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Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Gimp's Guide to Life- Part 1

I'm offering my experiences here to promote understanding of physical handicaps among the more able-bodied and hopefully to help with tips for people who are like me. I'm fairly new at this all, having bounded through the first 40 years of my life in relatively good vitality and ability. The last 10 years, and in particular the last 4, have changed my life and perspective. I call myself a gimp because I am, and because I still have a sense of humor.

In sailing through life as a gimp you have to be much more aware of hazards. Anything that was innocuous heretofore could injure you once you're a gimp.

For instance, if you have nerve problems, you are prone to dropping things. That is fairly obvious and one simple remedy is to always take things in both hands until you have a secure hold. Make sure all your body parts are clear of the falling range of whatever you have in your hands, always. If you can, when something falls, step or wheel back away from it. This gets better with practice and fairly soon it's an automatic response.

The not-so-obvious things are surprising discoveries. Among many I've made in this process is that any new attire can be a hazard. New shoes, new pants, new jewelry- anything, really. Once broken in, there may or may not be a problem. But new shoes have laid me up for a full day. New pants caused me such back pain that I actually cried. I now look for garments and footwear that are close to what my body is now comfortable in. This means no heels on my shoes. I need them flat, loose and a fit that simulates how my foot falls in the barefoot state. Topsiders work well, as do moccasins. But any sort of "support" is a potential crippler.

Belts, even waistbands, are a hazard to spines. I search for jeans that don't have enforced waistbands. Since I'm tall, tripping on dragging hems isn't my trouble but it is for friends. It's important to stay mindful of any garment that flares from your body or reaches the ground. Long skirts are lovely, but can get caught in the spokes of a wheelchair or catch on a cane. So can flowing sleeves, long scarves and jewelry. Expressing your style can be a challenge. In shopping for friends, keep these things in mind. What may have delighted them when they were full-bodied can be an unintended but hurtful reminder of things lost to their lives now.

Jewelry is an area with lots of options. I wear a single leather thong with a very dear silver bell as my omnipresent necklace. It's practically weightless, is neither too long nor too short and nothing catches in a leather thong as it would in a chain. I wear one braided string bracelet that would open if caught in anything on my chair or walker. Though my ring size has grown, I have two that fit no matter what, go with any outfit and don't hinder movement. When dressing up I'll add manageable bits, but they are a hassle to stay conscious of, and being a gimp is an exercise in being conscious of one's immediate surroundings at all times. Keeping it simple is a great rule.

There are tools in helping one dress. I have an indispensable sock tool. They are painsavers and ingeniously simple. If you have trouble putting socks on, get one. They can even be made with a 2-liter soda bottle, a bit of cord and a stick-on insole, cut up. If you want instructions, email me.

So much for part 1 of A Gimp's Guide... I'll be back with more.

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