The perils of travel.


Last week, for the first time since March I went to a meeting in Europe with work. I used to travel a fair amount before I had my accident and catching a plane was for me a bit like catching a bus. In general the flights were to Europe or the UK, and I know the routes and airports well. Every airport has a slightly different approach to security but I have learnt them over the years and can generally get through security at speed. In recent times, more and more airports have introduced body scanners, and  last week, the airport in Germany that I flew out of was doing body scans on every single passenger. Now, if you have ever been through a body scan you know that you have to raise both your hands above your head – quite high. I watched each passenger with increasing trepidation – how would security deal with me?

As I got to the front, jacket and shoes off, laptop out of my bag I stepped into the scanner. ‘ Hands up’ barked the German security lady. I put my hands up. ‘ No , not like that, both hands up, higher’, she said.

‘I am sorry but I can’t,’ I said and showed her my scar. Her jaw dropped and she went a bit pale, but not as pale as the man who did the scan and saw the metal work in my shoulder. I was taken out of the scan and put in a cubicle to one side. What happened next really surprised me. I was searched, but the person searching me pushed all around my scar with her fingers and thumb- presumably to see if it was real!

Once I was through I breathed a sigh of relief and sat in departures contemplating the trip. My shoulder really hurt and I think it was that age old problem – as my world gets bigger again I have to adapt and adjust, doing things differently than I would have done prior to the surgery. Although it was only an overnight trip I had to put my bag in the hold, I knew there was no way I would get it in the overhead lockers.  It is of course slightly frustrating as you have to go via baggage collection on arrival at your destination. When I was walking through the airport, I  wasn’t too keen on either pulling my wheelie overnight bag or carrying my briefcase ( which is quite heavy) in my right hand.

I like a window seat when I travel, and on this trip I was on the left hand side of the plane. It didn’t cross my mind what a strain it would be to reach over to the air hostess for a drink and a snack, but it was awkward and painful. There were other hazards on the trip; the lunch buffet had a very nice tomato and bread crostini but I couldn’t quite reach over to it with my right arm so I used my left – the consequence? Tomato and bread crostini all over the place. In the evening I sat on a low chair at a table but my arm ached as I ate my dinner – the low chair made the table too high for my arm. During the meeting I was asked to write on the flipchart – no hope. The glass and bottle of water were on my right hand side – I couldn’t reach so had to stand up to reach with my left hand. You get the picture.

Once again, I was overwhelmed by the warmth of my colleagues – this was a global meeting and so there were a lot of people that I hadn’t seen since March. So, again, I re -lived the accident, the hospital, the operation and the recovery.

Except I am not re – living it. I am living with it every day.

How are you?

Yesterday was five months since I had the operation. I have found this week quite tough emotionally, and on occasions been a bit tearful. Part of this is because there have been changes at work, and colleagues that I have worked with for 20 years have left the company, but mostly it is because five months on I still have pain every day, I still wake most nights with discomfort and I am constantly aware of what I cannot do.

If you were to see me you probably wouldn’t realise the challenges I have, I can walk, talk, write, drive, work, do the washing, cook – I can even chop up an onion now. What you wouldn’t see is the things that I struggle with, taking my jacket off, shopping in supermarkets – unable to hold the basket in my right hand but can’t reach the top shelves with that hand either – so I have to put the basket on the floor to shop. You wouldn’t see me pushing my elbow to get my hand close enough to my eye to put mascara on. When I go the boot of the car, I have to always close it with my left hand – my right won’t reach. Taking a tray through the canteen at work I have to walk through the narrow door sideways as I have to hold the tray at an angle. Emptying the dishwasher – still a one handed job as I can’t reach up to the glasses with my right arm. You wouldn’t see how tired I get as physically things are harder than they should be, nor would you notice that when I eat or drink it is mostly with my left hand. I am pretty certain that you wouldn’t see me at 6am, up and down the swimming pool in the hope that it is making my arm stronger. You might notice when I get animated that my right arm is stiffer than my left, you might notice my scar, but on the whole you would have no idea how much I have to adapt how I do things. Why would you?

This got me to thinking – if you wouldn’t notice these things about me – what do I miss in others? I am probably surrounded by people who are also having to change the way the approach life for one reason or another – maybe they too have an injury, perhaps they have fallen on hard times or they are broken hearted, grieving for a lost love or a bereavement. I expect many of us carry with us something that we cope with every day and that we keep this close to our hearts, not sharing with others what pain, emotional or physical we are in.

Of course, no one wants to dwell on these things so we stick on our best smile and go about our business with a sunny disposition, packing our troubles in our old kit bags, and making sure we smile, smile, smile. We pass the day with platitudes ” Are you OK”, ” Yes, you?” But maybe, just maybe, once in a while we should ask our neighbour ‘ How are you?’ and when they say ‘ Fine – you?’ instead of ‘ fine’ we should try replying;

“No, how are you, really?”

To ski, or not to ski, now there’s a question.


September – schools back, the nights are getting shorter, and while there is still some beautiful summer weather it is definitely cooler. It’s normally about now that I start looking for skiing holidays. We generally go at half term ( along with the rest of Surrey) and try a different resort every year. We book self catering, drive across and squeeze 7 days actually skiing in.

My parents, both keen skiers, have also come every year. It has been low key, they stay in the same resort, same week, but often different apartment blocks to give each family a bit of space from the other!

I love looking for skiing holidays, I research the resorts and compare one against the other for snow history, altitude, ambiance and number of runs. Then the fun of looking for an apartment, somewhere close to the lift and shops. Finally I book it and we all start getting excited. The thought of it gets us through the winter and for me the holiday starts when I start googling. In February, just when it feels like winter is never going to end, we escape to the Alps, to the bright blue skies and frosty air, and when we return the days are noticeably longer.

This year, however, we have a problem. I am still not recovered from the last skiing holiday. Amongst other things  I still can’t touch the top of my head, take off a jacket easily or reach the shelves in Sainsburys.

This poses somewhat of a dilemma. Max and Lucy are keen to go skiing, they seem unfazed by the accident I had. As Max has started lower sixth it may not be that many years that he still wants to ski with us.  My parents, whilst not old, are not getting any younger and every year my Dad says ‘ Well, we don’t know if we will be able to ski next year’.

So with these two ticking time bombs, one either end of the spectrum, I feel an enormous emotional pull to go on what I am sure will be another wonderful holiday. Yet, physically and psychologically I don’t know if I can do it. It is one of the FAQ’s ( Frequently Asked Questions) that I still get when people ask about my shoulder. ‘ Do you think you will ski again?’ To begin with, I was certain, yes, definitely, why wouldn’t I? After all, both my mother and my brother  continued to ski after serious injuries. But as time has marched on and my progress has been so slow, with the pain and the limited movement I still have  I have become less and less confident.

This weekend I broached the subject with George. ‘ Do you want to go skiing next year?’

Without hesitation he answered, ‘No, do you?’. I replied, ‘No’.

So that’s settled then.

Isn’t it?