Cane and Dis-Abel-ed
Aaron Singh -- In the madness of life at Cambridge, you have to take time out. That is, if you want to avoid becoming one of those nerds so ubiquitous here, who walk out of lectures at 2pm, into the library, and out again at 7am the next day to go to lectures, and who survive on nothing but bread and Sainsbury’s sandwich filler, and who raise their noses from their books only to clean their thick-as-Biochemistry-textbooks glasses once in a while. That, or a lecturer. (Seriously, some of them look like they’ve been buried in their labs so long they haven’t seen the light of day for months. At least, that’s what their dress senses tell me. Ever been lectured by a rambling old man in an Edwardian suit?)
So we all find ways to cope. Mine is comedy acting. I take to the Cambridge stage at least once per term, to the laughter and applause of drunk students too inebriated to throw rotten tomatoes at my lame jokes, and to the consternation of my tutors, who tell me I should stop prancing around on stage and concentrate on becoming a doctor. And so it was that last Saturday I was on stage as Romeo, and during the final dance when I had to lift Juliet onto my shoulder, something in my leg pulled. And when I woke up the next morning, my leg was NOT happy.
So this past week I’ve been hobbling around on a cane. It’s a borrowed cane, belonging to another medic who, for whatever reason, thought it would be convenient to jump off the Bridge of Sighs onto a punt floating past underneath (true story). It’s a nice cane, too, that bears no small resemblance to the cane made famous by Hugh Laurie’s Dr House in the TV series.
We’ve all seen patients on canes. But they usually hobble into the clinic or teaching area, get checked out, then go back to their lives, and that’s that. We never stop to think about how their lives must be.
But now I had my chance.
The first thing I learned about walking with a cane is that your walking speed is considerably reduced. Here in Cambridge everyone walks fast, and the first few days I was late for lectures, tutorials, everything. But eventually I got the hang of it. I started twirling my cane whenever I stood still, and used it to do all sorts of tricks like open doors, press buttons, and hook objects to drag closer (Warning: Do not try this with a full glass).
But the thing I wondered about was: would people give me more space? Are we as a society still sympathetic to disabled people, or have we decided that they don’t deserve sympathy simply for being disabled? To ascertain this, I decided to try the most daring experiment, the ultimate gauge of public civility, that most time-honoured test of sympathy: The sidewalk test.
*dum dum DUMMMM*
It’s simple. You hobble along a sidewalk (and here, the sidewalks can be incredibly narrow) and see if people give way or if they simply stare ahead and continue to walk, in which case you can either squeeze past, give way yourself and step off the sidewalk (which I do for ladies anyway, this being Britain) or, if you’re in a particularly nasty Dr House-ish mood, beat them out of your way with your cane.
And the verdict?
Idealists rejoice, for most people are still nice. On the really narrow sidewalks everyone stepped off for me when they saw my cane. I didn’t get treated any differently either, and some of my friends were very nice and helped carry my stuff (there are always some perks). And whenever I bumped into an elderly person using a cane, they’d smile kindly at me, or give me a knowing twinkle (as if to say “get off that cane whilst you still can, youngster”).
Thankfully now I’m almost off my cane, but still … I’ll never look at a person with a cane the same way again.
March 5, 2007 | Permalink
I ask that you never forget the lessions you have learned while walking on that cane. It can be really eye opening when you see things from the other side.
Posted by: saraiderin | Mar 5, 2007 1:10:27 PM
Sorry to hear that you're disabled as of late, but (as an idealist) I am glad to hear that people have been treating you well. LOVE the title of this entry. :)
Posted by: Kendra | Mar 6, 2007 11:23:34 AM
Hahaha... have you tried crutches? That is what happened to me 1 year ago after a minor foreign body extraction (fine piece of glass I stepped on the streets, left over by some DAMN drunk that smash up their bottles) from my foot... well... in Simferopol, Ukraine, you don't get any slags, they don't give a DAMN (slamming the door before you, shouting at you when you are trying VVEERRYY hard to get off the bus as soon as possible...oh, and you don't get a sit on the bus)... post-communism syndrome or racism or both of the above I presume... who knows??! Get well soon! :P
Posted by: Alex | Mar 8, 2007 2:58:10 AM
I was wondering why you were crutching on that cane a couple of weeks back, glad that you are OK. The notion that people are nice, and that they will give you a nice passage (if you are disabled) is a nice idea. Many steps have been taken to assist the disabled, such as ramps, elevators, buttons to open doors, special parking spaces, etc. Perhaps being more privileged than them, we should be moe grateful and help them whenever we can.
