Young Quadriplegic Gravely Concerned For Local Surfers’ Wellbeing
24-year-old Quadriplegic Stephanie Johnson claims she is still coming to terms with her recent excursion to Toonalook Point.
Ms Johnson – wheelchair-bound with Spina Bifida since the age of five and whose every living function requires special assistance – was shuttled with two other disabled companions from their austere institution in Wyuna, the region’s nearby capital city, to spend an hour and a half staring out to sea from Toona Headland last Tuesday.
“While it was a treat to get some fresh air, I couldn't help but be concerned and upset at the distress many of the surfers seemed to be in,” she told Ding Alley yesterday.
Ms Johnson, who has no movement in her limbs and isn’t likely to live past 30, tried to be philosophical as she recounted the trauma faced by the plucky surfers who battled the hardships of not getting every wave they wanted.
“There was a lot of swearing and anger out there, hey.
“It was worse than in any hospital ward I’ve ever been in, and I’ve seen a few.
“If there was some way I could have reached out and helped those poor buggers… but I couldn’t – hey, I can't even wipe my own arse!” she chuckled good-naturedly.
Sensing Ding Alley’s discomfort at her arse-wiping quip, Ms Johnson quickly qualified her comments, saying, “Look, I know that’s an insensitive thing to say, given the seriousness of the issue at hand – from what I saw, these surfers desperately need more waves to maintain a dignified quality of life.
“It makes you wonder about all those millions of dollars raised for research into conditions such as Cystic Fibrosis, Multiple Sclerosis – this Covid kerfuffle – when clearly so much suffering is felt so keenly out in the water, right under our noses.
“I think the powers that be should at least try to do something – I don't know, maybe divert some funds away from medical research and towards ramping up artificial reef programs, subsidising wave pools – or at least counselling for those hardest hit by the condition of not getting every wave they want.
“I’m not qualified to say, really, but the key here is not to give up hope – to hang on to the thought that maybe, in this lifetime, by some miracle, this condition can be conquered.
“The funny thing is, I’d be prepared to swap places with a surfer – just for an hour – to give them some relief.
“And this may sound bizarre, but I think I might actually enjoy the experience myself, I don't reckon I’d even feel the need to catch a wave.
“I suspect I’d be quite content to paddle around, with my arms and legs doing what my brain told them to do, (God, imagine that!) feeling the sun and the saltwater on my skin – even doing that duckdive thing through the waves – might make a nice change from the wheelchair and bedsores.”
Worn out from the effort of talking, and processing the spectacle of an endeavour where no-one appeared to ever be satisfied, Ms Johnson indicated she was ready to return to her favourite spot – a large window looking inland to Wyuna’s domestic sprawl – where she would spend the afternoon alone with her thoughts until a rostered carer came to feed, change, and put her to bed.
As she was wheeled away, Ms Johnson implored Ding Alley: “Tell all the surfers out there. Stay strong! It might be hard to imagine, but there’s always someone who’s had less waves than you!”
// DING ALLEY
Ding Alley is illustrator David @macccatoons McArthur and writer Gra Murdoch.