It feels like a limb has been cut off. Not in the way, when I asked my MS nurse if I could have my right leg amputated, his eyes searched my face to see if I was being serious; not in the way of an amputation. (I was.) But in the way of a felt absence: when your girlfriend has left you against your wishes, when it’s your late mother’s birthday
when you don’t go to that Army reunion because you don’t want to be seen in public, once a warrior, now a cripple.
You see, like the song extolling you to not bother going to find her because she ain’t there, my trike isn’t there. It’s not in my back garden when I roll up the blind in the morning, it’s not there when I need to go to the corner shop for a last minute ingredient (ok, you got me, when I’ve run out of cheap cider), when my dog looks at me with imploring eyes because it’s that time of day and I should be reaching for the pooh bags, his leash and his ball. It’s not there when watching Netflix for a weird trance-like therapy I glance over my shoulder out of the window to check my dog’s ok in the late autumn evening sunlight and the cat is squeaking down the footpath because she thinks it’s time for dinner. My walking staff won’t fit into the custom-made holder by the left rear wheel, because it’s not there.
It’s gone back to the factory and left a hole in my life.
Mainly for band-aid adjustments rather than major surgery; mind you, the folk at Tomcat Trikes give the impression they’d perform major surgery if that’s what it took to get it right, get me comfortably in motion, my trike needs adjustments in its geometry.
My variant of Multiple Sclerosis is called progressive, it gets worse. Nothing we can do for you, you’ll end up in a wheelchair unable to wipe your own bum, off you go. Next! Isn’t quite what they said in 2014, but it’s what I heard. I’d been to my GP in South Wales in 2007 with the same symptoms so it had been around a while.
I am convinced one of the factors that had slowed down the progression was walking my dog, a large German shepherd called Zen.
By 2017 this was becoming more and more difficult. A friend set up a Crowd Funding campaign for me, another friend contacted Gloucestershire Disability and Sport for the Disabled. Cheltenham Lions chipped in. The money was raised.
I’d first seen a Tomcat in the park, a young disabled girl was being guided by her dad. I’d seen the logo but it hadn’t really connected. Then MaryClare was running an event at the Prince of Wales stadium and I got a go on one. Eyes were averted as I snuck Zen onto the running track to check I could work with him on the trike.
Then I went to see Bob and the team at the Factory, they ooze warmth compassion and helpfulness. It took some negotiating to get it in pink, a representation for breast cancer.
I have recently been to Papworth Hospital. I am being considered for a Pulmonary Endarterectomy, it’s easy for you to say. In the old days that would’ve been a lung transplant. I had to undergo some tests on a static bike where they are looking at the quantity and quality of my breath whilst keeping an eye on my heart whilst they increase the resistance of the pedals. I figured that if my heart was going to pack up, Papworth was the best place for it to happen (they are experts in heart transplants).
What I have found out is that my heart is ok to start riding the trike to its capacity. I smiled at the end of the tests, I was determined to keep going and some of my old military disciplines kicked in.
‘You can stop now,’ said the nurse controlling the tests, ‘well done, Animal.’
I have to be careful, ease myself into an exercise program slowly, which is not in my nature.
Not just the trike equivalent of a stroll around the park with my dog, I can now start putting air through my lungs, get my legs turning.
I can fly the pennants for my old unit, The Poets’ Battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers at the Somme, the Leukaemia and Intensive Chemotherapy units of Gloucestershire Hospitals and the MS Society. I can get to the shops, get to the other side of Cheltenham (I know, I know, in time), carry my books to University.
My Tomcat Bullet has given me legs again. But, more than that, it provides belief. It retrieves a damaged identity.