I stared at the foldable forearm crutches next to the front door. I had bought them a few days earlier but hadn't yet used them. Crutches were not unfamiliar to me -- I used them for over a year after my 2001 cancer surgery to remove my left ilium. I also did not forget the Sick Kid perception the crutches created. Obliterating that perception will forever drive me.
But my left hip has deteriorated over the past months. That was inevitable -- everybody's body breaks down, whether it's the Washington Nationals' ace or a cancer survivor with a necrotic and basically free-floating hip joint. In theory, limiting force will stymie additional pain and arthritis, as if my hip has a steps cap like Stephen Strasburg's pitches cap. So without doctor recommendation or an immediate medical need, I chose to use crutches on occasion; I chose to open the Sick Kid door.
I grabbed the plastic and metal poles, stepped outside, and locked the door behind me. I was headed to work via a mile walk to the Metro station. My upper northwest Washington, D.C., neighborhood was deserted, so I slipped my hands through the cuffs and reached the poles out in front of me until the rubber tips contacted the ground. I wrapped my hands around the grips, leveraged the cuffs against my forearms and glided forward, planting my left leg down just enough for safety. Nobody saw me yet, so my perception was also still safe.
I whipped around the corner and up the next street. Just like for rock-climbing, I have the build for "quadstepping," which my Facebook fans who I polled concluded should be my term for walking with crutches. I can even tweak the verb for related activities, like "tristepping" if I go non-weight-bearing; "quadsquashing" if I pole-crush bugs, or "quadfleeing" if I leave the scene of a crime.
Several blocks ahead I encountered the first pedestrians on Connecticut Avenue. I made eye contact with those approaching me and smiled, to prevent feeling small and weak, and hopefully to brighten their mornings. And for those walking in the same direction, I increased my stride and flew past them. A slow-moving woman occupied much of a sidewalk that was about to end. With the wind to my back, I catapulted ahead and cut her off. My crutches need turn signals. My Facebook fans also suggested a cup holder and a mini-fan for the warm months or when I go all-out. I always go all-out.
Once several feet from the Metro station, an attendant informed me the escalator was broken and there was an elevator I could use. I said, "No, thanks," and abruptly switched from quadstepping to walking, threaded my hands out of the cuffs and held the crutches so I could speed down the frozen escalator. This switch and back again has become a daily ritual for my amusement -- I relish rattling the perception of disability, like when others eye me strut away from my car after parking in a handicap spot.
When the train arrived, there were no seats. I stood holding my crutches with my left hand and the railing with my right, my feet dancing with momentum to keep force away from my left hip. A man asked if I wanted his seat and I thought, "I'll never accept that offer." "No, thanks," I said, my mouth then closed, teeth clenched, eyes big and bright like the white of a flame.
I reached my stop and drifted to the left side of the escalator going up, powering up past those who stood on the right. I imagined their thoughts. Those charcoal crutches complement his wool coat. He's leaning them perfectly on his left shoulder just tall enough not to poke people behind him, and handy enough in case he must fend off squirrels. I want a pair just like them. Maybe I should also walk instead of standing... nah, I'll wait until I get those sweet crutches.
Whatever Sick Kid sensation I feel using forearm crutches is obliterated by the arrogance that sporting them provides me.
The crutches offer additional amusements. Initially when I wasn't using them, I folded and stuffed them into my JanSport. But my crutches fold to 24 inches, a couple longer than my backpack, and poked out at the top. Although this increased my intimidation since it appeared that I carried weapons, the bag didn't close properly.
I bought a yoga mat bag since it's the perfect size for carrying my crutches. My options were purple or gray so I chose the latter, with blue flower stitching. The bag is large enough to store additional items, like a Dr. Pepper Ten that I brought into Regal with me. Seeing how embarrassed the theater attendant was after having me show her that the contents in my bag were crutches, my "quadsmuggling" possibilities are endless.
I used to think crutches restricted my abilities and projected my weakness, but now instead of worrying whether activities are over three miles -- my former self-imposed walking threshold -- I am limitless. My crutches give me strength.
I thought crutches and my limp forced cancer to be my self-identity, but masking cancer created a larger handicap than my actual disability. Cancer must be a part of my self-identity because I cannot hide it. Thanks to my crutches, I no longer withhold pieces of myself.
Now all I need are additional accessories, like a horn to get slow-movers out of the way, or a puppy to attract girls. I'm confident their "awwstepping" would keep up.
Follow Benjamin Rubenstein on Twitter: www.twitter.com/benrubenstein