On Being Handicapped

Last week, I was walking around on two feet, per usual, and all of a sudden, the ground rose up to greet me. I found myself in a very ladylike position, doggie-style, staring at the asphalt. As if the injury to my dignity wasn’t bad enough, my ankle decided to get in on the action. It took it upon itself to twist in a way in which ankles are not supposed to twist; namely, backwards.

I rose from the ground, embarrassed and bleeding, and hurried away, checking to see if anyone had witnessed my death-defying feat of falling over. No one had. Phew. I went into the bathroom and washed the blood, dirt and asphalt from my skinned knees and shins. I was at work at the time and we had no ice on the premises. I tried to keep it elevated. I thought I was in the clear.

It wasn’t until later that the pain came like a wave. At first, it was just a little ripple on the horizon, and slowly, it became a full-blown white cap washing over me so that all I could think about was the throbbing, blinding, searing pain. I fell at lunchtime. By the end of the day, the pain was so bad that I had to hop on one foot using filing cabinets or whatever else was along the way to support myself.

By the time I got home, I couldn’t walk. Every step I took was like walking on hot coals mixed with glass shards, razor blades, rusty nails, boiling oil and corrosive acid. It got so bad that I actually crawled to the bathroom, on skinned and bruised knees, because even that was better than taking another step on that foot. The pain was excruciating, to say the least.

I started off with a set of borrowed crutches. I went to a drug store to get an ankle brace. Since I’m not officially handicapped, I had to park in a regular schmoe parking spot. I hauled my crutches out, and before I even made it to the store, I was winded. Walking on crutches is really hard work. I don’t have the faintest idea how people manage it.

Why it is that drug stores put things like crutch pads, braces and bandages way in the back of the store is beyond me. Generally, if you’re in need of a bandage, it means that you are injured and you’re not likely to pick up the new summer lipstick color on the way. People don’t just buy bandages for fun. Well, maybe some people do, but I don’t.

Anyway, I finally got my ankle brace, but it had already taken me three years of hobbling around the store to find it and I was dying of thirst. It happened to be a thousand degrees outside that day and my energy and water stores had been sapped trying to walk on those damn crutches. What was I to do? Do I risk trying to make it all the way back out to my car without a beverage and go through a drive-through somewhere? What if the drive-through has a line? I’ll never make it. It’s a million miles away.

With the brace stowed in my bag, since I had no way to hold it, I hauled my crippled ass all the way to the other side of the store to get a beverage, which I downed on the spot. Ah, relief, but my journey was only halfway done. I still had to get all the way through checkout and way back out to my car. If I designed drug stores, bandages and crutches would be at the front, and they would have refrigerated drink cases at the end of every other aisle.

People tend to stare at people on crutches as if there’s something wrong with them. Well, technically, I guess there is something wrong with them or they wouldn’t be on crutches. But, general public, next time you see a person on crutches, instead of staring blankly, please, GET THE HELL OUT OF THE WAY. Walking on crutches is hard work, it’s painful and only a masochist would do it for fun. If I am on crutches, it means I can’t walk. You can. Therefore, please, move since every step I take is excruciating. I’d hate to think how many times I said “Excuse me,” to some dumbfounded moron as if I had some sort of hypnotic device that turned them into a deer in headlights. If I did, I would implant the suggestion to MOVE!! I found myself glaring at people who were taking the use of both of their feet for granted, which was everyone.

The following morning, I woke up to find that the pain in my foot was slightly better, but now, my underarms were on fire. Not only is walking on crutches exhausting, but it hurts the hell out of a region that isn’t used to supporting the weight your whole body. I couldn’t use the crutches. I mean, I really couldn’t. I tried, but my underarms rebelled and said no. As I write this, my underarms are still sore. I used one crutch as a cane instead with my arm on the inside of the part that’s meant to go under your arm.

Well, that’s just silly. If I’m using a crutch as a cane, I might as well just have a cane. I did a little poking online since who knows where they sell things like that. I found a website for a big department store just around the corner from my house that had a thousand different varieties listed online. Learning my lesson after the drug store incident, I walked in the door, grabbed the first employee I saw and asked where their canes were. He said, “We don’t sell canes here.” I said, “But you have a thousand different varieties listed online.” “Yeah, that’s online though. The store has different merchandise.” “Well, you should really designate on your website which items are only available online. Couldn’t you at least stock one cane for people like me who see a thousand different varieties on your website and stupidly think you might have one cane in your giant store, too?” He didn’t seem intimidated by the fact that I could have used my crutch as a weapon and said, “Sorry, ma’am, try the drug store down the street,” followed by an eye roll and a walk away.

