What doesn’t kill you can only make you Stronger: A Journey to North Cypruse

Time has a way of messing with people when doing nothing it slows down and when preparing to do something it moves fast and before you know you are late. Having said that, Tuesday 26th I woke up at 05:30 in the morning and straightaway dressed up like a cowboy for I took a shower before I went to bed. It was my strategy to hasten things and catch an early train to Manchester Airport. The previous evening I tried to book me a taxi to go to Leeds train station but to no avail. Understandably, I was informed that it was elusive to try and procure one because of school runs early in the morning particularly wheelchair accessible taxis. “Why is everything to do with disability limited?” I screamed on the phone with frustration. The receptionist on the phone replied, “sorry sir you can try Streamline & Telecabs they have more wheelchair taxis than us”. However despite being a loyal account holder with the aforesaid for half a decade they decided to stop transporting me because of my electric wheelchair. One of their drivers complained that my chair has no proper points at the rear to fasten it yet my batteries (situated at the back) have got fastening points, actually the incident happened when I went to France in May. Anyhow, I was left with no option but to use a bus. Where I live the frequency of buses is appalling, one after every hour during Monday- Saturday and no service on a Sunday. In order to access a more frequent service I have to weave through houses for at least 0,9 miles. One bus in particular is more ideal because it drops me off outside the entrance of the train station.

I got to the bus stop at 06:30 and the information screen was indicating that my bus is due in 15 minutes. This was cool knowing that the 08:16 train would be able to get to Manchester Airport for 09:06 and my flight was due to leave at 10:45. In the afternoon with less traffic the journey to the train station takes about 30 minutes and in the bus before it got to the station the time elapsed past 08:16 as a result my mind started bouncing off the walls.

At Leeds train station I had to wait to get the 08:43 train to the airport and arriving at 10:01. I was still ok but living on the edge. To my horror when the train was arriving at Piccadilly station, the penultimate stop before the airport, the train stopped before the platform and my heart nearly stopped as well. I was increasingly getting worried that I was going to miss my flight, to exacerbate my worst fears “ladies and gentlemen this train is now terminating at Piccadily due to traffic congestion” I heard the announcement probably I didn’t hear clearly I told myself. That was the first time to hear that trains encounter traffic congestion. At Piccadily I had still the hope until the infuriating and constant announcements of train delays particularly the one I wanted it seemed to be increasingly getting delayed. When the Journey was first disrupted the train was said to be only delayed by 6 minutes, the second announcement the train was said to be delayed delayed by 14 minutes and the third announcement it was highlighted that it was delayed by 20 minutes. After the third announcement the wider passengers on the platform groaned and moaned. After names were taken down possibly for reimbursing or compensating the affected passengers, throngs of people made their way to the taxi rank out of the station. Myself I agonised over decisions, wether to leave the platform or not. On one hand the train journey from Manchester Airport and Manchester Piccadily Station is more direct. On the other hand I had never taken a taxi before to go to the Airport from Piccadily but I knew that the process to procure one was going to be long. Eventually I left for the taxi option for I was doing something rather than doing nothing at all, in general I learnt that it is only by doing something that you can achieve something. Though the taxi queue was big it was fast proceeding better yet they were plenty of taxis available including the wheelchair accessible ones. “Y’all right cock?…how come you had to wait in the queue?… That’s mingin that” said the Mancunian taxi driver. Colloquially in Manchester, cock and mingin’ means mate and disgusting correspondingly. In general disabled people don’t have to join the queue however the train assistant left me behind it maybe and understandably she didn’t want to provoke the frustrated passengers into starting world war 3. In my opinion all busy taxi ranks should have a sign denoting that priority should be given to disabled people or a separate pick up point altogether.

The journey to the Airport seemed forever and a day, I needed a dose of anxiolytic to calm me down for I was going nuts.

When I googled I learnt that the Journey takes 20 min however this doesn’t take into consideration the external factors such as traffic congestion which seems to be quite ubiquitous and quite frustrating.

When I arrived at the airport I was downbeat far from my usual upbeat self. I rushed back and forth trying to locate the Turkish Airline check- in point. There was nobody, “Sir do you know where Turkish Airline is?” I asked with a dull voice expecting mercy like a burnt child. “It looks like the check-in point is now closed for boarding” said he hardly showing a glimpse of sympathy. I was late due to a series of unexpected external factors. It was like premeditated incidents- obstacles thrown at me to thwart my journey on purpose. I had used Turkish Airlines before when I visited Cyprus last year in May but this time around I couldn’t locate the reception. When I eventually found it I was told that I had missed it, “yeah I know that” I exclaimed with frustration. I was told that there was another flight due to leave at 4:50 and if I wanted to get on it I needed to buy another ticket. “But I can’t do nothing for you because you purchased your ticket through an online travel agency” I was told. Straightaway I called the travel agency and a bloke called Morris answered who happened to be the same guy who sold me the ticket. “I told you to wake up very early in the morning” annoyingly said Morris rubbing it in. If someone is in the wrong people are quick to give wide off the mark judgements or grossily generalise things. Morris just assumed that I had woken up late without asking me what had happened. To be fair most people fabricate stories in order to justify they lateness. A person living wild young and free might claim that he had to take his or her kids to school or a person allergic to pets might claim that my cat is sick. Even if I had lied, flight policies don’t curve in for no one let alone for a regular guy like me. No wonder most of their employees look like psychopaths lacking a human touch particularly when negotiating, it’s the unbending policies they deal with.

Practical Enlightenment

After comparing prices and looking at available deals he notified me that the cheapest flight costs £900 assuming that my inbound flight wasn’t cancelled. That was almost double the price of my return flight, to make sure that Morris wasn’t being misappropriate, while on the phone I asked Turkish Airlines to gimme a quote for the same flight. “It will be £1200 however only for the outbound flight if you want the return it will be slightly more” I was told and that was shocking. To exacerbate my frustration I was informed that the inbound flight had been cancelled as well. This was repulsive extortion at its best I felt like I was being punished for wanting to persist with my journey. “So what’s the costs including the return” I asked still connected to Morris on the phone juxtaposing the prices. Shockingly I was told that the tickets costs threefold the price of the flight I missed. Expensive they were but I was told that if I add only a few quid I will be able to fly in business class. I was in a pickle, I had booked my flight; accommodation and transportation so it was a decision making conundrum wether to cancel my journey or not. More so I had promised to attend the graduation without fail for I was going to be reunited with a brother I had not seen for 15 years. As a counterintuitive to a stress free life I bought the tickets, I accepted my misfortunes and moved on. In general, what life throws at us could be perceived as practical enlightenment if it’s not fatal, it’s been said and sung that ‘what doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger’.

