Wednesday, 27 August 2014

#36 Using the Walker in Public

I was to attend the annual meeting for a community organization to which I belong, and faced a dilemma. I looked forward to the opportunity to shop at the mall, where the meeting was being held, but knew I couldn’t comfortably do the walking without the walker.

I had not been in the mall for years, and wanted to finally use the gift card I’d been holding on to for thirteen months. When I spoke to my daughter in the morning (she was attending the same meeting) to confirm travel plans I informed her I was going to take the walker…and immediately burst into tears.

I had initiated the purchase of the walker, had used it without reservation, or so I’d thought. Actually, I had not accepted it at all, not really. It was OK to use the walker within my complex, walking to and from the car, but I had never used it ‘out in public’. There are different levels of disability, a minor one that requires a cane, and a more major one that needs a walker; the next step could only be a wheelchair. Right? All this emotional angst, and I hadn’t left the house yet.

To use the walker for the first time in front of people who had seen me with the cane, who knew of my disease was easier, but I still felt like I was being outed, or maybe labelled is a better word.

I did a bit of shopping before the meeting, enjoyed window shopping and the book store, and was feeling comfortable with the walker. The meeting went well; we got a table in the corner where I had space to leave the walker, within reach but out of other’s way.

After the meeting it was time to spend my gift certificate. The store I wanted was, of course, at the far end of the mall. I made my way there and proceeded to shop. The spaces in the women’s clothing section were narrow, and I had trouble getting the walker through without snagging clothes or knocking items to the floor. I turned down aisles only to find the end blocked and had to turn around and go back. I began to feel like I was on an obstacle course and the challenge was to find my way through the maze.

Finally, I found things to buy and took my purchases to the cashier. By this time I was tired from too much walking, the social activity and the general stress of the day. When the clerk had a problem with the gift card it was the final straw. I was in too much pain to stand, and my brain was about to enter a fog. Why did there have to be a problem with everything?

I turned with a look of apology to the woman waiting beside me and caught sight of the walker. Suddenly I realized I had a seat. I didn’t have to struggle to stand, I could sit and wait.

Being able to sit for those few minutes saved me that day. I’m not sure if I could have made it back to the centre court of the mall to meet my daughter if I hadn’t had that time to rest and calm myself. All the frustration of those few minutes of shopping, the pain, getting overheated wearing my winter coat, the bending to replace things on shelves or hangars, had stressed me to the max, which meant an increase in symptoms.

I can’t say that it was a happy ending, baby steps, I’m taking it in baby steps. I haven’t been in a mall since that day. I still use the cane and only shop where I can use a cart. Being able to lean on the cart eases my pain, and though it may not be as good as sitting but its better than the cane alone.

Next time, it’ll be easier. The first time is always the hardest.

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