Tales From the Ward Chapter 43:


A Christmas Carol

As Christmas approaches I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to keep my mouth shut. I’ve bitten my tongue so much in the last few days listening to Noelle’s constant drivel I’m one bite away from self-inflicted mutism.

Which is something Noelle seems incapable of. The collective weight of her issues threaten the entire fabric of the world wide web. Chief nurse Chloe’s inbox is filled with at least 30 emails daily.

Why don’t you assign her email address to junk status, I suggest. Already done.

The shrink wants me to channel my thoughts, so I pen a short rewrite of a festive favourite.

The Twelve Complaints of Noelle



On the first day Christmas Noelle threatens me: You’ll never hear the end of me

On the second day of Christmas my patient begged of me: two hours o’rest, or you’ll never hear the end of me.

On the third day of Christmas my patient spat at me: three bad meals, two hours o’rest or you’ll never hear the end of me.


On the fourth day of Christmas my patient gave to me: four acid looks, three bad meals, two hours o’rest and you’ll never hear the end of me.

On the fifth day of Christmas my patient awarded me five Gold stars, four acid looks, three bad meals, two hours o’rest and you’ll never hear the end of me.


On the sixth day of Christmas my patient sent to me: six insulting emails

On the seventh day of Christmas my patient howled at me: seven minute moans

On the eighth day of Christmas my patient bawled to me: eight floods of tears


On the ninth day of Christmas my patient raged at me: nine daily meltdowns

On the tenth day of Christmas my patient sang to me: ten tuneless carols


On the eleventh day of Christmas my patient wailed at me: eleven workout whinges

On the twelfth day of Christmas my patient gave to me: twelve hour long tantrums, eleven workout whinges, ten tuneless carols, nine daily meltdowns, eight floods of tears, seven minute moans, six insulting emails, five Gold Stars, four acid looks, three bad meals, two hours o’rest or you’ll never hear the end of me


Happy Christmas everyone and wishing you all a fantastic and better 2018

xmas tree

I still need your help to raise the rest of my target to fund my stay in rehab. Please take a look at youcaring.com/savestephaniescawen and help spread the word.

We’re stuck at $14,400. The same again would be fantastic. Rehab is working, a little bit further every day. Thank you ❤ ❤ ❤



Disabled in the NHS…

No ranting about funding shortfalls just yet…

I’m back,

Apologies for not updating my blog for a while but six, almost seven weeks of hospital life in the UK, and not a lot of internet connection will do that for you.

One MS attack affecting my left hand and arm, with weakness in my legs has stopped me from doing much other than let my imagination run riot. So, while I’ve not been able to travel I’ve been writing short pieces about life as I see it from my hospital bed.

I’ll release a few pieces over the coming days starting here with Chapters One to Three – introducing Tales from the Ward.

Chapter One: The Ward.

I’m the new arrival in a side bay of an acute and chronic neurological ward at a big teaching hospital. There are six of us, three each side of the bay, facing each other. Even lying prone I have a bird’s eye view of my surroundings from my centre bed.

Opposite me are beds one to three. Bed one is closest to the nursing station. There are doors to the bay, which can be closed but they remain open all the time. At the other end – the windows. And even though these barely open, they are our only access to fresh air.

Each bed could be veiled by a polyester-cotton sweep round curtain with a bamboo-leaf style print on it. I could never decide its exact colour – it depended on the daylight and time of day. But puce green – the kind of colour you feel when you’re about to vomit – was the only fix I could get, despite hours of staring.

The first few days I just watched, not really sure of who was who, or what was going on. And then it blew up quite literally in front of me. This is an episode of scatological proportions.

It began quietly, virtually unnoticed in Bed Three, opposite to my right.

A quadriplegic patient was trying to have a crap. (Aren’t there a lot of euphemisms for the same thing in English? Poop, crap, shit, Number 2, pooh. We’ll settle on crap, for now)

She’d been trying for ages.

It wasn’t her fault she couldn’t move. But everything below her neck was without movement or sensation. Her innards as powerless as the rest of her body.

But there she was lying on her back trying to force out waste that she could not feel and had no ultimate control of. Multiple doses of laxatives had had little, or no effect. Whatever was going on, it didn’t sound pleasant.

Next door in Bed two, facing me, there was an explosive incident, resulting in the forced intervention of two nurses. Uncontrolled urination sounded like the problem here. I couldn’t see. All veiled behind the bamboo curtain.

Not that I would probably want to be a witness to the nurses’ mopping up operations.

But like the child hiding behind the sofa facing the tv with fingers over their face hoping the Daleks didn’t invade, they can’t help but look.

And I wanted an eye on the world inside my new home.

It was getting late.

And the nurses hadn’t turned out the lights until gone 11. They normally wanted us to settle down after dishing out the last round of medications.

I was trying to sleep, but the noise and low lights were making it impossible.

