Archive for December 1st, 2007

For much of the past week, I was on crutches because of a leg injury. It wasn’t the first time, and, unless I learn to regulate my exercise better, probably won’t be the last. But going from an active routine to a crippled one, even for a while, can be a major change in perspective.

To start with, your entire concept of the immediate space around you changes. The horizon that represents “far” diminishes – in my case for a day or two, to the front door of our townhouse (anything beyond the door briefly ceased to exist). Even a trip across the living room is undertaken only when absolutely necessary. If possible, you try to plan your movements so you can do two or three things at once, and save yourself effort. The effort, to say nothing of the pain, makes you want confine your movements only to the necessary ones. There’s no darting back for a book you forgot, either.

Your relation with those around you changes, too. When you are sufficiently injured to need crutches, you almost inevitably need some help, if only to help you carry some things – it is nearly impossible, for instance, to carry a cup of just-boiled tea when you’re on crutches without scalding yourself at some point. Some people might adjust quickly to be waiting on, and become imperious, flinging out orders at any point, but, for myself, I find myself resentful. I don’t like being dependent on anyone for little things, no matter how close I am to them emotionally. Being an active man, I’m used to doing for myself.

Anyway, there’s a psychological difference between asking someone to do you a favor, and asking them to do something because you either can’t or would have to go to go through considerable effort and discomfort. Or there is for me, anyway.
Standing up with crutches is always a minor crisis as you look for secure surfaces to help hoist you up. Then, once you’re on your feet, you have a moment of panic as you sway and start to position the crutches under your arms.

Once underway, your progress is like that of a sailing ship: slow and stately, and accompanied by lots of swaying and groans, sometimes from your crutches (if they’re wooden) and always from your body. The problem of navigation arises, too, with even the bent back corner of a throw rug or an object on the floor becoming a major obstacle.

Perhaps that’s why I always find myself singing sea chanteys when I’m on crutches – although “Blow the Man Down” can seem terribly prophetic at such times, particularly when someone wants past you in a hallway. You need more space than normally when on crutches, and most people don’t realize that even brushing past you can leave you scrambling to preserve your balance and your dignity.

When you finally reach your destination, the relief is immense. Should that destination be bed, the relief is even greater, since you know that you don’t have to worry about moving for another seven or eight hours.

How the permanently disabled endure, I don’t know. Just the effort of getting around is so great that work or any other daily activity becomes almost impossible. For me, the first sign of improvement is like the first week of spring, and throwing away the crutches and regaining the walking reflex (which you lose after a few day of advancing one step at a time) has something of the excitement of a first love. I have to restrain myself from throwing myself unrestrainedly into my usual routine, and only the thought of fishing out the crutches again restrains me.

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