Steve Jobs was Turkish

Afterwards I waited for the check-in and my flight was departing at 16:50 and getting to Istanbul at 22:40 with a transit time of 1hr 15min, finally arriving at Ercan Airport at 01:30. When the flight arrived at Ataturk Airport, Istanbul it was still as bright as the day. From my previous experience I was told that 1hr 15min wasn’t enough to transfer my chair from one plane to another but this time around the procedure was flawless. Straightaway I was taken from the plane to the check point for the next flight to Ercan, simultaneously my electric wheelchair was being transferred from one plane to another.

While seating on the bench waiting to check-in I made acquaintance with a Turkish guy also waiting to check in. “When you get to your hotel call me” he said with an affable countenance passing me his business card. The card’s logo resembled the ‘Apple logo’, an apple with a piece bitten off. “Do you work for Apple?” I asked inquisitively. The guy then told me that it was a different company. Then I started wondering how his company was able to get away with using the Apple logo, knowing that Apple has had heated disputes with New York’s ‘GreeNYC’ logo and Woolworths’ ‘apple-y’ logo yet the aforementioned logos looked totally different. He then told me that Steve Jobs was Turkish. I couldn’t tell if he was serious or having a babble but I never believed a word of what he was saying. Albeit it was good to have a chit chat in English with a Turkish person more so he was helping me out and offered to help me when I get to Ercan Airport.

When I arrived at Ercan the taxi I had pre booked was waiting for me as well as my bro and his mates. Though it was late the presence of my bro was a prerequisite and I’m glad he was there. So that he could assist the driver to load my chair into the car because I couldn’t find a wheelchair accessible taxi when I was making my travel arrangements. Like most parts of Europe as I highlighted in my previous writings Nicosia, Cyprus doesn’t have wheelchair accessible taxis. Particularly in Lefcosa, North Cyprus the part occupied by Turkey. Likewise and to some extent Turkey is also a nightmare for disabled people. In 2015 it was highlited that Turkey has 13% disabled population yet the country continues to have maladaptive environments and technologies. Though strides have been made in other areas there is still a repulsive dearth of disabled services and accessible infrastructure as well as transportation.

After my chair was put in the taxi it set off to my hotel, at the time I didn’t know how far it was, I was charged £70 including return when I booked. After I googled the Airport is circa 34 minutes away from the hotel which was a fair fare similar to the London charges which charges £48-£90 for an approx 30min to 60min journey. Notably, if I had booked it from within and using the local currency it would have been a lot less, dead cheap.

Merit Hotel Lefcosa

This was the only disabled accessible hotel I found in the area however there is only two big hotels in the area. As a five star hotel I expected the hotel to have the best facilities for the disabled folk. When I first saw it I was wowed and said to myself what a glistening edifice with psychedelic lights and its glow reaching my retina. I got off the taxi and I accessed the hotel through a slightly precipitous ramp and at the reception I was given keys to my room. As I opened the door the room was expansive cluttered with antiquated furniture. Merit hotel Lefcosa This is all rosy as it evokes sentimental feelings however not for me, thank you, disabled access and the bygone era don’t usually coexist.

The colour of the carpet was reminiscent of the Old Turkish sarkoy kilim rug with traditional banded design. All I could see around me was band-band-band even the pillow cases were banded. To me that’s dull and mind-numbing. The furniture was made up of blue velvet and dark brown hard wood which supposedly complimented the fabric of the room. Annoyingly it was thwarting my access particularly the foot stool in front of my bed blocking my passage. It would have been ok and probably luxurious for an abled person but for me it was redundant and unnecessary. So I called the reception and asked to have it removed from my room. In the bathroom though the toilet had grab rails the shower had non save for a low seat. After taking a shower the following morning I somehow utilised the toilet grab rails and had to be extra cautious because the bathroom floor was susceptible to slipping. The bathroom design appeared to have had no input whatsoever of an actual disabled person.

During the course of my stay I encountered a myriad of issues. The hotel wasn’t built with the disabled people in mind but the disabled facilities were rather cost effectively retrofitted. The ramps in the hotel were too steep to the extent that going up or down I required assistance. I remember trying to go up one of the ramps independently, I went up the ramp guns blazing and my chair was forced to veer diagonally by the gradient force as a result it crushed into a pillar which nearly shuttered the monitor. Luck enough my chair was still in good working order. Can you imagine if the chair couldn’t work, it would have been murky and an intricate endeavour to try and fix it. However unlike other top hotels that I have stayed at facilities such as the pool area were accessible.

The food; the staff in the restaurant and the hotel at large were fabulous, thankfully there was an English speaking staff member who had spent some time in Chicago.

The graduation: Cyprus International University

I was told that the graduation starts at 7pm due to the warm weather. In the hottest months of July and August the temperatures are said to soar up to 34 °C and even to 40 °C. Now that’s hot from the day I arrived 27/07 till 29/07 when I returned I hardly went out of the hotel during the day. Like nocturnal animals late evening were the best times to go out.

I was told that people don’t go out in the afternoon unless having a compelling reason.

The graduation ceremony took place in the open air in order to accommodate multitudes of people from across the world particularly from Middle East and Africa. That said I never accessed any of their buildings even the toilets. Therefore I didn’t analyse the disabled facilities at the campus but after searching on internet about the disabled accessibility of the university, their website highlights that “the Rights of People with Disabilities is aimed to be taken as a basis and to ensure that the rights of these people are followed”.

