A public service announcement concerning walkers

No, not the walkers babies use, but the ones the elderly or disabled use.

1. Do not pull or jerk on the walker, even if trying to help the person over a bump. There are several reasons for this:

  • It throws them off balance.
  • The walker is an extension of themselves and it is an invasion of their personal space as much as if you pulled on their arm.
  • It can make them feel helpless and embarrassed.

Sometimes, however, the person may appreciate a little assistance if they are having trouble maneuvering. If you see someone trying to get their walker up a step or over a hump, be patient and observe for a moment and see if they are doing all right or seem frustrated. If you think they might like help, offer first. “Mrs. Jones, can I help you get your walker over this step here?” Don’t just jump in and jerk it. Gently lift it, especially being careful if they are leaning on it for balance: you may need to let them take your arm as well, depending on whether they can balance on their own for a moment or need help with a step.

2. The person with a walker usually understands that he or she is a little slow and you may want to get around them, and that’s fine, but please don’t cut in too closely — the sudden movement and closeness can also cause balance to waver.

3. Some people can’t stand long even with a walker. They would love to talk with you, but may need to sit down first.

4. If you see someone coming with a walker, please move out of their way. Often they feel conspicuous and cumbersome and are embarrassed to ask. Some are not, though, and will just call out a cheery, “Beep, beep!” or something similar — please don’t be offended.

5. Similarly, please don’t be offended if they accidentally bump into you. Sometimes, especially with older people, their depth perception is affected as well. Some might not even be aware that they bumped you, but most would be horrified.

I am writing both from the perspective of having used a walker for several months after TM, but also from my elderly mother-in-law’s perspective now. I think most people mean well, but have just never thought about or experienced some of these things from the point of view of one using a walker. A little patience and thoughtfulness are much appreciated.

Please feel free to share anything I may have forgotten or not thought about, but please keep it positive. I don’t want people to think we’re ranting or griping at them, but rather just informing and educating.

Time Travel Tuesday: Accidents or illness

My Life as Annie’s weekly Time Travel Tuesday question for today is:

What’s the most serious accident or illness you have ever had?

When my oldest son was about nine months old, I had to have gallbladder surgery; when my second son was two years old, I had to have half my thyroid gland removed due to a marble-sized (and thankfully benign) nodule. So when my third son was born, my doctor joked, “What body part would you like for me to remove now?” I assured him I’d like to keep the rest. But when Jesse was almost two, one morning I was going about my normal routine when my left hand started to feel a little funny, like I had slept on it wrong. I kept shaking and flexing it while making my husband’s lunch for him to take with him to work, but the numbish feeling was increasing and climbing up my arm. Then the same sensation began in my feet and climbed up my legs. Within a few hours I could not walk on my own and was having trouble using the restroom. One eyelid began to droop. I thought I was having a stroke. A trip to two ERs on the longest day of my life, eight days of hospitalization, and multitudes of all sorts of tests later (told in more detail here), the diagnosis came back: transverse myelitis.

My first reaction was, “What?! Who has ever heard of that?”

Thankfully my doctor had. I learned much later that this can often be missed or misdiagnosed. Teens who get it, in particular, are often accused of it all being “in their head.” The problem is that there is not one definitive test for it. They have to test for and rule out multiple sclerosis, lupus, Guillain-Barre syndrome and multitudes of other ailments before making the diagnosis.

Transverse myelitis basically involves a virus making its way to your spine. It can often occur after a viral illness or a vaccination, though in my case and many others it comes seemingly out of nowhere. There are some similarities of symptoms but there are some differences depending on where along the spine it hits. The higher up the inflammation, the worse the damage. Some people recover completely or very nearly completely, some don’t recover much at all, and many of us have some recovery with some long lasting nerve damage. The last scenario is my situation.

I had a three-day course of iv steroids in the hospital and then began three months of physical therapy at home. Gradually I began to walk with a walker, then a cane, then somewhat unsteadily on my own. The first two weeks were exhausting: cleaning up with a little “sponge bath” in the hospital and sitting up in the chair for the nurses to change my bed sheets left me drenched with sweat and crawling back into bed to sleep for hours. Gradually energy levels improved, but I still don’t have a lot of stamina. My balance is still sometimes a problem, more so when I am standing still than when I am walking (my physical therapist gave me a name for that, but I can’t remember what it was). My right leg doesn’t feel pain or cold; my left hand has a delayed reaction to pain. There are still numbish feelings (not totally asleep and without feeling, but not normal sensation) in both legs and my left arm — thankfully my right arm was never affected. I get muscle spasms in my back and wear an Icy Hot or Absorpine Jr. pain patch almost daily. There are still a few “bathroom issues,” but I’ll spare you the details. 🙂 It’s much better than it was, however.

But I am thankful it was no worse and that I recovered enough to basically be able to function as a wife and mom. I am thankful for the prayers and support and practical help of friends and church members. I am thankful that God is “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1). I am thankful for God’s Word and the strength it imparts and the promises it gives, such as in II Corinthians 12:8-10:

8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.

9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

One of my reasons for starting a blog was to be a help to others with TM, and my “pages” in the upper right-hand corner list several more posts concerning dealing with TM.

The other part of Annie’s question had to do with accidents. Thankfully I’ve never had a serious one, but the only one in which I was in the car (one other occurred when I accidentally left the car in Drive at the top of a hill while I got something from it to return to a friend, but it rolled down and hit a tree with no occupants) occurred in college when Jim and I were engaged and I was driving his car with a bunch of girls home to the dorms from church. An oncoming car swerved into my lane, hit me, and then swerved back into his lane and went on, never stopping. The car was totaled, but no one was hurt, thankfully. And, thankfully, a faculty couple was behind us and saw the whole thing and was able to give a statement to the police and help us get back to school. And my fiance was in a car with a bunch of guys coming home from church also: they normally didn’t take the street we were on, but did that night and came upon the accident, so he was able to give the police the car registration and insurance information. So, though it shook us all up at the time, it was relatively minor, as accidents go, and we were able to get that first “Honey, I put a dent in the car…” hurdle out of the way before we got married. 🙂