Thursday, 14 August 2014

#23 Accepting the Cane is Another Story

I was still walking independently, but it was a struggle. My balance was off just enough that I felt the need to touch something as I walked. At home it was easy, I used the walls or the furniture, but out in public it was still an issue. I didn’t realize how much I had adapted my behaviour to accommodate my disease. It was a subtle change, not something I did with purpose.

I only shopped in places that provided carts. I needed a cart for balance, and support when fatigued. I never shopped downtown, even changed my bank to one that was more accessible. That pretty well limited me to grocery and the big box stores like Walmart and Zellers.

I continued to struggle, wanting to remain one of the ‘invisible’ rather than be labelled ‘disabled’ and resisted the cane. It’s a major step, admitting to the fact that you need a cane. I figured it would change how people looked at me, reacted to me, and it did. But not in the negative way I expected.

I spent a few days at my brother's and we made a trip to St. Jacob's. This is a village outside of Toronto with a large farmer's market, an outlet mall and the village core, their 'downtown', a crafter's paradise. I had the cane in the car, and used it going through the market.

A child was walking in front of me in stops and starts, and I was sure she was going to bump me, or worse, trip me. The mother caught up with her, saw my cane, and apologized. She took the girl by the hand and moved to the side. I think she was very smart to be aware of the problem her daughter was creating, for no fault other than she was a child, and sensitive enough to move her away from me.

She gave me a simple 'Sorry' and that was it. Another example of how considerate people can be. When we moved on to the village and parked, I got out of the car without the cane, for it was not yet a habit. I had only gone a short distance, and was struggling, when I felt a hand on my shoulder. My brother stopped me, and said he was going back for the cane. The rest of our day was much easier.

From that day on I have used the cane. Yes, there were the curious people who had seen me without it, and wondered why I was now using it. The kids were fascinated with it and I let them play with it, so they were comfortable seeing me use it.

If you think you might need a cane, I suggest you find one and try it out. Get some professional guidance, from an Occupational Therapist if possible, on how to best use it. There are very specific tips for walking, for steps and even the length of the cane and which hand you use. I can tell you for sure, the way House uses his cane in the television show is not the correct way, so get some help.

A second piece of advice, the first few times you use the cane, go out somewhere where you don’t know people, so you don’t feel quite so self conscious. It’s awkward, to struggle with the cane under the watchful eyes of people who know you, but may not know of your issues. You are no longer invisible, not once you use the cane.

It takes some getting used to, believe me. I carry the cane in my right hand, because I’m weaker on the left side due to my bad knee. Luckily for me, I was used to carrying my purse on my left shoulder. But now both my hands are, basically, occupied. If I need to carry anything it has to be in my left hand, and what do I do with the cane when I need my right hand, like in the bank or to sign a charge slip?

It’s awkward, will always be awkward because you constantly have to adjust to it, using it, carrying it, and where you set it when you sit or need your hands free. But, in the long run, once you get past the looks and the questions, it does make life easier.

On a lighter note, I walked into my daughter’s one day and left the cane in the car. My four year old grandson looked at me curiously and finally asked, “Where’s your stick?”

See, when it becomes your new normal, and people will accept it.

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