After my bro was handed his certificate we took some photos

The return journey and the importance of sleeping

My flight was due to depart at 08:40 and arrive in Istanbul at 10:15- connecting to Manchester at 13:15 and arriving at 15:20. The brother I had not seen in 15 years stayed at the same hotel when he came from Africa therefore he helped me to pack my clothes after the graduation ceremony coupled with the celebrations. Having said that I didn’t have enough time to crush out, as soon as I finally went to bed like a watchman I annoyingly woke up to focus at the task at hand. I went to bed at 02:00 and the taxi came to pick me up at 05:30 not enough time to sleep at all but amazingly I was wide awake and careful. I guess the Harvard biologist Christopher Randler was right, in 2008 he discovered that early risers are more proactive and found out that they anticipate problems and try to minimise them. However it is important to sleep when necessary as Winston Churchill the former British prime minister credited his successes to leading the country through World War II to the naps he took. Many highly successful people also have one thing in common- they wake up early, people like Oprah Winfrey; Richard Branson and the former President of the United States of America Benjamin Franklin. Sleeping is important but from my point of view it’s usually a 3-5 days task based on the rational that that’s how long it took me to recover from Jet-leg after I travelled from New York. If I don’t sleep beginning of the week I make sure I will have enough during the rest of the week. If I sleep well I tend to be proactive or in other words increase my personal productivity.

When my taxi came I was all set and my brother and the concierge helped to load my chair. Earlier I didn’t describe Ercan Airport, it’s a very small airport with mediocre facilities. On my inbound flight I used the disabled toilet and it was covered with layers of old dust coupled with a dump and mouldy floor it made my skin crawl. I’m glad I didn’t have to seat on the commode, after answering the call of nature I left the toilet as fast as I could I even forgot to take a photo.

I was glad to leave the God forsaken airport and arrived at Ataturk Airport, Istanbul with a layover of three hours. I was assisted out of the plane and straightway I transferred into my electric wheelchair like a boss. Better yet I was escorted to the business lounge by a very nice dude (grounds staff), it’s either he loves his job or he has a hidden agenda, I thought at the time. After the dude helped me to settle in the lounge he stretched his hand and with a crafty smile he said “tip”. Really and truly if I had some Turkish Lira with me I would have given him but I had spent it all. “I’m sorry mate I have nothing but I will give you something” said I reaching to my side pocket on my right hand side of my chair with my left hand. All I could find was one quid and 50 pence, I handed him the money and shaking his head he gave me back the 50p. Very cheeky but he reminded me of Mathew 7:7 ‘Ask and it shall be given you…”

For both journeys I was flying in the business class so I had the opportunity to use the business lounges in Manchester and in Istanbul. Turkish Airways uses Aspinall business lounge at Manchester Airport, garish looking food and ok facilities, I thought. However I was wowed by the Business lounge in Istanbul.

The food also looked great and appetising far from the one served by Aspinall lounges. In general Turkish Airlines offer good service I think. From my point of view their food served in the plane was even nicer.

Biological mechanism of survival

This was my second time to experience business class, the first time is when I used British Airways to fly from London to JFK, New York. The comfort is second to non particularly in British Airways but you know what happens when people are feeling comfy and relaxed- they fart I endured yet another bomb shell. I harbour not vicious resentment in my heart for people who fart because it’s a biological mechanism of survival. However I hate fart. In the process of metabolism, the lavish meals are broken down into heat and energy (nutrients) by microbes. These food-munching organisms produce a smelly by product of hydrogen sulfide gas, the same stench that is discharged by rotten eggs. Now that’s nasty I could even taste the rich and fetid smell in my mouth. I travelled in economy on numerous occasions and I can tell you that business class fart is more pernicious.

Turkish Disabled Facilities

The disabled facilities are shocking, before boarding my transit flight I wanted to use the toilet in the business lounge. I wanted to go for number two but I changed my mind after I saw the toilet lest I get stuck in the toilet without a buzzer. This was a toilet in a business lounge at the airport and it’s a perfect representation of the appalling disabled facilities in Turkey. In 2017 I also had worst experiences after I spent more time in Istanbul.

Manchester Airport: People should work to live not live to work

The plane arrived in Manchester at 15:30 then I was assisted last and was told that my chair wouldn’t be delivered to me straightaway but as soon as possible. I was taken to the baggage area in a manual wheelchair. “Do you have a bag to collect or just your chair?” Asked the grounds staff with a lackadaisical tone. Probably he had had a long day but in my opinion when people take a job they should try to be enthusiastic about it or quit. When employees are doing what they love to do it makes a difference. That said people should work to live not live to work.

To exacerbate the situation the ground staff couldn’t locate my chair, he went back and forth like tennis. “I don’t know what happed but I cannot find it… I will leave you in the ‘Global Baggage Solutions’ queue to find out what happened” said he and he promised to come back after double checking it’s whereabouts. Thereafter he left me in the que and I waited for about 10 minutes before someone was free.

Since I couldn’t move forward in the queue I shouted to get the attention. I was a bit far and the person at the reception was reluctant to talk to me because he probably expected the ground staff to bring me closer. A further 5 minutes or so elapsed trying to get his attention and finally he stood up from his chair “you shouldn’t have been left alone, where is the person who brought you?” I recounted what had happened then he said he was going to check. When he returned after sometime he informed me that my chair was coming. Thereafter I ridiculously waited for the chair I don’t know for how long then finally a fat chap in greasy attire came and left my chair on my side and I asked him to help me transfer but to no avail. Meanwhile the ground staff never returned, so I had to figure out myself how to transfer into my my electric chair.

People packed like sardines

From about 15:20 when the plane arrived I finally left the baggage area at 17:30 and headed to the train station which happens to be within vicinity. The next train to Leeds was said to be coming at 18:18 however it was announced that the train was cancelled and passengers waiting for the Leeds train were advised to take the following train to Manchester Piccadily and then make the connection. However when that arrived it got fully packed quickly even the carriage with wheelchair seating. Disappointedly I posted the following on social Medea:

Trains are getting busy and unreliable.

Train to York cancelled and the alternative train to Manchester Piccadilly station was full of passengers from the cancelled train. Good sign that people are using more public transport but inconvenient. Big investment will only solve this problem, HS2 is coming and why many were against the project it’s beyond me

Over crowded is an understatement people were packed like sardines or worse. If I had managed to get on I would have been uncomfortably stifled by people’s crotches and backsides and showered by sweaty stinky armpits. Albeit I wouldn’t have minded if it meant getting back home early. After I missed that I notified the railway staff my situation. I was then made a priority on the following train to Manchester Piccadily which was due at 19:18. Eventually I got on a train at 20:35 arriving in Leeds at 21:34. I like using public transport but has become unreliable and an anathema.

