Thursday, January 14, 2010

Hold the Door

I use a walker to perambulate. I try to be gracious to people who kindly offer their assistance, even when neither they nor I can think of any possible way for them to help. Snarling at peoples’ offers of help because, “I can do it myself, damn it,” just doesn’t work for me anymore. Snarling is out because:
  • It really pisses off my wife
  • I don’t want to discourage people from generously offering to lend a hand to someone who may really need the help
  • It reflects badly on me
  • It reflects badly on other handicapped people who, in the main, are less grumpy than I am
  • It really pisses off my wife
However, as sweet and lovable as I may endeavor to become, there are still some things that will evoke a strong negative reaction from me. And I still know how to do negative really well. Just two rules to follow really:

  • Rule #1: Ask me if you can help
  • Rule #2: Don’t surprise me (which is really a corollary of Rule #1)

A few examples will illustrate my point.

Example #1:

Perhaps the most common help I need and often receive is the common courtesy of someone holding the door open for me. When asked, I’ll almost always say yes, except when our positions make it difficult to navigate through the doorway and the door holder. Hint: get in front of me and hold the door so that you are not in the doorway yourself.

The most dangerous form of door holding (here comes the negative reaction) is the person who comes up behind me and pushes open the door from behind while I am in the midst of pushing the door open myself. Once I have started pushing open the door, the weight of the door pushing back becomes part of my system of balance. If you surprise me by pushing on the door, I am fairly likely to fall.

Example #2:

Stairs can be a challenge. Depending on the stairway steepness, the handrails (height, side of the steps), the width of the stairway and whether I am going up or going down, I have a variety of workable strategies. You may be able to help, but what I need will depend upon the strategy employed. Once, when going up the stairs in front of the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, an aggressively helpful woman grabbed my walker out of my left hand announcing, “I’ll take that for you.” In this case I was using the walker for ancillary balance. This resulted in a rather loud negative reaction.

Final example:

Sometimes I fall. For unknowable reasons, some people react to seeing someone fall by running over, grabbing an arbitrary limb and trying to pull the fallen erect. STOP. Once I have taken inventory I will probably want your help. However, if navigating stairs requires a strategy, getting up requires even more thought and planning. I have done this before, and will gladly guide you in the best way to help me re-achieve vertical.

I won’t snarl – promise.

Aaron Cohen - January 8, 2010

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Windy Day

I go to the gym (fitness center, health club) every Sunday to work out. I should go more often, but . . . that’s another story. I park the car as close to the front door as I can manage except if there are snow banks in the way. Snow banks are hard to navigate with the walker. At The Gold Medal Fitness Center, the handicapped parking in the parking lot is my third choice. First choice is on the street in front of the gym; second choice is across the street. Now the street in question is only one lane in each direction, but it is a busy county thoroughfare. Regardless, I am fairly quick with the walker, even when I’m not wearing my brace. It is easier to work out without the brace.
This past Sunday was particularly cold, about 22o F. It was also windy with gusts up to fifty MPH. I parked across the street as the four spaces directly in front were taken. Drivers get nervous when they see a walker-guy crossing the street, so I zipped :) into the gym, waving thanks to the drivers who acceded the right-of-way and began my workout. The workout starts with 10 active minutes (with rest stops) on the cross trainer. Most of the other Sunday sweaters are used to seeing me haul myself up onto the cross trainer, but Laura has never had the courage to witness this special spectacle. Subsequent exercises on the various strength machines are more mundane. I try to finish the workout in the winter with 20-30 minutes on the hand bike. During the warmer months this exercise is strictly outdoors on my hand powered tricycle.
When I am ready to leave, I make my way to the front of the gym, sit at the juice bar, put on my jacket in the rare event that I am wearing one, and rest for a minute before going to the car. Today is definitely a day when even I am wearing a jacket. I proceed slowly to the street. After one to 1.5 hours of exercise I am moving a bit slower than I did on the way into the club. I peek out between the parked cars and wait for the traffic light up the street at the ShopRite to give me a break in the traffic. I cross to my car, again waving to the drivers who were either courteous enough, or nervous enough to stop and allow me passage.
I get to the car (sigh of relief), grab my keys and let go of the walker to open the door. Whoosh. Remember Sunday’s gusting wind? It knocks over the walker and sets it down by the rear wheel of the car. Well now, this is something new I think. Startling, but not a problem. It is especially not a problem because a fellow exerciser has followed me across the street, and jumps in to retrieve the walker. People are so eager to help. I think they are relieved when they discover an obvious way to lend a hand. “Thank you.” Did he just happen to be in the right place at the right time, or was he nervously following me across the street, just in case? People are kind, and as Blanche DuBois said, “Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”