For most of us, most of the time, things go along without mishap. Once in a while we might bump into something and come away with a bruise or slip with a knife and slice a finger, but normally we expect our days to unfold without incident.
Until, abruptly, they don’t.
For me, breaking an ankle was one of those times. Since it happened, I’ve learned all sorts of interesting things, including a whole new respect for the challenges faced by the handicapped.
You wouldn’t think there’s much of a connection between the ankle and the eyeball, but breaking the one has definitely opened the other.
Until your foot or hand or some other body part doesn’t behave like it should, you can’t feel a whole lot of sympathy for those who struggle with such setbacks. But once things go haywire, you begin to understand some of the realities others confront.
The height, for instance, of a step or a curb or a threshold. Once you’ve come to rely on crutches or a walker to move around, grade changes like these become serious obstacles.
And as my sister, Beth, a veteran social worker warned, “They taught us years ago that the biggest
danger with crutches are throw rugs. Beware!”
In a pinch, you could probably make your way on hands and knees, but now that you’re past the toddler stage, you have your dignity to consider.
Ramps, too, take on a new appearance. Since the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act and the subsequent construction of countless thousands of ramps, you’d probably consider the issue long settled. But in my newly gimped-up state, I’ve grown gun-shy of angled surfaces. When you’re at the mercy of a walker or wheelchair, it doesn’t take much of a downward tilt to make you feel like you’re in a NASCAR race.
Another fact about ramps is that some of them snake around like mountain roads with hairpin turns. And as silly as it might sound, going up a ramp can actually prove more bowel clenching than going down one, given the fact that gravity is indifferent to whether you’re facing forward or backward. There’s nothing quite like the start of a rearward roll to get the weary old heart a-hammerin’.
Nor are the struggles of the handicapped confined to ambulation. There are the simple acts of rising and sitting, the unplanned lunge for a ringing phone, the irksome difficulty of getting dressed and undressed, and a whole panoply of bathroom issues.
Suffice it to say that tasks you long ago stopped giving conscious thought to now rise up to vex the spirit and turn segments of each day into recurrent irritations. It’s only when you stop to consider how much worse things could be that you regain a proper perspective.
Broken bones will heal. Sprained joints will regain flexibility. Stitched tissues will grow back together. Cuts and bruises are soon forgotten.
For those whose infirmities are permanent and unrelieved, I have a newly deepened empathy and respect, and can only hope that somehow, someday, your burdens will be lightened.
Copyright 2013 by Craig Nagel