TBI Effects: My view point

Intensive Care Unity, Leeds General Infirmary (LGI) with Juliet Dube (sister)

People who have experienced the mercy of God first hand after a near death experience feel obliged to share a message from the other side. Actually I stared death in the eyes, the traumatic brain injury (TBI) would have rendered my life pointless if I had let it.

As a result of the acquired brain injury I sustained in November 2002, I can’t recall the events leading to the ruinous car accident. However I recollect waking up from a coma in an intensive care unit after a several number of weeks. My right arm was constantly clenched and numb, neither could I seat up nor feel my legs, lo I was freaked out. I thought to myself I must be in a South African hospital. Rationally, I knew that I wasn’t in Zimbabwe because the hospital staff were predominantly Caucasian. Many white folk had left Zimbabwe following the seizure of white farms. However even before that there was hardly any white people working in the public sector. I couldn’t ask because I had lost the ability to speak (aphasia), the only way to draw attention was to conjure up cacophonous racket with the lingering breath in my lungs. When I was transferred to a ward with other patients my bed was next to a white bloke who introduced himself to me as a South African (SA) which coincidentally reinforced the notion that I was in SA.

In January 2003 after I learnt how to speak a little coupled with gaining a little bit of strength to at least press a buzzer I was transferred from Leeds General Infirmary to Chapel Allerton Hospital, Leeds for further rehabilitation including speech therapy. My speech therapist was called Tory, a lady from Scotland. She wanted me to pronounce words in a certain way and I remember easily getting frustrated due in part to my brain injury. As a result I gave up “Tory you are Scottish and there is no way I will be able to speak like you, all I need is for my family and doctors to understand me” I recall quitting speech therapy. Quitters never win and winners never quite, I wish I knew that at the time but my mind was deleted, premonitions and vagaries were the order of the day. My thoughts were plagued by misery and despair thusly moods used to rage like a storm. I used to become sad just thinking about my sad life, that was the saddest, darkest and lowest point of my life I had hit ‘rock bottom’.

Slowly I started to feel my legs and I commenced Physio sessions as well as Occupational Therapy. At first I learnt to be up on my feet using a Zimmer frame, boy I loathed it because I had never seen a young person gliding on one before, I was only a teenager but on the eve of adulthood. I wanted to be cool and I couldn’t envisage the young me running an errand in the morning pushing a frame through the alley ways. However, physio gave me a glimmer of hope, henceforth I became courageous and worked hard aiming to walk independently. “To be honest with you, you will never ever be able to walk without a walking aid” Amy my physiotherapist said after I asked her to give me a candid opinion. I guess she was right wasn’t she because I tried and tried again but I was never able to put my foot in front of the other without a walking aid. Crutches are now part of me like my limbs. My Occupation Therapist was called Nicola from New Zealand about the same age as me. Cool I thought she was, disappointedly it wasn’t until Community Rehabilitation that I started having occupational therapy sessions on a regular basis.

Urinary Catheter and Constipation

Admittedly I didn’t know if unconscious folk poop or not, so after I googled I found the following answer on Reddit:

Ex hospital tech here.

I used to work in a lot of ICU’s and was the person in charge of cleaning up sh*t. Literally this encompassed half of my daily job duties in an ICU.

When people are unconscious whether it be medically or chemically induced (some patients are given drugs to induce an unconscious state) they still poop. Most are given a stool softener so it will pass easily. So 90% of the time their poop is the consistency of gravy.

However after the comma I remember suffering from chronic constipation and I had a catheter for a long time which I used to go to Physio sessions with. It was a funny site to see other patients coming from Physio walking with the catheters dangling on they legs. However, one guy in particular was very tall and gangly wore shorts revealing his disgusting thick piss because he hardly drank any liquids unless encouraged by the nurses. On a lighter note I loved it because I didn’t have to visit the bathroom so often particularly when drinking, back in the day beer used to loosen my tongue. I remember when my friends took me to a pub in Chapel Alleton, “how come you are not going to the toilet?” One of them wondered because he couldn’t see the catheter concealed under my baggy attire.

Ward 2 Chapel Alleton

This is a special ward to rehabilitate acquired brain injury sufferers both traumatic and non traumatic such as stroke & meningitis. During the coarse of my stay there I had the opportunity to live with brain injury survivors alike all with different behaviours. I seek to briefly analyse their behaviours by using only their first names so as to keep their identity anonymous. Where I can’t remember the name I will use a manufactured one.

It is said that brain injury survivors may experience a wide range of Neuro-psychological problems such as Behaviour problems; Personality Changes; Memory Problems; Establishing Structure; Lack of Emotion, Emotional Liability; Aggressive Behaviours; Self Centred Attitude; Poor Concentration; Lack of Awareness of Deficits and Inappropriate Sexual Behaviour. The fortunate survivors may make a full recovery simultaneously the unfortunate ones may loose their lives.

Help to Care Givers

When I was transferred to ward 1 my bed was next to a chap called Peter from Bingley. He was a lovely old chap (55+), he used a Zimmer frame to glide. He couldn’t speak properly hence he muffled and waffled most of the times but could vividly utter the phrase ‘cup of tea please’. In one single day he could use the phrase more than 24 times. He would seat up in his bed like Undertaker who has risen from a knock down and gracefully drink his tea.

When Peter got discharged his bed was occupied by a guy called Guy in his late 20s or early 30s. He was smart and very articulate, one day I listened to his conversation talking to student doctors and was inspired. I was curious and I wanted to find out more about him unfortunately he didn’t seem interested in making friends in the ward. He only seemed to be interested by the company of his hot wife and the practitioners in the ward. Im sure he was a nice guy, very serious and goal driven anyhow he didn’t stay long in Hospital, he came in with a walking stick and didn’t need it when he was discharged.

Steve came from Pudsey he was a middle aged man talking like a hard man like Ray Winstone. Actually he was hard save for his left upper and lower limbs. He used an electric chair with a golf ball as a joy stick to enhance his grip. I used to be envious of his chair it gave him freedom to go outdoors and smoke all day. Hence I wanted to try and use one, after pleading my case I was given a few lessons to learn how to control it. I passed my driving test but disappointedly it was taken off me after I suffered a seizure. Lo I was upset and my anger triggered yet another seizure. Steve liked to make people laugh occasionally picking on me, fair play I now realise it was banter. However I used to take it personal. He was organised in what he did and wanted to be the voice of reason in the ward (alpha male) better yet for him he used to get on well with Billy the Charge Nurse. However I saw the relationship as teaming up against me I didn’t want nurses to take sides, unfair I thought. Therefore I was jealous of their relationship and rightfully so. Frans de Waals a Dutch primatologist found out that monkeys don’t like unfair treatment. Similarly people are creatures with intuitive for fairness. Empirical study using monkeys.

