The Gift of Going for a Walk

I’ve disappeared from the blog-o-sphere for past few weeks. In fact, I’ve disappeared from quite a bit of life but with good reason. You see, about three weeks ago I was laying in bed watching Netflix when suddenly I had a broken ankle. Seriously, that is the truth no matter how strange it sounds. It’s not clear how my ankle was broken, but as I was diagnosed with epilepsy about six years ago, there’s a good chance I had a seizure. I don’t have seizures often, maybe two or three a year. Usually they just leave me with a headache and a sore tongue, but this one didn’t give me a headache at all, didn’t really hurt my tongue either, but it impacted me in other ways. That is, of course, if it was a seizure. There’s still the possibility that it was my dog jumping up on the bed and landing on me. My memory suggests that may have been what happened. My dog’s size, about 35 lbs, makes it pretty impressive that he could cause that kind of damage.

It’s been an interesting journey. The injury happened Monday night. When the pain wasn’t gone and there was some swelling, I decided to go into urgent care on Tuesday. The staff were pretty amazed that I was walking on a broken ankle. I was a bit surprised to learn it was actually broken.

They gave me a cool moon boot and crutches and sent me home to rest. I slept for about a week. It is amazing how much energy it takes to heal. That first week really sleeping was almost all I did. By week two the swelling was down enough that it was time for surgery. I thought with just a block of anesthetic behind my knee that I might get to experience the operation in a conscious state. I didn’t. I slept. Then I spent the night in the hospital so they might monitor for seizure activity. There was none. I did learn that I do not like percocet. Heavy duty painkillers are horrible things. I took it once and refused it thereafter. I really didn’t have any significant pain. At that point, I actually couldn’t feel my foot at all yet so it made no sense to me how the hospital staff kept trying to push painkillers that set my motion sickness into high gear. I couldn’t move without feeling nauseous.

After a few more days at home with my foot up I returned to the doctor and got the okay to return to work with my walker. That’s been the true gift. Before this accident I walked to work, and most everywhere else, every day. In my little town of about 5,000 people, I would typically put on one to five miles a day just doing what I needed to do. Right now, walking a block with my walker is significant exercise. My ankle is healing fast and I’m hoping to get back to a more normal routine in the next month or two, but this is where I am right now.

I find myself thinking a lot of some old friends who taught me about accessibility from their wheelchairs. I am especially thinking of Mark. He was a volunteer when I worked for the Grassroots Leadership College. He had severe physical limitations. I remember him apologizing once when he was late for his shift. He told us how when it was raining the bus drivers would often pass him by. They didn’t want to get wet helping him board the bus. That was just one little example of how the world treated his disability. There were too many others. Eventually, he had enough. He rolled himself down to the lake, propelled his body out of his chair, and landed face down in the water and ended his time being discriminated against.

My experience is nothing like his, but it has been a gift to look at accessibility issues and at how I see myself in this world of varying abilities.

First, I kind of have to laugh at myself. I found myself thinking the other day, as I was trying to open a heavy door without losing my balance, “this would really suck if I really had a disability!” Okay, now I am traveling around on eight screws and a plate, using a moon boot and a walker, because of a broken ankle that was quite likely caused by a seizure. Some might say I have a disability. I don’t really identify with that. It doesn’t make much sense to me. So, there is that, the whole question of what is it to have a disability in the first place? Who gets to decide who has a disability? Why do they have that power?

Then, I have to say “god bless the elders who do this in snow or on hills!” I live in Minnesota so I am thankful that my injury didn’t happen just a few weeks later. Did you know that if you hit a crack in the sidewalk your walker might veer off the wrong direction? Or did you realize that walkers really don’t have very good brakes and can start speeding along on even the slightest incline? I have the gift of being an in shape and strong middle aged woman. I can handle these challenges pretty easily. But, it’s tough for me to imagine what it’s like to use a walker if you don’t have the upper body strength or the sense of balance.

I’ve fallen a couple of times since I broke my ankle. I’ve been able to lean into my fall and land gently. Still, I think to myself what more damage could have done to the already broken spot? Or, thinking again of our elders, I wonder about my hips. It seems that for too many the broken hip is the kiss of death. I have two small steps going into my house. Normally, I barely notice them. Now I realize that they could kill someone.

I’m learning the little things about accessibility from a different perspective and it’s good for me, good for us, to know. One of my first lessons was on my first day back to work. I had to go to the HR office to drop off some files about the incident. HR is on the second floor of Behmler Hall. I’ve worked on campus two years, but don’t go to Behmler all that much. I knew there was an elevator, but I wasn’t sure where.

The bus dropped me off not far from the front entries to the building. It was then I really noticed that both of the main entries have stairs. I had to go down the hill alongside the building to come in a back door to find the elevator. Going down the hill I was thanking my lucky stars that there wasn’t any ice yet and wondering how people make that trek in winter. I also thought about how I’ve been on campus for two years and I had to search to find my way. I wondered about people coming to campus for the first time. How can you feel welcomed if you can’t come in the door?

Thinking of doors, I never really realized before how heavy doors can be. I also never really noticed how often there are buttons on exterior doors to open them, but once you’re in a building interior doors often don’t have that access tool. The building that I work in has, what I had always thought were accessible restrooms. They’re big with room to turn a wheelchair, the sink, soap, and hand dryers at good height. I think there’s even a bar to help getting on and off the toilet. But, those doors are heavy as heck when you’re balancing on one leg and using a wheeled device for mobility.

My experience thus far has been a simple one and there hasn’t been much that I can’t find a way around. I have been given the gift of hearing stories though. I know that there are people on campus who’ve not taken on roles that would both benefit them professionally and benefit the campus community because of the challenges of access in some of our campus buildings.

Sometimes people fight for access and sometimes they decide to just take a different route in life because we can’t all be fighters all the time. Sometimes we just need to live.

I encourage my friends to notice the steps, think about the weight of the door, look at where the furniture is placed, acknowledge the shelves and where supplies are kept. Note these things. Decide for yourself what is acceptable and change what is not.

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