It was a beautiful, Wednesday morning when I hobbled my way onto the campus bus and entered the Health Center. I was in a state of utter confusion and shock. Something that was just a mild discomfort the night before had turned into an unbearable pain which wouldn’t allow me to put any pressure on my left foot. I knew I had to get it checked.
As I tried urgently to get a last minute doctor’s appointment, I was forced to explain my situation again and again – to the front desk, the nurse, the other nurse, the doctor – and each time, it was the same flow, the same look of disbelief:
What’s the problem?
Well, I can’t put any weight on my left foot. (*as I’m leaning my whole body on my right side)
Might be a sprain, let’s get it looked at. What’d you do?
Umm, I landed it on it poorly while skipping.
(Look of disbelief) …did you say skipping?
Yes… skipping. I was joyfully skipping down the sidewalk.
*Chuckle* (probably laughing hysterically on the inside)
Once we got over the initial disbelief, they got me into an x-ray. An hour later, I was informed that it was just a minor ankle sprain (no broken bones), prescribed to give it some rest, and then handed a pair of crutches – for the first time in my life.
After a quick “how-to” from the nurse, I quickly crutched my way out the front doors ready to start the day. Little did I know that I was about to embark on one of the toughest, most insightful, most gratitude-inducing, perspective-changing moments of my life.
Lesson #1: We live in such an able-bodied world and we don’t even realize it.
Five minutes after I left the Health Center, I was struggling to step onto the high stairs of the campus trolley. An hour later, I was trying to wrestle open the doors to my apartment building, which were too heavy and didn’t have handicap access. It felt as though I had just entered into an entirely different reality. I went from able-bodied to physically challenged (albeit temporarily) and suddenly the world became so much harder to deal with.
For the first time in my life, I noticed and was heavily influenced by every single building that had no elevator, all the ramps that would abruptly end and lead to stairs, doors that would have poorly placed handicap buttons where you’d have to jump out of the way to avoid getting hit. I realized just how poorly designed our world is, made entirely for people who can perfectly walk, see, hear, and smell.
What’s worse is that by having infrastructure designed only to serve those who are able-bodied, there becomes an implicit marginalization of those who are not. In order to keep up with a crowd, I would have to find elevators and ramps that were often created haphazardly or took an extra five minutes to even find. On a day-to-day basis, I found even my own friends overlooking me as I crutched along slowly from class-to-class; in many ways, the crutches became an invisibility cloak, as most people chose to ignore and walk past that which seemed abnormal.
Lesson #2: We are incredibly inefficient with our time, energy, and resources.
It was only when I could no longer walk easily that I had to learn how to optimize every aspect of my life that required movement.
Need to find a place to sit? Let me make sure that’s within a few steps of a bathroom and water fountain.
Want to hang out with a friend? Let me combine it with lunch, so they can help me carry my food.
So much attention had to be diverted on just surviving and accomplishing basic tasks like eating, going to the bathroom, and getting to class, that I realized how much energy I used to waste in making ten trips to the same place for different errands. With the luxury of being able to walk, we tend to be much less concerned with the amount of time and energy we’re wasting on a daily basis.
Lesson #3: People can be so kind and loving.
While the crutches were certainly tough and came with their frustrations, they also opened me up to special moments of human generosity and kindness. For the first time since I was in diapers, I found myself in situations in which I physically could not do basic tasks without someone’s assistance. As a result, every bit of support that I received mattered.
No matter where I was, I would almost inevitably encounter two or three friends, acquaintances, or even strangers who would ask “Can I help?”. But the ones that really touched my heart were the people who didn’t just inquire if I needed assistance but went a step further and helped before I could even ask.
It was the classmate who would see me enter the lecture hall and immediately set up my chair and carefully place a seat in front of me so that I could elevate my ankle.
The stranger who helped to carry my backpack saying “I’ve been on crutches before, I know how much it can slow you down”.
