Cycling is a lot like tightrope walking. Everything is great unless you fall. And a harmless-looking fall can have long healing consequences.
If you braced yourself before your fall - wrist, elbow - you’ll have about 6 weeks of serious inconvenience. If you fell too fast for bracing and your leg is affected, you’ll be on crutches. But worse than that inconvenience, will be the injuries to your dignity. Because here’s one thing I’ve learned: chopped liver gets more attention than a cyclist on crutches.
When I was 9 and on Summer vacation at my grandparents’ house, I used to play a game with two sisters next door. We’d make forts out of towels draped over beach chairs, and improvise crutches with upside down croquet mallets, walking on our knees. We laughingly called this game “Hopeless Prickles.”
I can relate to the prickly part these days, as a tibial plateau fracture has landed me on crutches for 2 months (and counting). It hasn’t always made me the best company. But it’s not the crutches that are the problem.
"Go ahead and shop," waves my riding partner, as she returns to her phone conversation (to be fair, she has an emergency of her own). We're at Trader Joes where she has kindly taken me for supplies, after picking Lola and me up from the ER. I crutch gamely over to the broccoli, but here’s the thing about crutches: you can’t carry anything. Not broccoli, not shampoo – not even a coffee cup.
I’ve adjusted as best I can. Morning coffee is drunk where it’s made. I reach for everything with uncharacteristic left-legged arabesques. I permanently wear a back pack. It’s not that I’m going anywhere, it’s just the only way to get laundry from one room to the next. Bathing is a Chinese puzzle wherein I am constantly computing the order of my actions; each one must be consecutive, or none of them will work. And the simplest obstacle – a curb in the shower for instance - can stop me altogether.
My life is a haiku of its former self. From cycling 30 miles a day, I now appreciate a simple outing to the front porch.
But once I Uber out, those adjustments don’t get me very far. A trip to the movies with friends? No handicap seats are reserved. The difficulties of crutching over peoples’ knees in a darkened theatre don’t seem to occur to anyone. But even if they do, I still have to get into the theatre itself. For example, this is what has greeted me upon arrival at one of the “accessible” movie theatres here.
But bad as crutches are for getting around, I’m useless without them. I once allowed the hostess of a dinner party to confiscate my crutches for her convenience. At the end of the meal, everyone got up and left me there, an upside down crab flailing around. I called for help to no avail; they were too busy in the next room congratulating each other on the dinner and the company. The first time this happened, I was close to tears, but I’ve learned to suck it up. The fact is, once you’re disabled, you’re a 2nd class citizen and you’d better get used to it.
Here’s what I would advise. Reject all offers of help; people don’t mean it. I’ve had doors that were opened for me, slam on me just as quickly (or open unexpectedly from behind when I was leaning against them); had people offer to pick up a fallen crutch, and while I was waiting on one leg, get involved in a texting marathon and completely forget. When it comes to crutches, people are hopeless.
It’s not personal. People don’t like to hear or think about disability. It’s way too close for comfort. One little injury and suddenly you’re dependent on others, invisible. Most people push it out of their minds, and I can’t blame them. No one wants to be chopped liver.
Or worse, a cyclist on crutches.