As an able-bodied person I very rarely think of life from the perspective of a person with a disability. I walk the streets without noticing the 5cm lip of the pavement hitting the road or the step into a shop that makes access impossible for a person in a wheelchair.
For Mullumbimby resident and longtime Echo employee Felicity Gaze, since she became wheelchair bound two years ago, these are everyday barriers to her living her everyday life. The potholes are so bad in her street she can’t even take her wheelchair along the stretch of road where she used to walk her beloved dog Arnie. The pavements are so bad in Mullumbimby she can’t travel into town without a vehicle.
Let me tell you something about Felicity or, as we know her at The Echo, ‘Flick’. She’s a straight shooter. She doesn’t feel sorry for herself. She gets on with life.
It’s her open-hearted no-bullshit approach that made her one of the most loved people at the Echo office. With 20 years as Echo receptionist or, as she called herself, ‘the door bitch’, Flick held the wisdom of who was who in the community, their story, their relationship with the paper. She gave people a sense of continuity between the Nick Shand years and The Echo of today.
She and her small dog Arnie (who still features in most issues) were such an integral part of The Echo it was hard to imagine the place being able to operate without her. She was irreplaceable. So was Arnie.
‘He never got a cent!’ she laughs.
In 2015 Felicity had to retire owing to a lack of strength in her legs. The Echo office is located at an older- style Mullumbimby premises where there is no disabled access and she could no longer make the climb to the front counter.
Pain was no stranger for Flick, who had been suffering with fibroymyalgia for more than five years. But what she was experiencing in 2015 was different.
‘No-one could pinpoint what it was, but I was losing the strength in my legs. I was using a stick to walk because I had lost a lot of movement, particularly in my right leg.
‘I was tripping over a lot. My daughter insisted I be admitted to Tweed Heads hospital for further investigation. The next day, June 1, 2015, I woke up to get out of bed and I couldn’t walk.’
Felicity has not walked since.
Most people’s reaction would be self-pity. To ask ‘why me?’ But that’s out of character for Felicity.
‘I just accepted it,’ she says. ‘It’s a funny thing, I don’t get depressed, I get angry. So I just got on with it.’
Since then that’s exactly what she has done. After months in rehab both at Murwillumbah hospital and Ryde in Sydney, Felicity returned to her home in Poplar Street in Mullumbimby, where she has lived for 25 years, and with the support of her partner John she went about living her life as ‘normally’ as she could.
She reads, she plays Scrabble, she spends time in her garden where she admires the huge variety of bird life (it’s her desire to capture them by drawing and painting) and she does all her own housework.
‘It’s good for my core strength,’ she laughs.
While Felicity was making progress towards her goal of being able to do a ‘standing transfer’ she recently suffered another unexplained setback with total loss of mobility from the waist down and spinal pain. This meant another admission to Gold Coast Hospital where she completed a plasma exchange and is back at the Murwillumbah Hospital rehabilitation unit.
In order for Felicity to continue her rehab therapy, to access her community and to visit her family, she needs a wheelchair transport vehicle. Her deteriorating condition means she can no longer transfer easily from chair to car.
‘I am getting weaker, I am 68; I am not going to get stronger’ she says.
No-one plans for becoming a paraplegic. Her children have set up a MyCause campaign to raise $60,000 for a wheelchair-accessible vehicle and carport conversions for all-weather access.
They don’t want anything flashy, and stress that funds raised will improve their mother’s access and quality of life.
This is not something Felicity is entirely comfortable with.
She’s not someone who is comfortable asking for money. She’s usually the person who would be giving it.
‘I think there are a lot more people more worthy than myself’ she says. ‘I am very humbled and moved by what’s been donated so far.’
If it were left to Felicity she wouldn’t be mounting this campaign. It’s just not her style.
But it’s not just left to her. Her family, her friends, her workmates and her community are rallying around because we believe there is nothing more worthy than giving someone what they need to live a fulfilling life.
Especially a loveable old bitch like Flick.
Please donate here.