Any journey abroad if you are disabled starts with the nightmare of public transport, followed by the equally worrying experience of flying. I know for me by the time I am sat watching the pre-flight safety instructions I've been through every emotion imaginable. For the entire flight I am gripped by the terror my wheelchair is back at the departure lounge, or that on arrival I may be presented with my wheels smashed into pieces. I sometimes wonder why I bother with flying. This flight was made even more troubling by a series of delays, due to thunder storms, flooding and foreign air traffic control strikes. As we sat for over an hour waiting to take off I thought this trip to Vienna had better be amazing.
Just after take off, fate's fickle hand took our planned trip and threw them out of the pressurised cabin. In an incident on board the aeroplane I fell and badly broke my leg. The plane was diverted to Amsterdam, I was rushed off to hospital and a saga was set in motion. A saga that was made all the more nerve wrecking by the events unfolding back in the UK. You see the day I broke my leg was the same day the UK voted to break it's ties with the EU.
While I was being treated my amazing wife sorted the issue of payment thanks to my EHIC card. This is the reciprocal agreement between EU members to allow emergency medical treat to be paid for. As the X-rays, casts and a hospital bed passed one after the other, everything was covered by one of the benefits of EU membership. I went to sleep in the ultra modern Dutch hospital ward as a part of the EU. I awoke to find that I no longer had this status. As this sunk in my wife now tried to get our travel insurance to cover our flights home and I used my phone's translator app to find out the Dutch for "can I have a bed pan".
Luckily our insurance understood that a broken leg is not a pre-existing condition, sometime that haunts all disabled travellers and a key reason why the EHIC allows many of us to travel within Europe. As the results of the referendum became clear to us out of the UK, with it being a close run thing of 51.5% in favour of leaving and 48.5% wanting to remain, Diane and I were witnessing an element of the EU project that wasn't even mentioned during the campaign by either side. What will the vote to leave mean for disabled and older people travelling within the EU? Whatever it will be yet another topic to be negotiated between the UK and the EU, and something that really impacts on everyone. It is obvious the UK travel insurance rates for people travelling to the EU will now go up considerably, as it will need to cover many of the costs currently paid for by the NHS under the EHIC agreement. What was worse was as the first day of Brexit went on, the Brexit campaigners began going back on the promises they had made. The £350M per week would not be going to the NHS, they will not be able to cut immigration and it the UK was not going to bee able to trade within the EU trade zone without the free movement of people. It was also becoming clear that the other EU member states were not going to be as favourable towards negotiating with the UK as Boris, Gove and Farage had promised. But I was too busy focusing on getting home to really worry about the news that the pound and the stock market were in free fall, or that yet again our electorate had been swayed by lies and half truths.
The journey home captured the truth of the UK in microcosm. In Amsterdam we were ably assisted from stepping wheel into the clean and modern airport all the way to the plane yet on arrival in the UK I was left on the plane so long that they were about to board for the next flight. No one had noted I was in plaster and so needed a wheelchair that allowed me to keep my leg straight out in front of me. My luggage had been lost, the airport was dirty and falling apart, and the guy assisting us did nothing but moan until he said goodbye. After a couple of hours we were loaded into a UK ambulance, which was much scruffier than those we had experienced in Holland, and soon I was in bed. The next day we went to A&E, only to find that every member of the medical staff who helped me were from outside the UK, and my surgeon was actually Dutch and the ambulance drivers were Polish.
I voted to remain, due to many personal benefits from EU membership and a strong belief that the country as a whole reaped many rewards from membership of the union. I have been left heart broken that so many people voted to leave but with campaigns on both side of the argument ignoring major issues like health and insurance when travelling it seems to me that it wasn't an informed choice. More a knee jerk response fuelled by jingoistic rhetoric. My leg will repair itself, and I only hope our country can too. I do know my leg will never be as strong as it was before the break, and I worry the UK will be the same. This break from the EU will only leave us weaker, but just how weak we will only see as the future unfolds..
(Please forgive any spelling or grammatical mistakes, as I'm writing this from my sick bed. Broken bones make you feel really awful)