She's a character, she has opinions.

MS & My Cane

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Getting my cane was the best thing I did for myself this year. Without it I can’t walk more than 200 yards without stopping to sit and rest; with it I can walk 500 yards before resting, and if I’m slow and careful, and if it’s a very good day, I can go farther. It helps me when I wobble, it keeps me from falling down. My cane gave me back something I thought was lost to me and I love it.

The public reaction to my cane has been strange and not at all what I expected. I thought using a cane would make my disability visible–after all, it’s right there! I didn’t expect much of a change in attitude, but I thought at least people would notice the cane’s existence and maybe stop scowling at me for using handicapped parking. (I am ever the optimist.)

Instead, to the majority of people, it’s as if the cane is as invisible as my illness. It’s almost as if by using it I’ve become invisible! People crowd close to me when I walk, and often walk into me. From behind me, they step on the cane. From the side, they knock it out from under me. I’ve had more near-miss falls with the cane in a crowd than I ever had without it.

Other people see the cane and back away from me in a rush. They get as far away from me as fast as they can, dodging and ducking their heads to avoid making eye contact with me. For them, my cane has transformed me into something highly visible and very frightening. I’d promise them that cane usage isn’t contagious but they’re far away before I have a chance to even smile in their direction.

At a public event a few months ago I encountered one person who recognized me–and my cane. We came face to face in a small doorway with only enough room for one of us to pass. He looked at me, smiled, backed up and waved me through, leaving enough room for me to swing my cane by my side. We wished each other a nice afternoon and both went on with our days. I hate to have to admit that such an average encounter made me so happy, but it did, because this man was the only one that day who treated me as a person, albeit a person with a cane.

Remember that. We may have canes or crutches or wheelchairs but we’re still people like you.

September 10-16, 2012 I’m blogging for Invisible Illness Awareness Week.

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