Several years ago I fell and hurt my back quite seriously. I didn't like to admit it, but for a while after my fall, using a cane helped me to get around with less pain. Of course I fought using it and managed to make hard work of it. I tripped over it, mislaid it and generally made a botch of things. So, as soon as my back was a little better, I gave it up.
Giving up the cane seemed like a good idea until I managed to fall another couple of times. My back still troubles me and I walk faster than I should. When I fall outside, I have a great deal of trouble getting back up on my feet, and that is scary.
So, after much nagging from my family and because I was really worrying about lying out on the front lawn for hours until someone found me, I decided to at least use a walking stick. I have a beauty the kids gave me. So, I developed a technique. The walking stick was for dress up, but when I was just around outside I used any old thing — a long stick, a ski pole in the winter and part of a ski pole in the summer.
Then one day in a dollar store I found just what I needed: a cane that looked as if it was made of bamboo, nice and light, a little different and just my size. So now all I had to do was force myself to use it and to walk carefully and more slowly than I liked. I became quite good at going along without tripping over it.
After I stopped fighting the fact of having to use a cane, I began to notice the advantages. Many young people rushed to open heavy doors for me and I didn't feel embarrassed pushing the buttons that automatically open the doors for the handicapped. Bus drivers were very patient and understanding when I didn't stand up until the bus was completely stopped. They also never failed to make the bus kneel. I think Florida buses are cool; they can be lowered to sidewalk level, and a sign says they kneel. I like it!
Since adopting the cane, I have found that it gets me all sorts of special treatment when I am flying. When I arrived at the Montreal airport last spring a young girl whisked me through a handicap lane and I arrived at the baggage carousel way ahead of the thundering herd.
This year when I was waiting to board my flight to come south I was pleasantly surprised. When they announced that parents with young children and those needing assistance could board, they expected me to go with that group. I didn't make a move until some kind lady told me to go ahead. I said I didn't really need the cane and hadn't asked for help, but she convinced me to go anyway. I did, feeling like a fake, but once again it was very nice, no rushing or being jostled.
To me, it was becoming quite apparent that the advantages of using a cane were outweighing the disadvantages. The final proof came one day when my brother, sister-in-law and I went to the horse races. My brother has decided that because we are all quite senior, valet parking is the way to go. This day when we pulled up to the entrance of the track and stopped, and the lad ran up to take the car and park it, another young man opened the doors. When he saw my cane, he directed me to a different entrance.
I asked him why. He answered that people with walkers, canes and in wheelchairs entered by that gate and admission was free. Well, he didn't have to tell me twice. I strutted along looking over my shoulder at my brother and sister-in-law while they paid their admission, and tried not to laugh. After all, I didn't want anyone to think I might be taking advantage.
So these days I am on a crusade. I am continually trying to convince people to use their canes. They have nothing to lose and much to gain.
Dorothy Hannah is a Canadian who stays in Largo three months a year. She is 81.