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I remember watching my grandfather walk in his later years and thinking he tended to go back and forth from leg to leg without bending his knees… it reminded me of a penguin. My mother took on that walk as she aged and eventually had three knee replacements…. Yes three but on two legs. I am doing the penguin imitation now with two deteriorating knees. My hip has already been replaced. You guessed it… arthritis.

It is a challenge to walk in crowds, sort of like wheeling my mother’s wheelchair in a crowd years ago. We liked to go to festivals and invariably I would get irritated with people dashing in front of us and expecting us to slow down or stop from a full roll- immediately. My mother was a large woman and we had momentum once we got started, a momentum I valued because it enhanced my push. Over time I developed a technique I would on occasion bring out. I would look past the crowd and pretend I didn’t see anyone dashing in front of us. I would barrel ahead as if daring someone to try and stop us. People are less likely to dash if you aren’t noticing them. In fact once they made the dash I would look down and see just how close we could get to them without actually touching them. I think some of them could feel the breeze. It was still a matter of holding the chair back but somehow it didn’t bother me as much as when others initiated the sudden brake. Mom wasn’t wild about the game, but I pointed out her foot rests were her first line of defense. They extended out beyond her sensitive feet – much like a cow catcher on a locomotive. I promised to be careful not to let anyone fall into her lap and no one ever did.

Unfortunately it is harder now, Mom is long gone and I am trying to hobble in the crowd from bench to chair etc. I don’t have a steel body bumper like Mom’s old wheelchair I just have a cane. I think I will have to be a lot older and cuter to get away with a cane whack maybe someday. A sudden brake of my gate now means PAIN. The people who initiate this sequence are always so oblivious to the pain they activate. Have you ever noticed how pain and anger go together? My husband use to say anger is a secondary emotion. That means you are first scared and your reaction then becomes anger. I see it a lot with fear, which is my reaction to being pushed down. Then anger because I don’t like being scared I will fall and break a piece of myself. My biology instructor use to liken it to an attack of a saber tooth tiger…. I guess the saber tooth is extinc, however, we still react to things as if we are defending our lives from that tiger because our ancestors were the fittest and survived because of the life preserving reaction. Sometimes it is just a reaction inside but none the less it is a significant fear response and tends in some of us to bring on a significant anger. That is when people get whacked with a cane or feel the breeze of a wheelchair on their heels. Until I get old and cute, I will have to grit my teeth.

By: Nancy McClellan-Hickey

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