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Book review: Looking up

Disabled father, Bryan Scatchard reviews Looking up: a humorous and unflinching account of learning to live again with sudden disability, by Tim Rushby-Smith. 2008, London, Virgin Books. ISBN 9780753513866. Price: £7.99

Tim Rushby-Smith started 1 April 2005 having breakfast with his wife, Penny, discussing the day's work in front of them. Penny was five months pregnant, Tim was a fit, 6ft 2ins landscape gardener. Having just returned from Australia, life was good and disability was something that happened to other people.

Some 45 minutes after climbing a tree for some pruning, Tim falls six metres and lands on his back. Still alive but in severe pain, he is rushed to hospital, is told that his back is broken and that he will never walk again as he has a T12 spinal cord injury. He is now paraplegic.

This is a ‘warts and all’ account of Tim's journey from his initial hospital treatment in London, life at Stoke Mandeville Spinal Unit, rehabilitation, the arrival of the baby and a trip back to Australia — some 18 months in all. It is based on Tim's actual communiqués via e-mail to friends and family, combined with Tim's recollections of some of the more personal moments.

He leaves no stone unturned with what at times is a startling self-honesty that leaves the reader in no doubt that there will only be one winner — Tim. Not only is he facing the drugs, pain, people and monotony of hospital life, there is the one appointment that can not be postponed, the birth of Penny and Tim's first child.

There are many things that I like about this book. Tim doesn't take the ‘try this tactic, it will help’ approach. He simply tries to take you in to his new world, a world where he is at times completely lost and he admits it. Tim doesn't pull any punches in conveying just how difficult he found adjusting both mentally and physically to his new life. This aspect is blunt, yet Tim has a nice touch with humour. I found myself chuckling and feeling slightly guilty considering the subject matter.

He realises that his future needs a new focus as his old life hadn't featured sudden disability in any form. He looks to other paraplegics and soon identifies those from whom he can learn. This aspect of learning is vital to Tim as he has to adapt to simple everyday acts with new methods. He attends classes on managing changes to his body and mind. He masters new skills and takes up the challenges of sport.

Image is important to Tim and he resolves to take the best possible sitting position in his wheelchair to try and retain his ‘six foot two-ness’. The arrival of their baby brings more challenges and for the first time Tim realises that ‘his family’ is no longer the one of his childhood but that of Penny and the baby. He experiences the nappies, crying, giggles and crawling just the same as every new father.

Tim was an ordinary bloke who went through an extraordinary event and dealt with it the only way he could to get back to being ordinary, albeit in a changed sense. Through his determination, pragmatism, and the support of his wife, family and friends he has found a new normal which enables him to move on and live his life to the full.

First published DPPI Journal, Issue 63: Autumn 2008

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