Life objects: Tenx9 Belfast

I told a story at the Tenx9 event at Belfast’s Black Box venue. Tenx9 is a series of monthly events, where nine individuals tell a true, personal story, for up to ten minutes (hence the title). There are six Tenx9 city sites to date (why not start your own!); the Belfast series is led by Padraig and Paul.

I learned about Tenx9 through an event as part of the Belfast Photo Festival, and I was easily persuaded to be a story teller myself.

The theme for tonight’s even was “Show & Tell”, and I showed a medical object to the audience of about 100 people. I was introduced as a “first-time teller”.

I was a little nervous, but I had the reassurance of a typed out script. Compared to the completely noteless presentation that Beverley and I did at TEDxStormont, I was confident I’d survive the next nine minutes.

I nearly didn’t get the last line out, choking with emotion.

Returning to my seat to kind applause, what I truly appreciated was Paul announcing Beverley, with further applause.

Audio below (with kind permission from Tenx9), and transcript:

Allan LEONARD tells story at Tenx9 event, Black Box, Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Life Objects
Tenx9 Show & Tell, Belfast
17 June 2015

This is a Guedel airway device.

According to the product sheet, it is a single-use oropharynageal airway, manufactured from Linear Low-Density Polyethylene (LLDPE), to the highest British Specifications conforming to BS EN 12181, and the design incorporates a colour-coded bite block for ease of selection of colour-coded catheters.

I know this device as what the paramedic tried to insert into my wife’s throat when he found her unconscious, breathing laboriously on our bathroom floor.

This would be the first of many objects used to save my wife from her acute stroke.

There was the evacuation chair. You know, the ones you see at airports and hotel stairwells. For older and frail persons. Or the younger woman whose body has become contorted because her muscles have seized up, inverting her hands, arms, legs and feet. Whatever it takes to get her downstairs and into the ambulance.

At the hospital, I was promptly asked to sign a release form for emergency surgery — to drill a hole in Beverley’s head, to release the excess fluid on her brain, which her body was producing in a reactionary attempt to flush out the internal bleeding. The fluid pressure was at levels so dangerous that that alone was threatening her life. The plastic tube protruding from her skull looked like a form of medieval torture. But this life-saving procedure was established only in 1982.

In intensive care, the ventilator was breathing for her. I was amazed at its complexity — rate, tidal volume, Positive End Expiratory Pressure. Beverley, who had just woke herself up one day after a drug-induced coma, still seriously weak, fought against this machine. Not knowing if she could actually hear me, I suggested to her that she let it do the work for her, for now, until she felt more confident. Within a week, Beverley was breathing on her own. The ventilator served its vital purpose.

The first permanent new object Beverley acquired was a shunt — a one-way valve inserted in her head, to replace the temporary, external device for excess brain fluid. The piping drains into her gut, and will be there for the rest of her life.

You know those little mitts for infants, to keep them from scratching their faces? Well, Beverley had an adult version — all white too. They were to keep her from pulling out the feeding tube out her nose, whether by day or during sleep.

And then there’s the wheelchair. The first one was pretty big, with a large headrest. But we in the family were just pleased, as the nurses hoisted Beverley from her hospital bed. A month after her injury, we wheeled Beverley outdoors. An object to return to nature — even if it was a neglected garden on hospital grounds. She was very happy to feel the sun on her face.

And as every person who goes through physiotherapy and occupational therapy knows, there is a plethora of objects available to aid recovery.

Beverley was so weakened by her injury, that she had to relearn a lot — about every essential function, like swallowing, speaking, standing and walking.

One contraption was to help her stand on her own. It really was a contraption — like a mashed up wooden school desk, with pillars to strap both lower legs, a brace for your knees, and a top to place your hands. I remember the moment she was belted in and able to keep upright and shake my hand.

After five months in hospital, it was time to return home. More objects. Sitting on our sofa, Beverley cried as the joiner installed the double hand rails. But this meant her being able to access our entire home.

We had to shift the dining table to the living room, to make space for the hospital bed. Neither of us liked that. It was a monstrous object, out of place in our planned domestic habitat. Fortunately, we were able to send that thing back relatively quickly to where it belonged — in a hospital.

Regaining her ability to walk took more time and more objects. I accompanied Beverley to her physio sessions at Bangor Community Stroke Team, and watched the Allied Health Professionals — how they’re known in the NHS — work their magic, positing plinths this way and that way, ever advancing in complexity to progress the client’s recovery. About a year after her injury, Beverley took her first unaided steps.

Though the brain damage to her cerebellum — specifically the area that controls coordination — will have a more permanent effect. This just means it’ll take a little longer before she’s running again. In the meantime, a four-wheeled rollator fits the bill as a walking aid. With metallic blue paint, handbrakes and an integral seat and large pouch, it’s a stylish way for a person with reduced mobility to get around the shops!

I was anxious that Beverley would feel inadequate with this walking object. To the contrary, she has welcomed it, because it has brought independence. We tested this during a trip last year in Brussels — which must be one of Europe’s least disabled-friendly capital cities, behind Paris. While I was off on work duties, my lady had little difficulty exploring Grand Place. For short-haul flights, we now leave the wheelchair behind.

Not all objects of adaptation came from medical catalogues.

Carryduff Building Supplies provided the wood for our decking unit, the paving stones came from Tobermore, which was used to create a flower bed with soil from a man in Fermanagh and plants from Dobbies.

A garden can be a therapeutic object, for both the carer and the cared for.

In our case, objects were mainly functional — life saving and aids for recovery.

You could resent having such things foisted upon you. But that puts the focus on the objects, not the beneficiaries.

The key is to see objects as enablers.

For the most important life object is each other. And I welcome any item that helps us live a full and happy life together.

I love you, Beverley Beattie.

Leave a Reply