The Walking Stick: Visible and Invisible Health Conditions

Sloane Miller Health Guide
  • As someone with asthma since I was four years old, I can spot a fellow sufferer very often by the sound of their voice: chesty, throaty, wheezy or short of breath. However, that's because I've experienced all of those symptoms at one time or another. To most people, those sounds would indicate nothing unusual, they would be virtually invisible. A chesty voice wouldn't indicate a chronic inflammation of the airways. They wouldn't hear it as I do, or perhaps as you do.


    Most people don't even know I have environmental allergies or asthma. It's not outwardly apparent and unless you dine with me and you're paying close attention when I'm talking with the waiter or the manager (which can be difficult in a loud restaurant), you won't know I have food allergies either. Yes, I wear a medic alert bracelet but countless people have complimented me on my "jewelry," never recognizing that it is for medical reasons that I wear this particular piece of jewelry.

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    So, I had knee surgery last week and will be recovering for a few weeks. During this time I'm walking supported by a cane. This is a very visible, outwardly appearing notification that something is "different" or "wrong" with my leg. (The bruising is another indication.) And I wondered before I started using the cane: how would people behave towards me. Differently? The same? Kinder? Or would I become invisible as was the traditional outcry from the differently-abled community (and rightly so).


    It's been an interesting few days to say the least.


    Women have held open doors for me; families have moved out of my way on the street; and men have closed cab doors for me.


    While in a cab, we tried to turn on a street to go west. The cop standing there said, "No turns allowed." (The president was in town and staying at the Waldorf right down the street). I waved my cane at him through the cab window and he signaled us through.


    Wow--this cane is powerful stuff.


    At theater last week, when I asked the ticket taker for the ladies room, he said: "The stairs are to the right and there is an elevator before the stairs."

    Elevator? I hadn't even thought of that yet. And luckily, there I was, going one floor down to the ladies lounge. Thank goodness-it had been less than one week after surgery and I never could have made it down those steps!


    Being a person who needed a cane, even temporarily, has afforded me a new insight: canes and people walking with them are everywhere in this city: young, old, in recovery, or in chronic use. I have a new appreciation for how one navigates New York by walking, and pushing, and cajoling. It's taken new skills, new muscles for me to get around these last few days and I have a new respect for the feelings of vulnerability that come with needing some extra assistance now and then.




    Funny story: at my physical therapist's office my cane and I were going in, a gentleman in a knee brace with a crutch was coming out. He waited for me to pass. I asked when I passed him, teasingly, "Does cane trump crutch?"

  • He said, "No. Ladies first."

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    Some things never change.


Published On: September 26, 2008