Archive for Thursday, July 8, 2010

Passing acquaintances

July 8, 2010

During my recent unpleasant experience, I have found two new friends. I hope, however, they are merely passing acquaintances and sometime in the future we will part ways.

Of course, I am talking about my cane and my wheelchair. I have a pyramid cane, which has four legs and a wide base. While it is very steady, it is a bit cumbersome and gets in the way through doorways and corners. It has only let me down one time, and I probably got my feet tangled up in it, causing me to tumble.

I am also working with a quad cane.

The therapist tells me there is a good chance that with some time, I will not need either device. They are very helpful now, but I won’t mind retiring them.

Actually, I have several canes in the house now. One is a family heirloom and belonged to my grandmother. It is a heavy, handmade cane using both metal and wood. My grandfather was a guard with the Kansas State Penitentiary in Lansing. The cane was made by a prisoner and given to my grandfather. The other cane belonged to Jean’s late father.

No one knows when the cane came into existence. One source I read said that it dated back to 5000 B.C. and was used by early nomadic hunters, many of whom roamed the prehistoric world, as a walking stick.

It wasn’t long before canes became staffs and the added crook on the end became useful to shepherds to rescue sheep from danger. Crusaders were armed with staves, which were a form of walking stick.

In the 1800s, canes were very popular in England and were used for walking and also as a means of self-defense. President Andrew Jackson used a cane to help thwart an assassination attempt. The cane was a status symbol and a way of signifying wealth and prestige. Some of the canes were very ornate and decorated with precious metals and jewels.

The wheelchair’s history is equally murky. Some date the origin of the wheelchair to ancient China. In 1595, King Phillip II of Spain used a wheeled chair, however the inventor is unknown.

Probably the first version of the wheelchair as we know it today was invented by John Dawson of Bath, England, in 1783. It was a big seller and remained popular for many years. The first patent for a wheelchair with push rear wheels was issued in 1869.

The first folding wheelchair came into existence in 1932 and was built by the engineer Harry Jennings. Early wheelchairs were very heavy and some were made of bamboo to decrease the weight. They were rather large and cumbersome.

Over the years, lighter-weight materials have been utilized and the first motorized wheelchair was invented in 1916.

I think the most famous user of a wheelchair was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He was crippled by polio, but that didn’t stop him from serving the country as president. A fictional wheelchair user was the character Raymond Burr, who played a prominent role in the television series “Ironside” a few years back.

I like my wheelchair, except it doesn’t maneuver too well on plush carpet. Maybe there is a trick I just haven’t figured out yet. Fortunately all the doors of our house accommodate the size wheel chair I needed — just barely, that is. A half-inch clearance on each side on some doorways doesn’t leave much room for error. You need to become a very skilled wheelchair driver to make it without marring the woodwork.

But, hey, I don’t plan to be using this mode of transport for the rest of my life. Believe me when my leg muscles become strong enough to support me, I will bid farewell to my two new friends and put a for sale sign on them. We’re getting better every day, and I’m well on the way to coming back.

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