The world through broken glasses

Since November 21, 2015, I’ve been disabled. Unable to walk at all, then only able to walk with crutches, and now able to walk with one crutch and even take a few unaided baby steps. The mind-bending pain has transformed into very endurable severe discomfort, and it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

My disability is of course minor for a couple of reasons. First, the discomfort is only going to last a short time. Second, the injury will heal up completely. I’ll be as good as new, overlooking for now that “new” wasn’t all that great to start with.

But still, the world looks different. From the minute I had to go in a wheelchair from the hospital bed to the car, everything shifted.

“Wow. So this is how some people spend months, years, or their entire lives?” It’s a dumbfounding realization. No matter how aware I was of people who are paralyzed, missing a limb, walking with a bad limp, I simply wasn’t, until I had hobbled my first few yards in their shoes.

Curbs become a part of your life. A big part. Clothes and books and stuff on the floor of the apartment become lethal. Step-ups into homes. The width of doors. And the devil’s henchman, stairs. Who invented them? And can we kill him?

Toilets and beds, formerly two of life’s most pleasurable places to be, are transformed into hell holes that hurt almost every way, from sitting down to standing up to rolling over to just lying there as a board, your ass tense and sore but too afraid to move because the fracture is going to hurt a thousand times worse.

Things up high, things down low, chairs that roll when you grab them for stability, rickety handrails, narrow corridors, you name it. The world simply wasn’t made for you, it’s a trap, and it wants you in it.

The simplest thing that promises the greatest pleasure, lifting your leg over the top tube, is nothing but a hope. “I guess if I can’t lift my foot more than six inches off the ground, I’m probably not going to be able to lift my leg over the saddle tomorrow. Or the next day.” That is a heavy piece of gloom. How does it compare with “My right leg is gone?”

But it’s not all bad. You go slower, so you see more. And a lot of what you see are other people, and how they see you. The people who look right through you, the people who avert their eyes, the people who look and smile, the people who look, grin, and greet, and the people who slow down and hold a door, pull out a chair, and wish you a merry Christmas.

Which I’ll now pass on, and in my atheistic and grateful way, will also wish to you.

END

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24 thoughts on “The world through broken glasses”

  1. And a merry pagan celebration of the approximation to the winter solstice to you, Seth, and thanks for your continued inspiration and observations on life’s great wonder, mystery, and occasional confoundments!

    1. Sorry to hear she never noticed those worse off than herself or wished others a merry Christmas. But getting old is hell.

  2. When I was on crutches from an ACL tear back in ’85 I remember feeling very vulnerable when alone in public, as someone could easily attack me and sock me in the spleen.

    I figured my defense in that case would be to swing the crutch from the bottom end and hit the assailant in the head with the top end. If that were manageable it would be a knockout hit.

  3. Andrew Gustafson

    I have been in your shoes.

    Eight years ago, at age 67, I collided head-on with a motorcycle while descending Latigo Cyn. breaking 18 bones. In the ICU it occurred to me that I might not survive and I was in such pain I was not sure I wanted to. Then I thought: I had lived a good life and, if this was my time, I had no regrets. This was most liberating. I no longer fear death, though I am acutely aware of the many friends who have not made it this far. I am extremely grateful for the extra time that has been given to me and the fact that, though my injuries make walking difficult, I can still ride the bike well enough, doing 9000 miles this year.

    Meister Eckhart, a 13th-14th century priest, said: “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” I am not a religious man, but I try to say that one every day. Thank you, Wanky, for the reminder of what is important, and Merry Christmas.

    1. I can’t imagine that degree of pain or injury. Glad you made it, and saying thanks is good.

  4. “My right leg is gone”. Huh, a lesson my daughter got to learn between kindergarten and first grade.She’s moved on, but the world around her hasn’t, in a really bad way. And now that you’ve gotten to experience some of what she does, briefly, and she’d probably ask you to watch this, and treat disabled people quite differently.

    Glad you’re better though.

    1. Thanks for the link. Does this mean that it’s wrong to have a bit injury and be thankful it isn’t worse? Does it mean that I shouldn’t be aware that disabilities require different physical adaptations like ramps and wider doors and corridors? And that having stuff underfoot is not just unsightly, but potentially dangerous?

      I re-read my post and couldn’t find the part where I objectified a disabled person or said that they were inspirational. Instead, I only saw what I thought I’d written: A taste of physical obstacles makes me grateful I don’t have more, and it makes me more aware of people who do. Is this objectionable? No matter how I turn it, I can’t wish that my pelvis were more fractured or that my admittedly minor injury and attendant temporary disability were intractable.

      Is the message from the TED talk that this outlook is offensive? I didn’t quite get that. Rather, the speaker seemed to be saying that holding up disabled people as models simply because they’re alive is wrong. And she seemed to be saying that she was quite happy with her life and the body in which she lived. Makes sense to me.

    1. No complaints, here, Pete. As Charon Smith likes to say: Did you wake up? You won the lottery.

  5. This was a terrific piece, so very well written in capturing the frustrations and difficulties of limited mobility. I too was down and out for some months after being hit by a car in May. It was a 100% eye-opening experience and gave me new thanks for my own health and recovery and new empathy for those who deal with this as a permanent future with no hope of recovery.

  6. Hi Mr. Wankmeister,

    Your blog is very dank. Thank you for writing.

    Merry Christmas.

    PS: Will you recommend the SPY Screw over the Oakley Ballsbreaker or something? I’ve heard some good words about the former.

    1. I’m basically a realist, which has terrible implications for hope, happiness, and is absolutely lethal for happy endings. Thanks for reading! I use the SPY Qanta because it’s the only frame that can handle my Coke bottle prescription. My ex-teammates who used the Screw had nothing but praise for it …

  7. Pingback: Morning Links: Hard-hitting real-life safety PSA, and Big Blue Bus leaves bike-riding boy stranded in the rain |

  8. Just reading this Seth, on the eve of my complete ankle rebuild surgery #3. In 5 months, I hope to be making circles on a trainer… I know the look (mostly of fear) from strangers who have passed me while in a wheelchair, with a walker, on crutches. I don’t blame em. Mobility is high on the list of well – being for me. So here’s to a complete recovery for us both sooner than later!

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