nilesite writes


New York, New York, USA
January 08
The Backpack Press
Pilgrim, writer, photographer, mom, singer - author of "A Marshmallow on the Bus: A Collection of Stories Written on the MTA."


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OCTOBER 8, 2013 5:24PM

The Cane

Rate: 14 Flag

Lately, I’ve been noticing people with canes.  I understand how useful they can be if you have injured your foot, your leg, for instance.  Use a cane while it heals.

But the canes I have been watching are being used by older people.  Typically, they are not pretty or decorated.  They look worn, they bow sometimes from the weight of their owner.  At every other step, there is something to hang onto, to lean on, to use to keep your balance.

I wonder what the first day is like with a cane.

At my bus stop, there is a wonderful woman who waits for buses with me nearly every morning.  We’re both older than most of our compatriots on the bus and like many older people, we worry about tomorrow a lot more than we let on.  She and I grouse about the bus drivers and we keep tabs on other regular riders. 

Something she said to me once has bothered me since it first came up months ago.  We were talking about walking home from the office in a power outage.  We agreed it would be an effort to cover this distance on foot and she told me suddenly, “You know, I’d hate to have to start using a cane.  I want to hold out to the last minute.”

We both walk now unaided and many days, I will go out of my way to find nice walks because walking clears my head.  In fact, I know that I could walk the entire route to my office more often if I had the organizational skills necessary to get out of the house a half hour to forty-five minutes earlier.  She, on the other hand, might not be as comfortable, even though she clearly does not need a cane.  Today.

But how do you know it’s time?  Is there something that cries out to you that today is the day you surrender to old age and start using a cane?  Does a doctor tell you to use one?  Or is this something that creeps up where you just don’t remember later how it started, how you found yourself in the store, picking out a cane?

I can’t imagine they would be any harder to get used to than my new hiking poles.  I took them out for a spin and had the rhythm down pat in just a few steps.  If the height is right and the feel of the handle doesn’t irritate your hand, how difficult would it be to use a cane?  It’d be pretty simple, right? Step, cane-step; step, cane-step; step, cane-step.  And off you go.

But then, there’s no going back, is there?  Now you are officially a senior citizen, an older American, a what, disabled person?  With that one stroke, you would go from being abled to disabled and unlike the ones who use canes when they have sustained an injury, you will know, deep down, there’s no going back to normal.  You don’t get to improve or get better.  This is the moment you would have to realize you can only get less better.  Today, cane; tomorrow, walker?  Then, wheelchair?  And those beautiful canary yellow hiking poles that were so exciting the first time out, will be left in the closet for someone else to use.

I am not ready to give up hiking just yet.  I want to walk unaided and I relish every single chance I get to do so.  Of course, I worry this walk today or maybe one tomorrow could be the one where I realize I just can’t do it anymore.  It’s too hard or I worry too much that I could fall.

But, I hope it’s not this walk.  It’s almost sunset now and the breeze is amazing.  I feel it on my face and when I step out, it nudges me forward.  I stretch up to my full height at each street corner and I step carefully across all those cracks in the sidewalk.  I catch a glimpse of kids on the swings, the men playing dominos at the card tables alongside the vegetable market, and the young girls comparing notes on that boy across the street.  I don’t want to miss any of this, this wonderful and exuberant life of the city and it’s fabulous that nobody even notices me as I walk by. 

"As I walk by."  God, I love those words.

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I have wondered the same thing, and like you cherish each and every walk. Not getting any younger stinks. I have started to decrease the weights on the machines at the gym and realize that I will never be raising them again. It's hard to admit, and the longer you resist the better.
I have two terrible injured knees.. The cartilidge is torn.. yes I could get them done free here but I refuse too.. After watching my mother in a wheel chair for years I wont let anyone touch them. Colour me stupid but I get by and for my daily walks I take a cart on wheels and all is fine. Yes I can walk without it but I do not want any toil and trouble on those knees. If I need a cane later on so be it. Its been a good life.
Gerald - I would have guessed you'd say the same thing: the longer you resist indeed.

Linda - they say getting old beats the alternative but it doesn't make any easier. It is a good life.
I would guess that the more you walk, the longer you'll walk. But who knows. This aging thing is tricky. I also thought that doing crosswords would keep my mind sharp but, since I can't always remember where I put the paper, I'm having doubts about that.
I know just what you mean! I'm worried I waited too long to worry.
I have a bad knee as the result of a 2006 fall but I am not quite ready for the inevitable knee replacement. When we travel I take one of those fold up.canes. I volunteer at a rehab center so I got instruction on the proper way to use it (that is important to avoid making it worse). I am far less tired on vacation with the suport. Not a huge deal, just help. Great piece.
I like the idea that a cane makes a vacation easier. That's a good thing!
Great post. I have way too much to say about canes. To my mother it is a matter of pride first of all. If she hadn't been so proud she would have used her cane and avoided a broken hip. Now after rehab she does not want to use a walker even tho the surgeon for her hip surgery told her she needs to do it for the rest of her life. She uses door knobs and my arm with a cane instead of a walker.
I can see her falling again. She kind of drags her cane along instead of actually using it to help herself. I think if you have pain you use a cane. If you are just in danger of falling you may forget to use it or not care enough.
Her boyfriend would not use a cane and fell into the flower beds outside a restaurant. Stubborn.
We visited a man with dementia in a nursing home today. He forgets to use his walker and fell two days ago. He will be in a new place now where they watch people 24 hrs a day. He is also in danger of choking.
Old age and DEATH. We can do this. Our generation is not so vain that we think we will live forever. That is what makes the world so precious. We can always trip.
I don't know what the big deal is about using a cne. To me it's like wearing glasses. I first used one for about a month in my 20s from a sports injury ankle sprain. The cane came in handy a few years later when I pulled something in my back playing golf. Since then about every 5-10 years something in my back flares up and I'm on the cane for a couple of weeks. It's only a bother when it's really rainy and I also have to use an umbrella. On the other hand, the cane always gets me a seat on a crowded subway.
House, MD used a cane with flames and he was pretty sexy.
However, I rarely see people with canes anymore; funny though, a guy I work with (he's in his late 20s) came out of the building using a cane today.

