Story by Karen James

The past 12 months have been very challenging for all of us in a number of ways. The world has been extremely different, with a lot of changes in how we do things – using masks, sanitiser, social distancing, working from home, and limited or no holidays.

I keep thinking what I would have done without social media, Zoom, Messenger, Spotify, Netflix… and of course, online shopping!

Before Melbourne’s second wave, I had just come out of the Austin Hospital after a very long stay from a pressure injury. It was so nice being back home after spending such a long time at the hospital.

After returning home, things were suddenly very different for me. I needed carers to assist me with everyday activities while my skin was still healing. And then the second lockdown came around because of Covid-19.

The restrictions were so strict that we could not have any visitors to our house, hospitality and businesses were closed, and we were only allowed outside for one hour per day.

I live on my own, so having carers around helped to keep me grounded and feeling “not so isolated” during this difficult time. It was so important to have distractions.

During my normal life, I volunteer at the AQA office, so I was fortunate to already have this connection with AQA and Spire. My main role has been assisting with the Community Network meetings. 

At AQA, I was aware of the Peer Support program but did not have any involvement with it. At the Austin, one of the peer support mentors used to visit me regularly. 

This mentor was wonderful to talk to as she could relate to the spinal-cord injury issues from a personal perspective. I certainly appreciated this program whilst in hospital.

One of the initiatives AQA adopted during COVID-19 was to have Zoom Social meetings on a Friday afternoon for mentors, and as I was a volunteer, I was included too. 

These Zoom sessions have been a fabulous support for me, having regular social catch-ups with a great group of like-minded people. It was very relaxed and we would have our drinks and snacks in front of us whilst chatting. Our conversations would range from what we have been up to during the week, to travel adventures, politics (yes that was always interesting!), COVID-19, and SCI issues to name a few.

Another event that AQA undertook during COVID-19 was to have the What’s Out There (WOT) day on Zoom. The topic for one session was Ageing and SCI. There was a panel of people with SCI sharing their experiences about getting older and the changes occurring with them.

Spinal physiotherapists were also part of the panel, giving their insight and knowledge about ageing and our bodies, particularly when we are unable to do things like we used to when we were younger. It was a very interesting and thought provoking session.

The AQA Community Network meetings have been another Zoom favourite of mine. Activities included all participants emailing photos, which were compiled into a PowerPoint presentation ready to share with each other during the meeting.

The themes of the photos were: One memory of 2020; What I am looking forward to in 2021; What things help you or have special meaning in your lives.

Another activity that has been wonderful for my mental health during COVID-19 restrictions is Dance&Roll. Dance&Roll was also conducted on Zoom during lockdown, and will be continued throughout 2021 on Zoom and in person.

The dancing is great with lots of fun, energy, movement and music. The program is suitable for all abilities, and has been very positive for me particularly during lockdown. I have joined Dance&Roll again this year.

On reflection, our world is now different and hopefully we will get on top of COVID-19. Technology has certainly helped me stay more connected so that I don’t feel as isolated. 

The skills that I have learnt both personally and with technology will assist me in the long term.

Without getting too philosophical, I think we all have the potential to learn to be more resilient and take on new and different things in our lives … and come out on the other side okay.

  • March 30, 2021

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