On walking with a cane

I’ve been using a walking stick for just under three months now. It’s a silver(tone) handled, black wood cane, almost classy enough to be an affectation. Martin and Alex gave it to me, when my attempts to buy one off of ebay were failing.

I knew that to get a stick would be to join a subculture I hadn’t been a member of before. I’ll call us the Tripods.

I’m not a typical member of the tribe. I’m 33, and have been in good health all my life. If this pregnancy hadn’t triggered sacroliliac joint dysfuction (translation: my hip joints don’t work), I wouldn’t expect to need a walking aid for a good 40 years. And I plan to put the cane in the umbrella stand as soon as the baby’s born. So I’m an anticipatory Tripod, a temporary Tripod.

So do you get a seat on the bus now that you walk with a stick?

Heck, no. Are you kidding? Even with a bulging belly and a walking stick, I’ve had exactly one person offer me a seat on a crowded bus.

But at least you can sit in the “elderly and disabled” seats?

Only if I club the young, fit and surly types who can’t be arsed to walk one meter further back into the bus first.

But surely the fellow-feeling among the Tripods counts for something? You always see them chatting away on the bus, friendly as anything. Doesn’t the cane act as a ticket in?

Perhaps I’m too young, or too perceptibly an interloper. Maybe my cane is too classy. But I suspect that the fellow-feeling we see among the elderly on the bus, even among strangers, is more generational than based on ability.

Do you use your cane all the time, or only when you’re in pain?

Well, things usually start hurting halfway through an expedition or partway through a day. I have to bring the stick along from the start, so it’s there when I need it. And actually, I’ve found that using it from the start means that the pain takes longer to settle in. I wonder how many other Tripods are using their sticks prophylactically, or simply waiting for the pain to start.

So how is it walking with a stick? Does it slow you down?

The mechanics of walking with a stick turn out to be more complicated than I thought. You have to synchronise it with one leg or the other. If neither hurts, then you can alternate which leg you rest. And you can either go “crosswise”, holding the stick in the hand opposite the leg you’re helping out, or you can “lurch” with the stick right next to the assisted side. I’m always conscious of the eyes of fellow Tripods on me as I make my clumsy way, alternating between supported legs and arm synchronisation styles.

The one thing about a walking stick is that it doesn’t slow you down. Quite the opposite. I can get going really fast by using it almost like an oar, pushing me along the pavements. Bipeds beware!

What’s the hardest part of walking with a cane?

Walking with a cane, an umbrella, a toddler with an umbrella, and a handbag slipping off your shoulder. I wanted to be an octopus that day as well as a Tripod.

What did you do?

I got very wet.

So will you miss it?

Yes, in a funny sort of way. No matter how much people ignored it overtly, they saw the stick as a sign of weakness. Some of the barbarians in our neighbourhood made off comments, it’s true. But most of us, no matter how unwilling to show it in public, are protective of the frail. It comes out in hundred tiny things: a door held open even after I had my hand on it, a little extra space in a crowded shop, an extra small smile on a shop assistant even in the pre-Christmas shopping.

And there was never more of anything than I could shake a stick at. I have the stick to prove it.