Conference presentation on wheels

As you are probably aware.. I am awaiting the results to my masters dissertation, and trying to write a paper during my Brain Moments between the bouts of more usual symptom-induced brainlessness! The research I conducted for my dissertation is very important to me as I wanted to conduct something that could prove useful to my fellow CRPS patients. And I was ever so pleased to get the opportunity to share my research, my knowledge and my enthusiasm with fellow research students at a recent conference: the Wessex Branch of the British Psychological Society Annual Student Conference 2013 which was held at Bournemouth University on the south coast of the UK.

The conference is open to undergraduate and postgraduate researchers, and the organisers went through the applications, allocating students to either make an oral presentation or a poster presentation of their work.

I was allocated a time slot amongst the afternoon presentations. All of the postgraduate research talks were helpfully timetabled to be presented in the same lecture hall. This was wonderful as so many of the postgrad’ research projects overlapped in some way with my own, so I was looking forward to meeting other researchers with interests that intertwined with mine.

First hurdle: Planning how I was going to get through the day and, of course, the travel arrangements were a massive part of that. I worked out that as it was a weekend, and if I took my wheelchair with me, I could drive there and get through the day as coherently as possible. The problem was that I did not know how much the pain or the dysautonomia would flare and so I had no idea whether I would be safe to drive home again afterwards.

On a scale of one to batshit

This was solved my my outstanding Local Friend who offered to drive me, my wheelchair and my collection of pain management paraphernalia, to and from Bournemouth Uni’. Wow! That sure made a difference.

The usual concerns of accessibility were all answered beforehand because the university has an outstanding website with comprehensive disabled access information. All I had to do was check which building the event was in and loh!, I could access all the information I needed to plan my levels of needs for the day at just the click of a button. I was super impressed. 😀

I may have puzzled some of the attendees in my usual oddly disabled way, of course! I walked in pushing my wheelchair, then I left it to one side to get a cup of tea and chat with a couple of random friendly faces about research stuff. 🙂  I wheeled the chair into the main lecture hall and went to sit on a seat, realised that the wheelchair would be far more comfortable with the seat cushion and turned back round to go and sit in it for the official start and introductions. By this point there may have been some attendees a little bemused by the miraculous walking wheelchair-lady, hehe, I am a living education, me! I probably only puzzled them further when I got up and walked out to the foyer during the break to grab another cuppa! But that was a mistake on my part as the pain levels began increasing more rapidly after I did that so I became wheeled for much of the rest of the day.

The presentations were great, some of them were great fun, too. Two undergrads stood out amongst the various presenters, one for their sheer enthusiasm and knowledge on the subject, as well as a creative way of engaging the audience and getting their main initial point across, the other for an intriguing study which resulted in an unexpected outcome which opens up the possibility for further research into a very cool discovery. (I’ll write about this last one sometime, the researcher has very kindly sent me a copy of the main details and some related research links).

The afternoon was extra fab as the other researchers’ chosen areas overlapped with my own, and postgrad’ researchers tend to be pretty engaging simply owing to their interested immersion in the subject matter. I was scheduled 4th in the small lecture hall at 2.15pm – so thankfully not during the graveyard shift when conference attendees tend to drift off as a result of information overload! Although, to be honest, no postgrad’ was going to nod off in there as we were all so interested in each others’ work. 😀

I’m not quite sure when I stopped fretting about presentations. I used to go bright, neon, ear-glowingly red. I had also learnt never to hold a bit of paper or to accept a plastic cup of water as anything in my hands would get shaken with the nerves! Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s familiarity with and enthusiasm for the subject matter, or maybe it’s as a result of learning to be ‘me’ in the face of whatever this disability (or disabilities I guess) throw at me. Maybe it’s all of them. Who knows. But I wanted to present that research, I was proud to be there, I wanted the listeners to be interested, to have their minds intrigued by what I was talking about, to take some smattering of knowledge away with them that day from my fifteen minutes chatting to them.

I was in my wheelchair for the talk. I hadn’t drunk enough fluids during the morning and my body had got a bit near-fainty, so sitting down meant that my blood wouldn’t pool as much so I should make a little more sense (hopefully 😉 )! So I wheeled on over to the front and got my memory stick plugged into the lecture halls sci-fi console!…

Sneaky pic' through the door glass by Local Friend!

Sneaky pic’ through the door glass by Local Friend!

I talked about CRPS, what the letters stood for, and what the words mean, why it’s more complex than that. I explained CRPS in basic systemic terms. I nattered a little more about the neuropsych’ aspects as my audience was comprised of psych’ research students so I knew they’d be interested. I showed them the McGill pain scale, and told them what my research was about, why I was conducting it. I nattered away and wished I had more time. I could so easily have gone over time. Postgrad’ research is a whole different kettle of fish, as an undergrad’ I would still have been nervous, apologetic and glad when it was over. As a postgrad’ I was earnest, enthused, and cramming in as much as I could in an accessible manner! Oh I like this change. I like this new daring. More please! Hehe

What a lovely audience clapping at the end of it. How lovely of the undergrad’ helpers to tell me that they found it really interesting and wished that they could have listened to me for longer. Thanks girls, x

Immediately after the presentation, notes still on my lap, flask of water clutched between my knees!

Immediately after the presentation, notes still on my lap, flask of water clutched between my knees!

My Local Friend had arrived while I was presenting and I was too hurtee to face getting into the car. I needed some physio’. The rep from the student engagement team of Bournemouth Uni was superb in her support all day long. A lovely lady determined to make the day the best it could be, she kindly offered me an empty lecture theatre where I could do some stretches and physio’ in. So I wheeled off into the big empty space, stretched a bit, ate some chocolate (totally required, right?!) and practiced some Tai Chi whilst my friend sat halfway up the seating area taking random piccies of my physio’ oddness!

Conference, Tai Chi

Seeing as I’d stayed later than intended I was encouraged to linger long enough for the awards ceremony. I hadn’t even taken on board that there would be awards, I was thrilled enough with the day as it was, but what a lovely way to bring people together at the end of the day and relive the presentations to vote for our faves.

I got my certificate from the British Psychological Society for being a presenter that day. I also got surprised when I was called up to receive the award for 3rd place in the post-graduate presentations. Not bad for my first ever research presentation, eh?! Yay!

That was my conference on wheels. My adventure made possible thanks to my crazy chauffeur who decided that giving up his Saturday to drive me to and from was a just cause. Thank-you Local Friend!

And thank-you Magic Dude for looking after me when I got home after my long day, x

I’ve been asked if I would present again next year! Wow, fabulous! I’m not sure if I’d be eligible, mind you, as I may not be a student by then (depending on whether my brain can work through the complex organisation of PhD possibilities in time), but if they still want me then I’ll be there. Somehow. I’ll be there. 😀