Thursday, November 09, 2017

A Story About Crutches

     In response to my recent report of trouble with my poor, abused right knee, one piece of online advice was "get a cane."

     Get?  I've owned a cane since the late stages of my recovery from the 2006 motor scooter wreck* that damaged my right knee (and broke the thighbone, an ugly spiral fracture).  And a knee brace, and the crutches I used and came to loathe for months before (and then a little while after -- my immune system took issue with the plate and screws used to hold things together while the bone healed, so I had to go back in and have all the metal bits taken out).

     Loathe?  Oh, yes.  Crutches and canes are perverse, annoying things.  Other than the four-footed cane -- with its own problems -- they won't stand up on their own and yet if you need them, you're probably not in shape to bend or kneel and pick them up.  They get caught on things.  There's rarely a good place to put them when you don't need them.  Driving, dining, desk work -- it's all made more difficult by having to mange those blamed sticks.  But try to cross a room without them, and--  So you come to resent the darned things.

     Decades ago, I worked with a man who'd suffered polio in early childhood, well after the vaccine was available but before he'd received it.  It got his legs and left them weak and spindly.  He had braces, but still needed "elbow crutches" to get around -- the kind with a loose cuff for the upper arm and a grab handle that sticks out at ninety degrees, about as small and light and "convenient" as crutches ever get.  They're tricky to use, which is why hospitals send you home with old A-frame full-height crutches, but if you're a long-term user, the smaller ones are better.

     He hated them.  He was a big, muscular guy of Scots-Irish ancestry, with a bushy blond beard and a volcanic temper.  A good man, good at his job, but perpetually short-fused and never more so than at the frustrating behavior of his crutches, always in the way, often out of reach, and when stowed, occasionally falling over unexpectedly.  A storm of profanity would follow, often accompanied by a door slamming and the thumps and clicks of a man moving rapidly on crutches.

     Time passed and he was offered a better job in a distant state.  It was a big step up and he went for it.  That meant finding a new doctor in his new city--

     About a year later, he showed up at the business where we'd worked for a visit -- walked right in the front door, all smiles.  Walked in!  He had been going to his family doctor for years, keeping the same hardware he'd used in High School; his new physician had taken one look at his old braces and half-crutches and sent him to a specialist.  The state of the art had advanced considerably, and before he knew it, he was up on his own two feet (with a little technological assistance) and shopping for a tasteful cane for occasional use.

     Hearing his tale that day, seeing the light in his eyes and the persistence of what had been a rare and fleeting smile, I thought I knew how frustrated he must have been before.  Twenty-five years later, I broke my right knee badly enough to put myself on crutches (and in a knee brace) for six months -- and only then did I begin to have a glimmering of how he must have felt.

     I own a cane.  I keep it in my car (and there's a backup stashed in the garage) so that I can always get it no matter where I am.  I've been using my cane this week.  I don't much like it -- but there's way worse and I'd like to avoid that as long as I can.
* A wreck, mind you, for which I have no one to blame but myself.  I'd owned the scooter for a couple of weeks and had commuted to work on it.  I was on standby for the ABATE Rider's Course. Went out to pick up lunch and on the way back to work, got the shifter stuck between gears on a bumpy stretch of road.  Fought it back into gear with the throttle open, hit a bump, got the front wheel briefly up and came back down turned to one side.  Loss of control was immediate and irreversible and as the scooter wobbled, I stuck out a foot.  It went road, sky,  road, sky and then I was on my back in the road, a little way from my scooter, which was on its side and idling.  I tried to get up, felt blinding pain, wormed over to the scooter and turned it off.  This was right outside work; coworkers came out, called an ambulance, and some of them were walking my scooter off to the building by the time the ambulance arrived.  The ER was sure I just had a bad sprain, so I lay there on a gurney and ate my lunch.  I was just finishing when the X-rays came back: "Okay, looks like you do have a broken leg.  You'll be going into surgery in a few hours-- hey, is that corned beef?"  It was, and I was off the surgery list and off food until the next morning.  That evening my cellphone rang: "Miss X?  We have an opening for the ABATE class this weekend...."  I replied, "How do you feel about irony?"  Turned out they weren't so keen on it.  Six months later, I took the class. 


New Jovian Thunderbolt said...

"Hey! Is that corned beef?"

FrankC said...

Those "elbow crutches" are standard NHS (UK) issue.
Do the "A-frame" crutches come with a parrot a la Long John Silver? Enquiring minds etc.

Jeffrey Smith said...

I was sent home with the elbow crutches because I couldn't figure out the necessary one footed jump with the other kind (necessary when you can't put any weight on the just-surgeried leg). The official name is Lofstrand crutches, though who Lofstrand is I never investigated.

JC said...

Canes. Well shit. Is a thing. I use one, since my left foot was crushed by a bus. I prefer to think of it as a stick, which is my preferred level of technology.

JC said...

Now that I think about it, walking with a cane beats the hell out of rolling around in wheelchair. Hated that. Hate hate hatehatey-hate. A cane, now...My usual stick has a couple three layers of duct tape around the , and a neat layer of paracord in the hand area. Folks ask me why I've got it on my cane, what is it there for? I tell 'em"I don't know yet".

Roberta X said...

NJT: It was corned beef on fresh rye bread, with mustard and sprouts. Probably some Swiss cheese, too. And a cream puff for dessert. Like I was gonna just let that sit? I think th ER had issued me a bottle of water, too.

I had grabbed my purse and my lunch from the scooter when I shut it off, and kept it all with me on the ambulance. A broken knee is not going to keep me away from good food!

That was one of my last meals from Crawford's Deli. The family patriarch had passed and while the business was profitable, it was not hugely so and they found it too much trouble. The building (across from Methodist Hospital) was aging and in need of repair and they closed about the time I was able to return to work. Between them and the lunch counter across from work changing hands very much for the worse, lunch options have never been as good.

"Elbow crutches" vs. the tall ones: every time I asked, I was told that elbow crutches took too much training to use to make them practical for a short-time user like me. The tall ones were a lot of trouble and you cannot use your armpits to hold yourself up, tempting though it is. I broke a little toe at least once, crutching through a doorway in sandals and catching it on the doorframe.

Crutches beat wheels every time. I have a co-worker on wheels and accommodating her access (and remember, a wheelchair fits through a standard door and is at standard desk-chair height) brings home that it's a bipedal world, way more so than we realize. Things as simple as the tables and chairs in the break room can become an annoying maze, and a couple of easy-to-step-around openings in good old handy computer floor might as well be a set of bear traps.