Monday, 26 May 2014

Respect for the handicapped

It's now been 38 days since I broke my leg. It hasn't been a thrilling 38 days, but it has been at least partially an eye-opener in an unexpected way.

I spent my first few weeks fairly housebound, moving as little as possible, spending at most 90 seconds a day on crutches. I switched to mostly using a wheelchair about 3 weeks ago, and if this experience has taught me just one thing, it's to respect the plight of handicapped people who are stuck in wheelchairs or crutches every day of their lives.

I'm not an expert. I have spent very, very little time anywhere but my house in a wheelchair. But that's enough to have taught me at least this:

Doing anything in a bathroom in a wheelchair is a difficult (and no one teaches you how). Practicalities like dropping and raising your pants is difficult. Even with wheelchair accessible bathrooms, it takes skill to get the wheelchair near the toilet and parked in a way to use the grab rails to haul yourself on -- assuming you got rid of your pants.

Not any bathroom I know
Taking a shower is a bitch, even with grab rails. And if bathtubs are slippery on two legs, imagine how they are on one leg (or none). Getting in, getting out? Troublesome, and in my case, I'm lucky that I can sit on the john and skootch into the tub in a 2 step process in one of my bathrooms. I have yet to figure out a way to get a bathrobe on (a 2 handed job) and keep upright, while standing on one leg -- other than to jamb my head in a corner while I do it.

Sinks in vanities (like most of mine) are unusable -- they have to be wall mounts or pedestals. I'm glad I have a pedestal sink. To get a wheelchair under a sink, the sink has to be so high as to be difficult to use when you get there (it's almost at chin height). Unfortunately, my pedestal is in a room so small I can't get my wheelchair into the room, so it's crutches or nothing.

My house isn't, nor has it ever been, proported to be wheelchair accessible. There are doors I can't get through, corners I can't get around, and no practical way I can get to any entry door in the chair. Wheel a chair up to a door -- any door, cupboard or closet or entry -- and you can't open it. You have to come in from the side.

There are lots of places in and around town that appear to be wheelchair friendly -- however...   

I have found wheelchair accessible ramps sloped so steeply I can't get up them, or that start/end so abruptly that my footrests dig in. I have found ramps that lead to doors that almost can't be opened in a wheelchair (or on crutches... like, say, my physiotherapy office's door). The grocery stores have powered wheelchair shopping carts, but I'm not sure why, because if I show up in a wheelchair, it's impractical to move to them, and if I show up on crutches, I have no place to put the crutches when I use the carts.

I personally feel bad that I take up a lot of space on a sidewalk, that I'm tough to pass, that I don't move that fast on crutches. A friend of mine asked me yesterday if people offer more "social license" to me as a result of being mobility impaired. Some do, some don't. Most adults give me the space I need to move, hold doors to help me get through, and are respectful of my plight. Most kids (under 12) don't. I have been run into, bumped on my crutches, cut off in my wheelchair and otherwise treated as a slalom gate by kids. Sometime the parents intervene; sometimes not. 

So I have learned a new respect for folks confined to wheelchairs or crutches for life. A friend of mine walks with 2 crutches all the time; another a few years ago was confined to a chair; she had a bumper sticker that said "If you don't like the way I drive, stay off the sidewalk". I always had a lot of respect for both of them, and now that respect is even higher.

I am lucky. This week, I should start the process of weaning off crutches. I will not be sad to see them go. 

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