After more than half a century walking unaided, I’ve just become ‘temporarily’ disabled and it has been an eye-opening experience.
I say temporarily as, after a couple of years of limping around due to arthritic pain, I decided to bite the bullet and become part ‘bionic’ by having my left knee joint replaced.
The operation went well just over three weeks ago, thanks to the skill of the people at the NHS Treatment Centre at Barlborough, North Derbyshire, with immediate pain-free benefits.
Hard work followed, with regular exercises and getting used to a couple of helping hands in the form of crutches.
Having to hang up the car keys for six weeks has given me the chance to see daily life from another perspective and to see the caring, and sometimes uncaring, side of human nature.
Hospital physiotherapists had me up and about very quickly after the operation and it’s an anxious feeling standing up and taking the first steps on a new joint.
I was given a pair of crutches and shown how to walk with these two metal supports, which straight away make you look and feel different to the rest of the able-bodied population.
So what have I discovered? We tend to walk with our arms by our side but add a pair of crutches and you’ve almost doubled your body width, which means taking up more space and potentially being clumsy trying to avoid obstacles ahead.
Everything takes more time, having to look ahead and think where to go and how to get there. Public staircases are awkward; a firm grip is needed on the handrail and you need to be able to watch your step without being crowded. Most cafes have disabled access but once inside, the tables are often too close together to get past easily without walking sideways like a crab.
Dogs on extended leads make you feel edgy as they approach; you worry about tripping. Even public toilets are a challenge, trying to wash your hands while balancing is an acquired skill.
Some people have been impatient to the point of being rude, racing in front as I approached exit doors, so I’ve had to stop and wait while they go by.
Yet contrast that with the look of horror on one woman’s face, followed by innumerable apologies after accidently knocking me as she walked by, despite my reassurance that no damage had been done.
My work at the NHS involves consulting with patient groups, so this has been an enlightening journey.
In a few weeks I’ll be walking unaided again but please spare a thought for those who won’t and give them some space, time and understanding.
* Ian Carpenter, Head of Communication and Engagement, NHS Doncaster Clinical Commissioning Group