I tried the drug store down the street. I walked in and again asked the first employee I could find where the canes were. Not only did she tell me where they were, she led me to them, slowly. Once again, they were in the back of the store. I hobbled back to the front using the cane I hadn’t yet purchased. I asked the girl when she rang me up why it is that the canes and bandages were always in the back of the store. She said, “The canes used to be in the front, but kids would come in and use them to have sword fights, so we had to move them to the back.” “Aah, I see,” I said, “Kids ruin everything.” She gave me a tense smile and asked me if there was anything else I needed. “No, thanks.”

The next day, I had to get on a plane. I bought a plane ticket to visit a friend long before I went and crippled myself. I called the airline and made arrangements to fly handicapped. I got to the airport expecting them to just hand me a wheelchair, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that they actually push you all the way to your gate. Hurray! On the way, we passed an old man with emaciated legs using an elaborate system of braces and crutches to walk to his destination. I felt like a pampered ninny for being pushed in a wheelchair while this man was walking. My helper told me not to feel bad; he was probably more used to it than I was and that I was in pain.


At the airport security checkpoint, they made me take off everything they normally make you take off and more. Shoes, belt, leg brace, but I wasn’t allowed a cane or a wheelchair. Well, how am I supposed to walk through the machine? Crawl? One of them held me up as I hobbled to the Xray device, or whatever that portal is that you have to walk through at airports, but when I got there, I had to go through alone, naked as a baby (who was wearing clothes). A solitary hand in a blue, latex glove appeared on the other side. I grabbed it and went through. I nearly fell, but I didn’t. As I slumped into a chair on the other side, the TSA staff actually applauded me like I was a five year old in a Christmas pageant.

It seems silly to me that they wouldn’t let me take an airport wheelchair or an airport cane through the portal, but what do I know. If they don’t want me taking my own cane, that’s fine, but at least give me something with which to walk.  On the return flight, the airport had a wooden cane that they let me borrow, but not LAX.  At LAX, I had to walk under my own power. What do they do if you can’t walk at all? Drag you?

Through security and off to the gate I went which, of course, was at the far end of the terminal. I have yet to ever take a flight at a gate that was right inside the terminal. I don’t think they actually have flights that leave out of the closest gates.  They’re just there so that the airport seems bigger and more international.

I sat at the gate in my wheelchair, which was pretty uncomfortable by the way, until I had to go to the bathroom. I tried to move the wheelchair, but it wouldn’t budge. Oh, the brakes are on. I can fix that. Away we go… or maybe not. Have you ever tried to use a wheelchair? It’s really not even as remotely easy as it looks. I got about two feet before I rammed my bad foot into a partition. From there, I had to back up and couldn’t manage that either. Now I know why they wheel you to your gate. I figured it was safer for me and those around me if I just hobbled to the bathroom on my cane. It wasn’t that far.

There was a massive line for the ladies room. What takes women so long to pee is a mystery I will never understand. I have all the same parts and it doesn’t take me that long. Even with a broken foot, it doesn’t take me that long.  Anyway, not one of the women in line saw me gimping and decided to give me her place. Fair enough. I can understand the demands of a full bladder. Because the line stretched way out into the walkway area, people were trying to walk through it like osmosis, rather than around it. One guy walked right in front of me and grazed my bad foot with his as he went. He didn’t say excuse me or even acknowledge that I was there. Asshole.

Finally, I made it into the handicapped stall, which had just been vacated by a non-handicapped person, only to find that the seat had been peed all over. I doubt it was a handicapped person that did that. I had to stand on one foot, holding onto the rail, wiping someone else’s pee from the seat before I could go myself. Lovely. When I came back from the bathroom, someone was sitting in my wheelchair. “Oh, is this yours? Sorry.” That’s right, GET OUT!

Preboarding is a word I’ve heard many times, but never understood what it really meant. Well, if you have special needs, they allow you to get on the plane before everyone else. You even get to pick where you want to sit. I sat next to a blind girl on the way there. She had some sort of fascinating braille device on which she sat typing. Again, I felt like a big, handicapped phony in comparison.

I’d like to think that, before all of this happened, I didn’t lollygag in store aisles while someone in a wheelchair or crutches was waiting to get through. I probably didn’t use the handicapped stall in the bathroom and pee all over the seat. I’d like to think that I had a little more common courtesy than all of that, but I might not have. At least, not all the time. I will now though, because now, I have a slightly better idea of  just how hard it can be to navigate a normal world without all your body parts functioning properly.

This post is part of the On Being Series.