IT is more than 10 years now since the journalist Melanie Reid was paralysed from the shoulders down after falling off a horse and breaking her neck. Suddenly, after four decades in a working body, things had irrevocably changed. And not just for her. For everyone else she met in Glasgow’s spinal unit after her accident.

In A Life Less Vertical on Radio 4 on Monday morning she went in search of the people she shared that ward with; the lawyer who had suffered a spinal stroke, the 15-year-old girl in a wheelchair who had done so much to comfort her, the young woman who grew up to be Britain’s fastest ever female wheelchair racer.


Sammi Kinghorn

What emerged in this powerful, moving programme were stories of physical and mental challenges and grief for the lives lost. But most of all what Reid discovered among her fellow paraplegics was a kind of hard-won resilience, as shown by athlete Sammi Kinghorn or Danielle, the 15-year-old girl who in the years since has become a mum.

Reid is the first to admit how hard she finds the “very small life” she now leads. She voiced her frustrations, regrets and the weight of guilt she holds for the way her accident has transformed the life of her family. But everyone she spoke to her seemed to have found an accommodation with their new worlds, their new bodies.

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In the ward she met Karen, a woman almost the same age as her, who ended up in the unit after falling out of bed. Karen’s matter-of-fact acceptance of her situation was frankly awe-inspiring.

“I really don’t have any independence,” Karen explained at one point. “If I wanted to brush my hair, I need somebody to get the brush and put it in my hand and then I can brush my hair. I try not to think about that. I just try to say, ‘gonnae get me that brush.’”

Listen Out For: The Performer, Radio 4, Thursday, 2.15pm. Stephen Fry returns to radio to give voice to this monologue by William Humble.