One of the most fascinating things about MS is that it reveals a lot about those who don’t have it. When I tell someone I have MS, their response (or lack thereof) tells me about all I need to know about them and my relationship with them. (I could have sworn I’d written a whole post about this topic, but I can’t find it. Oh, well, why not do it anyway?)
Another revealing aspect of people’s reactions to MS (and the disabled in general) came up recently in a conversation I had with a friend of mine. She generally uses assistive devices of one kind or another to get around. Depending on where she’s going and what she’s doing, she might use a power scooter, a wheelchair, or a walker. It turns out that, when she’s out in public, people have different reactions depending which apparatus she’s using.
The walker, my friend tells me, arouses pity more than anything. She sees it in their eyes: “Better you than me.” After all, who would use a walker unless it was absolutely necessary? She gets the most positive reactions when she uses her wheelchair. People smile and help as if, as she puts it, they’ve taken sensitivity training.
No such kindness is demonstrated to her when she’s in her scooter. Maybe it’s the way they’re marketed or how they’ve been used as jokes in popular entertainment such as “Seinfeld”, but people resent them. The expressions my friend sees send the message, “You don’t really need that thing.” People in scooters are viewed as lazy, some kind of freeloaders who don’t want to pull their weight.
Comparing notes, I’ve confirmed what she has observed. The only assistive equipment I’ve used are a cane, a leg brace, and an FES device, but each brings forth its own set responses from observers. The cane is the most benign. I’ve had people nearly start crying at the sight of it. Others insisted on helping me, even when I didn’t need or want it. The orthotic leg brace (*that’s the picture above, though it’s upside down to make identifying it more of a challenge) freaks people out. Most have never seen such a beast and can’t figure out what it’s for. And they never ask.
The FES device is a great conversation starter. No one wants to talk about why it’s needed, but the technology is so cool, it always draws comments. Are you a cyborg? Part of the Collective? (Resistance is, indeed, futile.)
If I didn’t want to deal with those reactions, the only alternative was to wobble around like a Weeble (except we do fall down) and let everyone think I was drunk. That can have its upside unless I’m driving. :-O