggy bodies, teenage boys with rippling abs, girls in bikinis, men with their bellies hanging over their board shorts, walking in groups or singly. Greetings and waves to friends and neighbours. It’s wonderful. Acceptance all round.

It’s like going back in time. We know our neighbours. I call them if I need something while my husband is away. They ask me for favours. I have good friends here.

My daughter and son in law come here in the weekend to recharge. We play with our grand daughter. She loves it here too. Our neighbour lets us use her swimming pool. Our grand daughter goes down the road to the play area either sitting on my lap in the wheelchair or pushing herself on her trike, speeding down the slope.

When our son’s family stays with us everyone piles in too, bodies in every room.

As I write this I can hear the ocean, my friend’s dog barking, some birds singing. I can see the palm fronds rippling in the slightest of breezes, huge hibiscus blossoms, tropical greenery. I can feel the tiny edge to the temperature that tells me that Autumn is coming.

This place is everything I wanted as I contemplate a future to look forward to.

Five days after carpel tunnel surgery I have:

Walked along the waterfront using a gutter frame, twice

Transferred independently from the bed to to wheelchair and back

Transferred independently from the wheelchair to the gutter frame and back

Transferred from the chair to the floor for a bit of crawling

Stood up from the wheelchair to stand up at the bathroom vanity

Emptied the leg bag myself

Done standing exercise ….

Plus all the other things that anybody can do after carpel tunnel surgery:

Used a fork and spoon easily

Tied my shoelaces

Taken off my socks and shoes

Placed the Odstock electrodes after having retrieved them from their ziplock and zipped bag, then remove them and put them away

Squeezed and pinched my fingers and thumbs

Made a fist … And heaps of other things like cleaning my teeth, wiping my face, combing my hair, putting on moisturiser

Every day everything is stronger, but there are a few goals that will be a little way off, like being able to put my all weight down through my hands on to the crutch handles – that will likely be the final challenge!

Whew! So far, so much better than I had expected!

My surgeon didn’t refer me to a hand physiotherapist or give me exercise to do after the surgery so I found some good web sites to help me.

A Christmas Calligram – 2012


Just over a week ago our son married a wonderful young woman.

She is witty and wise, has a wonderful laugh, a radiant smile that brings joy to others, is caring and giving, inclusive, and loves my son. It may seem odd, but one of the things I love most about her is that she loves her mother. Family is important to her. Of all the gifts she offers my son, this is one of the greatest.

Their vows to each included that they would love each other through sickness and good health, and they mean it. Both have experienced trauma in their families and both know how difficult it can be to keep going forward together. It can be easy when things go well, but, as they alluded to in their vows, times together can be mundane, can be frustrating, can be sad, troubling, difficult. But where there is real commitment, love can be uplifting, the source of goodness and fulfilment.

This couple knows that. I love them for this, and for what they bring to each other.

I watched my son as his bride walked towards him. His face was lit up with happiness and joy and excitement. She was glowing and so very happy to be walking to him, about to marry their lives together.

We say that all we want for our children is to be happy.

This is a very happy couple. I thank my daughter in law and her family for bringing so much to this marriage.

Our Family Grows

Just a few weeks ago our family celebrated something most wonderful and momentous. (Oddly, that which is so very special to us, happens in the world four times every second of every day!)

My daughter in law and my son have a daughter.

My daughter in law has done all the work so far, but for both of them their journey is beginning now.

After a difficult pregnancy, my daughter in law has fallen in love with her daughter. Nothing prepared me for seeing my son fall in love with her too. He has always been good with young children, and when he was little he and his brother played with and cared for their much younger sister. Still, I am proud of the way he takes care of and loves his daughter.

Unlike I was, my daughter in law is expecting sleepless nights, tortured days, exhaustion, having to deal with the unknown. Women are now perhaps more open in talking about the times of frustration and despair as well as the times of utter joy and ecstasy when holding a contented baby. Still, nothing really prepares us for the roller coaster ride of being a new parent. The highs, the lows, the mundane. Women also have to cope with a new identity, one that describes us primarily as a mother rather than a lawyer, accountant, manager ….

But the greatest, most responsible, most fulfilling, most awe filled, most wonder filled work of all, is that of being a parent.

I thank my son and his wife for bringing into the world a delightful little person, and for including me in their lives. And I thank my daughter in law and her parents for including us.Our families are forever linked.

