119. Do we have a secret handshake?

Maybe this could be the secret handshake.  (Karine visiting me at OHSU, April|May 2011)

Maybe this could be the secret handshake. (Karine visiting me at OHSU, April|May 2011)

Mommy and I were driving home from Planet Rehab last week and we stopped at a red light.  Across the intersection I saw a double amputee wheeling his chair skillfully along the median strip.  I was like, Umm…what is that man doing?  The light turned green and we rolled past him.  At that moment he took a swig from his water bottle with his right hand, but raised the left in a friendly greeting as we drove by.  This small gesture immediately warmed my heart.  But how did he know that I’d care if he waved to me?  Could he see that thing on my neck from so far away and while I was in a moving vehicle? It only took me a few seconds to realize that my self-conscious fears were ridiculous as my eyes travelled to the rear-view mirror where our disabled parking tag dangled merrily since I had forgotten to remove it after we left the hospital.  The stick figure in a chair is a widely recognized symbol, and I figure the man on the median saw the bold blue and white placard and just waved hello to be nice.

It’s like I belong to a club now, and we should have a secret handshake.  But some of us can’t use our hands, so any sort of acknowledgement is welcome.  We’re all dealing with our individual issues, but we know what it’s like to have a body that doesn’t function the way we want it to and we try to show each other kindness.  At least I do when I’m not thinking about myself, which isn’t as often as one might hope.

I saw a man in the Therapy waiting area a few weeks ago.  He was probably a little older than me, but definitely in a more difficult physical position than I am.  He was still in a chair – the kind with the headrest – and he was lying back in it silently with a large purple Barney dinosaur resting against his right knee.  I saw the man, and I saw the stuffed dinosaur, and I immediately knew why he needed to bring Barney to Therapy.  It’s the same reason that I held Ed’s hand/hoof during lunch before going to The Place while I was learning to walk.  Sometimes you just need a friend, even if he’s stuffed.

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5 thoughts on “119. Do we have a secret handshake?

  1. I love that picture of Karine! Kids are great. Also, this post is great. What you wrote about holding Ed’s hand/hoof is very touching. Love you friend.

  2. I always felt that way when I saw others who were (or had been) obviously going through chemo at the U of M clinic. We probably all sympathized with one another.

  3. Great post Ning. Sometimes the little kindnesses and gestures that signal “I understand” are just what we need. Even though I wasn’t the one who was sick, I’ll never forget two people who did this for me soon after you had come home to MD fr OR. One came in the form of a hug and the other by a person simply placing a hand on my shoulder. But it was the way in which they did it – with no words, but just that look that told me they understood and cared. It was a comfort and I appreciated their compassion and care for me as your sister :).

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