Harry was a nice guy and he also used to live in Pudsey as a result he was best buddies with Steve. The head injury affected his left-side regardless he could walk without a stick dangling his left hand which looked overbearing. His speech wasn’t clear but it wasn’t hard to tell what he said. He had a chevron moustache like Freddie Mercury and had a long term lovely girlfriend called Sue. The couple liked me, likewise I enjoyed speaking to them. Later I met him at a Community Rehabilitation Centre and we shared a room. One day out of the blues he tried to kiss me on the lips but told him “nah man I don’t get down like that”. I couldn’t fathom his actions his lovely girlfriend had just left the the room.

Mike was a quiet man because he had lost his capacity to speak thankfully his lovely wife never left his side and used to help him out with conversations. I would say Vicky the wife was in her mid thirties and Mike was in his early forties. They were a solid couple almost everyday Vicky was the first visitor to come in the ward and the last one to leave. Occasionally she used to book the side family room to spend some time with her husband. They made friends with my sister because every-time she came to see me she would have a good chat with Vicky. I liked Mike he used to push himself to the limit to try and get better, he had something to look forward to. I could see it in his eyes that he wanted to get well and be the patriarch of his family.

When I first saw Melvin I thought this guy has a head with no screws, an absolute nutter. Physically he looked normal and active apart from his lazy eye. Actually he was hyperactive, restless and a wanderer throwing swear words left right and centre. My bed was the first one on the left hand side as you enter the ward. Therefore every body who entered the ward used to see me. Every-time Melvin passed me he used to blurt the phrase ‘f*cken monkey’ spitting on the floor in disgust. I detested this dude I thought he was a racist, too often I reported him to the nurses and I was told to ignore his remarks because it was the brain injury which made him that way. To me he knew what he was doing because by and large he offended me in the ward because I was different. At the time I remember arguing that take away the brain injury facade and you will find out that the guy is a racist and now revealing his ugly side which was concealed at the back of his subconscious mind. However extensive research on brain injuries highlights that it can change people’s personalities.

Brian was a family man he never stayed long in hospital. The wife told us that he used to have a top job and unfortunately the brain injury had slowed him down, feeling woozy oftentimes. Looking at him seating on his chair was deceiving at best, he looked healthy and sophisticated. Unlike Melvin he was calm and soft spoken.

Stephen was a young dude same age as me I think, his brain injury was due to drug abuse. As a result his legs were severely affected and used to cry all day.

As for me my speech continued to improve by the day and was feeling comfortable oblivious to the harsh realities of the out side world. Nothing could have been better than beating nurses at chess. Other than that hospital life was monotonous, mundane and the food sucked. I recall one of the Dinner Ladies giving me extra portions thinking she was treating me but it was more bland food I had to endure. The occasional tasty treat from family was like manna from heaven, I remember Tau bringing me box of KFC it was like the best thing I ever had.

“Max we thinking of discharging you in a couple of months” speaking to me and my sister the charge nurse said. My stomach clenched worryingly “but I’m not ready and I have no accessible house to go to”. The nurse reassured me that my sister was getting help from the Local Authority to find an accessible dwelling for me. Finally I got discharged as an inpatient in June 2003 and continued further stints of rehabilitation as an outpatient at the Community Rehabilitation Centre, St Mary’s Leeds. Two weeks every three months I used to go there.

Life after hospital

when I got discharged from hospital reclusive sociability was the order of the day, all the kids went to school and my sister went to university coupled with work commitments. However I had two carers who visited the house twice a day for a total of 1 hour per day. Therefore I spent most of my time playing chess and nothing but chess against the computer. I started playing the middling level & gradually proceeded to play the hardest level and occasionally surprised myself by beating the computer. From this perspective it could be argued that chess played a big part in my rehabilitation particularly mentally.

2004/5 were the years of community rehabilitation and attending a community centre in my local area.

2006/7 I employed my first outdoor support worker, a student at Leeds Metropolitan University. 20 hours of support throughout the week so I joined a gym for working out as well as having swimming lessons. That period is when I started to attend Headway Leeds social events (a charity set up to help brain injury Survivors). I inquired about getting back to studying and I was told to prove myself that I could do it. So I enrolled for AS in Psychology at Joseph Priestly College (night school). Notably 2006 is when I became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, happy days.

Started my independent living trial in 2008 and eventually moving to my purpose built home in 2010. In 2008 I also commenced a programme in Human Geography & Planning from 2008- 2011 at Leeds Metropolitan University (now known as Leeds Beckets University). As a result I was crowned Headway UK Archiver of the year, to my elation. Consequently I studied a Masters in Town & Regional Planning and graduated in 2012, worked as an intern at Leeds City Council from 2013-14. In 2015 I started travelling world wide independently to find out the challenges faced by wheelchair users and disabled people alike on a daily basis by having the first hand experience.

Award ceremony at The Dorchester Hotel in London with two Irwin Mitchell solicitors, Jane Horton & Jane McNair (left to right)

Pursuing my dreams

Throughout my journey the magnitude of support from my sister and her kids as well as family friends was great and will forever feel grateful. However when it came to pursuing my dreams in the aftermath of my accident I took the initiative I didn’t wait for someone to tell me what I can and can’t do academically. It was within me to know what I was capable of. In general if you think you can do something ‘Just do it’ like Nike, wether you think you are right or wrong you are right, Henry Ford.

As highlighted earlier that head injuries affect people in different ways. Myself I lost the ability to do many essential physical things like walking. However many tell me that I have accomplished outstanding things despite my brain injury such as obtaining my MA in Town planning.

Therefore I encourage brain injury survivors and people at large to live to reach their full potential by sustaining a positive mental attitude because if people focus on their problems and limitations they become disempowered.

