Thursday, December 31, 2015
Christmas is over and soon the year will be over as well. For most people this is a time of happiness, of parties, presents, friends, family and a joyous heart. Here in Denmark we even have the saying that Christmas is the festival of the hearts, but this is not true for everyone, unfortunately.
I come from a very small family. I only have my daughter as well as a sister and three cousins of which two live abroad. My daughter is still underage and live at home, but the rest of the family has never been close and even my sister isn’t interested in celebrating a family Christmas. Because of that I am alone almost all of the Christmas days. Sure, my daughter and I have dinner and give each other presents on Christmas Eve, but then she is off to party with friends on Christmas Day and Boxing Day while I am left home alone.
Before I got ill, it wasn’t like that. Back then we spent the Christmas days with friends, but then in 2004 I got ill with a rare spine disease and in 2013 my knees gave in to osteoarthritis and I lost the ability to walk without the aid of crutches and the invitations stopped coming. The same goes for New Year’s Eve where I am alone as well while my daughter is partying with friends.
Of course I have tried to invite friends for both the Christmas days and New Year’s Eve, but they decline the invitations saying that they don’t have the time or they don’t feel like it, and it makes me really sad. I know I ought to be used to it, because they don’t have time for me throughout the year, either. One friend I haven’t seen for over a year, another for two years and the rest just stop by for an hour once or twice a year.
I don’t quite understand why it has come to this. I am the same as I was before I fell ill. My brains and my heart are the same, it is just my damned legs that won’t work, so why are my friends shunning me? Yes, it’s a bit of a bother that even with the new knee that I got in June, I can’t move without aid, I can’t dance or walk very far, but when we became friends originally, it wasn’t because of my legs, was it? I’m still clever, funny and a good listener, so why have they dumped me? Are they afraid that what I have is contagious? Well, it isn’t!
I only have six friends here in Denmark where I live. Three women and three men. The youngest friendship is 10 years old, the oldest 46 years. I have about thirty friends abroad, where the youngest friendships are eight years old and the oldest 28. I therefore never thought that I would be left on my own if I became ill, but that’s what has happened and it has affected me both physically and mentally. “So what? That’s not my problem!” said one of my friends, but it is. Because we are friends, see?
I often say that I need new friends who are not afraid of my illness and who see me for who I am. It is difficult, though, as I can’t get out much. My plea to you all is therefore to think of your friends and family members who are ill and alone. Let them into your lives instead of turning your backs on them and end their devastating loneliness. Then the entire year would be a festival of hearts.
With the hope of a happy New Year
Saturday, December 12, 2015
The last weekend in November, my daughter and I decided to go to Hamburg, Germany, to visit their Christmas markets. Usually we spend a lot of time in Birmingham, England, but for the past two years I haven’t been able to travel as I have problems with my knees. Back in 2013 my left knee suddenly collapsed under me, so I had to start using crutches in order to walk and after a year on a waiting list I had surgery for a meniscus tear. It didn’t work, though, as I also had osteoarthritis, so the cartilage in the knee was gone and I had to wait another year to get a partial knee replacement. I had this surgery in June this year, but lo and behold, it didn’t help either. Because of the long wait, the nerves in my knee have been damaged and I’m probably never going to be able to walk again without the use of crutches.
Having to live a life with crutches also means having to travel with crutches and that was why we decided that this first trip in two years was to go to Hamburg, Germany, instead of Birmingham, England. The trip to Birmingham takes seven hours, but the one to Hamburg only takes a little over four and we only had to change trains once, whereas we have to change trains three times and fly as well, when we are going to England. That would be too much for my knees, but the Hamburg-trip was just right. Or so we thought.
The hotel was lovely, though, it being the budget design hotel Prizeotel, south of the central station. It was very colourful and modern and the staff very friendly. However, I had to go to bed straight away, as I was totally exhausted from the trip and the next morning at the sumptuous breakfast buffet, I had to have two morphine tablets just to be able to function as not only was my left knee ruined by the exhausting trip the day before, the right one had started acting up with osteoarthritis pain as well!
