Monday, May 21, 2012

Someone Else's Shoes

So, I'm still on crutches, seven weeks after breaking my leg in a fall. (I'm hoping the doctor will give me permission to start putting weight on the leg when I see him on Friday!) I've adapted pretty well to this inconvenience around the house, but last week my husband and I attended a three day technical conference at an out-of-town hotel. The experience gave me a fresh appreciation for the obstacles faced by someone with a more permanent disability.

This hotel didn't do too badly in terms of accessibility. It had ramps and even a wheelchair we were able to borrow. There was a tiny but functional elevator leading to the lower level meeting rooms and auditorium. The staff were unfailingly helpful in positioning seating, pulling obstacles out of the way, and so on. I was thrilled to see that our room featured a big shower stall complete with a seat. (I'd been dreading the notion of three days on sponge baths - there's no way I could get in and out of a tub!)

At the same time, many everyday aspects of the conference turned out to be more difficult than I'd expected. All the meals were buffet-based. Let me tell you, there's no way you can walk on crutches while carrying a plate of food! My poor husband had to fetch food for me, and I had to be content with what he chose on my behalf. (I think that I probably lost a pound or two, not the usual when one attends one of these events!)

Another unexpected problem was the bathrooms. All the regular rest rooms in this hotel featured weighted, self-closing doors. I discovered that it's very difficult to pull open a door that provides any resistance without losing your balance! I had to rely on passers-by to open the door for me. Then I had to wait until someone left the restroom in order to exit myself. I could lean my weight on the door from the inside, but once it began to open, I had no way of moving forward without tumbling onto my face. The hotel did have a couple of handicapped rest rooms, but whoever designed them didn't really understand the requirements. Yes, they had wide doors (not self-closing!) and plenty of space, but the bar on the wall next to the toilet was several feet away, far too distant to provide support for sitting down or standing up. I managed, but someone whose quadraceps were weaker than mine might have had serious problems.

Then there were all the electric cables stretched out along the floor, jury-rigged for the conference presentations. As long as I noticed them, I could avoid them, but I lived in fear of letting my mind wander. I had terrible visions of tripping, falling and undoing seven weeks of recuperation! Moisture was even more of a problem. This is a tropical country and we're entering the rainy season. I discovered weeks ago that crutches become perilous when the bottoms are wet.  

To attract higher attendance, the conference took place at a beach resort. Alas, I could gaze at the sea from our balcony (and I did enjoy doing that), but there was no way I could go swimming, even at the pool. Moisture, remember? Not to mention that there was long walk with multiple stairways to get to the pool area, and then even a longer stretch to the beach itself.

I don't intend to complain. I enjoyed the trip. It was a welcome change from the inside of my apartment where I've mostly been cooped up for the past month and a half! However, it was a real eye-opener to sample the experience of disability.

Most of us, I think, if we're able bodied, tend to forget about disabled individuals when they're not around. After this past week, I have new admiration for people who live with this sort of restriction for years. I hope I can remember what it's like - and do what I can to make things easier, including advocating for accessibility. I don't want to forget the lessons I learned walking in someone else's shoes.


Naomi Bellina said...

You poor baby! Crutches are tough, let alone with a cast or boot. I attended a conference with a woman in a wheelchair, and what an eye-opener that was. We had to wait at the airport for fourty-five minutes for the one special equiped shuttle van to the hotel, had to take the elevator everywhere, no stairs, had to carefully navigate our way through crowds, and miss some activities because she couldn't get in. I'm impressed with anyone with disabilities who gets up every day and keeps going. It takes a lot of patience and determination.

Hang in there!

Jan Irving said...

A very eye opening experience. I hope you heal fast!

Sue Swift said...

Yes, it's quite an experience, disability...after I underwent shoulder surgery, I had a lot of challenges functioning with only one arm and hand. I also found myself understanding the issues that confront the disabled.

Nichelle Gregory said...

A life-changing experience you've gone through Lisabet. May you ditch those crutches faster than expected! :)

LaviniaLewis said...

Wow, sounds like quite a challenge. I'm glad you enjoyed the conference regardless though and I hope you get good news from the doctor on Friday. Personally I've only broken both arms(not at the same time) and although that experience was limiting, I was still able to get around. We do take mobility for granted, but when something like that happens it does gives us a new appreciation for the strength of individuals that have to live with a disability permanently.

Lisabet Sarai said...

@Naomi - Yes, we take so much for granted. Everything is so SLOW on crutches!

@Jan - Thanks! Hopefully I'm moving toward the end of this ordeal. To face these sort of constraints day after day, year after year, would require a huge amount of courage and patience.

@Sue - I broke my right arm a week after I started my first professional job. Yikes!

@Nichelle - Thanks! I hope I never have to go through this again - though if I do, I'm a bit more prepared!

@Lavinia - I don't know if arms or legs are worse. But you're certainly right, it makes me realize how lucky one is to have use of both!

Paul McDermott said...

Dear Lisbet.

Always be prepared to walk a mile in another man's shoes - by then, you have a mile start on him, he'll be barefoot and he won't catch you!

I had to accept early retirement from the teaching job I loved when arthritis (which afflicts every male in my family) made it impossible to continue. Schools in the UK are almost always a minimum of two or three floors, and very few are adapted to accommodate disabled pupils or staff.

Following bilateral hip replacement I then had to endure over TWO YEARS (and the indignity of going through no less than FIVE appeal hearings) before I was eventually granted a Disabled Person Bus Pass
Effectively, I was under a form of "House Arrest" all this time and had to rely on others to do basic shopping etc. for me,but what was most frustrating was not being able to get to Mass on a Sunday ...

Lisabet Sarai said...

Hey, Paul,

Two hip replacements - argh! I had one a couple of years ago, cementless so I couldn't walk at all for six weeks... I can only extrapolate what it would be like to have two.

And you're right, in some ways the loss of independence is the worst part. I'm used to taking care of myself. Having to ask my husband for something as simple as getting a glass of water is galling. And although he's happy to help, I hate to burden him (especially with grocery shopping, which he despises!)

So it took you two years to recover from the surgeries? How are you doing now?

Pat said...

When I was on crutches my brother wanted me to get a wheel chair for he could do wheely . It was so had to do some things like picking up food so it was if you do for me later you have to do for them

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