Thursday, August 21, 2008

Hurry up, and wait

I am 45 years old, and I'm in pretty good shape. I've always been athletic, I dress fairly "young," and thanks to skating I've stayed out of the sun, mostly. So I look my age and by some accounts much younger (depends on the light level, the distance of the viewer, and the number of alcoholic beverages the viewer has consumed). This information will make sense as this story unfolds.

At work I walk fast, I take the stairs most of the time, and I'm usually walking around the office vs. sitting around. Well, up until recently anyway. Now that I have difficulty walking, I tend to walk much slower than before - noticeably so - and I have a lumbering and unusual gait until I get "warmed up." I can't always sit for long periods of time (I am getting a "sit/stand" workstation shortly).

So based on the fact that I look youngish, healthy and fit, people make certain assumptions about me. Like, if they hold the elevator for me, that I will pick up the pace so they don't have to wait. But I don't pick up the pace any more, and this has caused some people to roll their eyes and give me hostile looks. "Come on, we're waiting for you, the least you could do is hurry up!" "Hey lady, you're wasting my time!" That is what those looks say to me. Now I just wave to them from 20 feet away and say "go ahead, don't hold it for me." Let them think I'm lazy or don't care.

I took the elevator up one flight of stairs the other day, something that I have never done before, but the thought of climbing the stairs was just unnerving at the end of the day. I could almost see people shaking their heads as I got on the elevator on the 10th floor and off on 11, and I imagined what they said after my departure. "What a lazy ass!" "She's the reason our health premiums are so high!" "Wow, she doesn't even look like she feels guilty for wasting energy!"

I realize that I'm projecting my thoughts on other people, and whether the dirty looks are real or perceived, I'm probably imagining some of this. Is this how my own guilt and embarrassment over my new condition is manifesting itself? I'm not really sure.

I am thinking of borrowing a cane. Not that I need it quite yet, although I may need it soon. But with a cane in my hand it will be obvious that I am not just walking slowly because I'm lazy, but because I have a medical need to do so.

It's sad that I feel I need a "prop" in order to walk slowly and stiffly in my office without embarrassment. But I've always prided myself on my athleticism, the fact that I can walk anywhere on my own two feet, my independence. Perhaps I'm dreading the day I lose all of that independence temporarily after surgery, or for good.

I work for a disability insurer. We always tell people in our marketing materials that the risk of disability is higher than they might think. As I wrote those materials, I never thought that I might be one of those who became "disabled" - in my 40's -- after all, I eat right, I exercise, and I wear my seat belt. And here I am, feeling a little bit more disabled every day. I look at the things I've given up over many years and more recently (jumping on ice, which I had just started back to; running for the elevator; hiking; walking unless I have to). I am not truly disabled since I can still work at my desk job with accommodations. But I feel disabled nonetheless. Disabled from my life, the things I enjoy doing and the things I have always taken for granted. It is a sobering experience.

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