A disabled former NHS nurse left suicidal during lockdown says she fears for her mental health following the sudden closure of Shopmobility East Kilbride.
Nicola Hocking told Lanarkshire Live this week how she has been “left housebound” and “lost her lifeline” following the collapse of the “vital” local service.
The 47-year-old said it enabled her to get out of the house and socialize for a few hours once a week.
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“Without this service I am housebound, it’s my lifeline,” Nicola told us.
“The few hours a week Shopmobility enables me to get out helps my mental health so much. When I can’t get out my mental health deteriorates and I struggle every day.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m only young but disabled, there are lots of people like me and pensioners who rely on this service.
“I only go out for a few hours once a week to get my medication and meet a friend for coffee and now I’m completely housebound.”
The former nursing sister worked in a high dependency unit in Hairmyres Hospital for many years, but was forced to take early retirement after a disc in her lower back was damaged during a routine chiropractor appointment.
Despite winning compensation for following legal action, Nicola says the tragic incident “wrecked” her life, with the injury developing into degenerative disc disease.
That has left her with constant severe pain in her lower back and nerve damage in her legs which causes her to fall over.
She moves around with the aid of a zimmer frame at her West Mains home, but can only manage to leave the house once a week with the help of Shopmobility.
Nicola lives alone and has no family to help care for her – she told us how she didn’t cross her front door for two years during the COVID lockdowns and fell into a dark depression.
That led to her being admitted to hospital for suicidal thoughts as her depression deepened because of the isolation experienced amid the pandemic.
Nicola is now terrified of how the loss of Shopmobility will impact her and many other disabled and elderly people in East Kilbride who “rely on the service” for their quality of life.
Shopmobility offers manual and powered wheelchairs and scooters on loan to members of the public with limited mobility, but the service was suspended on May 1.
Health and Active East Kilbride (formerly Older and Active in East Kilbride) told Lanarkshire Live last week the future of the service was uncertain due to a lack of funding.
EK, East Kilbride, where the charity is based, has not yet had its budget confirmed for this financial year leaving the service “unsustainable” for the charity which has been self-funding Shopmobility for several weeks.
Center management told us there are a “huge number of pressures” on the center’s finances, but they are “pushing hard” to find a solution.
Reflecting on the misery lockdown brought her, Nicola added: “COVID hit and I couldn’t go outside for fear of falling over. I didn’t leave the house for two whole years.
“I’d never had depression in my life, but I now know what it’s like not to want to be here. I was suicidal.”
Nicola insists if it hadn’t been for the joy and affection she got from her unusual pets during that time, she wouldn’t be here today.
A proud owner of rescue African pygmy hedgehogs, Nicola credits the spiky creatures as “little lifesavers”.
“What kept me alive during lockdown were my unusual pets”, she said.
“I helped start an online community of 29,000 African pygmy hedgehog owners worldwide, a lot of whom have mental and physical health problems, and it’s literally saved lives – there’s even one living in a bombshelter with my friend in Ukraine.
“The page is fun, educational and there to help people.
“Without having my hedgehogs over lockdown, I probably wouldn’t be here. They’re amazing little creatures.”
She quipped: “I’m known as ‘the Hedgehog Lady’ when I go to the town center!”
Nicola is currently being assessed to see if she’s eligible for her own electric wheelchair which would give her a new lease of life.
But says she is “trying not to think of the worst” while she remains in limbo with the loss of Shopmobility.
She added: “I really hope the situation with Shopmobility can restart very soon. It really makes such a difference to our lives.”
East Kilbride MSP Collette Stevenson called the suspension of the town’s Shopmobility services “extremely disappointing,” and said it is “imperative” that the town center find funding “as a matter of urgency”.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.