I thought I might finish this in the previous post, but there’s still a ways (as a Canadian friend of mine used to say) to go. If I’d really tried, I might have been able to say it all in a short poem or two. But short poems are not where I’m at right now. I want to be discursive and digressive and talk about meals and toilets and nasty hotels.
The next morning, having extricated myself and my plastered leg from the bed, packed my bags and sat myself ready for breakfast at 8.30, in time for my taxi at 9.00, I discovered the hotel didn’t run as smoothly as it would like to have customers believe. Come 8.45 my breakfast still hadn’t arrived. I rang reception and was told it was on its way. Five minutes later I rang again, and soon after a waitress from the restaurant with a delightful Scottish/Chinese accent appeared with the fruit I’d ordered and two glasses of orange juice – the larger one in case the smaller one wasn’t big enough. She also brought two sets of cutlery, assuming perhaps that because I’d ordered two portions of fruit I must be two people. She said with disarming frankness that she was very sorry but she’d been in the restaurant on her own and had forgotten about my order. She then rushed off to get the cooked part of the breakfast, which I now barely had time to eat: a flabby Quorn sausage, totally tasteless scrambled egg and some rather good freshly cooked mushrooms. And a plate of toast, cunningly arranged with the burnt side downwards – as I discovered when I bit into it.
My breakfast abandoned – she didn’t charge me for it but that may have been an oversight – I struggled out to the lobby to wait for my taxi. One of the staff offered to carry my luggage but I didn’t think to tell him I’d need someone to open the doors for me. Another staff member helped when she saw me trying to manipulate myself, the crutches and the door all at the same time. It turned out that someone else had taken my taxi, so I was left waiting in the lobby. The nice Scottish/Chinese waitress thought to get me a chair, but before very long I was offered a taxi that nobody else had claimed.
The driver had long hair and a broken nose, and a Weegie accent I could just about understand. He said he’d take me to the drop-off point nearest the airport so I wouldn’t have so far to walk, but when I looked at the distance I knew it was much farther than I’d be able to manage. After some persuading he went off to get me a wheelchair, leaving me sitting on my suitcase on the luggage trolley. He said he’d asked someone and drove off. A quarter of an hour later, when no-one had come and I was still enviously watching all the people wheeling their cases at top speed into the airport, I asked another taxi driver if he could go and find someone with a chair. He too came back saying he’d asked someone and drove off. A quarter of an hour after that, when I was seriously worried about missing my plane and feeling like a small child with nobody to look after her, I managed to catch the eye of an airport employee in a high-vis jacket who looked as though he was probably on his way to check out something mechanical somewhere. By this time I was fairly distraught, and was pleading with him so desperately that he shut me up mid-sentence. Before very long he came back with another man in the same uniform who – to my utter gratitude and relief – had brought a wheelchair. When we got to the disability assistance desk it turned out that the taxi drivers hadn’t enquired there, though I like to think they did perhaps ask somewhere else.
After that I thought my troubles were over. The kind man wheeled me to the check-in, then to Security – still in good time as I’d been very early and the plane was delayed – and up to the departure lounge, from where, he said, I’d be taken by ‘ambu-lift’ up to the plane. The ambu-lift had a tail-lift that took me in the wheelchair into the cab of the vehicle. When we’d driven round to the far side of the plane, the cab lifted up till it was on a level with the plane door. From there it was just a short walkway into the plane. The man who’d brought me – more taciturn and less obliging than the other man – asked me if I’d be able to get along the walkway myself. I could see he was unwilling to wheel me and said yes. What I hadn’t realised was that there was a ledge to be got over in the plane doorway. I tried but couldn’t do it, and got my good foot stuck in the gap between the walkway and the plane door. That frightened me a lot. I asked the man if he would lift me over the ledge but he said, ‘I’m not allowed to lift,’ in a way that made it clear he couldn’t care less. The man taking tickets inside the plane didn’t offer to help either, so I had to beg the first man to take me in the chair – which he did, reluctantly.
Once I was on the plane, the crew couldn’t have been more helpful. I ended up getting two seats to myself and could stretch my leg out, and when we landed they reassured me someone would be coming to take me off the plane. The two men who wheeled me off at Exeter airport couldn’t have been more helpful either. They strapped me into the little transfer chair (which the other man hadn’t done), wheeled me down the ramp – no ambu-lift, thank goodness – put me in a proper wheelchair and wheeled me to the arrival lounge where a friend was waiting for me. But my experience at Glasgow airport had shown me with depressing clarity what life must often be like for people who have a permanent disability, for whom lack of help and consideration, or even awareness that you are there at all, is an everyday reality. The accident and the events that followed were traumatising, of course, but I have to say that in some ways what I went through at the airport was almost as traumatising, playing as it did into primal fears of being helpless and abandoned and horribly unsafe.
But I got through it, and was hugely grateful to the kind friend who took me home from the airport and helped me unpack, even putting all my dirty washing in the laundry basket. I’m grateful to her and other friends for doing bits of cleaning and shopping and washing and washing-up when it was hard for me to do them, and to friends who would have done some of that if I’d asked them. I’m grateful too to friends who’ve been there when I’ve phoned or texted or emailed. I’m more or less independent again now. I can’t get to the shops yet but I’ve discovered online shopping, and most other things I can do for myself. And yet, as I saw so clearly on Iona, what matters in the end is connection. I live on my own and am used to doing things for myself, but we’re not and can’t be isolated units. I need the kindness of others, and I hope that when the occasion arises I’ll be there to offer kindness to someone else.