The Plight of the Physically Challenged

Disabled? Handicapped? Physically challenged?

Call it what you will. Or maybe not.

I like to think of myself as an empathetic person, putting myself in less fortunate people’s shoes. I’m sure that they don’t think of themselves that way, by the term less fortunate. I’m also sure that I really don’t know what the politically correct term. Less able-bodied?

Physically challenged.

Some call me sensitive, especially members of my family and friends, which doesn’t bother me. In fact, I’d like to think that I am sensitive and care about others. ‘Cause to me, the alternative is what–insensitive, right?

Right.

Which is wrong. We’ve all got to live in this world together. I’m the live and let live type of person anyway, unless you do me wrong. But that’s another story for another time, lol.

As I go through life, I wonder about those that are physically challenged. Seven months ago, I had the occasion to live in their shoes, so to speak.

I had to have reconstructive ankle surgery and yes, it was as bad as it sounds. However, the alternative was worse. To one day be unable to walk was out of the question, if I could do something about it. 

Now that’s not to say that the choice was an easy choice was an easy choice for me to make because it wasn’t. To have cartilage replaced with a cadaver and other portions of my ankle fitted with titanium screws and a plate took some getting used to, even after I researched it and mulled it over for a while. But after arthroscopic surgery in early 2006 and the benefits of that failing by early 2009, limping around with the pain increasing and the ungainliness of it all–reconstruction was a major surgery but a more favorable choice than removing cartilage from my knee and inserting it into my ankle. I was already going to be in pain. But who wanted to be in pain in two places? There was nothing wrong with my knee. So, I bit the bullet and went through with it.

It was performed July the third. Once I finally got over the effects of the anesthesia, the real pain came. Just trying to turn from my back to lie on my side in bed was an ordeal. So was lowering my leg over the bed. Getting the hang of crutches, easing the painful pressure of that hot, heavy cast against my ankle and leg and once it began to heal, endure the itching inside the cast, oh the endless itching–crazy! I fell twice but let’s just say that with agility that surprised me, I twirled and landed on my backside (a lot more cushion there than falling on my my knees or leg). The second time, I aimed myself face-first into a plush easy chair nearby. Thank God for the chair that was there.

Having the casts replaced once a month was liberating, if only for a few minutes. Having the sutures and stitches removed was a little nerve-wracking. Learning how to walk again–emotional. But the in-between of it all was eye-opening.

Later, being able to utilize motorized carts in grocery stores was a lifesaver. That is, when I could find one. But when I couldn’t and I accompanied my mother to Walmart was where I felt my empathy for the physically-challenged soar. Most of the time during my four-month soujourn, my mom was my chauffeur, errand runner, personal shopper and housekeeper. The sons of my next door neighbor picked up my mail or moved my vehicle and other tasks and another neighbor’s sons mowed my lawn. Thank God for good neighbors. After around two and a half months or so, I was determined to try to do some things myself. Like wash dishes while kneeling on a knee scooter. Even that was exhausting if it was more than a few dishes. Nowadays there is equipment one can purchase or rent, like the knee scooter my sister rented for me. I never used it outside but it was great to use as a back-up when my arms became tired or the blisters on my palms were aggravated by the crutches. Or the chair I installed over the toilet, which helps keep a cast off the floor and the pressure off of my recovering ankle or one that you can use in the shower. Not everything worked for me but at least it was available. Some of these things weren’t available not so long ago. Gradually, I progressed from crutches and casts to a boot and then a brace and a cane and physical therapy. All throughout, I thought about my less-abled counterparts. Although it’ll take about three more months before my ankle is back to “normal”, permanently disabled people have to survive every day of their lives this way. That thought was very humbling to me. I once had a woman shove her baby’s stroller again the back of my feet as I made my way on crutches through the automated entrance of a grocery store. I was in front of her. How could she not see me?

Or was it simply impatience?

Is that the way we as mankind treat the physically challenged among us? I’d like to think that most of us having more patience and understanding. Pushing past those folk or the elderly instead of helping them out when you can is pretty pathetic.

When I took my first “uncasted” step (is that a word?), a cast that stopped just below my right knee, visions of what I must have like as a baby flashed before my eyes and I must admit, it was very emotional for me. But what was even more emotional was knowing that this long. trying and tiring endeavor was actually short-term for me, in the scheme of things.

Not so for my counterparts.

Think about those for whom this experience is life-long the next time you dart past a disabled person instead of putting yourself in their shoes.

I know I will.