21. Handicapped

A memorable scene from the Ally McBeal show years ago was when the Lucy Liu character stumbled into a person in a wheelchair. “Why don’t you watch where you’re going?” she snapped at the person. “Isn’t it enough that you people get all the good parking spaces??” 

I was reminded of this recently when an orthopedic nurse was advising me what to expect from my upcoming hip replacement surgery. She asked if I had a handicapped placard for my car. I didn’t, so she gave me the proper form to take to the DMV office.

It’s official: I’m now handicapped, and I have the placard to prove it. Now I get all the good parking spaces.

I first said no to the placard. Why would a guy who plays tennis three times a week need a special parking space?

Of course, that’s fake news. Because of the pain in my leg or knee or hip or groin or wherever, I haven’t played tennis since last Thanksgiving. I finally broke down – almost literally – and bought a cane, which makes walking less painful. Hip replacement is one week from today.

What is it about aging men refusing to acknowledge we need some sort of assistance we didn’t need before? I say men because I don’t notice it as much in women. Is it similar to not stopping to ask directions when we’re lost?

My wife has implored me for months to use a wheelchair in airports. Of course, I’ve refused. (Why would a guy who plays tennis three times a week… ?) This past spring, we flew to New York. Going up an escalator in Newark Airport, I was using the cane and pulling my wheeled suitcase. I lost my balance, and fell straight back. Very hard. Fortunately, two young, husky guys behind me caught my head just before it hit the edge of the steel step. Someone else rescued my cell phone, and someone else my cane.

But I still don’t need a wheelchair in the airport. An elevator maybe.

The first sensory help I needed was reading glasses 30 years ago. When I finally understood that my arms were not getting shorter, I adjusted fairly easily to reading glasses. In fact, I thought I looked pretty cool in them. I bought the half-size readers – Ted Kennedy glasses – so that I could keep them on during meetings. I thought I looked pretty intellectual, peering across the table over my glasses, and then down through the glasses to read something in front of me. The glasses transition went okay.

Next on the mortality tour was my hearing, 10 years ago. I spent years thinking the constant noise in my ears was crickets: on the back porch, in my 3rd floor office, in bed at night, in a library. Lots of crickets. Everywhere. But then my wife pointed out that the most common word in our conversations was “What?” Being very intelligent, I put 2 and 2 together, and came up with the possibility that I was hard of hearing. Thus began the hearing aid era.

Once I acknowledged the problem, I started wearing the hearing aids openly and easily. They’re not obtrusive, and I don’t even try to hide them. I’m old, therefore I’m deaf. (That sounds so existential. Or is that putting Descartes before de horse? Sorry.)

So: reading glasses, hearing aids, cane, wheelchair elevator. And soon, new hip.

There seems to be a common sequence here:

  1. I experience a disability or limitation.
  2. I deny its existence.
  3. My wife assures its existence.
  4. We fix it.

Why does my wife know these things before I do?

Here’s the Old Guy insight of the day. When we experience limitations or health issues, it’s as troublesome to significant others as it is to us. Denying a hearing problem, for example, affects my wife as much as, or more than, wearing hearing aids affects me. How many times can she say, “I didn’t say feel the tomatoes. I said PEEL THE POTATOES!!”

Anyway, here I am, ready for hip surgery next week. Ready to walk normally and pain free again. Ready to ease my way back to the tennis court.

And ready to prove to my wife, once and for all, that I don’t need a stinkin’ wheelchair in the airport. Soon, I won’t even need a cane. Or a handicapped placard. (Anyone want to buy it from me?)

12 thoughts on “21. Handicapped

  1. Larry, what a great blog. Good luck on your hip replacement surgery as I was typing with one finger up came “hip resurfacing “. Good luck on your hip resurfacing “!

  2. Larry, I think you’re right about the women — I pushed my wife in her wheelchair from Beijing to St. Petersburg and places in between for over 10 year and she never expressed any concern or embarrassment about it. For me, it wasn’t easy — particularly in airports. Now, I’ve had to use a wheelchair for awhile and I hated it; no one else seems to mind, however. And, there is one place where the wheelchair is the ONLY way to go: a baseball stadium. Faced with walking through thousands of fans all pushed close together in narrow passages with a cane is close to suicide. At Progressive Field in Cleveland, you get delivered to the gate by someone in a car or cab, go to the staff at the entrance, and tell them you need assistance with a wheelchair. Pronto, a staff member arrives with the buggy, whisks you through the gate with no stopping for the magic wand search and deposits you at your section. She or he drives so fast that fans open up space like it was the Red Sea parting. I hope your hip surgery goes as well as possible, and with the Cubs doing fairly well, maybe you can catch a game at Wrigley later in the year. BUT, say to yourself this is one place where you can enjoy getting wheelchair help!

  3. One of your best Larry. I don’t hear crickets but say “what” a lot because my husband mumbles. Best of luck with your surgery. And god bless the wives.

  4. I too have a wife that mumbles, so say “what”. A frequent source of the argument. I limp some, don’t use my cane, do not use help at the airport (have missed one flight), but I am damn sure not OLD!

  5. Guess what Larry. I got a new hip on 5 March. I was bone-on-bone since the March before. Finally in Nov I decided to make an appointment. My hip was making those crackling sounds like junior high school boys used to make when they cracked their knuckles. You will like this – the surgeon was — Dr. Bohn!!!!! ahahahah! I am walking fine now -not 6 months out – but still have some discomfort. whine whine. I am back to doing my almost sort of regular exercise routine and a 20 min walk instead of 30. But whine. 60 years ago we would have been in wheelchairs for the rest of our lives. My handicap tag is good through August and I use it sometimes when there is a good spot available and I am in a hurry. I do hobble after I have been sitting even a few minutes, but I think if I put the tag on and someone is watching and I hobble when I leave the car then straighten up they will think that I am faking it.

    RE hearing – I hear Morse code in my right ear, not crickets. But am pretty much ok. My husb has hearing aids but will not wear them. Says I mumble. Who has heard THIS before!

    Those golf cart thingies at airports are very helpful, if one can snag one. And anymore it seems that they don’t do that annoying beepbeepbeep. The passengers do mouth beeps!

    Are you all coming to the 55th??

  6. Social stigma at work! Honestly think of the difference between someone helping an older man across the street and then replace said older man with an older woman. It goes from pitying the older man to thinking how endearing it is that the older woman is being helped. Seriously. There is as much of a perspective gap in that as there is in anything. How did we come to this?!

  7. Very few people age gracefully. I have a feeling Carole will. You are providing a great example of what not to do. I hope your cane is cool looking. I chose one with purple flowers. I wish I was done with mine so I could send it to you. Thinking of you this week.

    1. When I learned my hip replacement inevitable, at my request my husb found a cane with a flask in it! My cane beverage of choice is rum. Makes for comment in airport lounges when I tip it up for a tipple. 🤪

  8. Hope your hip replacement goes well & that you have a quick recovery. I’ll be thinking about you this week.

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