Tuesday, October 19

“Thanks for your help, Sticky”: Michael Rosen on learning to walk again after Covid | Michael Rosen

It was the tweet that let the world know that Michael Rosen was back in shape and improving. “My wheelchair days are over. Stay now. Sticky McStick Stick “ wrote in June of last year, having contracted Covid-19 in March and spent 48 days in intensive care.

Now the poet and former children’s laureate has written a poignant picture book about Sticky Mcstickstick and his long battle with Covid in an NHS rehab room last summer.

book cover
Michael Rosen’s Sticky McStickStick is out in November (Walker Books, £ 12.99) Photography: Walker Books

Illustrated to great comic effect by Tony Ross, Sticky McStickstick: The Friend Who Helped Me Walk Again details Rosen’s transformation from a man who couldn’t stand on his own to a grandfather who walks proudly home, into the open arms of his loving family. It is dedicated to his wife and children, and to “all the doctors, nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists and hospital workers who saved my life.”

The author of 75 years of Let’s go bear huntinghe said to Observer: “It’s a way to start a conversation with children, across generations, about that cycle of disease and try to recover.”

He hopes the book, to be published in November, will help children, parents, and grandparents battling long-term Covid and other debilitating illnesses. “One of the things we always tell kids is: try harder. We present you great sporting successes; We are all seeing them now at the Olympics. But I think if I were to list my greatest physical accomplishments in life, one of them would be learning to walk again this past year. This book is a reminder that there are very, very ordinary accomplishments that are also amazing. “

She found her rehab experience “absolutely infantilizing,” so it made sense to write a children’s book about it. “Six months earlier, I was lecturing on narratology at a university. And now, here is someone who says, ‘Michael, drop the balloon’ and I say ‘eeurgh’, and the physical therapist says, ‘come on, Michael, you can do it.

Pages, with drawings by Tony Ross, from Rosen's new children's book, Sticky McStickstick: The Friend Who Helped Me Walk Again
Pages, with drawings by Tony Ross, from Rosen’s new children’s book, Sticky McStickstick: The Friend Who Helped Me Walk Again Photography: Walker Books

On another occasion, he was relearning how to get up from a bench and was told to put his hands behind him and his nose on his toes. “As a child, for the next several weeks, I kept repeating myself: hands behind, nose on toes, hands behind, nose on fingers.” And he adds, in horror: “I should have put that in the book, right?” A few hours later, he e-mails to say that ‘nose over toes’ has been added, at the last minute, to the story: “We’ve squeezed it. It’s in!”

As Rosen begins to regain his strength, Ross’s illustrations show him circling the hospital in his wheelchair. “I remember a nurse saying, ‘Slow down, Michael, slow down,’” she recalls.

Then he is told to start using a cane. “I was scared. I thought I was going to fall,” he writes in the book. But soon, he came to love his Sticky McStickstick. “It helped me walk.”

In all, Rosen spent 40 days in an induced coma, and when he came out he couldn’t even feed himself. “I sat there waiting for someone to put a spoon in my mouth. I really felt like a one-year-old. “

Writing about his “childhood” experiences in the rehab room has helped him come to terms with the trauma of what happened to him, he says. He has lost most of his sight in his left eye and most of his hearing in his left ear, and he still has bouts of dizziness. “You realize that you have changed a lot, fundamentally, physically, and so on. And that life has changed, for all of us. That seems to take a lot of work. You have to work a lot mentally, thinking about your fragility and fragility “.

You have discovered that you can sit in a room and think about this. “I have to make an effort not to let that drag me down or stop me from doing things.” He fears that many others will find themselves in the same situation. “Sometimes it feels like the country has experienced some kind of war. There have been no guns, bullets, or bombs, but the pandemic has had a huge and profound effect on hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people. It is not a war, but it is a trauma, personal, for many people, but also social ”.

Although he no longer needs your support, Rosen keeps Sticky McStickstick. When he sees his old friend watching him as he walks out the door, it is a poignant reminder of his difficult journey, “the wonderful people” who care about him and all that he has accomplished. “He is my reward.”


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