There is something magical about Istanbul. Nothing is impossible.  The hills should mean that using a wheelchair is difficult. So should the narrow roads, crowded trams, bazaars packed with people … But it’s not. Well, it’s not easy, but it’s not impossible.

Using a wheelchair in Istanbul is challenging, but can be fun.

The trams are accessible and are free for people in wheelchairs. But accessing a tram can be intimidating. The first time I went to board a tram I backed off because the carriage I was near seemed full – then I watched as at least a dozen people squeezed in past me. The next tram came by a few minutes later (Istanbul trams are very frequent and T1 will take you just about everywhere you want to go), I told my husband to stay close because, come what may, I was going to get on that tram!  I gripped my rims, moved with the flow of people into a carriage already seemingly full, and magically, there was space for me, and everyone else too.  I don’t know how it happens, but there’s always room for one more. My next problem, I thought, was going to be getting off because I’m stuck in the middle of a crowd of people. But no, a few “pardon, pardon” and again, magically space appears for me to wheel through.

The thing to do in Istanbul is to confidently take your space.

Footpaths disappear or are blocked by cars, so wheel on the road. Best is to wheel in the middle if the road. When a car approaches from behind you’ll hear a small toot- the driver is simply letting you know that he’s there (and most drivers are men) and at the next available opportunity he would like you to move to the side to let him through. No hurry. My husband was a bit wary of doing this at first, but it’s fine. Roads are very narrow and often one way, but one lane roads become two lanes and can go both ways. Two lames become three … No one seems to care.

Topkapi Palace has ramps that are well signposted and are usable. Not having to queue means that you don’t wait hours, literally for the main attraction, the treasury. The harem is a little difficult to access by wheelchair because there are one or two steps at every turn. I used my crutches to walk around, and a strong helper would be needed to help negotiate the few steps. 

The Archaeological Museum has a stair climber and is completely accessible.

The Blue Mosque has it’s own wheelchair that a wheelchair user must transfer into because nothing that touches the ground can touch the carpeted area. I preferred to walk with my crutches because of the crowds in the tourist mosques, and to get close to the art. To do this I wheeled to the outside carpeted area, took my shoes off and placed my feet on the carpet. Usually I can stand up on my own but because of the confined space I needed my husband to lift me to standing. My crutches were ok in this mosque. I did not find another mosque that had a wheelchair to use inside, so it’s likely that the Blue Mosque is the only mosque that a wheelchair user may be able to visit. The Hagia Sofya is a museum so wheelchairs here are fine.

If you can walk with crutches you will be able to visit most mosques. All the usual customs must be observed, head scarves, long sleeves, long pants or skirt for women, covered shoulders and long pants for men.

If you need to wear shoes to walk, I suggest visiting the Dolmabalche Palace first, grabbing some spare plastic elasticised shoe bags, and put these over your shoes before stepping onto the carpeted area. Grab a few more to put over your crutch tips in case you are asked not to put your crutches on the carpet. I approached wearing appropriate clothing, wheeled up and immediately began unlacing my shoes and indicating that my wheelchair would be staying outside. I always asked for an ok from whoever seemed in charge before I went inside or as soon as i was inside) some mosques had security guards, some had men who were making sure that women were dressed appropriately, most had someone hanging around inside or outside).

At the Dolmabalche Palace only the bottom floor is accessible to wheelchairs and you will need to go in a separate entrance. You will need to approach a security guard. The palace can only be seen as part of a guided tour. The gardens are lovely, and there is a beautiful view over the sea. In a wheelchair you  won’t get to see the best bits of the palace but remember its free! If you can walk with crutches go on a guided tour. I walk very slowly but the my guide was very patient and the staff did everything to cut corners. 

I went on a cruise of the Bosphorus and the crew and leader were incredibly helpful. They were prepared to lift me in my wheelchair over the bow onto the wharf if I wanted … And because I wanted to use my crutches they just about lifted me on and off. They realised immediately that my left foot drags and one or other invariably held ropes down for me. They were very observant and cottoned on quickly to how they could help. The leader assigned a crew member to me when we went ashore near the fortress so that I could go as far as possible.

