Using a crutch or two guarantees that you stand out in public. To everyone around, crutches are a true symbol that you are not as able-bodied as everyone else. But while you might feel a loser, it’s likely that people around you don’t think so.
I believe crutches are a symbol that calls to the empathy in others, saying unconsciously ‘I might need your help’. Many people have some (even vague) appreciation of how tough it is to be recovering from an injury.
Generally, in the beginning, I didn’t like going out in public with my crutches. The leg brace added an extra element of seriousness too, so I also despised it, even though I felt physically safer when it was on. Much of the time I was out and about, I could feel people looking at me differently to how they would otherwise. I felt like a loser. All the while I wished that I could just blend in.
Frustration would often creep in that I couldn’t go faster and just get to where I wanted five minutes ago, damnit! I felt more vulnerable when I was alone too, even though I live in a relatively safe part of my city.
But deep-down, at the same time, I was grateful for the accommodations my crutches encouraged such as people offering me a seat on the train or giving me more space on the footpath. After a while, I cared less about what other people may or may not be thinking.
My crutches were also a conversation starter. I moved slowly, making conversations much more likely. Many shared and real connections with total strangers occurred in those moments of vulnerability. And I truly spoke with more people in my local suburb while on crutches than while walking among them as a fully able-bodied human.
People I spoke to often had empathy for me and I could tell that they were whisked back into their pasts while they were recounting their personal stories.
For example, the south American lady who told me that she’d struggled with a knee injury for over a year and dealt with so much pain that she questioned if she would work on her feet again.
The elderly gentleman who rushed to open the car door for me because he knew oh so well the leg brace. He said he wouldn’t wish leg surgery on anyone.
The young mum who had a mystery and painful back nerve issue, preventing her from walking normally. We shared some words together while traipsing repetitive laps in the pool before our bodies were again subjected to full gravity.
At a local café I talked with the owner, Shawn, who, after noticing my crutch, offered to deliver my coffee and slice rather than make me carry-my-own, which was the usual procedure.
He said “I know what it’s like”. We talked more and he told me about how about five years ago he’d had a snowboarding accident at Whistler, in Canada. He broke his ankle and leg and had to be airlifted off the mountain. After surgery, his recovery was long.
“It was really hard. It took me about 14 months before I could go back to work.”
Even five years on, his injury still affects his lifestyle. He says that every now and then he feels that he can’t play sports.
“I’ll take an awkward step, feel it in my leg and be reminded I need to be careful,” he said.
As I finished my coffee, and Shawn cleaned a table nearby, I asked if he had one tip for others going through a tough injury recovery.
“The most important thing is to keep positive,” he said.
Such a simple but important gem (this article in Forbes agrees: How (And Why) To Stay Positive). It is just one of the important messages I’ve heard through connecting with people who are recovering from injuries.
What good has come from you being on crutches? Do you agree it feels like we are all part of an exclusive club?