I first thought about this about five years ago when I had a knee operation. I was at home, walking on crutches, and I made myself a cup of coffee in the kitchen. Then I realised that I cannot bring it anywhere, so I drank it standing and leaning on a kitchen cupboard.
Yes, if I was on crutches all the time, I would most likely have a trolley on wheels, but still. It reminded me how hard life is if you cannot use your arms.
Then I remember when I had a broken arm in plaster, it was my right arm. Even wiping my bottom with the other hand was strange.
I recently had a cataract operation. I also have some macular degeneration, so I thought my worsening vision was due to that.
I lived the past three years as a visually impaired person.
It made me realise how insensitive some people are when asked for help. It is not that to those people are nasty, they just don’t think.
The times when I asked somebody at the airport to read me my gate number, apologising, quoting my poor sight.
“Can’t you read it?”
I kept my good manners, and instead of saying: “WTF do you think I am asking?” I repeated that I cannot see well.
I recall the impatient people behind me on dark staircases where I could only see the stairs as a path, so walked slowly. I look fit and healthy and wear glasses (well, not any more- hurrah) and the comments about me going too slowly were unexpected and not very nice.
“Sorry, I can’t see” I kept repeating. Everything was hard, shopping, travelling, working. I kept complaining how badly lit places were. Now I can see, the lighting is better than I thought. I can find books in my bookcase (I could not read the spines). I can read paperbacks, not just my kindle with an enlarged font.
Life has changed, I can enjoy exhibitions, theatre, admire gardens.
I was lucky, my visual impairment was only caused by cataracts and the fact that they were surprisingly missed by my local hospital Eye department.
Till my operation, I thought this is only going to get worse. I was lucky, but there are so many people who are slowly getting blind, disabled, deaf, or forgetful.
Life is hard if you are old, frail, or disabled. I am a doctor, and see this all the time. The bravery of some of my patients, struggling with independence despite their disabilities.
Let’s be nice to them, treating them with respect and as equals while offering help, in a nice, non-patronising way.
Maybe we should all have a trial of what it is like to have a disability, like I did.
Try to close your eyes walking around, or pretend you cannot walk without crutches, put ear plugs in and try to hold a conversation- an hour of that would teach you a lot.
But that is most likely a silly idea. Is it?