My cane goes with me everywhere. Right before I leave the house, I grab my keys and pick up my cane in the garage. Then I set out, either on foot or in the car. I often go alone. But when another person joins me, sometimes he or she feels like I need to be directed.
In Cane Confessions, I share an anecdote in which Jamie, my friend’s husband, gives me commands like “Go to the right, a little more. Now straighten ‘er out. You’ve got it. Good job!”
I felt like I was learning to drive for the first time—with my cane as the stick shift.
His directions continue in a typically patient and specific way. “That’s a sharp turn. Now stop. Let’s wait for Bobbie.”
His wife, Bobbie, also provides directions but in a much more conversational way. She chats and then interrupts herself to guide, “go to the left. I mean the other left.” Mixing up her rights and lefts always throws me into a fit of confusion and often, laughter. Only once did she strike fear in me. Her abrupt directive, “Stairs!” came just in the nick of time … I caught myself. Talk about shock appeal. If I had been at the wheel, it would have been akin to shouting “Oncoming car!”
Since I took orientation and mobility training (comparable in many ways to driver’s training), I navigate quite competently. But friends and family still hold onto the belief most parents ascribe to (they know best and are more experienced) and continue to micro-manage my “driving” with the best and kindest intentions. I’m used to it. Most of the time, I take their instructions in stride. Consequently, when I’m around others, I’ve come to expect some directional language.
Every now and then, I need to step back and take stock. Literally, step back … to avoid collision. Unfortunately, I don’t do that enough.
My brother recently dropped me off near the entrance to a store. But he didn’t tell me where we were. I thought we had parked in the handicapped parking as we typically do when we go shopping at large chain stores.
My brother jumped out of the car. “Are you all right?”
I was on automatic pilot so I said yes. Then I gave myself a quick pat down. “I think I’m okay. But I seem to have had a … fender bender … with my white cane.” I held it up. The last section was definitely bent askew. “What happened?”
“I think you smashed into the curb hard with your cane.”
“Oh no! Why am I at the curb already? This is your fault.”
Mike stood with the car door cracked open. “I was only trying to be helpful and take you as close to the entrance as possible.”
“So you dump me at the curb without telling me?” I glared.
“I thought you knew.” He walked over to me. “Can you use your cane?”
I held it up and we both examined it. The last section dangled crookedly. “You’ll have to get that repaired. I wonder how much it’ll cost.”
He wasn’t trying to be humorous. In fact, he sounded as if he had driver’s remorse, the way some people come across when they carelessly cause an accident and have to face the other wronged driver. But, the humor snuck up on me.
“I don’t think I have insurance,” I said, trying to keep a straight face. “I only insure the other … vehicle. And a curb doesn’t count.” I laughed.
He laughed, too, relieved to see the change in my mood.
“Now if I club you over the head with my damaged cane, you might need your insurance.” I held it upside down and took a step toward him.
He backed away as if to protect himself against my threat, and said, “I’ll be right back. I’m going to park the car.”
In the handicapped parking, no doubt.
A little later in the day, my brother’s sugar falls and we stop to eat. We talk more about my cane fender-bender and I reflect on the accident.
I guess I have to expect some wear and tear on my everyday vehicle just like anyone else. The black elastic grip is frayed on one end and the cord to the loop is worn thin. The appearance of my red and white casing is marred. Over the years, it has acquired nicks and scratches. Now that part of it is bent, the sections don’t slide nicely into each other to wrap up when I “park” it. But the tip, my cane’s “tire” is still in great shape.
I take a bite of the bowl of chili he bought me. “It could have been worse. I’m not injured. My cane is replaceable. It’s about time I look into another one anyway.”
“What about the Bureau of Blindness. Will they help you?”
“Not sure. But I’ll call to find out.” At that moment, my cell phone vibrated and flashed in my purse. When I didn’t recognize the number, I let it go.
“Phone,” Mike said, trying to be helpful again.
Many times the ringing of my cell phone went unnoticed, thus the back-up flashing. “I know. It’s probably a telemarketer.”
I called the Bureau of Blindness and found out, short order, they never replace canes, only issue them at the start of a training period. My counselor offered a phone number where I could purchase one on my own.
I didn’t mind. Having a fender-bender with my white cane made me feel more like a part of society. Drivers deal with having to repair and replace cars several times over their lifetime. Why should I be any different?
I lifted my cane and peered at the dangling piece. It looked a little off kilter, but it was useable. The tip still gave me information. I would make-do until I saved enough money to get a new model. Heck, I might even consider a model with pink or electric blue accents.
“I’m ready to go,” I told my brother cheerfully. “Let’s hit the road, Jack.”
‘Yeah, but please, leave the curbs alone,” he quipped.
I love it when his humor sneaks through. Life is always better when siblings see eye to eye and can drive off on a full stomach.
Have you had an important piece of navigational equipment damaged? Or a real fender bender? How did you handle it?