‘Lockdown’ - a word that probably wasn’t a word in our daily vocabulary until this year.  Now it seems to be used in every conversation we have!  “How’s lockdown treating you?”, “Are you getting out for your daily exercise?” Or even, “You’ve definitely got a lockdown haircut that needs sorting out ASAP!”

We’ve all been living life in limbo, but our experiences are all slightly different.  Here’s a little bit about me and my time served in lockdown.

My name is Matthew Bassett and in 2011 at the age of 19, I acquired a spinal injury after diving into a wave and hitting a sandbank. The accident left me tetraplegic and having to use a wheelchair to get around and although I’ve always been positive and kept my head up most of the time I do, like everyone, get down days.  Having a comfortable fitting chair, accessible home and correct care plan has given me the independence I have needed to find a job and get on with my life.

Since having my injury life has thrown many opportunities my way and in 2015, I joined Aspire to be the Independent Living Advisor at Rookwood Hospital in Cardiff.  In this role, I meet patients in the spinal unit at the very beginning of their rehabilitation and I am able to provide help, support and guidance at a time that can seem very uncertain.  After spending 10 months in rehab myself, and pushing for a more independent life ever since, I can also talk about my own experiences and share tips and tricks I have learnt on the way with the patients.

Matthew outside a pub

This year will be my fifth year with Aspire and I thoroughly enjoy my job.

I love that I get to meet many patients and hopefully encourage them to see that life is still out there to be loved and lived!

Since lockdown hit, the job has changed quite a lot - no more visits to the hospital and instead having to rely on Zoom calls.  What even is Zoom? I thought.  I bet we all thought the same!

After being on furlough for a couple of weeks I was back to work, but from home.  Together with the Back Up Trust, we organised fortnightly peer support live sessions with patients in Rookwood using the wonder of video calling.  It’s a fantastic way to chat with them and introduce the charities to new patients. It has had other benefits too as it’s an opportunity for new patients who have to be in quarantine for 14 days to meet the other inpatients too.  As well as the video sessions, we held a quiz a few weeks ago for the patients on the ward - Male v Female, and although it was a close-run thing, the men did take the win this time.  I have been speaking to one of the other spinal centres about having an inter-SIC quiz in the future which could be fun.

It’s been a very different way of working and a way that does feel strange to me as I am a person who thrives on face to face contact. I feel that it’s important for patients to see how I am in the chair and how I deal with daily challenges such as picking up something of off the floor.  When I am in Rookwood, I am able to demonstrate techniques that may be useful in the future.

I do feel that, at the moment, patients could be missing out on valuable information if they don’t have the technology to join in the Zoom calls, or even for newly patients to meet someone who has been through rehab and still living an active lifestyle.  Sometimes in this job, actions really do speak louder than words.  I hope that in the near future I will be allowed to go back to Rookwood and meet patients at a distance.  But until then I will continue to Zoom and be ready to talk whenever they need to.

Matthew on his handbike

In between working and attempting to complete Netflix, I am getting out for more exercise than ever!  A few years ago, I bought a hand bike that attaches to my wheelchair.  I rarely use it but since lockdown hit, I’ve made the most of the lovely weather and been getting out around Cardiff Bay.  It’s a great cycle of about six miles and sometimes I will do a few laps to get a good workout.  Being able to have the time to exercise has been so important for my mental health and I always feel lighter and brighter after breathing in the sea air.  I understand that we will be living in this Covid world for a while but a bit of normality seems to be creeping back bit by bit. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been out for a couple of meals and enjoyed that first sip of a freshly poured beer!

I am looking forward to working on the ward again and meeting patients face to face, hopefully this won’t be long!  And then I’ll book a holiday on a beach somewhere - I think we all deserve one.

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