MY CANE, MY FRIEND

Yes, I walk with a cane. Sometimes I even walk with two of them.

Upon release from the hospital following my initial exasperation, I received a standard wooden cane upon departure. With no instructions offered, I really didn’t think about it at the time. The purpose was self-explanatory, right? (More on that later.) I figured I was paying for it, so why not take it?

My teaching colleagues were aware of my situation and welcomed me for the fall semester (I was diagnosed over summer break) with as much grace as possible. There were questions and expressions of concern, but for the most part, they awarded me the space I needed while making their helpful presence clear. I cannot express in words what a close-knit family we were. Not all workplaces can toot that horn, but the faculty at MJH was a family through and through. They even moved my classroom from the third floor to the main floor of the historic junior high school where we taught. Access to the faculty bathroom, the office, and the library no longer required exhausting treks up and down the beatifically architectured stairway.. (Buildings like that rarely exist in 21st-century public education. I’ll get off my soapbox before I offend someone.)

When I started this particular teaching assignment, I created a walking route to perform when I had a free period. My principal used to tease me that I resembled one of my eighth-grade girls bouncing through the halls of the three-story building. I made it my goal to resume that practice by Thanksgiving break.

And I achieved that very goal. Multiple sclerosis had met its match. Or so I thought. The hospital cane assumed residence in the classroom closet.

My new classroom location was across the hall from the art room and I got the idea to ask the art teacher to entertain the idea of painting that cane. Just like every other thing at this school, she went above and beyond. I taught six classes a day and knowing that our resident artist divided the cane stalk into six sections to assign to her own six classes of students, most of them my eighth-grade English students.

This work of art has been through h-e-double hockey sticks over the years. It fell off a moving train during a school field trip. I knocked it off a hotel balcony while on vacation and have misplaced it several times while shopping.

Photo by Oscar Bonilla on Unsplash

The best story of my cane’s adventures was the time my family was shopping on the boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland, and I hung it on a shirt rack and walked away. By the time I realized my cane hand was empty, I was in a near panic.

That cane is an irreplaceable work of art, a sentimental nod to my co-workers, and a snub to the being inhabiting my body. Anyone could hock it as an artifact of monetary value, unaware of the significance of said cane. I refused to lose it on the crowd-infested boardwalk in a faraway state without giving it an earnest search.

While my son and husband enjoyed the treasures of a summer vacation day, I retraced my steps with little hope of finding my own treasured artifact.

With the July sun high in the sky, I realized how much I relied on that cane. The sentimental value cheered my soul while the functionality kept me mentally and physically balanced. I had to find it.

Between the heat and the emotional stress of my lost cane, my MS legs were wobbling, and I feared my vision would be the next symptom to respond. Fortunately, my eyesight had not been drastically affected by the MonSter, but I experienced moments of dimmed vision.

I did not find the cane at the beach bookstore and my last stop at the souvenir shop brought me empty-handed. A frantic look at the salt water taffy shop proved fruitless.

The sun was blinding by now and I reached to the top of my head to pull down my sunglasses. They were not there! I had not purchased a pair yet! Ah, good ol’ cog fog on the job.

I squinted down the boardwalk to focus on a beachwear shop a block away. That was my last stop. I planned to purchase sunglasses there when I stopped but was distracted and walked away empty-handed. My cane had to be there!

Of course, my drop foot decided this was a great time to demand attention, causing me to drag it along with a painful gait to my destination. This really didn’t attract as much attention as one would imagine. The locals were probably accustomed to the beach bum behavior of the less desirable population, and visitors were too enthralled with the magic of seaside entertainment to care.

That was a long, long walk back to the shop, but it had to be done.

With a quick glance toward my family, I pointed in the direction of the shop we had recently left and hunkered down for the dozen or so steps required to reach it. Of course, my son and husband reached my side before I made it halfway there. After explaining the situation, they hurried ahead to begin a search.

Like the colorful beacon it is, my cane stood out among a disturbed rack of Ocean Beach t-shirts like an unruly child begging for a souvenir. So, of course, I had to purchase the white shirt that served proudly as a backdrop to the colorful cane.

With shirt and cane safely tucked in my arms, I left the store to follow the boys to a lunch of Boardwalk pizza, never letting the cane leave my presence.

I have since retired that precious cane in lieu of a set of aluminum trekking poles. The four points of contact offered by this acquisition create a much firmer balance for this challenged walker. If I need a cane to free up a hand occupied by the presence of a pole, I use a cheap drug store brand that I can adjust for a better fit. Even though I love my hand-painted canes, they are usually too tall for the most efficient use.

I didn’t know until my first physical told me that my artsy cane was far too tall to be efficient. That is when I learned that to aid in walking stability, a prescribed cane should be hip-high. (So, I DID need instruction after all!)

What a difference that little bit of info made! The takeaway? Hospital personnel sometimes (often) assume that patients know how to correctly conduct a treatment. Don’t allow yourself to be the brunt of assumption.

Check out these articles about walking cane use.

https://www.easeliving.com/blogs/news/how-to-walk-with-a-cane?

Want to get crafty? Visit a second-hand shop or antique store to purchase a standard wooden cane. Grab some paint, colored duct tape, or colored permanent markers and create your own designer cane. It’s fun even if you aren’t an artist.

(I made a Christmas “Candy Cane” by spray painting a wooden cane white and then wrapping red electrical tape around it. Easy peasy.)

https://www.amazon.com/TrailBuddy-Trekking-Poles-Lightweight-Accessories/dp/B01MRQCENJ (I bought these.)

Currently, I prefer the trekking poles over the accumulated exercise and therapy devices piled in the corner of my home office. A firm believer in electrical stimulation to strengthen muscles, I use an at-home TENS unit (affordable on Amazon) and hope to one day master the art of using my Bioness Go (not affordable on Amazon). (We just haven’t agreed to like one another AND instructions can be vague.)

I really, really want this device to work and maybe it’s a lack of patience on my part that it isn’t. The potential for wearing a pretty shoe is intoxicating, but I walk better barefoot.

CONS:

I don’t feel like the right muscles are being stimulated in order to correct my drop foot.

My foot swings out instead of up when stimulated.

The electrodes need to be removed and re-wetted more often than expected.

I have suffered burn marks.

PROS:

I enjoy the training mode as it offers a similar simulation as TENS.

The promise of a better walking gait.

The generosity of my church and community awarded my device to me through a fundraising dinner and raffle during MS Awareness Month 2021. (So, I shouldn’t feel guilty about not using it. Right? Because anything other than a community event that benefited everyone did not solicit the money. I got the chance to talk about multiple sclerosis and community members had fun socializing.)

I know… maybe I protest too much. This has been a great opportunity to experiment with disease technology and I will continue to work with the Bioness device.

MS has taken much from me, but I believe the inability to walk fluidly is the worst. I am so thankful for the opportunity to share my experiences

Please share your experiences as well. The more we know, the better prepared we are to fight the MonSter.

Lisa, Lady With the Cane

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July 1, 2001, six months after the birth of my only child, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

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Lisaannettemccombs

July 1, 2001, six months after the birth of my only child, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.