The streets are much steeper on the Taksim side. We tried to wheel/ walk up one street in attempt to get to the Galata Tower. I never give up, but I finally conceded that we needed a taxi to get there. The taxis are quite cheap, but be sure to ask the driver how much it will cost to get to your destination before you get in the taxi. Even though the taxis have meters, the drivers turn them off. We got some pretty good deals and got to see some really interesting back streets, because once you’ve agreed a price the driver will go the quickest way possible. There are near misses, sharp corners and squalid streets but just go with it! If the taxi doesn’t look big enough to fit your wheelchair, remember that everything fits everywhere in Istanbul!

And everyone wants to help. We were wheeling down the street that was too steep to wheel up, and I say we, because I was using my gloves to slow the wheels and Peter was holding the chair, when we encountered steps. Some nearby workmen gesticulated wildly that they wanted to carry me in my wheelchair down the steps, and when I chose to use my crutches, one burly guy insisted on carrying the chair down and waiting with it til I got down.

It seems that people in Istanbul love a trier!

Finding toilets can be a problem. There are accessible toilets at the New Mosque near the Spice Bazaar, at the Tokapi Palace, and at the Archaeological Museum. There are usually toilets near mosques but these are not usually accessible, have steps and may not be western style. Water is not clean so if you need to use catheters I suggest you use small disposable ones and lots of hand sanitiser.

Disabled Access in Prague

First, a little about me so you can put my comments into context. If you want to know more, read the tab “About Me”

I am an incomplete paraplaegic, injured at T7/T8. I walk short distance with crutches, can climb steps (but i need assistance if they are high), and my wheelchair has hooks to carry my crutches when I am not using them. I am a 57year old woman living in New Zealand. I am very fit and my upper body is strong.

First the negatives:
Prague is not wheelchair friendly. If you have excellent wheelchair skills and can negotiate kerbs you will face gutters that are five or six inches deep, and there are few kerb crossings. Your best bet is to use side roads and wheel along the road. The Old Town is flat, but across the Charles Bridge, some hills are quite steep, so a wheelchair user will need to be strong.

Often landmarks and attractions are described as wheelchair accessible but there are always at least one or two steps. The funicular and Petrin Tower, for example are described as accessible, but the slope up to the funicular is at least one in eight. Then there are two steps to the first carriage. It’s possible to wheel to the tower and take the lift half way up, but coming back to the funicular there are about eight steps to the nearest carriage. 

Some of the trams are low and have a button that a wheelchair user can push to alert the driver that the ramp is needed. However, only once did the driver step outside to put the ramp out, but that may have been because we didn’t want to risk the tram moving off without us so my husband manoeuvred me and my chair on board. The older trams have very high steps that I was able to climb using my crutches. 

The positives:
If you are less skilled in a wheelchair, like me, you will need a strong helper. If you can use crutches, and have a strong helper, most of Prague becomes accessible.

And if you stay in the Old Town there are some easily accessible attractions:

The Old Town Square with its astronomical clock is often described as the prettiest in Europe. It has lots of good cafes from which to watch the world, and zillions of tourists, go by. It’s entertaining to watch all the cameras up in the air as the hour strikes. It’s especially entertaining to watch at night when all you can see is the clock and hundreds of led screens!

Its an easy and pleasant wheel across the Charles Bridge. 

There is a ramp down to Kampa Island which has a very nice park, views over the river and cafes. It’s a good place to have a picnic.

There is a lift up the Old Town Hall to the top where there are some great views. 

It’s an easy wheel through the Havel markets where you can buy fresh produce and the usual tourist stuff as well as some very nice art. 

It’s an easy wheel to Wencelas Square where all the modern shops are.

There are concerts every night at lots of different venues … the Mirror Chapel, the Mozart Cafe (it has a lift), St George’s Basilca …

If you’re not prepared to wait for a low tram that us wheelchair accessible, use a taxi- they’re not that expensive because Prague is compact

There are accessible toilets at the Prague castle near St Vitus, near the Charles Bridge on the Old Town Side, and on Kampa Island.

Be Careful:

The room in my hotel was described as a disabled room, but there were no bars in the shower or toilet, I could barely reach the shower hose when standing, and there was no seat in the shower. The room could be accessed from the garage rather than the front door where there were eight or more steps, but there were two steps up from the garage!

Everyone in Prague seems to assume that someone in a wheelchair will have a helper, and that one or two steps are no barrier. 

Other than that, Prague is worth the effort and having to rely on a helper just so you can see this picturesque city and experience its incredibly talented musicians.