Try opening a door when your hands clutch crutches or you are pushing a walker. Do you know how it feels to go shopping?
I stared at bottles of water lined up in a case at Whole Foods, a thumb and palm wrapped around each crutch handle. Intense focus was not going to move a bottle to the case register. I grabbed one and held it between my crutch and leg. It broke free, slid to the floor and rolled away. I needed water and my refrigerator was empty.
My helpful friends suggested grocery delivery. I looked at Amazon Prime bags deposited in the lobby. My apartment seemed very far away.
I spend an inordinate amount of time preoccupied with these issues. I was the disability inclusion columnist at the Jewish Advocate. I probed the inner lives of individuals who had physical, developmental and psychological differences. But I was an outsider.
I became disabled two weeks before Rosh Hashanah, and this challenge will continue through the middle of December, possibly longer. I had a freak accident. That morning, I ran my usual eight miles. The sun was shining, the sky was blue and the track was crowded with college students and weekend athletes. I felt fine and decided to train for the Tel Aviv half-marathon. Later, I went for a walk in my Fenway neighborhood. Northeastern students fanned out across narrow cobblestoned sidewalks and into the street. Then I fell—I grabbed the sidewalk and landed backward. My leg sprawled in an awkward direction.
My doctor said I was fine, but pain seared my body when I walked the dog or shuffled to the store across the street. I felt disabled. My left leg was useless. My mother offered to walk my dog once a day, but the dog has to go out at least four times, and sometimes during the night.
The problem started to consume me. I asked my synagogue’s “Hesed” committee to post a notice asking for a dog-walker or someone to take her to their home. I was loath to part with the sweetest of my children. A kind stranger responded and offered to take care of her in her home. I had a temporary solution but said I would contact her if I needed help.
Several days later, I was told I had a fractured hip. After berating me for walking all week, a surgeon said I needed emergency surgery. He wanted to admit me immediately and operate the next morning. Following the surgery, I would use crutches for three months and would be able to walk my dog only after four months.
My heart was racing. I told the surgeon that I could not enter a state of disability immediately. I needed time to make plans for my dog. He sat in the hall and I dialed the number of the kind stranger from the Hesed committee. The phone reception was spotty; I dialed over and over. I begged for more time. Because it was a weekend, the surgeon granted a three-day extension. He threatened dire consequences if I fell again.
I called the stranger again and described my sweet Labrador, Amy. We agreed that she would come that evening. I had no other option. I hugged Amy goodbye with a mixture of dread and guilt and loss and desperation and intense gratitude. She is very old, and I didn’t know if I would see her again.
This kind stranger sent photos and videos. I spoke with my dog through FaceTime, and they came to visit. This generous woman offered to shop for me and run errands. After six weeks, she had to travel. An old friend took Amy to his home until I’m ready to take care of her.
When your physical disability causes you to depend on other people to meet your physical and social needs, you need a supportive, reliable family member and friends and community. I could not have managed without my mother and friends. The delightful Hesed volunteers who ran errands and walked with me were the ages of my children; meeting them has been a highlight of this experience.
I learned that you have to advocate for yourself. Strangers are eager to help, but one has to ask.
I hopped over a few aisles until I found a grocery clerk and asked him to carry my water bottle to the cash register. He asked if I needed anything else.
And I promise to hold open more doors—just as soon as I regain the use of my hands.
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