10 Reasons Using Crutches Gave Me More Respect for the Disabled

I sprained my ankle and wound up on crutches — well, really, on my butt on a couch most of the time, but every now and again on crutches.

I didn’t even get a good story out of it. Here’s what happened: I stepped off a curb.

It wasn’t high or uneven and I didn’t fall into a pothole. I just stepped off a curb, and my ankle turned out, and I crumpled. It’s not the first time my ankle has made me fall so it wasn’t a shock, but the pain was. I couldn’t walk, which was a problem because I fell right in front of a giant truck that was idling at a red light. With help I managed to scramble back to the sidewalk before the light changed.

Maybe it’s a sign of my advancing age that such a minor incident led to three or four weeks of disability, but that is a sob story for another time.

It was remarkable how my immobility changed everything about my life. I had only a short-term disability, but it gave me a glimpse into the lives of people who must struggle with this for their whole lives. Here are ten things I learned:

1. Humility: I had to ask for everything. I couldn’t fill a glass with water and carry it back to my seat, let alone shower or drive by myself. I couldn’t just satisfy my needs: I had to fit them into other people’s schedules. I had to learn that asking for help didn’t mean I was useless.

2. Trust: Every request I made felt like an imposition, so I had to learn to trust that the people around me really did want to help me. It may not have been convenient every time, but they liked feeling there was something they could do when I was in need and pain. When I apologized for my requests and they protested that they were happy to help, I tried to trust that they were telling the truth.

3. Crutches are death sticks: I am surprised I didn’t fall again trying to balance on those things. Some people make it look easy, but for those of us who are, let’s say, less athletically gifted, they can be scary. Stairs and ice were challenges (when it became clear how crutch-challenged I was, I was forbidden from taking on stairs without a spotter). High-pile carpet slowed me down. Narrow spaces required creative choreography.

4. Concrete: There is nothing like crutches to make you realize how uneven and narrow sidewalks are in many areas. That is, if there are sidewalks at all, which there are not in many suburban outposts.

5. People are very nice: even in Newark Airport, people happily let me cut lines. And that was when I was comfortably sitting in a wheelchair while they had been shifting from foot to foot for half an hour. The elderly in wheelchairs struck up conversations with me in solidarity, even when they saw my crutches and knew I was only a temporary visitor in their world.

6. People are patronizing: sitting in a wheelchair in a store’s vestibule with my mom, waiting for our ride to pull up, I noticed that every person who walked in or out smiled at me. I asked my mother why. “They feel sorry for you,” she said. And I immediately felt sorry for people who are stuck in wheelchairs for life and have to put up with all the condescending smiles.

7. There is often a reason people walk slowly, besides that they are idiots texting and ignoring the world around them. When physically intact I am a fast walker. I get annoyed when the sidewalk is blocked by shufflers. Once I got off the crutches and started walking with just a giant boot made almost entirely of velcro, I was SLOW. It was because every step hurt.  I gained new empathy for the snail set.

8. Some disabilities are invisible. Eventually I graduated from the boot to regular shoes, but I still wasn’t healed. I was scared to take the subway because if I had to stand up and the train lurched, it seemed likely that something in my foot would get pulled the wrong way. I carried a cane so I could ask for seats without explanation, or maybe even get one without asking.

9. Immobility is depressing. Showering was such a production, going anywhere outside the house involved walking, and just going to a different floor was verboten without a chaperon. So I stayed on the couch. Sitting in one place for days in a row while your hair gets greasy can really get you down.

10. Planning ahead. When we went away for Thanksgiving we called ahead for wheelchairs at the airport. When we went to a store we called ahead to see if they had a wheelchair (if they didn’t, no trip to the store). If I needed to go somewhere outside, I had to plan for a sunny time to go because I couldn’t hold both crutches and an umbrella. I had to coordinate with other people’s schedules to make sure they would be available to chauffeur me when necessary.

If I were disabled for the long term I would face higher and more significant obstacles like finding a job despite the stigma around disability and finding or renovating a home that was wheelchair-accessible. My experience only skimmed the surface of the lives of a group of people I have come to respect more than ever.


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Jose L.
Jose L.4 years ago

Hi Marsha, thanks, but let me add that I think most researchers agree the US recommended amounts are suboptimal. It's good to take at least that much, but people probably should be taking more (eg, depends on the person's physical characteristics, health, amount of sunlight they get, and where they live relative to the equator). The goal should probably be to get to above 40 ng/ml. I would downgrade the 5,000 IU/day to a lower dose if you don't plan on getting tested.

Marsha M.
Marsha M4 years ago

Thanks to Jose L. for your reply and additional advice. I just had my labs done and they showed a significant deficiency in Vitamin D. It really surprised me. I'm now taking the recommended daily dose for Vitamin D. I didn't know the body's need for Vitamin D increased during winter months! You shared some valuable information for everyone so, once again, thank you! :)

Jose L.
Jose L.4 years ago

I forgot to add. Vitamin D kills cancerous cells in test tubes and large quantities have shown remission in patients. And if you are not sleeping well (and not healing well as a result) vitamin d may also make a big difference.

Jose L.
Jose L.4 years ago

After an injury, I also gained a lot more appreciation for those of us who have to struggle much more daily.

Remember to take Vitamin D (eg, 5,000 IU/day) if you want to avoid injuries (especially at the end of Winter). if you have a bone injury and you put pressure on the bone, you will probably consume a lot more vitamin d (manyfold extra, like 50,000). When you are low in vitamin d you get chest pains, breathing issues, and more. And cancers are more likely to hit you if you remain low for long periods of time.

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson4 years ago

I broke my ankle once. And i have sprained said ankle many times. no fun. Having crap joints sucks, and my main issue with crutches was that they rubbed me raw under the arms! I broke my ankle the day before Easter. Warm weather, sunny, and stuck on crutches in a hot, itchy cast? Ick. People who have to LIVE with an injury or disability? I have a lot of respect for them, and feel deeply for them.

Vicky P.
Vicky P5 years ago

I have respect for them even though I've never used crutches, etc..it's common sense.

Sharon Suppree
Sharon S5 years ago

I experienced the exact same thing in September this year. I was on holidays in Sydney (I am from Melbourne) and I fell outside the hotel and dislocated my patella. I had to borrow the hotels wheelchair to get around and the convienience store next door had 1 step to enter the store. I couldn't get in because the wheelchair wouldn't go up this one step. I decided I had to get crutches because the wheelchair was stopping me from being able to do stuff. Taxi drivers wouldn't stop for me because they couldn't handle the wheelchair. Fortunately one did stop and I explained that I could walk but only very slowly and that he would have to put the wheelchair in the back. At the airport, I didn't have to wait in line because I was on crutches. The whole experience taught me that people in wheelchairs have it very tough.

Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra5 years ago

Thank you Piper, for Sharing this!

Les M.
Les M5 years ago

when i was a kid, as an exercise, friends wore scarves over their eyes to simulate being blind. it taught them, and me, a lot. (i didn't do it b/c i was ridiculously afraid of the dark.) as an adult, i've had some health issues and while minor, i had to learn to do some simple things differently and even had to have my husband put some of my clothing on for me.

rene davis
irene davis5 years ago