On being handicapped in the big city


Nearly three weeks ago I fell while hiking in my favorite spot in Madrid, La Pedriza. We were busy exploring the far reaches of La Pedriza posterior when I stupidly tripped forward and felt a yank on my left arm as I hit the ground hard. When I brushed myself off, my shoulder was conspicuously lower than it normally is. Six hours later, after an intense thunderstorm and a careful three-hour descent in a makeshift sling, the shoulder had been returned to its rightful place by an ornery emergency room doctor.

And thus, with my left arm completely immobilized in a sling, I began a three-week stint as a persona discapacitada in Madrid. I’ve been commuting to work and more or less living my life as normal, to the extent that a one-armed person can. I have grown used to people staring and, especially, to the majority of people who don’t budge to give me a seat on any of the various modes of public transport I use daily.

There are always exceptions, though. Today, as I was riding on a city bus, one woman was especially solicitous, looking concernedly at me even after I declined the offer of her seat. As I approached the door to leave, she offered to help me off the bus (I had a small suitcase in tow) and, when I demurred, she leaned over and confided that her daughter currently has both arms in casts and she, to put it lightly, knows how it is. I, too, can say I’ll never look at physical incapacities the same way again.

1 Response to “On being handicapped in the big city”

  1. 1 Gabriella Opaz Friday, 11 December, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    Oh how I can sympathize! While acting as a bicycle guide in the Pyrenees, I broke my foot in a freak accident. Well, I technically broke it coming down a dewy hill in route to set up 24 bikes, but I generally leave that tidbit out in hopes that the imagination will conjure up something more death defying ;-)

    Arriving home to Madrid, I suited myself up to teach my first English class of the day. Crutches placed uncomfortably under my armpits, I hobbled to the train station only to realize that there were no handicap entrances, no elevators in some stations, and no escalators in others. What normally took me 30 minutes to get from one location to another suddenly turned into a full day obstacle course. Although this has changed a bit over the past few years in hopes that the Olympics would look kindly upon handicap reformations, some of these issues are still very relevant today.

    Good luck!

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