We had a very lovely lunch in the art hall restaurant “The Cube” with a view of the lake Binnenalster, before we went back to the hotel. It was quite easy to get around, because we had bought a Hamburg Card with which we were able to travel unlimited with busses, S-Bahn and U-Bahn trains. When I had rested my legs, our afternoon trip took us to the “Miniature Wunderland”, the largest model railway in the world. This is probably the most popular attraction in Hamburg and you have to book tickets before your arrival, which we had done. The miniature wonder of a world was amazing, situated on two floors of a building by the harbour. The model itself occupied 1,300 sqm, had 13,000 m track length, 215,000 figurines and 335,000 lights and had a day and night simulation every fifteenth minute.
The gigantic model was divided into several areas like Austria, Switzerland, Germany, the USA and Scandinavia and you could easily spend hours looking at all the lovely, pretty and even funny details. Although the wonderland was wheelchair accessible, you couldn’t really rest on the way through it as there were only chairs in the Germany section and only five in all. Because of this we had to cut our visit short (only an hour) and go back to the hotel.
When I had rested and we had had a bit to eat, we went to the Town Hall Christmas market that is said to be the largest one in Hamburg. I don’t know if that is true, but it was without doubt the prettiest and the most crowded! We arrived in time to see a real live Santa fly with his sleigh and reindeer to the top of the very tall Christmas tree on the town hall square, but that was almost all that we got to see. The market was just so crowded that we could hardly move and there were so many people at the stalls and small shops that you couldn’t even get in. We ended up going back to the hotel early to rest and for me to have more medicine.
The next day I was still in a lot of pain, so like the day before I had to have morphine along with my breakfast in order to make it through the day. We had decided to take the S-Bahn to Beatles Square to see the Beatles statues and walk down the street Grosse Freiheit to see the former Star Club. It was probably a wise move to do this in the morning, because my daughter found the many sex shops, strip clubs and other “adult” entertainment in the street very intimidation and it would have been a million time worse at night. As it was now, we only saw a single group of drunk guys, one dressed in a Heidi-costume complete with yellow braids.
From Grosse Freiheit it was only a short walk on Reeperbahn to the Panoptikum Wax Museum that my daughter wanted to visit. It was a very small museum with a small ground floor room with a balcony where you could see wax figures of people as diverse as Barak Obama, Angelina Jolie, Queen Elizabeth II, Karl Lagerfeld and Toulouse-Lautrec. A staircase from the balcony led upstairs to an even smaller room were you could see Martin Luther, King Henry VIII, Hitler, Einstein, Beethoven and the man with two faces in unholy harmony. It was a bit of a mess to be honest and so was the gathering of figures in the last room of the wax museum: the basement. Here Dracula and Harry Potter were grouped together alongside the Wolfman and a torture scene and opposite you could see Chaplin and Beatles and the world’s fattest man. Michael Jackson and Madonna were there as well as Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and James Dean and of course a lot of German artists. All in all, the museum was much too small and the figures badly made and strangely grouped together, but on the other hand you were offered both a folding chair to take along, so you could sit down on the way and a headphones with a guided tour.
I had to stay at the hotel for the rest of the day as not only did my knees hurt by now, both my thumbs were sprained as well, from the extensive use of the crutches. In the evening we went to the nearby Spitalerstrasse Christmas market, though, and it was very nice and small enough for us to be able to actually buy things in the stalls and have pancakes and candied apples as it wasn’t crowded. It was one of the highlights of the trip.
The next morning, we left early as we had to catch our train back to Denmark at 9 a.m. and this time there was no problems as the train left with German precision. It was a bit strange, though, as half of our compartment was occupied by Syrian refugees and it was truly two worlds colliding. On one hand you had the well-groomed European tourists with their neat suitcases and packed lunches, on the other hand the un-groomed refugees with their sleeping bags and a bread to go around between them. The leader sat opposite me and he had money and a mobile phone much better than mine, but the rest of them looked really tired and scared and it didn’t make things better that the leader went around spraying them with deodorant because the stench of twenty men who hadn’t bathed for months was overwhelming. When we reached the border, the refugees didn’t want to seek asylum in Denmark, so they went on to Sweden whereas we caught a train back home.
When I got home, both my knees were so ruined that so far (2 weeks) I haven’t been able to walk normally on crutches again. All in all, we had a lovely time in Hamburg, though, and it’s a city that I hope to visit again. However, the next time I guess I’ll prefer to fly, no matter that it is a lot more expensive, but at least I would avoid the handicap-unfriendly chaos of the Danish Railways, DSB.