It’s summertime and the living is easy as the song goes, so what do I do?
Fall and break ribs, that’s what! Why not? Things were going so well this summer, something had to change. So, I end up in the emergency room at St. Joe’s where they have a look at me for a couple of hours, take x-rays, determine that my injuries aren’t life-threatening, then send me home with a few T3s for the pain.
At first I could barely walk because of the intense pain in my left side where I broke my ribs.
Slowly, the pain is easing up and I know that within a few more weeks I’ll be fine and back finishing up projects I’ve had to put on hold since the accident. A little patience is all I need now. Still, this has been a scary and humbling experience.
The ability to move physically is so important for individuals in our society. A great deal of our self-esteem and the prestige we have is based on our ability to move, to get around, to travel, to play sports, walk, run, drive a car, and lift heavy stones for garden projects.
The immobility I’m experiencing is difficult to take in a culture that so values mobility. After the accident I found myself being very dependent on others to do things for me.
Like I said, I’m getting better by the day, but being pretty much immobile left me feeling vulnerable, weak and incapable of fending for myself. It’s humbling. It’s hard not to feel a little diminished by this kind of experience.
Then I started thinking about people in our society who are permanently physically immobilized or who experience limited mobility and require a wheelchair, scooter or other device just to get around. How must they feel? I can look forward to getting around more easily by the day. They don’t have that luxury. How do they cope?
I also came to think about others in our society who are physically fine but who are immobilized by fear, can’t leave their homes or speak to strangers. They are psychologically immobilized. That must be at least as challenging as being physically immobilized. As I said, in our culture, mobility is everything. We glorify life and the mobility it gives us, and we fear death as the ultimate immobility.
Ultimately, we fear people in wheelchairs because they remind us of how vulnerable we can be. That fear is really misplaced.
I’ve spoken to a number of people who lack mobility in their bodies for one reason or another. They live most of their lives in a wheelchair or scooter. But, you know what? They get on with their lives. They go to university, get graduate degrees, travel, write and make babies. Hell, I’ve even heard one or two of them swear on occasion. In other words, they are just like you and me.
Still, there’s something glaringly different about them too.
They are obviously challenged, but maybe not so much by their own limitations. They are more greatly challenged by our attitudes towards them. I got a taste of what they face every day in a sense, but I never faced the rejection they often get. What they all report to me is how tedious and humiliating it is when people treat them as non-persons, avoid them or dismiss them. It doesn’t have to be that way. We can learn to treat them with the respect they deserve. Next time you see someone in a wheelchair in a shop lineup, talk to them. You may learn that they are actually mobile in ways you never dreamed of. And if you run into me, please don’t pat me on the back.
Roger Albert is the vice-president of the Comox Valley Social Planning Society and Faculty Emeritus at North Island College. He is a guest columnist for the Comox Valley Record, addressing social issues within the community. His blog, dedicated to the issue, is rogeralbert.org