Head over heels in love and pain

March 29, 2012

What with the dancing, Jewish weddings can be bad for your health. But my wife Rachel and I didn't expect to end up in wheelchairs for our honeymoon. We are a reasonably fit couple, but married life didn't begin well in that regard.

The day started safely and conventionally. Rabbi Alan Plancey, who officiated at my barmitzvah 25 years ago, led a wonderful, inclusive service at Elstree and Borehamwood Synagogue. You might have thought that the four other rabbis who honoured us with their presence would have offered some divine protection.

After the chuppah, my new wife and I made our grand entrance. The band played a medley of classic Hebrew tunes. Like many grooms (and unlike my risk-seeking wife) I'd been nervous about being thrust into a chair and raised above the crowd, but that went without a hitch. I started to panic when I was manoeuvered into the middle of a tablecloth and hurled up and down by 50 people - effectively a handheld trampoline without a safety net. But, again, I survived.

Then the tablecloth was twisted into a makeshift rope. Rachel started skipping with glee. I skipped over the first time. I made the second jump. But on the third, my feet were caught and carried 180 degrees above my head. I had no time to react so I broke the fall with my head. I was knocked unconscious for several seconds.

Not surprisingly for a Jewish wedding there were 20 opinionated doctors on hand - including my new father-in-law and new sister-in-law. Opinion was divided: half demanded I go to hospital, others shrugged and said, "he'll be fine".

I managed to stay upright for my speech

Fortunately, I seem to have a thick skull. I was groggy for an hour-and-a-half and have no memory of certain conversations from that period, but I managed to stay upright for my speech.

During the sheva brachot, our nuptial bliss was compromised by bad headaches so Rachel insisted I have a brain scan. They found nothing of note. (Rachel says they found no brain at all.) But, as I was leaving the hospital, I phoned to say I was fine - and slipped, flew into the air and twisted my ankle badly. It swelled like a grapefruit and, after she discovered I couldn't walk, Rachel booked a wheelchair to get us through Gatwick. I wasn't too worried. I reckoned it would ensure an upgrade.

The week worsened. Newlyweds get plied with champagne, but I dropped one on my other foot, rendering both legs useless for more than pathetic limping. And, finally, the night before we escaped on honeymoon, Rachel was knocked off her bike by an idiot opening a car door. At the airport, she went to fetch my wheelchair, but her knee kept giving way. Asked whether the chair was for her or her husband she burst into tears and said: "Both. And we're on honeymoon…"

We sat glumly in the departure lounge, both in wheelchairs. We discovered that pushing ourselves around Duty Free wasn't easy - one of us was supposed to be able to wheel the other. So, in full view of everyone else, we stood up and limped away from the chairs shouting "Hallelujah". People thought they'd witnessed a bona fide miracle.

There was no special treatment by the airline, despite pleading pathetically: "We're on honeymoon and we're injured". The string of calamities hadn't quite finished. On our first night, we were staying in a glorious new hotel in Quito, bedecked with amazing furniture and artwork. The lights were off and I head Rachel scream. She had marched into a heavy wooden chest and scraped her leg so deeply she still has the scars. And then, two weeks into our trip, we were walking through road-works. I turned around to check Rachel was following, only to find that she had disappeared from view, falling waist-deep into a ditch and scarring her other leg.

Does married life get less painful? In June we're cycling from Land's End to John O'Groats with 20 rabbis - aiming to raise £100,000 for charity - and this has not been the greatest start to our training. We have three months to get fit, avoid acrobatic dancing, falling champagne bottles and ditches.

Michael Leventhal is the founder and director of the Gefiltefest London Jewish Food Festival

Last updated: 6:50pm, March 29 2012