Sunday, April 27, 2014

Handicapped-The First World Problem I never thought I'd have to learn

A couple months ago, I did what I normally do on a Thursday evening. I played indoor gym games with high school students. The game of the week was a paintball-style dodgeball game and as a staff member, I got to join the staff team to take out some students across the court. After about the first 45 seconds of the game, I had an almost clear shot of a student peeking out from behind a barrier. I ran for it, pivoting to my left when all of a sudden, I felt an excruciating pain stab my left knee. I crumpled to the ground and attempted to scoot behind another barrier. I begged my teammates to play and win and not worry about my injury.

 Fast forward....the injury was diagnosed, thanks to an MRI and my faithful orthopedist, as a bucket handle medial meniscus tear. A flap of muscle had been sliced by my rapid movement, flopped over, and was pinned between my knee bones and caused extreme pain just about every time I moved. Since February 4, I've been on crutches. I had surgery in mid-March and the doctor did his best to unflop the tissue, sew it back where it belonged, and get some blood back flowing again.

Still, despite his best efforts, he gave me a 60% chance of it healing properly, meaning I will have to have my meniscus removed if it doesn't heal right which means a total knee replacement in a few years with lots of grinding bones in between.
My doctor's drawing of how he fixed my meniscus, drawn on the paper liner of the medical table.

 Point of all of this is, I've been able to see and observe this slice of the world from the perspective of a handicapped person for the past two-and-a-half months. Below are some of my observations:

  People stare and don't know what to do. When I was being pushed around in a wheel chair at some points during my rehabilitation, people either stared and then looked away, or they asked me what happened. Both behaviors struck me as strange because I don't think I'd ever ask someone in a wheel chair what happened to them.

People band together who have gone through major injury. Often times when people were opening doors for me, helping me get up stairs, or just standing near me, they would open up about their own terrible injuries. One man in the airport told me his wife was rehabilitating from meniscus surgery for the 2nd time because a small child had run into her and made her re-tear her first repair. We also sat next to an amputee on a different flight and got to hear his whole incredible story of recovering from a motorcycle accident after losing his leg. Needless to say, he sold the motorcycle.

Only selfish jerks use the handicapped stalls. I waited for about ten minutes for one stall when I was in a wheel chair when out came a teenaged girl who'd left me a "present" in the toilet. In my former days, I'd sometimes figure it was okay to use the handicapped stall because of course, I deserved it. I won't go into the difficulties of trying to use a toilet, while getting in an out of a wheel chair, but trust me-it sucks. Nowadays, I will only let women with small children or disabled people use it, because they shouldn't have to wait and truly do need that extra space.

Shops, doorways, sidewalks, and cities are incredibly difficult to move around in. Whether I was on crutches or in a wheelchair, moving around was exhausting and not worth it. I felt like I was always in the way, or just wanted to rest most of the time.

Shopping is impossible. The third week I was on crutches, I attempted to shop at Safeway for rice for dinner. It was one item; how difficult could it be? Some slightly obese person had taken the electric scooter so I crutched over to the rice and stared at how I was going to carry a 10-lb of rice to the cash register. A young guy came up to me and asked for help. I cried out for joy and thanked him profusely. I asked what his name was and he said, "Aaron," (which is also my husband's name) and I offered to pay. Then I cursed my husband for not buying his own rice.

Every thought is a battle. I can't tell you how many times I wanted to have a pity party for myself (and still do). To know that the recovery time is just SO slow and that I'd be missing out on everything that I loved to do outside, I couldn't quite hold it together sometimes. This is when I had to say to myself to cut the crappy sad thoughts and instead focus on all the great things in my life (like sunshine, my sweet dogs who never leave my side, and my loving husband).

I fantasize about dancing in a music video. I am not a dancer, nor will I ever be. Yet now that I've lost and have had to re-learn how to walk again, I daily think about dancing, hiking, running, rock climbing, and skiing-all these things that I can't yet do. I look at people who sit on the couch who have two legs that work and it bums me out. Anyone need a back up dancer in a couple months?

This too, shall pass. In the scheme of things, this accident and my recovery will be a small blip on the radar. I'll barely remember it like my other 2 ACL surgeries and I'll be back doing what I love to do again. I have to be thankful every day that I am not permanently disabled like so many others, and that I have a clear diagnosis and recovery path, unlike many. Every day I see improvement and I can't wait to make a bonfire and melt all this medical equipment into one tangled sculpture.

So on a rather more serious note, I want to pay tribute to all of those who have a disability in this First World and run into crazy little problems all the time that the rest of us can't even fathom. I hope that, like my friends and community who have unabashedly taken care of me in every way, that we can give that same love and support to those around us who need it most.

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