Fast-forward 10 years. This past winter, my feet and legs were telling me that the nerve damage was getting worse. Walking on snow? I learned to forget about it. Ice? I didn’t even make the attempt. For a lot of those winter months, I spent too much time sitting on my ass.
Winter is over, spring is here and I’m basically walking OK. But now I have another problem: standing still. It all gets back to the neuropathy. My legs are a bit too weak and unsteady to stand in one place for too long.
Standing downtown waiting for that light to change for me to cross the street was becoming a challenge. Meeting a friend on a sidewalk and stopping and talking to them was quite difficult. My legs and feet feel better when moving.
When I first moved into my living space in Westwood, I discovered a pair of crutches in one of my closets. The person living here before me must have needed them at one point and just left them behind.
As the weather started to get warmer, I thought of those crutches in the closet and it occurred to me that maybe I could put them to good use, but vanity kept me from doing it. I didn’t want anybody to think I needed help in getting around. I kept pretending like I was fine.
Losing my balance and falling while waiting for a walk light to turn green so I could cross Main Street one afternoon woke me up. Vanity wouldn’t help in paying those hospital bills if I broke a hip, and I knew if I didn’t fess up to needing a little help in getting around that’s where I’d be heading.
So now I’m using one of the crutches I found in the closet.
I must confuse the hell out of people when they see me downtown. They’re looking at this guy walking fairly briskly down the sidewalk holding a crutch in his right hand. I’m sure it doesn’t make any sense to them, but if they saw me standing and waiting for that walk light to change, I think they would understand why I need the crutch.
I’ve had my crutch with me on outings for the past few weeks. I’m discovering that carrying one of these things does, in an odd kind of way, have its privileges.
For years I’ve always been peeved when automobiles would turn in front of me when I had the walk light downtown. Actually, I wasn’t peeved at all; I was damn pissed and would often yell at the driver as he turned in front of me.
Now, while having my crutch with me, most automobiles patiently wait for me to cross the street with the drivers waving me on, often smiling giving me plenty of time. For those cars and drivers who still cut me off, I no longer have to yell at them. Those crossing with me do it for me. Yes, using a crutch does invoke sympathy from others.
That sympathy is also felt when riding the bus.
Bus drivers always lower the steps for me when I get on and off the bus. Most always tell me to take my time.
I’ve taken the bus for years here, and I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve had to stand on a crowded bus. Having nerve damage in my feet always made this difficult, and oftentimes I would just wait for a less crowded bus to show up. Not now. Now I have my crutch.
I have to admit that sometimes I pretend to struggle a little bit when I’m getting on a crowded bus. I don’t really need to pretend at all. Passengers are always eager to get up for me and I always get a good seat in front and sometimes two seats (one also for my crutch).
There’s also a sense of camaraderie for those of us needing help in getting around. I can’t help but notice that others using canes or crutches or wheelchairs to help get from point A to point B often will smile and nod their heads at me. We’re all kind of in the same boat — we’re just trying to get around and trying to manage what’s making that difficult for us.
My crutch has served me well, but I might not be using it much longer. I have a birthday coming up, and my son wants to take me out and get me a walking stick. I don’t think its something he should purchase for me off the Internet, so he’ll go shopping with me and I’m going to try and test a few of them out. Reality is I don’t know if I’ll find a walking stick that’s more comfortable than my crutch.
But a walking stick is probably in my future, and that’s fine. Like that crutch, I’ve accepted the fact that I need a little help. Really, as you get older, life is all about accepting that fact and making those little necessary adjustments.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: firstname.lastname@example.org