Acknowledgements: first and foremost I want to convey my gratitude to my sister and her kids, relatives and friends. You helped me when I was rock bottom for that I appreciate you more than you know. Trying to walk again I fell several times and Shelton you helped me up on numerous occasions. Throughout the road to recovery I was helped by many professionals pointedly: Dr Paul Chumas thank you for believing that I would make a considerable recovery alongside my sister and to overturn the decision to switch off the life supporting machine. To Amanda thank you for your continuing support work. Tom and Katie thank You for playing chess against me in hospital so too I convey my gratitude to NHS particularly staff for showing a brother some love. Shout out to the retired lecture from Leeds Becketts University, John Seacomb you believed in me and gave me a chance to prove myself. Headway Leeds cheers for giving me a social platform to meet other brain injury survivors alike. I’m also grateful that I became a member of The church of Jesus Christ in 2006, lovely folk. Last but not least I want to give a massive shout out to Irwin Mitchell Solicitors for being my financial pillar and for being my voice when I lost it.

Smile: an International Language

“There’s gon’ be some stuff you gon’ see

that’s gon’ make it hard to smile in the future.

But through whatever you see,

through all the rain and the pain,

you gotta keep your sense of humor.

You gotta be able to smile through all this …” Tupac Shakur

Personally I learnt so much from PAC’s lyrics. For that and I digress, Biggy was big both literally and lyrically yet PAC was the greatest even a GOAT. Similarly Prince was prince and MJ was the king.

Anyhow, for me a smile sends a ripple of hope to the people around me, more often than not people tell me that my smile cheers them up. Likewise I also get cheered up by such remarks hence making people feel good makes me happy. That said through difficulties and everyday challenges I keep my smile or a positive countenance like PAC acknowledged. I have learnt to focus on things that I can do rather than things beyond my capabilities which will only frustrate me.

More importantly I use smiling as a form of communication particularly when I’m abroad, a smile can convey a myriad of messages or signals. But beware of the craft folk they might take your sweetness for weakness or take you for a mug.

A trip to Monte Carlo Country Club 2018 (Tennis)

A lot of people ask me how I manage to travel or globetrot independently in a wheelchair? First off, my faith in God and I would like to share a quote often quoted by the LDS church, from preach-the-gospel.com

“Life with God is not immunity from difficulties, but peace in difficulties” C.S. Lewis

My burning desire to live independently is the compelling force and rudiment to my travels. Basically everything people achieve boils down to deep desire. When people wonder how I manage, to some extent I feel like a super hero and I shared my secret in my previous post ‘The Power of an Early Morning Shower’.

Planning the Journey

It has been said that failing to plan is planning to fail an oxymoron of logistics. The supposedly easiest and straightforward transportation to go there was by flying. Ideally I wanted a direct flight from the U.K. to an Airport near the tennis venue. The nearest Airport to the Monte Carlo Country Club, Monaco is in Nice (Côte d’Azur International Airport) and the only direct flight I found was from John Lennon Airport, Liverpool. On the 19/04, despite my efforts of waking up early in the morning I missed my train which was departing from Leeds train station at 08:06 and arriving at Liverpool South Parkway train Station at 09:47 and my flight was leaving at 12:40. The next train was leaving in an hour but to be cautious i carried on the journey with the same taxi that had dropped me off at the train station. The driver was waiting for me in case I had missed my train. On our way to Liverpool off the M62 (on road to the Airport) the taxi driver asked me what I like about Liverpool I told him that I don’t know much about it but my nephew has a penchant for visiting the city which he dubbed the U.K. capital city of beauties.

“They might have the beauties but have the shittiest highways”,

said he as the car was going on incessant bumpy rides. Consequently I got to the airport with plenty of time to spare but at a costly price. Anyhow I only have myself to blame, for I ran around like a headless chicken in the morning despite having everything packed a night before.

The Airport was a bit quiet and had very nice and friendly staff, at one point they even agreed to keep an eye on my bag while I used the bathroom. After about an hour boarding commenced and was assisted to take my seat before any other passenger started boarding. After about 2hrs 30 min the flight landed in Nice. Normally i get to be reunited with my chair as soon as I’m assisted out of the plane. But on this occasion I had to wait a considerable amount of time and I was starting to feel a bit anxious and we were waiting by a conveyer belt which I surmised was for delivery of special heavy equipment. “So how is my chair going to be lowered from the belt” I asked the ground staff pushing me in a manual wheelchair. He told me that that was the only way. I was then taken to an office to present my concerns. There I was told no more than two words ‘wait here’. When I was taken back to the special baggage carousel my chair was already on the floor but how it got there I will never know. The only thing on my mind was to leave the airport and go to my hotel. Disappointedly and annoyingly my chair monitor was indicating a faulty left wheel. Therefore I asked if the staff at the airport could help me take off the wheel and reinsert it properly. To my great relief the chair was in good working order afterwards. Consequently with speed I expeditiously went outside to find a taxi to go to my hotel. When finding a hotel to stay wherever I visit I prefer a hotel near the airport or public transport hubs. So that I can get to my hotel with ease and take an immediate respite. According to google maps the hotel is only 4km away or 8 minutes drive.

To my horror there was no wheelchair taxis about, “there’s only one taxi with a ramp in the whole of Nice” I was told. One of the drivers offered to take me with his van and I expediently hoped into the taxi and a couple of other drivers helped him lift my chair into the boot. Alarmingly my chair was slightly big for his boot hence the boot wasn’t shutting properly. However he reassuringly and insisted that he will drive slowly, after all the Hotel was within proximity. Thankfully I got to the hotel safe and sound, the hotel concierge helped the taxi driver to off load my chair. From past experiences it came as no surprise that the taxi fare was so high. According to the taxi metre the fare was €24.50 though the driver only asked for €20.

The following morning I inquired how to get to the tennis tournament using public transport. The train workers were on strike so had only one option, the bus. From my experience in Paris I knew that buses were a viable option but my wary was the faulty electric ramps.

I was instructed to take bus number 9/10 to Garibaldi and take a straightforward short walk to Notre Dame Du Port. When I got to Du Port (bus station) bus number 100 to Monaco was jam packed predominantly with tennis fans. There was no way I could have fit my chair in the bus however the bus driver highlighted that the electric ramp was out of order. The next bus had a faulty ramp as well but the driver was willing to help me get on, as he was contemplating how he could assist me a black French dude was walking past and asked me if I wanted help. He was speaking in French but I got the context of what he was on about. I positioned my chair on the entrance of the bus, the black dude heaved the front of my chair from a side angle simultaneously a young French lad was trying to lift the front of my chair from inside the bus. In that situation I was supposed to accelerate into the bus but bearing in mind that the young French lad was huffing and puffing in front of the chair, I was reluctant to move forwards lest I run him over. Lo, the black dude was livid, I couldn’t get what he was saying but his face was full rage and annoyance. Throwing his hands left right and centre I guess he was annoyed because I didn’t put some gas soon enough because I had to be careful. Albeit the brother was the epitome of humanity.

