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:
- I experience a disability or limitation.
- I deny its existence.
- My wife assures its existence.
- 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?)