I have been incapacitated in various degrees for nearly six weeks now because of this broken foot. For the first four weeks, I was completely unable to put any weight on it and had to hop everywhere I went, using a walker to assist me. Getting up and going to the bathroom in the middle of the night was a nightmare. Even though I am doing a little bit of walking now, I still have to go up and down the stairs on the seat of my pants, and my husband, George, puts me in the wheelchair if we go to the store or anywhere that necessitates me having to walk more than a meager amount. This experience has given me a completely new appreciation for people who are permanently or much more seriously disabled.
Very few restaurants or stores, even those who say they are wheelchair accessible, have doors that open automatically. If no one is around to hold the door, George has to try to hold the door open while pushing me through it. I end up having to help him hold it so it won’t smack one of us. What if I didn’t have George, or what if I didn’t have the use of my arms?
When we were in Asheville, North Carolina, a few weeks ago with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, I could only see half of the Biltmore Estate because two floors were not wheelchair accessible. There were also shops I couldn’t go into because they were too crowded and packed with fragile items to make it possible for me to negotiate the narrow passageways. I sat outside while my family went in without me. When we went to the Cherokee museum. George pushed me in the wheelchair so I could see the exhibits, but the signs were too high for me to read them comfortably. I tried, but looking up at that angle quickly made my neck sore, and I finally gave up. When I needed to use the restroom, George pushed me over to the door and helped me up so I could use the walker to hop in. But when I tried to leave the restroom, I found I couldn’t open the door and continue to hold on to the walker. I had to bang on the door until George heard me and opened the door for me. And one added note on restrooms. Every single public restroom I used, whether it was at the museum, in a restaurant, at the Biltmore Estate, or at the welcome center on the state highway, had the handicapped stall located the farthest from the restroom door. And these places are supposed to be handicapped friendly?
So here’s the thing. I’m not writing this because I want you to feel sorry for me. In a few months time, I expect to be back to my old self, able to take walks again unaided, able to take care of myself without help from anyone. But many people are not as fortunate. Their disabilities are not going to go away. It is their life. Do you have any idea how many of our young men and women have been horribly injured in these terrible wars? I don’t know the number, but I know it is so high, it is staggering. And our communities are not easy places for them to navigate.
I don’t have any real point except to say their plight has become more real to me. I tasted only a tiny portion of what they have to eat every day. When I see them now, they won’t be invisible, and I will give them more than a passing thought. They will be in my thoughts and on my heart in a more personal way.