I suspect you won't ever need a cane but I enjoyed reading your thoughts about it very much.
For those who just cannot psychologically handle getting older the use of a cane must be horrible. For those, like me, who enjoyed getting older and being older, the use of a cane is no biggie.

I first used one to lean on while I rested to catch my breath while crossing a parking lot when I couldn't find a parking spot near the mall doors. Now I carry a lightweight folding camp stool for the same purpose.

Then I found that I could walk a little further by leaning on it a bit at each step. It's also very handy for whacking unruly brats who race around the aisles of department stores and supermarkets threatening to upset goods from shelves and seniors from their feet and often succeeding at both while parents duck out of sight or smile benignly on their inhuman offspring as though they think that kind of behaviour "cute."

Whacked a would-be cab robber one time. Broke both my favourite wooden cane and his arm. Cops arrested him and cuffed him behind his back. The pain he obviously was feeling brought a smile to my face. Cabby was a good guy; showed up at my door the next day with a new cane for me.

I love my cane!

Let's try that rate thingie again.
I'm thinking of getting several! Comes in very handy when you fall out of bed in the morning.:D
They're useful when my back goes out. I suspect that as you age there will be days you want it and days you don't. I got a really cool one with a pincer at the end for grabbing things I can't reach - when my back is out, that really helps. Haven't seen one of those in a while.

A cane story, of a sort:

I was working in Philadelphia, staying with my wife's cousin, when, crossing the street, my back went. Like Went. As in I had to lay down on the sidewalk because I couldn't move. The cousin goes to get a car to pick me up, cars are slowing down asking if they should call me an ambulance and I'm saying No thanks, a car is coming for me.

The next day I have to work in the area, then drive to Baltimore's airport for a flight. I ask the cousin if she has a cane. It turns out the closest thing she has, which I borrow, is her kids' pogo stick. It's black with one pedal in bright neon green and the other in hot pink. The handles are the same colors, but reversed.

The next day I'm calling on customers I've never met, wearing a business suit and leaning on a pogo stick. I can imagine the conversations they had with their wives that night.

So now I drive to BWI. I wait in the security line. I'm walking not bad but I'm afraid of how I feel after the flight as to whether I'll be able to get up, so I've got the pogo stick with me and then I hit security. "What's that?" "It's a pogo stick I'm using as a cane because my back's out." "It's still a pogo stick. You have to check it." I found out that if you have to check something at the security line, they give you a pass to bypass the line when you come back so you don't have to wait again. I was OK enough to get off the plane.

They're tools. Not symbols.
zanelle - I think there's a lot to what you say here. I know of more than one person who shunned the walker and fell or who refused help and fell. That's lousy cuz it hurts. And, like you said too, it can limit what you do going forward.

Abrawang - I've been told by more than one person that a cane gets you a seat on the subway. Chalk one up in the plus column!

Margaret - House guy did look good. But that's more because he just looks good anyway, right? Thanks for your comments.

sky - This one stopped me. When you mentioned a cab robber, being a New Yorker, I thought you attacked somebody for taking the cab you were trying to hail. That broken arm seemed a little over the top, but hey, it's a dog eat dog world trying to get a cab these days. Then, you say he was the bad guy - ah, now I get it! You are really cool. I am glad aging agrees with you. I agree with you too.

tg - You know, I hadn't thought about that, but it's a good call.
kosher - I am still smiling! I wish you had photos. And I like your sense of this. Tools, not symbols. I will remember that. Thanks for the great story!
The tools not symbols thing is something I had to deal with with my son, not regarding canes but regarding a wheelchair. He had cerebral palsy, and when we switched from a specialized stroller to a wheelchair it wasn't because we needed the transportation for him, it was because we needed to have a seat with us that positioned him right. Still, getting my wife around the symbolism wasn't easy. But yeah, they're all tools. If it makes you hurt less, it's good. It really is that simple.
and you're welcome for the story. It was definitely funny at the time.
This is lovely and right on the money. Looking ahead (when you are in the 'older person' category) doesn't have quite the same uphill, optimistic feel it used to. You make me want to get up and take the dogs for their walk (and mine).
Boy, you're right; they're a symbol, besides being useful. This thought you've put in my head makes me so agitated! I'm going out for my second walk and not think about it.
great, beautiful, natural wood canes at whistler's creek

Ya they are...I've several in an umbrella stand that rocks...