Nevertheless, I have read of disabled people who do not wish to be treated as disabled people, and wish to be acknowledged as a normal person, no better, no worse than many of us. This pose a conundrum, as they actually have not yet accepted their disability as part of themselves. Acceptance of disability is a difficult step, but perhaps a necessary one before they can receive help. And the best way to make them realise of their disability and accept them is by not helping. What a paradox.
Hope you are getting on well, my dear.
Posted by: CambMedic EL | Mar 10, 2007 4:36:08 AM
quoting: "Nevertheless, I have read of disabled people who do not wish to be treated as disabled people, and wish to be acknowledged as a normal person, no better, no worse than many of us. This pose a conundrum, as they actually have not yet accepted their disability as part of themselves. Acceptance of disability is a difficult step, but perhaps a necessary one before they can receive help. And the best way to make them realise of their disability and accept them is by not helping. What a paradox."
I have had a serious, visible disability for most of my life & have a high degree of acceptance of my situation. The idea that some able-bodied person might judge me for wanting to be treated as "no better and no worse than everyone else", rather than "as a disabled person" makes me mad. I AM no better and no worse than everyone else. And, I do have special needs in some but not most contexts. It does no one any good to pretend that I am not disabled. It also annoys me when people go out of the way to remind me that I am disabled because of what is really their issue. And it is triple irritating to have some able-bodied person forcing me to do things their way (whether it's accepting too much help or getting not enough), because they know what's good for me better than I do.
I find that able-bodied people get obsessed with this idea of "acceptance", as if it is an all-or-nothing proposition, and as if there is a "right" way to be disabled (and as if they know what it is!). Certainly some responses to life circumstances are more adaptive than others, but everyone has to find his or her own way to and understanding of his or her own circumstances.
Posted by: beep | Mar 14, 2007 10:49:30 AM
Ho hum...using a cane for a couple of weeks (particularly as that means you're still able to weight-bear), isn't really an eye opening experience in my book (although from what I remember of Cambridge, you couldn't get a wheelchair down most pavements anyway).
CambMedic EL, I think you need to critically review your ideas. A lot of able-bodied students are certainly not courteous, and just barge past.
Interprofessionally, I've had mixed experiences in clinical settings...but those pale in comparison to some of the interprofessional learning sessions we have had.
I'm usually at the hospital first due to my lack of transport options...and it's amazing how many medical/healthcare students (on the first day) will say 'oops sorry', and just walk out again, assuming that I couldn't possibly be 'one of them'. This is despite wearing full name badge prominently and professional dress.
Then again, it's equally worrying when people assume that I'm a physio student or a medic (both would have fitness to practice issues in the UK, although apparently not in the US).
That is what people generally mean by being treated equally...i.e. in a social sense.
Holding a door open is general common sense and politeness (I do it if someone is following me and someone else has just gone through).
Posted by: OT student | Mar 15, 2007 1:58:11 AM
Aaron, keep engaging to your hobby/interest outside medicine is a good thing. It gives you a more balance life . I bet it's a a very good way to relax between your hectic time.
Keep that good laugh, mate!
All the best,
Posted by: Nana Saleh | Mar 16, 2007 5:53:28 AM
"Nevertheless, I have read of disabled people who do not wish to be treated as disabled people, and wish to be acknowledged as a normal person, no better, no worse than many of us. This pose a conundrum, as they actually have not yet accepted their disability as part of themselves. Acceptance of disability is a difficult step, but perhaps a necessary one before they can receive help. And the best way to make them realise of their disability and accept them is by not helping. What a paradox."
To echo beep...I'm disabled. I've accepted it. It's part of me. I'm also normal (whatever that means). I use a wheelchair, and I'm currently doing a full-time PhD. Is that abnormal in some way? I do need assistance in some areas of my life, but doesn't everyone?
Posted by: Funky Mango | Mar 22, 2007 1:32:25 PM
Hope you feel better soon medic and heal up completely. There's umm much prancing to be done. :)
Posted by: Chrysalis Angel | Mar 22, 2007 3:18:08 PM
Glad to hear that the Cambridge people are nice to those who are incapacitated. When I was on crutches a few months back I had people shut doors on me and push me out of the way on the sidewalk. Whoever said Canadians are friendly obviously didn't have this experience.
Posted by: Xavier Emmanuelle | May 6, 2007 8:02:18 AM
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