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Ahead of my time

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It used to be that being called precocious was a good thing. "Five going on 30" sounds a lot better than "40 going on 80."

Unfortunately, when I injured my back last year, I started feeling precocious in a really bad way.

Standing with my cane in the back of the auditorium of my son's school with the grandparents, chatting about the virtues of our orthopedists and physical therapists, is not something I imagined myself doing in the prime of my life.

When my doctor asked me how I had done it, with a tone that said I had brought this on myself, I assured him I was doing nothing unusual, illegal or even immoral at the time of the injury. I was just picking up the newspaper.

"That must have been a really heavy newspaper," he said.

When another doctor told me it was inoperable and the recovery time would be one to two years, I laughed. With the pain I was in, it sounded more like a cackle followed by an "Ow."

Fortunately, I've spent years honing my denial skills, and when he said "one to two years" I thought, "He meant one to two months."

Then I thought, "Not me--regular people might take one to two years to heal, but I'm precocious."

And lastly, "That's really funny. Don't give up your day job."

Denial can be a blessing. Unfortunately, reality does set in.

And in this case, a single event seemed to make this real. It was before the doctor revoked my driving privileges and I was going to an office at Rex. I struggled toward the building, each step an exercise in self-abuse, and when I reached the door I found it had no little blue button, no handicapped access. I didn't know what to do. I could not possibly open the door.

I watched able-bodied people breezing down the hallway on the other side. They looked so carefree. Not one person paused to ask themselves why this deranged-looking woman was leaning against a cane, wearing an evil grimace and staring at the door handle like a hungry dog eyes a soup bone. No one opened the door. It was my induction into the world of the "differently-abled."

After a call on my cell phone, my doctor sent someone with a wheelchair to retrieve me, and I have since learned that the handicapped entrance to that building is in the basement. How nice to know that we have a way in, even if it is at the bottom.

This has not been the best time of my life, but I have gained something I never knew I lacked. I understand how it feels to be physically limited from all that I took for granted, to not be able to swing my 2-year-old, to not be able to play tag with my 5-year-old, to not be able to put on my own underwear.

I'd say this year has taught me a compassion that goes beyond my years.

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