Inexplicably the woman I had figured to be a manic depressive in cubicle one suddenly exploded in a torrent of abuse.

How can I sleep with people pissing and shitting everywhere? This is fucking ridiculous.

How can we? I thought, with your racket.

Where is my privacy?

Impossible in a curtained side bay of six beds.

The dementia ridden stroke patient in bed four to my left  – who I later learned was named Linda – had stopped her nightly monologue of nonsense about the location of her shoes and to ‘look behind the washing machine’ to complain about the cold.

It was 20 degrees and I would have been sweating if I could.

At least the windows were open until Manic decided otherwise and promptly got up to close them, knocking a jug of water over and blasting the nurses for storing pee in a pot.

The histrionics continued till gone one, until the offer of tea and cake placated her outside our six- bed bay.

All went quiet for about 20 minutes when the form of the Norwich One appeared. A ranting geriatric loudly complaining about her being moved to the ward from another room. And late at night.

(She had a point about that -The details are too boring to relate here but in her own words they were going in circles.)

Finally, she moved to the nurses’ station outside where she continued. She respected their position but she reserved the right to contradict theirs.

Even the stroke patient had finally tailed off about finding her shoes and wheelchair. It was gone four and the sun was coming up.

At five am, after just one hour of blissful sleep I was woken to change my position to prevent bedsores.

Norwich One was still talking. I’m getting tired now, she said.
Only two hours to breakfast.

Tales from the ward Chapter Two:

The curious incident of the banana in the night time.

I woke early this morning after a peaceful night at last.
It was about five and the sunshine was only just piercing the thin cotton curtains that covered the windows.

As my eyes adjusted to the light I caught sight of the banana I’d left on the table overnight to munch on for breakfast.
That’s weird. Never seen banana skin split like that before, I thought.

As I looked closer I’d could see the fruit inside half eaten and then the fruit delicately placed back in position on the table.

Oh, that’ll be our night stalker, one of the nurses said. She meant Manic, but Night Stalker sounded so much better.

Not exactly comforting to think that someone had stood over me unwrapping that fruit while I slept, carefully consuming half of it and returning it to its place.

I’d been warned about keeping my phone locked up, so my wash bag was the nearest I could hide anything.

The other patients spoke of waking to see the stalker standing over them. Watching.
It’s all fun here.

Changes overnight: Linda to another room, apparently with an infection.

But it meant quiet had returned.

Tales from the ward Chapter Three: Think of the white bear.

It’s amazing I get the opportunity to sleep here. The lights go down the madness comes out.

Yesterday had started out so well.

We’d chopped the legs off the standard hospital issue pyjamas to make some shorts. Everyone had had hair washed. By 11am things almost seemed normal.

After Linda, we said goodbye to Pam from Bed two, who came in with pins and needles and left with cancer.

To my left now, in Bed four, was Two-tone, so called because when conscious she emitted a non-stop two tone beep like an alarm clock stuck in wake up mode. Nobody minded during the day when the general bustle of the day hid her noises.

It would take on a whole new meaning later.

I gave Norwich One a name. Christine from Down under. She’d had a fall, banged her head, but kept wanting to get up to use the bathroom.

I shared her desire to escape but was not in a position to do anything about it.

Bed three – Quadriplegia – was suffering from something straight off the home page of weird diseases dot com (There is such a site, but there’s nothing actually on it and it’s up for sale. Too weird I guess…)

She had Functional neurological disorder, where the brain seems to have short circuited and forgot what it’s meant to do – like send nerve messages to bits of the body so they can do what they’re supposed to.

Net result here: quadriplegia.

Sharon was another new face in two, facing me.

Welcome to the weird diseases ward, I said. What have you got?

Hashimoto disease.

Night fell. Characters changed.

Down Under Christine became belligerent. Suddenly she was at the bottom of my bed. I must get to the loo.

She fell. Put back to bed. She tried again and again and again.

Bed One Night Stalker was keen to intervene. The only patient able to walk was just in the way.

The staff were herding cats.

Down the hall, a man was demanding: feed me.

Two-tone’s chanting volume had reached multi decibel levels.

Hashimoto is desperate for her to stop.

A nursing assistant tells me: think of the white bear





Disabled in the bathroom


Why accessible advertising needs to match reality

When we’re travelling we all want time to rest and relax after sight-seeing, just like Wat Po’s famous Reclining Buddha in the Thai capital Bangkok. Looks comfy, doesn’t he?

If you’re visiting the city, by the way, please make the effort to go to Wat Po, the Buddha is amazing.

And as the temple is just behind the Grand Palace go see that too. (Just remember to keep your shoulders and legs covered please, you won’t be allowed in otherwise) There’s the Emerald Buddha to see carved out of a single block of stone – the most important Buddhist site in the country.


Right now (December 2016) Thailand is still mourning the loss of King Bhumiphol, so the area around the Grand Palace is particularly busy with mourners paying their respects, even more of a reason to take it easy.

