Earlier this week, I was picking up some children’s Tylenol from CVS for my feverish first grader. Her little sister (age 3) was unhappy that I wouldn’t let her buy candy, too, which necessitated me carrying her out of the store.
Distracted, crying preschooler in arms, I stepped off the curb wrong and ended up on the ground. My little one walked away with a tiny scrape; I twisted my ankle. Badly. We made it home, but within a couple of hours, my ankle was swollen up and I couldn’t bear my own weight.
That was Monday. Now it’s Friday. The doctor reassured me that nothing is broken, but I’m still scooting around the house in my office chair. I can’t walk and can’t drive, and I had to cancel a trip to a professional conference that I’d been looking forward to for months.
So, I have plenty of time to reflect. I have earned the unexpected blessing of experiencing just a little of what many older adults and caregivers (including our clients) experience on a daily basis.
Here are a few things I’ve learned:
1. Asking for help is hard.
You get used to relating in a certain way with certain people. I’m used to being the helper, and despite the fact that I’m often encouraging other people to reach out and ask for the specific help they need from their friends and their community, it’s still hard for me to do myself.
Perhaps on some level, I feel like I don’t deserve it.
In any case, I am profoundly grateful for the people who said yes when I asked for help, and who offered something specific so all I had to do was accept.
2. Being a caregiver is extra hard when you’re in pain.
My kids are awesome, and they’ve been great about making their own sandwiches and getting dressed with minimal hassle and bringing me ice packs. But they’re still kids. They need clean clothes and baths and wholesome meals and snuggles ASAP after waking up from a scary dream. This week, I haven’t been able to be the kind of mom I want to be, and that adds a whole new level of pain to this experience.
Bottom line? We caregivers need to give ourselves extra grace when we’re in pain, too.
3. Being pushed in a wheelchair is super awkward.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m super grateful that my friend could pull her car right up to the automatic doors at the doctor’s office so I could transfer myself into a conveniently-waiting wheelchair rather than hopping up and down the reception area. And, having been in her shoes, I’m sure my friend was glad to be able to help me in a tangible, concrete way rather than watching me struggle.
But wow, being pushed around in a wheelchair was weird. Do you try to push, too, or just sit back? Do you try to have a conversation? And why didn’t they make the exam room doors wide enough to get the wheelchair in anyway?
I spend a lot of time making music with people with dementia, many of whom use wheelchairs. I have a new layer of understanding for why we caregivers need to have extra time and patience for helping people deal with the weirdness of mobility by wheelchair and – especially – talking with someone and asking permission before moving them by pushing their wheelchair.
4. We need universal design for everyone!
Yeah, let’s circle back to that narrow doorway thing. (See #3.) Why are we designing our homes and offices and buildings to be so difficult to maneuver when you can’t walk?
Luckily for me, our bedrooms, kitchen, and bathroom are all on the main floor. But the laundry room and garage are down stairs. Wow, it takes a lot of work to get down there.
I was also really wishing for grab bars in my bathroom to help me get up and down without using my right foot.
Universal design is all about making environments accessible to and usable by people with all different kinds of ability levels. All of us are aging, and people of every age deal with injuries, disease processes, and other short- and long-term disabilities that make things like grab bars and wider doorways quite handy.
5. Life changes fast.
Of course, the biggest lesson is that life can change in an instant. A sprained ankle is minor in the grand scheme of things, but having my mobility severely restricted for a whole week after stepping off a curb has reminded me how quickly sometimes circumstances shift and plans have to change.
Conclusion? Keep in touch with your friends, with your community. Give and receive help as needed. And give patience and grace to those around you who may be struggling today with a new experience of pain or need.