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When you hobble into anywhere on crutches, someone almost always asks what happened. I canít begin to count the times Iíve had to tell the story of how I twisted my knee on May 8. In the first couple of weeks, I started with the short version, but invariably ended up having to explain it all in great detail. As time has passed, the human interest elements of my story have given way to more medical data about progress and prognosis. Generally, I end with something like, ďAnd the moral of the story is: donít mess up your knee.Ē
Being on crutches for two months, ordering a brace that is designed for someone twice my height and half my weight, and having to ask and wait for assistance with things as simple as moving a coffee mug from the kitchen counter to the dining room table has been wearing, but also instructive. The whole experience has taught me a lot about what it takes to deal with limiting conditions on an ongoing basis. But Iíve learned a few things about myself too.
When it comes to pride and humility, Iím way too close to the proud end of the spectrum. The hardest thing about my injury has been dealing with my compromised independence. For a while, I refused to ask for the help I needed to do simple things, and found it hard to accept help when thoughtful people offered it. Yet in order to prevent further damage and to keep moving forward in the healing process, I finally had to lump it. That meant asking more of everyone around me at home, at work, and anywhere else I dared to venture. It meant pacing myself according to physical limitations, and working to find ways in which I could do what I needed to do. It also involved trading a lot of the time I would normally spend with people for quality time elevated with my ice pack.
The whole thing came to a head when I knew that I would still have to be on crutches during a scheduled Irish step dancing trip to Nashville with three of our kids. That was compounded by the fact that the venue for the event was actually the largest hotel in the world. My doctor told me to contact the airline about using a wheelchair, and wear a vascular stocking for the flights. I decided that the better part of valor would be to ask the hotel for a handicapped access room, and rent a wheelchair or scooter to get around.
Life in a wheelchair is one of extremes. How things go is pretty much a function of how other people handle your limitations. Some people treat you with a lot of deference and kindness; others with complete disregard. For more than just a few, it is as if you donít even exist. The traveling itself wasnít bad on the whole -- except for the airline worker who put me into an elevator to transfer me to the next gate without my three kids. (Thank God for cell phones!) But getting around the hotel definitely had its challenges.
It would have helped to have had some kind of scooter driverís ed. Some of the tight turns on ramps were just too tight. There was one in which I hit a wall almost every time I had to use it. I figured I wasnít the first, when I remembered how many scuffs and breaks in the plastic there were in the rental scooter even before I took custody of it. Then, you need to find the handicapped access alternative routes. These are hardly ever readily visible, and even when they are marked, they can be hard to follow. I discovered that getting on and off elevators is much easier if the door opens on the opposite side when you get off. After a day of struggling to turn around in an elevator, I realized that it was best to just back out.
But perhaps the worst are the issues caused by the fact that wheelchairs and scooters place their occupants at about eye-level with a six year old. The result is that while you end up navigating through a sea of peopleís behinds, very few of them see you coming. I was surprised that the rudest and most self-absorbed demographic wasnít teens, but the elderly! They took up more doorways than anyone else by a long shot, and were least willing to move so that I could simply pass. At times I felt like saying something like, ďYou know, you could be in one of these things for the rest of your life starting tomorrow.Ē But, in all honesty, I had to look at how aware Iíve been--or not--before I found myself in this situation. Being physically limited is frustrating and aggravating. Even the people who try to help often donít know how to or how much to do.
After two months on crutches, Iím finally weight-bearing (albeit too much weight!) again. Through the experience, Iíve had a little taste of what itís like to be more dependent than Iím used to being--more than I ever would want to be. Iíve gained a new appreciation for how hard it can be to deal with people who, for whatever reason, do not acknowledge your presence. The view from the scooter isnít very pretty, but I hope to make it a little better when I encounter someone else in that seat.
Isnít it wonderful that God sees each and every one of us? That to Him, our weaknesses and limitations are endearing, not annoying or repulsive. In Christ Jesus, God took those limitations to Himself. In compassion, He chose to become like us in all things except sin. Jesus has seen human life from the driverís perspective, and asks us to come along for the ride. I think if God chose a vehicle in which to travel with us, it may well be a wheelchair or scooter.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an author, speaker, musician and serves as Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Lynnfield.