I booked in to the Intercontinental Bangkok, where I last stayed when the Red Shirt protestors were camped out at the Ratchaprasong intersection next to the hotel in 2010.

The hotel is right in the centre of the high-end tourist district. There’s a Hilton next door, a Grand Hyatt and a Renaissance opposite and plenty of shopping at the Central World Mall and many others within a few minutes.

After arrival I had a very quick catch up with some old Al Jazeera colleagues and then checked in. I was looking forward to my room. I wouldn’t be able to use the bath tub (complete with rubber duck for company 😦 ) but I like the hotel.

But here is where my problems began. The disabled friendly room didn’t fit the billing.

A distinct lack of…. drum roll…. appropriate railings.

Any railings?



Memories of  Oh dear, what can the matter be? and Needing a Plan Ermm…  flashed into mind.

There was a marble lip at the entrance to the bathroom too, so the only way in was backwards in reverse. I could tell the ‘accessible’ room had been converted from a regular room, by simply removing the bath tub. An empty space does not an accessible room make. Grrrr

But not all was lost. Enter my two super heroes:


Fairy and Pat save the day

A while later on Facebook I posted:


Before and After

Not sure what I would, or even could, have done without those two ladies. They went out of their way to make my stay safe and secure.

Room sorted, now, how to do a quick drive around the city.

The hotel found a man with a van, and one hydraulic lift later with no traumatic transfers in and out of a taxi necessary, I was set to go.

Now this driver only spoke Thai, which was a bit of a problem when I wanted to ask him: Please turn on the aircon at the back, I’m about to die of heat exhaustion.

Thank God for WhatsApp and a three-way conversation between me, Pat and the driver.

But I felt rather foolish about 20 minutes later when, with the aircon now set to Arctic, I had to tell Pat I was about to die from hypothermia, and could she ask the driver turn the air-con down.

Frost bite averted, I headed back to the hotel to warm up 🙂

You can book this service on +66 901981040 or through Siamraj rental but have a Thai speaker handy to help fix the details of your trip.

Or there is Amnaj Transport on +66 89 150 2000

After my trip I did email the hotel manager to express my thanks for the assistance I received, and offer to give some detailed recommendations about how to make his hotel more accessible. I have yet to receive a reply.

I’ll be blogging later about the value of the disabled dollar, and how places are missing out by not helping people like me out, but out of all the hotels I’ve tried this year just TWO have been truly accessible when I checked in.

I went to Bangkok to visit an old friend Andrew, who is also disabled, to find out how he finds the city to live in.

His comment to me: Imagine a place where they build giant precipice to foil the disabled.

An update after the Christmas holiday. Have a wonderful time wherever you are celebrating. I’m in Bali. (More Misadventures with my wheelchair from there to come.)


Under renovation


Progress at last and other toilet tales

Who knew when I began my journalism career 30 years ago that it would come to this? Writing about the places we all need but don’t like talking about.

This sign covers the entry to the loo at Gleneagles Hospital where I got stuck in September  and had to be rescued. You can read the entry here: Oh dear what can the matter be

I said at the time I was not going to hold my breath at the chances of an upgrade, but wonders never cease. Here we are a few months later. I’ll do an inspection when the work is done.

Meanwhile Prince Court hospital is also beginning work to upgrade its facilities to be more accessible. That after numerous emails complaining. It would be so much easier if the places were built properly in the first place.

Over the weekend I flew to Thailand to catch up with an old friend in Bangkok – more on that coming in a following blog. I travelled up with AirAsia, an airline I don’t normally use. But they fly from the new KLIA2  low cost terminal at Sepang. So what would their facilities be like? (They suck at the main KLIA terminal)


Ta-daah. Woo hoo. No you are not seeing things. There are TWO railings, not none, not one but TWO. Is this a first?

Congrats KLIA2 you’ve constructed a proper disabled friendly toilet.

Mind you it wouldn’t be British of me if I didn’t find something to moan about right? Toilet paper? Is that too much to ask?

The hose didn’t work, and even if it did I’d still need paper to dry my derriere.

So 7/10 for the effort guys, just lacking the finishing touches to avoid a soggy bottom. 🙂

If a picture paints a thousand words…


Whaddya think of this logo?

Pretty cool right?

A disabled icon looking like someone in a wheelchair going places, not just some static body becalmed in the middle of a blue lagoon.

My cousin’s husband Simon just told me about this project Accessible Icon (He’s a graphic designer).

And if an icon is meant to represent something or someone or somewhere isn’t this a great place to start changing attitudes about the disabled?

We aren’t just people stranded in the middle of nowhere unable to do things without assistance.

We can and do get out the house, do the shopping, catch a plane, go places… (oooh scary prospect that one for some (other people) ).

If you’ve got five minutes take a look through the website. I’m not advocating defacing public signage, but what’s that saying about the beat of a butterfly’s wings on one side of the planet becomes a typhoon on the other?