Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Life with a Cane

Photo by westrow

Hi Everyone,
The past four months, since our trip up Sněžka, I’ve been dealing with a herniated disk and finding out that I have inherited a birth defect called spinal stenosis. It’s been an interesting time in my life. I had just had that milestone birthday, and then a couple months later ended up with a cane. That can be somewhat discouraging. Actually, that’s an understatement. A milestone birthday and a cane can be a very discouraging experience. For the first weeks after getting my cane, I tended to avoid friends and social activities. There is a kind of embarrassment in having to use a cane when you’re not so old. 

Even so, after a while, avoiding friends and social occasions tends to become a bit old. I finally reached the point where I was desperate to get out and be around friends and attending social gatherings, such as church. I still felt embarrassed at going out with a cane, but didn’t care so much at this point. It felt so good to get out, even though I was walking extremely slow and had the cane. Getting out was one of the best things I did for myself.

Fall flowers by amyjayne10

Along with getting out when pain has allowed, I have been learning about how people here treat those who use canes. Czechs are mostly respectful to those who have canes and are having a hard time getting around. I have been shocked and surprised by the kindness of people—from teens to those much older than me. I don't want to be treated differently due to having a cane, but having a seat on a tram, bus or in the metro is a boon. At first, when people would offer me a seat, I was surprised and hesitant to accept. But after several times of being wrenched while standing, I began to accept seats when they were offered. I've been very appreciative to all who have given up their seats to help me—thank you all so very much—I mean this from the heart. (Note: these days [2016] I return the favors shown me during my "cane time!")

A few times, some young men have even stepped off the bus/tram and then held out their hand to help me down. I was so surprised—this also made me feel very old, but I don’t care. When you need a hand, and someone’s there offering theirs,  you’re very thankful.  

Another day, about a week ago, I was standing on a tram coming home, and an older man (he must have been in his late 70s) saw me having trouble, and got up to give me his seat as the tram was moving. He was still a very strong and vigorous man, and he held my hand and my lower arm and helped me to the seat he had vacated for me. This man did not let go of my hand/arm until I was firmly seated. This almost made me cry. I would have stayed standing rather than take an older person’s seat. However, this man insisted, and I’m most thankful to him for his assistance.

Fall imagery by lindaorso

Life with a cane and a temporary disability are challenging. I have learned a lot about people—both good and bad, and how thankful I am for those who have been a help and who have been so kind as to give up their seats. I mostly don’t need too much assistance, but when traveling it is definitely best to be able to sit. I have been doing my own housework (most of the time) and cooking, though there have been some high-pain days when that hasn’t been possible. At times, I have been frustrated by living with this lower level of capability than I’m used to. However, I have also learned to live life a little slower and to enjoy the small things. 

When you are recovering from a long illness or injury, it is best to view your time of recovery as a pilgrimage or quest, and take one step at a time. Just try to see how much you learn about yourself and others through the process of healing and recovery. And if you aren’t able to recover to the level you were at before, that’s OK. Go and do what you are still able to, and enjoy it, in spite of your illness or disability. One last bit of advice, don’t be ashamed or embarrassed to go out with a cane or any other assistance device. If you need  it, use it. Keep living and don’t hide yourself away. We are social creatures, and you will only be healed through staying as active and as social as you can—even if that means only socializing online…do it. You’ll be better for it and feel better, in spite of what you’re going through.

God bless,
Sher :0)

PS I'm currently in a round of physical therapy and doing exercises to ease pain and regain strength. Right now, there doesn't seem to be much progress. I'm staying focused on getting better--this type of injury can take a while to heal--almost a year for some people. At this point, I'm almost 4.5 months into dealing with this pain and injury...just past the 1/3 of a year mark. That's a positive thing! If physical therapy doesn't work, I'm not sure what the neurologist will want to do next. I have to stay focused now, though, on the physical therapy and the hope this will work. I remember what Christ taught us, "Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about it's own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." (Matthew 6:34 New King James Version) In other words, don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow has it's own worries, and today has enough trouble of it's own without having to worry about tomorrow's, too! I'm not always good about practicing this, but I'm working on it :0) 

© 2011 by Sher Vacik. All rights reserved.


Ivanhoe said...

Hope you get better soon!!!! Tell you what, I have noticed a big difference between Czech & US "etiquette". Seems that most of the Czechs (Europeans?) were raised a bit different :)
I'm glad you are getting the helping hand ;)

Sher said...

@Ivanhoe: Thank you...I'm coming along :0)

Yes, there is a big difference between Czech & US "etiquette." Not as many young people in the US would be so helpful as the young people here, for one thing. As for others, it depends on what part of the country you live in.

I've lived mostly in the Midwest and in the South and Southwest. In those areas, people will typically offer a friendly hand to those in need. People in these areas are more friendly, at least from my own experience.

I'm very happy to be getting a helping hand from Czechs--young and old! And even when they know I'm a foreigner, they don't hesitate to help.

I hope you're having a wonderful Fall/Autumn back in the US!

Have a great day,
Sher :0)

Karen said...

Wow Sher, it was almost physically painful to read this post because you write so evocatively I can FEEL your pain. This post is almost a how-to on how to be kind and the power each of us have to give that level of kindness. May I live up to this level each and everytime I encounter someone with a cane. Thanks for making us all more aware. Lastly, rely more on your wonderful church family! They would love to help you and see you as much as possible. Take care, Sher.

Sher said...

@Karen: I'm sorry you were so affected by this post that you were almost in pain!

That was my goal in sharing how life can be when a person has trouble getting around. Unless you've been in that situation, you don't really have the awareness of what it's like. I've always tried to be helpful to people like me--but now I am dependent on others' kindness. This is quite a role reversal for me. But I must say, most people here have been very kind and helpful.

I wanted this post to say thank you to them all, and let people know that Czech people are really not so cold and standoffish as they are sometimes portrayed.

You caught my other goal--raising awareness of what it's like for people who have canes and movement issues.

Fortunately, I'm still able to get around most of the time, I carry my own groceries (not the very heavy loads I used to carry), and do my housework, etc. My disability is light compared to so many others. My pain level is very high (7 out of 10), and am hoping that will come down soon. Even so, I'm trying to keep doing things as much as possible. I'm stubborn, but when I need help, I do ask for it. And I will not hesitate to reach out to my church family when I really need help.

You have a great day, Karen,
Sher :0) said...

Hi Sher,

A very brave post, though I expect it was quite theraputic for you to write it. Well done for getting out & about & meeting people rather than staying at home all the time. And as Karen suggests, don't be afraid to ask for help & support from your Church friends.

Sher said... Thank you! Actually, it was a very therapeutic post to write. Being able to talk about my situation openly does help me to keep perspective and to avoid bottling up all the thoughts, feelings and frustrations that I'm dealing with.

I will definitely reach out to our church family when I need help. I am a bit stubborn in this way. For me, it is important to do as much as I'm able to do and stay independent as much as possible. I hate being a burden to others. Also, staying as active as possible is better for health and keeping a better mindset.

However, when I really do need help, I ask for it...and will surely do so when I need it. I'm very thankful to have a church family to turn to for help.

Have a great day,
Sher :0)