After about 40 minutes the bus arrived in Monaco after driving through a beautiful and scenic route with hardly any traffic, I suppose that it was designated for specific vehicles similar to the concept of bus lanes in the U.K.

In Nice I was helped to access the bus, similarly I accessed a bus in Paris 2016 at the mercy of people’s help and to get off I reversed and banged my rear wheels first and that was a success. Therefore I replicated the same strategy however this was a more extended drop than I anticipated, when the wheels hit the ground I feared the worst as my chair felt like tipping over. The tournament venue happened to be less than 100 metres away and throngs of tennis fans were making their way to the stadium through spiral staggered stairs. I couldn’t go down there hence I looked around for an accessible alternative but disappointedly I couldn’t see any.

Therefore I looked around for someone to send to notify the tournament officials and see if there was an alternative accessible entrance. Luckily as I turned round I straightaway met a guy wearing a badge though not in uniform and I asked if he was aware of a disabled accessible route. His name was called Roland and he pointed out that there was a way to get to the main entrance but I had to get there using the main road going against the oncoming traffic. On one hand in my mind I was already contemplating of going back to my hotel to avoid any further risks, on the other hand it was hard for me to give up my dream to experience the most prestigious venue in tennis. Also I had come so far to throw the towel when the venue was only a stone throw away. On a lighter note Roland offered to show me the way and after working out the maze we finally got to the low lying highway leading to the Monte Carlo Country Club. Eventually I got to the entrance. If it wasn’t for the bend were cars generally slow down it would have been similar to playing Russian roulette.

After the stewards inquired about the access they called the tournament manager and I was taken through the VIP access which was decorated with posters of winners from 1897 up to the current winner Rafael Nadal x11.

Accessibility of the Courts

Despite having a ticket for the magnificent centre court but not a wheelchair accessible ticket (I couldn’t procure one because of limited information about disabled accessibility of the tournament), so straight away I was led to a court where the doubles final was taking place but with a modicum of spectators. There i was seated among the ‘ball kids’ not an actual place designated for wheelchair users

Therefore I assumed that the centre court wasn’t disabled accessible or it was full. At the time of writing I have sent two emails enquiring about the wheelchair accessibility of the centre court but haven’t received a response yet. Fair play, the venue at large is accessible and has facilities for the disabled. The tennis courts at Monte Carlo Country Club were established in 1928 ten years after the end of WWI which left about 9.5 million people permanently disabled, that said the architects should have taken the physically challenged into consideration.

Nevertheless I managed to take a snap shot of the centre court from a loft point of the stadium near the lift to go up to the Monte Carlo Bay Hotel and Resort.

Monte Bay Hotel & Resort

Back to Nice

Around 5pm I had had enough of the sweltering heat and was ready to go back to my hotel. Bearing in mind that I needed to go on the main road to my bus stop I asked some ladies who were leaving to escort me there. Luckily they agreed and left me at a bus stop for the bus I required. However there was not enough space for the bus to stop for me because of the improperly parked cars. As a result the first bus drove past and left me admiring the super cars of Monaco.

If I had continued to wait there I wasn’t going to get to my hotel because the buses kept on passing. Therefore I asked someone to show me the nearest bus stop free of parked car. “No Anglais” she said shaking her head. So she went and summoned a couple of police officers who happened to be over the road to come to my aid. Linguistically they were not proficient in English but once they got the idea of what I wanted they escorted me to a conveniently located bus stop, where inconsiderate drivers couldn’t park. I wish the ladies had taken me there because it was only one stop ahead.

However the stop had no raised platform to facilitate the easy access of wheelchairs and as I was wondering where the ramp will be lowered, the bus pulled up to a stop. “veux-tu celui-ci” the driver exclaimed, I assumed it meant ‘do you want this one’. “Yes please” I said. Then the ramp gradually extended till it hit the ground but it looked precipitous. I didn’t want to miss yet another bus because it was getting late. That said I went guns blazing up the ramp and almost made it but my chair couldn’t push any further when I had reached the top of the ramp. That was risky and dangerous at best, how I managed to defy gravity is beyond me, I was like Michael Jackson performing the hit single ‘Smooth Criminal’ in 1987. If a fly had landed on my forehead I’m sure I would have tipped over. To my great relief some people rushed to my help to give me that little push I needed to go over the line.

Return journey

On the 23/04 I asked the concierge to book me a taxi to go to the airport and shockingly the taxi fare was revealed as €40. That was disgusting daylight robbery and straightaway I asked if there was a public bus to the airport. “There is no other option Sir” said he with a crafty smile. Automatically I knew that he was lying through his teeth. After I asked another, I was told to take the Airport bus, number 98 from an immediate bus stop outside the hotel. Helpfully one of the concierges escorted me to the bus stop.

When we got to the bus stop, yet again, there were parked cars not allowing buses to pull up closer to the curb, in general this seems to be a commonplace issue. After a few minutes my bus came, the driver had no option but to stop in the middle of the road and lo the ramp was even more precipitous than the incident in Monaco. This was problematic the driver could see that so he got off the bus and offered to help. With the driver coupled with the concierge’s efforts the steep ramp looked surmountable otherwise it was a no no. Consequently and after about 10 minutes got to the airport with plenty of time to spare. While there an incident occurred which I didn’t like and I posted the following on social media.

