Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Little Gimp in the Big City

Manhattan really isn't built for gimps.

It's truly not. With its crowded sidewalks and the fast pace,
Manhattan caters to the strong, the healthy, and the able-bodied. You can’t be too young (strollers are hard to lug everywhere and take up valuable square footage) and you can’t be too old (walkers and wheelchairs are essentially verboten). It’s survival of the fittest around here. Eat or be eaten. And according to my completely unscientific study, the fittest pedestrian predators seem to be healthy men and women between the ages of 18 and 50.  

I had only a vague notion of this subconscious anti-gimp attitude until I actually became a gimp. Temporarily, that is. I had to have more than 20 stitches in my ankle (long story), and as a result, I was not supposed to exercise, point or flex my foot, take the stairs, or walk. At all. When my doctor told me all the details (after the stitches were a done deal), I just stared at her numbly.  Not take the stairs? Did she not know that I live in a fifth floor walk-up?! Or that there were 150 stairs, two transfers, and 3 avenues of walking just to get from her office to my apartment via subway?!

I wanted to cry.

I was so terrified of ripping the stitches that I followed her instructions to the letter. Well, to the lowercase letter. I hobbled as little as I possibly could. This involved me putting most of my weight on my left leg and keeping my right leg straight, sort of like a peg leg. I had to take shuffling baby steps, which was infuriating. Avenues I used to travel in 2 minutes flat now took me at least four times as long. People with two good legs passed me left and right—well, mostly left, since I stuck to my sidewalk etiquette and hugged the right side of the sidewalk with the other slow movers. I traveled up and down my stairs at a snail’s pace. Actually, I probably made a snail look as speedy since I had to painstakingly put two feet on each step to inch my way to my apartment. I took cabs to and from work, which cost a small fortune. And I had to deal with salespeople, strangers, and cabbies asking if I was okay.

By some lucky coincidence, I had booked my plane ticket home for Christmas two days after the surgery. I was absolutely itching to get home, where I would be picked up from the airport in a car and transported directly to my parents’ couch, where I hoped to permanently remain, watching Candace Cameron, Amy Smart, and Jennifer Grey “acting” in their various Christmas movies on Lifetime, Hallmark, and ABC Family.

But first I had to figure out how to get to my plane.

I couldn’t take the subway (like I usually do) because I couldn’t walk down the subway stairs. Actually, I couldn’t even carry my suitcase to the street. I left for my flight a whopping five hours early so my Florence Nightingale-like roommate could bring my suitcase downstairs and help me to get to the airport shuttle bus before he went to work. The ride was bumpy and terribly uncomfortable, but I finally made it to the security line...where I got screamed at in front of a line of people because I asked for a chair to sit down while I took off my shoes. I was shocked. There was yelling and eye rolling and exasperated sighs. And none of them even came from me! It can’t be that unusual for someone to have trouble balancing on one foot to take of her shoes, right? What about all the not-quite-ready-for-a-wheelchair-but-unsteady-on-their-feet old people out there?

At long, long, long last, I made it through security, got on the plane, and headed home for Christmas. While I was nestled all snug in my bed (well, it was really the couch) with visions of having two good legs dancing through my head, I starting thinking that it was a Christmas miracle that I survived the concrete jungle and made it to the ease of suburbia, where the only walking I had to do was from the front door to the driveway.

I’ve certainly come away from my gimp days with a new understanding for slow walkers in the city. They might not be trying to get in my way after all. They might be following doctor’s orders. They might be injured. They might have stitches.

And I'm thrilled that I’m healing well enough to no longer be one of them. Don’t get me wrong—I’m trying to be careful and not push myself, but I can once again keep pace with the city. I have learned one thing, though. If I ever have to schedule stitches again, I’m scheduling them in the suburbs.

1 comment:

  1. Lesson learned: Everyone should "walk a mile in my shoes."