Who Needs That Assistive Device?

A few years back, my husband’s mother talked about not wanting to start using a cane or a walker – her thinking was once a person starts using one, especially a walker, they never stop needing it.  She didn’t want to start using an adaptive device out of fear she couldn’t stop – some sort of psychological addiction phobia – even though she would have benefitted from a cane to steady her gait.

A few years ago, my own mother broke her leg – first broken bone in 86 years of life – and she had no problem taking her surgeon’s advice and using a walker immediately.  He suggested she use it all the time when she went out of her home, and now almost five years later she is still using that walker.  She so embraced the idea of this assistive device that she gave it a name – Wally.  Why Wally?  Because that is where she has my father lean it against whenever it is not in use – out of the way and against the wall.  She is the opposite of my mother-in-law and can’t stand the thought of being without her beloved Wally - he gives her an extra measure of confidence that even my father’s once-strong arm can’t offer her.

Three years ago my Primary Care Physician and I talked about getting a cane – it wasn’t so much that I needed it at that moment, but she wanted me to have it on hand just in case, and especially in bad weather if I found myself facing a parking lot of snow and ice.  She wrote the prescription, I filled it, and then put the cane in the back of my car, and it traveled many miles without ever seeing daylight.  A dear friend who has lived with MS for over 30 years, over two decades of those in a wheelchair, would constantly grill me – ‘are you using the cane?  You know it doesn’t do you any good in the back of your car.’   Over and over I would tell this friend I wasn’t ready, but I was smart enough and humble enough to know when the time came, I would pull it out.  She always makes me promise to use it, and then laughs and adds she knows how stubborn I can be.

I have had the good fortune the past few years to do some events for MS advocacy work that has required me  to travel by airplane on my own.  My gait was just unsteady enough, and the looming unknown airport terminals were enough for me to pull out that cane for security.  A few trips in and I was even smarter and asked the airlines for assistance.   So I ride in a wheelchair, and carry my cane.

Once home, I put that trusty cane back into my car, hoping it won’t be necessary, but I have ‘those days’ when I pull it out and use it.  Initially I didn’t like the questioning looks from the people at work, but now it doesn’t seem to matter to either me or them.  On bad days, it comes with me, and on good days it stays in the car.

The snow and ice of this winter has made the cane come out several days a week – the trek into my building has often been treacherous and that third leg gave me just enough stability and confidence to stay upright.  The thought that I have become dependent on my cane stays with me, and I do my best to get by without it.  I’m using it more this winter than I had hoped necessary, but it does give me the ability to keep going.

Perhaps my mother-in-law was right – once you start using an assistive device it becomes ingrained and it is difficult to give up.  At least for now, unlike my own mother, I haven’t given my cane it’s own name.  I’m not that attached, yet, and it still has to ride in the back of my car.

Wishing you well,


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