Crutching Without Kvetching

As modes of transportation go, crutches stink. I travel at half the speed of regular walking. I can't carry anything because my hands have to grip the rubber-padded handles. My palms and wrists ache from the weight they are holding up. I have to put the crutches somewhere when I get to where I'm going.

But everything is relative. Getting about on my long, matte-finish aluminum crutches is preferable to the alternative, which is lying in bed without going anywhere. So I greeted crutches with joy when I first used them six weeks ago. They were an instrument to freedom. I have discovered the special rhythm of crutching, where one creates two sides of a triangle, and then swings himself between them like a child on a swing set.

I'm using crutches because I broke my hip using another specialized form of transportation, a two-wheeled non-motorized scooter. The kind that kids use, although mine was larger than theirs. As a grown man, I suspected that scootering was dangerous, given my combination of mass and momentum. But I enjoyed scootering with my young son, and so that was that.

On February 6, I hit some ice, went down hard, and broke my hip. Once in a hospital, a surgeon put three metal screws in the neck of my femur to connect it back to the ball that goes into the hip socket. Thus equipped, I eventually found myself back at home, spending almost all my time in bed.

Eventually though, I started getting around. First around the house on crutches. Then after six weeks, I went outside. I began moving up the ladder of mobility. Now I crutch (my newest verb) to the playground, a few blocks away. I crutch to dinner at a restaurant.

All of this acquaints me a tiniest bit with what permanently disabled people confront all the time. Stairs are scary. I become accustomed to standing out in a crowd, and to receiving help. Often, I have to fight the urge to do things for myself simply because I and everyone else will be better served if I ask for assistance.

I had looked forward to trying Access-a-Ride, the system of white vans supervised by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that carry thousands of disabled people around the city. I was told I probably could qualify temporarily. But the application process required one to make an in-person visit to a special center, where I would be seen by a specialist who would verify that I was indeed disabled.

This presented a number of challenges, when I first inquired about it. How would I get to the center? I couldn't go until I was well enough to leave my apartment. Once I got to that milestone, was it worth the time and effort it would take to do so, and then wait for the special card? I decided not.

I have not braved the subways yet, that indispensable mode of transportation for New York City that I hope our legislators will keep financially healthy. For the moment, subway stairs are intimidating and I worry about how I would ride a train while holding two crutches. I fear being bumped and jostled. Falling and re-breaking this hip is my biggest fear.

My doctor tells me I'll be on crutches about three months. He did say though I could move up to a cane eventually, which is the next mode of transportation I'm aiming for. I plan to buy a fancy one, with a gold skull on top.