Monday, March 26, 2018

Everyone has a handicap—mine’s just obvious

I used to be depressed when I went to a certain assisted living facility in town. Everywhere I turned, people wandered the lobby and halls on walkers or oxygen. Not for me, I thought smugly. Now I’m on a walker.

Acquaintances who don’t know my story try to encourage me that I’ll eventually walk unassisted. “Baby steps,” said one friend recently. I’ve gotten so I bring the truth right up front: my surgeon says the walker is my friend for the rest of my life. My balance is not good, and he’d rather have me protected than risk another fall that might do irreparable damage. He tells me I don’t have to explain that my surgery was way different than an ordinary hip replacement, so I’ll spare you that tale. Just take my word for it, please.

Yes, it’s a nuisance. I can’t jump up from my desk and run to get something from the kitchen. At parties, I can’t mingle and meet. I’m relegated to a seat where I hope people will come to greet me. It leads to some wallflower moments. There are places that I cannot go because they are inaccessible, and some public bathrooms are a real problem with tiny stalls. If I get me and the walker in, then I can’t close the door.

I so far have not been allowed to drive, though I think that’s just around the corner. I did prove that I can go from house to car, stash the walker in the back seat, and get into the car. To prove to my kids that this is all okay, I’ll have to check in with the rehabilitative driving program at Baylor. But driving should free me of my dependence on others to some extent.

I don’t think I’m being over-sensitive when I say I notice a change in some people’s attitudes toward me. I have become the old lady who can’t get around much, who is content in her cottage. But I am blessed with friends and family who see me differently and, with the help of others, I have a fairly active social life. As a friend said to me the other night at a party when I said my piece about being on the walker forever, “At least you’re here.” I agree. It’s not the end of the world.

I can still keep y cottage fairly neat, dress myself, work at my desk, and cook—all big parts of my life. It’s not as though I retired to a recliner to watch TV all the livelong day.

Before this happened to me, I did not have good balance. Never. In my whole life. Steep stairs, for instance, made me nervous—now people kindly help me up and down them. Open spaces made me uncomfortable—now I have a cage around me, so I know I won’t lose my balance. In short, I don’t have to stretch myself to do things that bothered me before, though I do try to stretch just on general principles.

I don’t know how to explain it without sounding like a wimp, because I try never to trade on being “handicapped” and yet in some ways life is easier. I do try to be as independent as possible, but still….not sure where to go with this, so I’ll quit.

Just please don’t pity me. And don’t treat me differently. And don’t call me old. Thanks.

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