The insensitivity of a BBC Radio 5 live producer has added to the on-going mental anguish of The Times' Scotland-based journalist, Melanie Reid, who broke her neck and back after falling from a horse in April.
Melanie, an award-winning columnist and a former senior assistant editor of The Herald, writes from her hospital bed for The Times Magazine on a weekly basis – under the title, Spinal Column.
And she has now revealed: “I can now pull my phone from its case and use it, laboriously and painfully slowly, to text my family.
“And guess what I found – on my phone was the winner of the most crass voice message of the year, from a producer for Radio 5 Live, who got his researcher – Melinda, Samantha, Clarissa, something trilling like that – to call to say he’d come across a column I’d written and wanted me to 'pop' into a BBC studio to do a 20-minute slot about my situation. No doubt to be sandwiched between a discussion on video refereeing and Raoul Moat’s fan club.
“Maybe not such a bad idea – while I was in the studio I could do a little dance for the listeners.”
The BBC aside, Melanie is finding it hard to always stay positive in the face of recent setbacks. She writes: “’You always seem so strong and cheerful’,” the friend said. Well, I’m not, so maybe it’s time I wrote about it. Some days all the fight goes out of me. I can feel my hope and resolve – all the stuff people credit me with, the front I try to maintain for family and friends – desert me with terrifying speed.
“I become just one more scared inmate of a spinal unit, overwhelmed with the catastrophe I face. On days like these, being paralysed is just so hard. So incomprehensibly hard.
“The helplessness, the frustrations, the discomfort, the snail’s pace, the useless fingers, the sense of loss, the poignantly spotless white soles of my training shoes, the horror of years of semi-dependency and hassle and incontinence to come -these realities suddenly press down upon me inescapably.
“That’s when I think, I can’t cope with this. But I have to. All of us in here have to.
“I still have dreams where I can walk (they say it takes two years before you start dreaming of yourself in a wheelchair). Last night, I dreamt I was in the kitchen at home, and I stood up and walked hesitantly around holding on to the worktops while my husband beamed with happiness.
“In another dream, the same thing happened in the ward – I was able to hobble around helping my fellow patients with all the little things the nurses are too busy to do. What makes these dreams so cruel are that, in them, I say to myself, beware, don’t be fooled, this is just a dream, and then, still in the dream, I convince myself that it’s not.
“And then I wake up. And nothing has changed: it’s Waiting for Godot for the paralysed. I am still stuck in bed in a busy, noisy ward waiting for the nurses to come and wash and dress me and get me up. Oh, nights may be long but, by God, mornings are the worst: the utter frustration of lying like a lump of meat waiting to be processed.
“In the two hours it takes me simply to be toileted and put into T-shirt and joggers, I used to feed, muck out and turn out two horses, shower, dress, put on make-up, drive an hour to work and devour the news agenda at my desk.
“Now the only thing I can do for myself over the same time frame, if I’m lucky and my bedside trolley hasn’t been moved, is to reach for my headphones and retreat into the Today programme. I have just enough finger-power to turn the radio on and sip pishy NHS tea from a mug with a special handle. Hooray. Rejoice. Sound the vuvuzelas.”
She continues, later: “Generally, during spells like this week, I hide away from communication. I have hundreds of e-mails to answer and so many lovely, lovely letters I want to reply to, but do not yet have the emotional or physical wherewithal. Please forgive me, everyone. But one-fingered typing is exhausting and writing, ditto.
“I have two minor successes to report. One, I can now, by virtue of sheer bloody-mindedness, stretch my fingers to do control-alt-delete and open Windows. Hugely grateful to all whom alerted me to sticky keys, but I decided not to take the easy option. Two, I can now pull my phone from its case and use it, laboriously and painfully slowly, to text my family.”
And that is when the bright sparks from BBC Radio 5 live intervened…