What is normal?


Mark and the wheelchair on a weighing scales

I can’t step onto a weighing scales at home anymore. Instead, I travel to the National Rehabilitation Hospital and roll onto a weighbridge in my wheelchair.

Like an HGV driver being inspected at customs, I am pausing temporarily on my way to another place.

My destination is 79 kgs (12.5 stone) by the end of August; a reduction of 6.2 kgs (1 stone) since I started the quest on the 18 June 2018. And there I need to stay, to figure out how to maintain that weight. My general health and well-being demands the weight loss but also paralysis has changed how I do this. Like all paraplegics I can only burn about 1,500 calories a day because I have lost the body’s powerhouse – the legs.

Today, I roll back through the same hospital door that I couldn’t wait to leave in 2011, after 16 months in hospital. I was completely exiled from my life as I knew it then. Even though now I’m only there to weigh myself, (I’ll be in and out in 10 minutes), as I roll past reception and down the hallway towards the scales, I know that on the other side of the wall are broken backs and necks. There are friends and family whose deadened eyes I can see, because when I meet them I hear it in their voices. There’s a period of time after a tragedy like this where those looking on at the person in the bed are mourning many things, but also mourning the loss of their normality, the things that they used to take for granted.

In their mourning I know that they’re also cultivating green shoots. Hope is always growing somewhere out of this uncertainty. Hope always is.

As I roll along the corridor today, separated from them by just a skin of blockwork, I feel for all of them in there, for now on the other side of this wall. This messy injury bonds us all across time and space. I feel for my 34 year old self who left hospital 7 years ago trying to figure out what my new normal would be. Who knew my new normal would include a 30 minute drive to the National Rehabilitation Hospital to weigh myself on a weighbridge? Who knew it would include finding new ways I can eat and enjoy my food, without adding all the problems too much weight would bring me in addition to the paralysis? As it turns out today, I am doing okay – I am 82.6 kgs, just 3.6 kgs to go until I reach my target weight. So, if I can keep at it, I’ll make my target of 79 kgs by the end of August.

As normal goes, this simple task – weighing myself forces me to confront a different time, a time when I was in that ward with them.

As I roll down the corridor, the injured part of my body attached to this wheelchair somehow becomes all of me. I am back there with them. They are living that temporary normality now and I am out here living mine.

I realise that I only meant to write about my diet and weight loss. But once I started writing, all of this came out. I do go back to the hospital sometimes to talk to people who are injured. And, sometimes I go back to meet with their parents or family or friends. I’m thinking of one guy’s Dad right now and my eyes are filled with tears. He was in shock; in the worst of it. I know there is a new life beyond that for him. For his child. And it is filled with hope. I am living it. But he isn’t there yet, few of the people on the other side of the wall are I suspect. But they’ll get there, eventually.


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