In which the author continues to catalogue rogue thoughts + rants about some of the excitement and learnings of having a temporary impediment to walking with two feet firmly, wonderfully and happily on the ground.
A trip to the Eaton Centre just before Christmas on crutches should get me some badge of honour. Or a mental health check up. Instead it got me out in the world, it got my heart going (important since I can’t go to the gym) and crucially, it got me some dark chocolate.
Now, crutches are an old and odd contraption. I have ones that seem to hold and move body weight by the underarms, but that’s not the case. The top of the crutches rest about two inches from my underarms and are held against my side. There are hand rests on the crutches: that is where weight is held and the crutches controlled. I use my hands, forearms, biceps, back and shoulders to lift and move my whole body forward. It’s a good upper-body exercise.
At any rate, I was determined to do all of it, through the mall, through Sears, up to the fourth floor and back. And there I was, moving along the right side of the aisle, making my way at a good clip across the length of the third floor of the Eaton Centre.
My first annoyance was people walking against the flow of most of the people traffic. I couldn’t arch my eyebrow high enough to scare them away. Not that my notorious wilting glance would have mattered. In the seven weeks that I have been using crutches to get around Toronto, I have learned that a person on crutches — or maybe it IS just me — is invisible to 98 out of 100 people, and that the two people who notice and are accommodating are women with children. It’s happened more times than I care to count. While it’s too much like a focus group sampling to be statistically valid, I cannot help but draw some initial conclusions from my experiences to date.
I was at the top of some stairs and positioning myself to go down them — there were only five — when the woman with me held out her hand and yelled out HEY! to stop a man and his family from bumping into me and sending me sprawling down the stairs: not only was he not looking where he was going, his wife and kids weren’t either. Granted, no-one actually expects to see a person on crutches at the top of any stairs, but seriously: distracted walkers too? Annoyance number two.
I was doing my best to take care of my healing ankle, and so was my watcher. It hadn’t actually occurred to me that I was putting my life and other limbs at risk.
Catching my breath, calming my pounding heart and trying to close my ears to the din around me, I paused to ground myself and easily negotiated the stairs. From there it was into Sears, past the make-up and perfume counters to the middle of the store to the UP escalator.
Why did I think I was going to take an escalator up four floors? How do you get onto an escalator using crutches? How do you practice that? Is it a good thing to do? I stood there a moment, blocking people traffic. Also not good to do if you are on crutches. People get grumpy.
I moved to the side.
Never mind all the other indicators of what I couldn’t do that had cropped up before that moment: I knew then what healing my shattered ankle and protecting its recovery meant. I was sure the lump in my throat showed.
Elevators were at the far end of the building. So that’s where we headed.
And as I rounded a corner, a guy came up fast behind me and accidently kicked into the end point of my left crutch. I only stumbled a bit. He looked at the crutches then at me and kept walking. I know I’m quiet, but I am NOT invisible. Annoyance number three.
By now I was convinced that people apparently do not actually SEE their surroundings, or have any understanding of physics and space. You only need to look at pedestrian behaviour in traffic to know how true that is. Why don’t people get that if they step out into traffic they will go SPLATTT! Or if they miss a step, they will fall. Or guess what? There actually ARE other people in the world!
Anyway, the rest of Sears was uneventful, and heading back through the store, back through the mall to Sephora and then the car was somewhat better. Or maybe it was me being slower.
As I thought about it later, it seemed that the pain of an injury and healing is one thing. And the pain of a limitation where there wasn’t one before is another. Both are life events and quite manageable albeit a pain in the ass and significantly inconvenient to boot.
What’s harder is two-fold: first is the arrival of a set of fears and apprehensions that did not exist in any conscious way before this time. It is scary to be faced with how fragile you are in the world. Second is that cloak of invisibility that seems to surround someone who is not fully able-bodied. To not be seen is a sobering experience.
Ontario is working toward a legislated goal of full accessibility for people with disabilities. It’s an admirable goal. But what we have yet to figure out is how, in the broader society, in a truly civil society, to make something as simple as stepping outside and to shopping a safe experience for people who are disabled. Physical accommodation is one thing. Once inside the shops and malls and theatres? THAT requires people paying attention to and actually considering other people. I am convinced that often, the greatest impediment to any progress is people.
Mind you, the greatest invention and the greatest wonder in the world is humanity, and people. And in truth all that I love in this world are people too, so it’s not all bad.
I am just grumpy when it is not all wonderful…
*end of rant*
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