Once I pushed a random homeless lady in a wheelchair to Popeyes.
“Push me papas!” she yelled at no one in particular. Not the most articulate woman.
I was feeling generous that day so decided to lend a hand. Rolling her across the street made me remember a time when we weren’t so different, she and I.
Ok, well, I really wasn’t anything like her. I wasn’t homeless, or overweight, nor did I eat Popeyes. And…I think I had a solid grasp of the English language. I wasn’t even in a wheelchair come to think of it. But I was on crutches and I had this cool little knee scooter. I was also completely dependent on others for EIGHT WEEKS.
It all started about ten years ago, yes ten years ago, when I developed a plantar’s wart on the ball of my left foot. Never wanting to be inconvenienced, I ignored the wart for, well, ten years. Finally, I went to see a podiatrist and after several violent attempts to freeze off the bloodsucking leech, the doctor told me he’d have to surgically remove it. The roots were too deep.
So after some consideration, I finally let him cut out a chunk of my foot approximately the size of the tip of my pinky and a little more than a ¼ of an inch deep. When he pulled it out, I could see the roots of the wart reaching through the skin, still pulsating, trying to grab on to something, to keep breathing. The doctor dropped the chunk of foot and the wart into glass tube. It was sent to the lab to slowly suffocate. I thought we were done, but then he pulled out some tweezers.
“Are my eyebrows that bad!?” I joked.
He looked at me like I was a f*ck*ng idiot and proceeded to pull the leftovers of the wart out of the hole in my foot. My stomach turned as bright red blood trickled down my sole and fell to the floor. Finally, he pulled out the liquid nitrogen and sprayed the inside of my foot for a full 30 seconds, “just to be safe,” he said. I stared, nauseated, as the tech wiped the blood from my foot and the floor, wrapped me up, strapped on one of those worthless giant blue shoes, and handed me my crutches.
I’ll admit that I had no idea how completely terrible crutches are. I never had any empathy for anyone I saw using them. The bad part about my situation was that I didn’t plan to have my foot cut open that day, so I hadn’t arranged for anyone to pick me up. Even worse, I was at a clinic inside the giant maze that is the Pentagon, and I somehow had to get to my car a mile away.
I made it outside. After several cops refused to give me a ride, despite me telling them I had just had foot surgery. Thanks a lot a**holes. I crutched for 30 minutes to the parking garage. The doctor was clear that I could put zero weight on my left foot until the hole filled in. But who knew crutching wouldn’t come naturally to me? Finally, I got to my car and drove home. I collapsed on the floor of my studio apartment, armpits and hands bruised and blistered, sweating, thirsty and starving.
Minutes or hours later, who really knows, I got up and crutched over to the kitchen. On one shaky leg, I poured myself a glass of water and made some tea. Only one problem: there was no way to get liquids the five steps from my kitchen to the living room because I either had to crutch or hop. Eventually, I figured out that I could crawl on the floor and move the cups little by little along with me. I drank my tea on the floor in a puddle of my own pity half way between my kitchen and couch…too exhausted to drag my pulsating foot the other two feet.
But the real low point came later that day. I borrowed one of those scooters that you can rest your knee on and push yourself around on. Not the type to sit inside my house even if I can’t walk, I decided to take a scooter ride out with my sister. Well, I got real confident real quick and made it about a block at full speed when my scooter hit a loose cobblestone. By the way, those quaint cobblestone sidewalks…not so great when your only mode of transportation is a cheap knee scooter. Anyway, I flipped over the handle bars and landed on my face right in front of a busy intersection. I hadn’t figured out how to get up with the use of only one leg, so I just stayed on the ground. My sister, who weighs about twenty pounds less than me, half laughing and half hyperventilating from the stress of the situation, tried to help me up. But it felt more like a butterfly landed softly on my shoulder and was trying to grip on with its petite butterfly wings. Really Jen? Go do some bicep curls and help a sister up! Out of nowhere a heroic homeless man emerged from the corner. He threw his collection cup down in a fit of passion and lifted me effortlessly. I was back on my scooter and he was gone as quickly as he had appeared.
That night I booked a ticket home to Colorado. Because when a single 30-year-old can’t walk and is surrounded by quaint cobblestone sidewalks, parents are the only ones who really give a sh*t. Eight weeks and many emotional breakdowns later, I was finally off crutches. In those eight weeks I learned some pretty important things about how to treat people who are physically disabled, or at least about myself as a disabled person:
1) If I’m crutching by you, don’t look at me and say “Good for you!!“ I couldn’t believe how many people yelled “way to go” and “good for you” in those eight weeks. The worst happened one day when I was crutching around Eastern Market a few blocks from my house in Capitol Hill. One woman stopped me and said, “Wow!!! You were determined to get out today!!” I responded, “Yeah, I’m on crutches, not dead.” Now get out of my way so I can get a crepe.
2) Don’t view my giant blue boot and scooter as a conversation starter. My disability isn’t that now I’m interested in what everyone has to say. My disability is that I have a hole in my foot.
3) Do you know how many people a day asked me what happened to my foot? Don’t ask me what happened to my foot.
4) Help someone if they are struggling and don’t make a big deal about it. For example, hold the door open. It is pretty much impossible to open and close doors on crutches.
5) Don’t laugh it off and tell me that I’m being ridiculous or wimpy. Being on crutches sucks and is probably the most frustrating thing I’ve ever gone through IN MY LIFE. When you are on crutches, you are completely dependent on others. You can’t carry things, open things, get up and down steps. In my case, I was doing one-legged squats just to pee. Trust me, I wouldn’t be asking for help if I didn’t absolutely need it.
6) Make eye contact and say hello. I’m not a leper! Though, I guess you could make eye contact and say hello to lepers, too. Though I probably wouldn’t. Lepers are gross. Come to think of it, I don’t really like it when people say hello or talk to me. Disregard #6.
7) Give them money. Nobody gave me any money and I wish they would have.
8) For goodness sake, if someone in a wheelchair asks you to “push me papas”, just do it!