A New Normal

The term “new normal” didn’t hold much meaning for me until my full-speed busy schedule came to an abrupt halt due to an injury. My new normal is being able to attend to personal hygiene unassisted, getting in and out of a car from the passenger side unassisted, and lots of sitting, sitting, and more sitting.

After a joyfully active summer that found me walking and biking miles, spending hours swimming and even completing a triathlon, my right ankle went on strike. Verdict on repair and what the final outcome may be is currently pending. Since October, I’ve been slowed to a crawl with casts, crutches and sometimes using a wheelchair.

While all of this is massively inconvenient, I count my blessings and consider myself lucky. I may walk unaided in the future and, for now, my general health is excellent.

This new normal has given me the opportunity to experience just how difficult it can be to get through a day doing what we humans have to do – bathe, shop, eat, use public restrooms. When your car loses a tire, you don’t get very far very easily. The same is true when one’s bipedal physiology becomes mono-pedal so to speak.

Take using a wheelchair, for instance. The challenges abound.

Recently, my husband was pushing me around the village streets giving this ole gal some fresh air and allowing our little fluffy pal Harry a chance to water his favorite corners when we realized that all sidewalks aren’t wheelchair friendly.

Mattapoisett, as you may be aware, is planning to improve the roads and sidewalks throughout the seaside area. In the meantime, if you are using or pushing a wheelchair, you’ll find that some sidewalks do not have curb cuts or ramps that allow for easy street crossing or access. The only option available is to use the roadway – not the safest option, but for someone in a wheelchair and desirous of enjoying the area, it’s the only option.

You’d think that large retail chains would be fully up to speed on addressing the needs of all their customers, including those in wheelchairs. And for the most part, that is true as far as I can tell. But the other day while out shopping in one of these mega-stores, I was surprised at how difficult it was to use the wheelchair accessible restroom.

First and foremost was the monumental task of opening the door.

There wasn’t an exterior push button to automatically open the door, and trying to push the door open with one hand and operate the wheelchair with the other hand made getting into the room impossible. I was very grateful when a friendly employee came along to help me out.

But I had the same problem when attempting to exit the restroom. Suffice to say I managed, but not without a tremendous ninja-like effort. Not the ideal from where I sit.

I’ve had a few surprising revelations from my seated position: some not so pleasant, some heartening.

It seems that some people think it is okay to cut-off a person in a wheelchair. These would be the same people who drive like maniacs. To that lady in the cosmetics aisle who reached across my torso to grab eyeliner – REALLY?! Or the clerk at the grocery store who placed the skid of vegetables right in front of me as I was trying to select apples, what did you expect me to do, FLY over that skid? But to the dozens of people who’ve allowed me clear passage, your small act of kindness is truly appreciated.

And then there are the crutches. My favorite small shops and cafés have become off limits due to tight spaces. For anyone who has used these mobility appliances, you know they can be tricky to use under the best circumstances. And speaking strictly for myself, crutches are limiting due to the amount of effort it takes to get from point A to point B. I think on an average day, I’ve got about 100 yards in me.

All in all, my conclusions about human nature have been confirmed – there are good people, selfish people, people who understand how unpleasant it is to have limited mobility, and people who could care less. I guess in the grand scheme of things, fundamental truths prevail.

By the way, my new normal now includes advocating for ADA compliance everywhere within reason, like sidewalks and public restrooms. I suspect I’ll be meeting new friends and a few who think the cost isn’t worth the payoff. If you fall into the later category remember this: “There but for the grace of God go I…”

By Marilou Newell


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