4. What changed you?
My older sister [we’ll call her Lala] had a stroke two years ago, leaving her with limited use of her arm and leg on one side. Her devoted husband works 14 hours a day, then comes home and tackles whatever housework she is unable to do, plus helps her dress, undress and bathe. He has lovingly cared for her for those two years, never complaining or taking any time for himself. Last August, my sister called and asked me if I could come and stay with her for a few days so her husband could go on a well-deserved fishing trip.
Weston and I drove to Wyoming to stay with her. I love Wyoming. We drove for hours and hours, seeing roughly ten other cars in a four-hour time span. It’s beautiful, but very sparsely populated.
One of the first things Weston and I did was to take Lala shopping downtown. She doesn’t get there often since most stores are closed by the time her husband gets off work. And, as I soon learned, her trips out are not without great difficulty.
Getting her into and out of the car with a stubborn leg caused me to have to be mindful of the logistics of every trip. Are we close enough to the curb so that she won’t have to try to take a step up from the street? Is there a handicapped spot close enough to the store we want to visit? Are there any impediments in the sidewalk—unique textures, slopes, garbage, loiterers—that will cause her to stumble or fall?
The town Lala lives in is quite charming. It’s full of unique shops and friendly people. Our first stop was the bookstore where she used to work. The owner of the store is a good friend of Lala’s and tried for a long time to allow her to work around her disability. In the end, it was just too much for Lala. She tires easily and stumbles even more easily. A bump in a store’s carpet that we may walk over without noticing, becomes a small hurdle for someone who has to be conscious of every step her sluggish leg takes.
We next went to a cute coffee and pastry shop. Both employees and patrons yelled out Lala’s name. It seems she is well-known and liked in her town.
Just a few of the experiences that helped me become more aware:
- Helping her with her shower was no big deal for me. It was humiliating for her.
- A small irregularity in the street almost caused her to fall as I was helping her across.
- The “Walk” lights don’t last long enough when helping a disabled person get across the street. “Don’t Walk” flashes before we are even one-third of the way across. Luckily the drivers in her town are very patient and wait while we struggle across.
- Trying to walk through a swimming pool’s changing room is annoying for most of us as we watch our steps on the slick wet concrete. For Lala, it was terrifying. We walked very slowly, which embarrassed her when we were forced to make others walk slowly behind us. Luckily, the first person behind us as we struggled through the slippery area was her former physical therapist who said, “Don’t worry. Take all the time you need.”
- Someone who has had a stroke and has limited arm/leg movement may need help with things like opening a can, getting toothpaste on a toothbrush, buttoning clothes or tying a shoe.
Once I was shopping in a mall with a friend of mine and her wheelchair-bound daughter. I started to go into a popular clothing store when my friend said, “I can’t go in that store.” When she noticed my puzzled look she said, “Look at the aisles between clothing racks. No room for a wheelchair to navigate.” I was amazed as store after store was off-limits to her and her daughter.
I had thought at that time that my eyes were opened to what people with disabilities have to go through. The few days I spent with Lala changed my perceptions further. I hope I am more aware and sensitive. I know I am more patient as people seem to thwart my progress as I am out and about. Who knows what disability or impairment is causing them to drive slowly, or appear to be dawdling in front of me?
What changed YOU in 2009?