The person who went and brought my car to me when I was struggling to get to the nearest trolley stop.
The numerous friends who would check in with me every few hours to make sure I had enough to eat, that I had a ride to get to the bathroom, and that I had enough people to keep me company.
With every door that someone opened, food that someone brought to me, and assistance that someone gave for nothing in return, I felt so moved and filled with gratitude and hope.
Lesson #4: Never expect people to always be there for you.
As wonderful as it was to have so much help from people, I quickly realized that no one could ever be there for me all the time. Inevitably, I’d be faced with a situation in which people just weren’t available or able to help out.
Just because I was in need of more physical assistance than those around me didn’t mean that the world would spin around me, always attending to my needs. Naturally, people would have other meetings to go to, errands to attend, things to do, and who was I to insist that they stop living their lives?
Above all, one of hardest challenges that I faced was mental. No matter how many were physically there for me, very few could help in the battle to stay positive. It was one of the most lonely things to experience when I realized that no one could always be there for me.
However, those moments, no matter how many times they kicked me down, they also pushed me to develop an inner strength and stronger connection with myself that I would not have had to build otherwise. They tested my character, my values, my worldview, and forced me to remain humble but become mentally strong.
Lesson #5: Impatience is not a virtue.
From the moment I was given my crutches, it felt as though life was giving me a lesson in patience in as many ways as it possibly could, just hoping that I might finally get the message.
There were just so many ways in which I was forced to slow down or personally suffered because I was being too impatient.
A week after the incident, I was starting to feel better so, without knowing any better, I stopped wearing crutches. Within just two days, my ankle began to hurt again and I found out that I had slowed my recovery. Better yet, a few days later, I had a flight to India that I had to go on alone.
The day of the flight, I went back to the Health Center begging them to figure out a way that I could travel without crutches – there was just no way that I could bring all my luggage while also limping on two sticks. Unfortunately, they refused to budge – no matter how minimal the sprain, rest was the only option – I had to go with my silver sticks. Once again, I was forced to slow down and avoid over-exerting.
While I was in India, I insisted that I could cover large distances on my own and without fully realizing it, I was moving faster on my crutches than people with average walking speeds. Within the second day of being there, my right foot began to give way and was struggling to hold my weight. Suddenly, neither of my feet were able to carry me, even with the help of the crutches. And once again, life had found its way of teaching me patience, in this case, by literally forcing me to stop and temporarily preventing me from being able to move.
Ultimately, it was only when I slowed down, took rest, and became more deliberate in making decisions that I was able to properly recover.
Lesson #6: Look underneath the surface.
As a relatively healthy looking male whose injury wasn’t always obvious or apparent (especially if I was sitting down), I was frequently subject to misjudgments from people who wouldn’t realize that I had a physical injury.
People would accidently insist that I come help them with carrying things, usually until they saw my crutches.
People would ask why I wasn’t walking over with them, not realizing that I was usually waiting for a car or some form of transportation.
Even once the doctor had given me the go-ahead to stop using crutches, I had to undergo another two months of slow recovery and physical therapy in order to bring my ankle back to (almost) full strength and motion. Without the crutches, my injury and recovering ankle were even more inconspicuous, meaning I was also subject to more misunderstanding.
People would get annoyed at me for walking too slowly, not realizing that I hadn’t walked properly in almost a month.
People would give me strange looks for taking the elevator to the second floor, not realizing that it was still painful for me to walk up stairs.
At the end of the day, I was undergoing a struggle that was essentially hidden from the public eye, making me a perfect target for judgment from people who didn’t take the time to look underneath the surface and realize what was going on.
And the truth is that whether it’s a subtle physical problem, depression and anxiety, or some trouble in our personal lives, we are all undergoing a constant struggle. Having had to experience the burden of living with physical crutches has ultimately helped me better appreciate the burden of those of us living with crutches of our own.
There’s more to come! Follow the rest of my journey by subscribing: get new posts directly in your inbox.