On Becoming Visible

Over the past few weeks the invisible nature of my rheumatoid arthritis has slowly been slipping away, little by little. Anyone with an eye to detail could see the wrist guards and ankle protectors peeking out from underneath my clothing. (Who am I kidding? Even if they did not have an to eye detail, they could still see them.) When the superhero gear comes off, things are not any better. My swollen red joints blink like Rudolph’s nose – once again, not too hard to miss. But last night the final effects of my invisibility cloak wore off – my walking cane came out of the closet.

I have two wood walking canes, one black and one brown. Like a good scout should always has two belts (black and brown) so must a superhero have color coordinated mobility aids. My mother once gave me a folding leopard print cane – I’m not making this up! I kindly told her that she might want to find someone else she could give it to as the chances of my using it were very very slim.

A few years back I was in New York City for a short visit. (I went to college in NYC and always enjoy returning and seeing how much the city has/has not changed.) One day I went to the Cloister to see the famed tapestries, then swung over to the Met to see the Egyptian temple, and then was walking down Fifth Avenue when – BAM! – my knee gave out like a flat tire. (Weeks of constant inflammation had finally caught up to me.)  My walking cane was, of course, at home thousands of miles away.

Needless to say, I had to cut short my plans that afternoon and find a way to get back to my hotel off Columbus Circle. So there I was in midtown Manhattan, bad knee, desperately wondering where the heck I was going to find a cane, when across the street I see a neon “Shoe Shine” sign flickering in a storefront window. It was sort of eerie, I know – just like the movies when some odd little store appears out of nowhere just at the right time (and usually selling items that carry some weird curses).

As I approach (half limping/half dragging my left leg) what do I see? A display of about a dozen walking canes, right there in front of me. I can not believe it! I get right up to the window, when – uh oh. All the canes have big silver handles in the shape of a duck, a steam engine, and who knows what else. No offense to any of my fellow superheros who happen to use this style of walking cane, but as a young guy in my early 30s (at the time) it just did not seem to be my thing.

A quick visit into the store revealed a larger collection of less flashy walking canes. Yes! I chose a classic black wood cane, had it sized (they had a saw – who knew?) and continued on my way. My sister’s wedding was coming up in a week, so I thought this new cane would go well with my tuxedo. (It did, by the way – luckily though, my height did save me from looking like Danny Devito playing the Penguin in Batman!)

So back to the present moment of today, I once again have to get used to the laser vision stares that come my way as I walk down the street. A seemingly healthy guy with a cane just seems to draw a lot of eyes. For some reason, strangers always feel the need to ask me what sport I was playing when I got my “injury”. Uh, I got into a cage match with my immune system, and my immune system seems to have won. I am tired of pretending to be a soccer player, but they always seem to like that response and leave happy. (I used to answer by saying that I had rheumatoid arthritis, but that never seemed to work — too many blank stares, and too many comments on my age.) I was once even asked if I had gotten hurt while mountain climbing. How adventurous of me, no?

I am hopeful that the inflammation will come under control in the near future, and lighten up the grip hold it has on my joints at the moment.  In addition to bringing the cane out of the closet, I also had to upgrade my right hand’s wrist guard from the wrist model to the full forearm model.  (Don’t forget, my wrists are not happy campers either at the moment.) I have to be careful that any strain that I am transferring from my foot to my cane does not cause further harm to my wrists.

So for now, Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy’s superhero nature is just a little more visible as he walks down the street.  Next time you see a young guy walking down the street with a cane and are wondering if he twisted his ankle in a pickup game of basketball, stop – and tell yourself: He just might be a superhero!

If you have any personal stories – serious or silly – about canes, crutches, and other mobility aids, I would love to hear them!

Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!

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