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TX: 17.05.04 - MIK SCARLET’S DILEMMA – TO WALK OR NOT TO WALK?

PRESENTER: DIANA MADILL



THE ATTACHED TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY

MADILL
Mik Scarlet is an actor and television presenter and also a wheelchair user of some 23 years. He's a bit of a medical guinea pig too - the first person in England to have a collapsed spine through a tumour, which led to a groundbreaking operation a year ago resulting in more feeling in his legs. Now he has an opportunity to have another operation which might well get him walking again. But he's not sure he wants to go through with it. Why the hesitation?

SCARLET
The thing about walking is, is that it would be at least another five years of my life before I could even know if I would be able to then start walking about normally - it's quite a long sort of term thing, it's not like they can kind of go shazaam with an operation and I'm running about. And really I've been in a wheelchair now for 23 years and it's been 23 fantastic years, where I've had loads of fun. And the last year having to deal with the medical profession was not that good, I didn't really enjoy being in hospital much and I don't know if I could face five years in hospital, I'd be sort of in my mid 40s and I'd have to sort of almost entirely rebuild my life at a time when my life is just starting to take shape and …

MADILL
But you are going to get more independence, wouldn't you, isn't that one of the likely results or outcomes of this operation ultimately?

SCARLET
Well I think it's a big myth you see, I think that people, especially able bodied people, think that people in wheelchairs don't have independence, I couldn't be anymore independent. I mean the only things I can't really do is walk up steps. And with the way the laws are changing at the moment hopefully there will come a time where there won't be steps everywhere and then my independence won't be at all affected by being in a wheelchair. So then it's just a case of the health benefits of standing up, which there are some, the human body is obviously not designed to sit down all the while, so it can save you from various sort of infections and stuff like that. But other than that is really is just a case of, I don't know, wanting your trousers to hang nicely and sort of - I mean I've never been very sporty, I've never been - all the things that kind of walking might make fun. And also I've been very worried about the fact that society tends to always focus on the fact that disability one day will be cured and it won't. At the end of the day there will always be someone that has an accident, or there'll be a new illness or a new disease that people haven't cured yet. And we must start admitting that disabled people are as much a part of society and everyone else. And no one goes around and says well one day there'll cure being black but yet that's what disabled people face everyday is that attitude that oh well you'll be alight, in the future they'll cure you. And this …

MADILL
But isn't that something that some people want to clutch at and they want to see and hope for? I mean you look at Christopher Reeve who broke his spine in a riding accident and he desperately wants to be cured, he wants to be back on his feet again, he wants to be able bodied again. People really aim for that.

SCARLET
Yeah there are some people. I mean I think the thing is Christopher Reeve and people like him actually do a great disservice to disabled people because he continues to sort of field this myth that one day he will walk and he won't because the severity of his injury will be incurable because his body will not be able to repair itself. I'm very lucky, I've - now my spine was never broken, it was crushed and fortunately the nerves that we all thought had been irreparably crushed weren't, they were just sort of being squashed - it's a bit like a sort of trapped circuit - and they've come back. But even then I won't ever be able to run around and play football with David Beckham, I will be a very sort of slow walker, it might be a bad limp. So …

MADILL
Does that matter?

SCARLET
Well it does matter if you want to enter into society. I mean when I first went into a wheelchair there was great moves to try and get me up on callipers, which are kind of like leg splints, and on crutches and I used to fall over all the while. And so going into social environments was terrifying because if anyone pushed me by accident over I went. Whereas now I'm on four wheels you have to really take a good run at me to get me to fall out of it. And so you're much more independent and much more confident in the social environment. And I think that if I could walk perfectly, I mean - and if it wasn't like years and years and years of trying before we knew then yeah, but I don't think that the idea of being able to walk is as important as being happy.

MADILL
In a way do you see walking as good for your body but not good for your mind?

SCARLET
Yes, I think that's exactly it, that's the problem I've got is that this Thursday I go to see my surgeon and we'll talk about it then at depth. I know that as I get older the stresses and the pressure on my body will increase and not walking can cause problems as I get older, I might have problems with my shoulders and stuff like that. And so walking would alleviate that pressure and it would also possibly improve other parts of my life. But I'm so happy and so together with myself that I'm not sure if I could mentally cope with having to relearn who I am. I also have a huge problem with the idea of reinforcing a stereotype that I myself have so hated in other people - I've so hated these programmes continuously about being cured and perfection and one day we'll cure it all and gene therapy and I always want everyone to just get on with each other and be happy with who you are.

MADILL
And that was Mik Scarlet. And you can read more about Mik's dilemma on the BBC disability website Ouch!, which you can access via the You and Yours web address.

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