On My Cane

I now walk on a cane full-time, and my new dependence on it has made the world — my world — a very small, level place.

I now walk on a cane full-time, and my new dependence on it has made the world — my world — a very small, level place.

A long time ago, when I should have been long past crawling and holding onto furniture, I was still half-crawling and holding onto furniture to walk around our Hamilton bungalow, and the grown-ups made a very big deal of it.Imagine your large, cute and precocious kid who is nearly ready to start school still balancing herself on the edges of furniture by placing one little brown index finger on table edges and chair arms and by quickly moving from thing to thing as if the absence of that support would mean a sudden and violent spill.It takes my mother to reenact this.It’s embarrassing.It’s eccentric.It’s hilarious.

I have noticed I am doing the exact same thing these days, only the adult version, as I walk through our over-furnished apartment.

I reach for the same furniture, lightly touching it as much for support as for the kind of empty comfort derived from the mundane yet private routines inherent in obsessive-compulsive disorders.So just like I cannot really and completely go to bed at night before I check that all towels are hanging precisely level on their racks, I cannot pass through the two rooms I need to get to the bathroom without first touching the nearest arm of the blue leather sofa, then the nearest part of the black leather chair, then the glass of the kitchen table and, finally, the cool steel of the kitchen sink before finally entering the bathroom.Inside, these are my collective canes.Funny thing is, we leave the cane in the truck rather than lug it up and down the steps, because I will certainly forget it at home when I need it most.Because I do not quite look old enough to be injured (but I do have a prominent amount of grey hair) and because there does not outwardly appear to be anything “wrong” with me, I get one of two reactions form strangers.One is the quick up-and-down look and then an even quicker look away. The other is a long look of something between sympathy, empathy and “How old is she, anyway?”

I am always surprised people align age with physical agility but, oh well, there it is.

On the campus of the University of Cincinnati, which I drag myself across two days a week to teach a journalism class, students are remarkably patient, kind and long-suffering.Sure, they’re distracted by smartphones, Beats by Dre noise-canceling headphones and appearing overall aloof and bored; however, when they encounter me, something in them changes.In the unspoken rules of the pedestrian, everyone keeps pace like in the lanes of an expressway with those who cannot move out of the way. When students zoom up behind me without first seeing my cane, they assume I will either speed up or move over. When I move aside, they invariably apologize for their hastiness.

They also hold doors for me once they have lapped me and recall that I am limping and leaning on that cane.

Eight weeks into the 15-week semester, the students along my weekly path are now accustomed to the sight of me, and I sometimes even get a shout out on my sneakers.

This is the first time in my adult life I can justify my extensive sneaker wardrobe by telling people (and myself) that my feet and legs are injured by severe nerve damage.

The good thing about progressive neuropathy is that I will never have to worry about buying another pair of dress shoes again as long as I live.

When I compulsively bought the cane from CVS nearly three winters ago, I was thinking solely about making myself

comfortable and not falling and breaking

my neck on the ice. I was still receiving treatment for a raunchy and debilitating infection in my right foot that then rendered my foot disfigured, swollen, peeling and bleeding.

I grabbed the standard-issue silver, brushed-metal cane. Everyday I wish I’d grabbed the pink cane festooned with Hello Kitty.

Might as well be stylish and have a sense of humor about what I cannot change.

But it is not so much the neuropathy that has me tipping around Cincinnati looking for curb cuts, close parking spaces, elevators and the flattest paths possible.

I am mostly unsteady on my feet.

My physical strength is greatly diminished, and it is a perfect storm of the drastic loss of nearly 80 pounds during two years of back-to-back illnesses, a nagging loss of appetite that has me consuming far fewer than 800 calories per day, listlessness from the former two conditions and
a jarring lack of muscle mass.Some days I stumble around the apartment, falling into furniture, crashing into door jambs and slamming into tables. Sometimes I feel myself teetering backward and my partner will reach out to grab my hand or arm, pulling me back upright.

A good day is one wherein I have the energy to walk through thrift stores and the stamina to ride to the next one a full county away without petering out or sitting in the car popping a Tramadol to smooth the edge off the hot sparks shooting through my feet and legs.

An even better day is one where I can walk up the one steep flight of steps from our front door to our apartment door without stopping to rest every other step.   When I can walk straight up with slow, measured steps and reach the kitchen before my partner is fully disrobed and enjoying a cool beverage, I know I have done something major and that I am reasonably strong.But I know my strength everyday I wake up and put my sore diabetic feet on the cold hardwood floor. Standing in the shower, where before I could not let hot water wash over my legs and feet without screaming out in pain, makes me feel strong.Eating an entire bagel for breakfast makes me feel strong, as does walking to my class prepared to teach even though I now have to sit down rather then bebop and scat all over the room like I used to.I feel strong doing the laundry, putting it away; emptying the dishwasher, taking out the trash and making the bed.I feel strongest at the end of the day looking back on everything I didn’t feel like doing but that I leaned on my cane
and did, anyway.

CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: [email protected]


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