Got to the Airport betimes to allow external factors like traffic congestion and buses with faulty ramps. It’s funny to me that the staff gilets read ‘here to help’ but they don’t want to look after my bag for a little while, I need to use the bathroom and that. “No sir, for security reasons, you should have someone with you”. Understandably I could be carrying a time bomb. But the notion that disabled people should have a buddy or support worker when travelling is quite consistent and quite wrong. Especially, when I only needed someone to keep an eye on my bag. Can a brother have a little peace, Tupac said frustrated at things. #wheelchairGlobetrotting #HeadfirstThrillsonWheels

Dumb & Dumber

Back at Liverpool John Lennon Airport I was assisted last as usual and given my chair which was in good working order. The grounds staff escorted me to the entrance of the building and we parted ways “take a left when you come out of this building and you will see the taxi rank” he said. The guy manning the taxi queue directed me to go to a special pick up zone for wheelchair users, with regards to transportation accessibility, I was all smiles being back home. When the taxi driver put out the ramp I tried to move into the taxi but shockingly my chair started beeping and the monitor displayed an error signal. I automatically assumed that it was the left wheel which had given me problems in Nice. Therefore I asked the taxi driver to help to take it off and reengage it properly. “No-no-no I won’t touch that” he vehemently and insistently refused. I then called the guy manning the taxi queue to see if he could help me. When I explained what had happened and how he could help me he simply nodded his head like a dumb bearded dragon. Off he went without saying a word then he (Dumb) came back speaking on his phone alongside his work colleague. Since he was on the phone I spoke to his friend recounting what had happened. “We will come up with something, don’t you worry” said he assuringly. “Let’s lift the chair and put it in the taxi” suggested Dumb speaking like a dumbo while sustaining his phone close to the ear. Then the taxi driver interjected and rubbished that idea. His work colleague then suggested that they should find me another electric wheelchair and leave the faulty one at the Airport. This was the most absurd thing that I have ever heard in my life that’s when I realised that he was even dumber. To exacerbate my frustration all these shenanigans were occurring while I was seated in the cold. I therefore suggested that they call an easy jet engineer for me. When the engineer came I told him to ask for a helping hand from Dumb, the guy manning the queue but engineer was reluctant to do so. “I don’t think he will you know” said he. Thereafter I turned on my chair to highlight the error and contrary to what I thought earlier, the right wheel was the faulty one. From this perspective it would have been a puzzling endeavour or worse if Dumb and Dumber had straightaway agreed to take off my left wheel, can you imagine that. Having said that I got off my chair and stood alongside it and let the engineer do his thing. His ingenuity saved the day, he managed to slightly heave the scooter by placing his ‘work and utility footwear’ underneath the ‘rear wheel ejector wheel’. The whole process was as brief as 2 minutes or less. Can you also imagine if I had consented to Dumb & Dumber’s wide of the mark suggestions.

Liverpool South Parkway

Consequently I took a taxi to the train station, my ticket was an open return with no specific time. “Unfortunately you have missed the last Leeds train which left at 22:09” said one of the women in the ticket office turning her head to look at the information screen. To my great relief I was informed that the train was running late. Hence I was told to make my way to the platform and that someone was coming to assist me with the ramp. As a result of the train delays I fortuitously made it otherwise I would have slept in Liverpool.

The power of an early morning shower

What a better way to start the day than feeling Victorious? Every morning the shower deos not only rejuvenate my body but also gives me strength and courage beyond measure, I learnt the secret from elsewhere. In July 2017 when Andy Murray (British tennis player) was interviewed after winning the Wimbledon Championships he acknowledged that he had ice baths every night to be fit for Wimbledon. From this point of view it could be argued that the occasional and strategic subjection to the cold hardens a man. I for one I know that if I brave myself in the morning and overcome my fears, come what may through out the day I will conquer anything (please don’t try this at home). Afterwards im armoured with invincibility to dare to tap into any potential within my extremities. In general in life we are not rewarded for the comfortable choices but for great efforts and the will to explore things outside our comfort zones. Similarly the bible acknowledges that strait is the gate and narrow is the path which leadeth unto life (Mathew: 7 vs 14). Better yet the exhilaration of victory after taking the cold shower is beyond measure.

Without hardening ourselves we become soft or worse.

Even Kanye said that what don’t kill me makes me stronger. It is written in James 1:2 “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall…”

however this was referring to temptations and trying of faith. Knowing that the trying of faith worketh patience teaches us to embrace temptations. The same could be said about the challenges that we face. After braving myself in the shower taking that one step off the shower chair is paramount to me, the floor coupled with the shower chair will be wet susceptible to slipping knowing that one mishap could land me on the floor which could have dire consequences. However if I make that sometimes after careful negotiation I never look back and the whole day I will sustain square shoulders like a victorious male lobster high on serotonin (popularly thought to be a contributor to feelings of well-being and happiness). Aubrey Marcus cited that a great ancient Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi said:

Today is victory over yourself of yesterday; tomorrow is your victory over lesser men.

Therefore if I’m victorious in the morning I know that to some extent I can conquer anything.

Practically, Radisson Blue Nice, France is the best international disabled hotel room that I have ever stayed in, despite that the shower principle still applies. Disappointedly there is no emergency buzzer in the shower and the wider room.

Head First, Thrills on Wheels (Wheelchair Globetrotting & Dealing with the Consequences, key to happiness)

Synopsis: When I was in high school the source of my happiness was solving complex mathematical and scientific equations alike. Likewise throughout my further education studies I found much delight in getting higher marks on academic assignments. Some people might think I am a geek or that I was a geek but if they see me they would think otherwise. However it could be argued that solving problems is key to our social well-being. After my accident I didn’t want to seat at home, I wanted to keep busy solving problems which gets my adrenaline pumping. All too often, with the exception of a few (like the late Stephen Hawkins), disabled people are viewed as incompetent. With that in mind I wanted to live out side my bubble, to once again experience constant challenges and problem solving. Whether it is the best of times or the worst of times, I remain positive and smile for God is with me. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints said “Come what may, and love it”. Therefore I find challenges and finding solutions fun.

To facilitate my travels I bought myself a scooter that I could take on the plane so that I would be able to go abroad. Before embarking on my travels I would have liked to know if the accessibility was all rosy for disabled people but some information was very difficult to find and occasionally I expected the unexpected. However, if my mind was always preoccupied by supposing the accessibility of the places I wanted to visit, I would have never gone anywhere. Hence headfirst experience allowed me to find out for myself. Better yet our brains craves for the unknown, it’s what keeps us alive. In general the issue of accessibility often gets overlooked by people. Unless they are affected, or someone close to them is affected by some kind of disability, otherwise they don’t think about it as much. Therefore I hope my experience will inform many; International Urban Planning or Town Councils; and other Practitioners alike about the importance of creating inclusive environments. Also I seek to encourage disabled people to travel independently and explore the world however within a reasonable scope of risks.

In the process of publishing the book and will be available for sell in due course