"The Cane Burning"

by Chris W. Glaze

As Sharon and I made our way down the hall, I could feel my face burn a crimson red. Not just from the physical exertion and deep concentration it took to move my arms and legs in the carefully choreographed steps, but with embarrassment. In order for me to take the few steps necessary to move somewhere as simple as from the bed to the bathroom I had to have a therapist or nurse hold on to my belt loops so they could help steady me if I should lose my balance. During the daily walk to the cafeteria for lunch, it felt as though every eye was watching me and every thought was critical of my awkward movements. Humiliation is the only word I know that fits the way I felt about being so dependent on others. I was nineteen years old and until three months ago I had been college student. I had seen my life shatter, and I was desperately trying to put it back together.

 

It was hard for me to realize that only seven months ago I had graduated from high school. I had been a good student and proud of my good grades. As a music student, band had been a very important part of my high school years. School had given me good friends and fond memories. One particular friend would later become my husband.  

I had enrolled in the community college at home after high school. I didn’t even get a chance to finish my first quarter before my life took a drastic turn.  

An old high school friend was home for the Thanksgiving holidays. We planned an evening of shopping and talking. Since we had chosen different college lives, we had a lot to catch up on. On the evening before Thanksgiving 1978, we spent an evening at Northlake Mall. We left the mall at closing time in my VW Dasher. As we got within a mile or two from home I turned on to what appeared to be a deserted road. Two bright lights pierced the rainy darkness. We both saw the headlights and panic took control. Ironically, the rock song Freak Out was playing on the radio. But somehow, somewhere deep within myself I found enough control to turn to the only thing that could help us. A voice inside me cried out for God’s help.

 

What happened next I only know from what I have been told. A Ford Bronco modified to accommodate its oversized tires had hit my door head on. Its’ bumper was approximately at my head’s level and consequently it was my head that received the worst of the impact. The paramedics removed me from the passenger side of the car basically because there was no driver’s side left.

 

Luckily, Debby had not been seriously hurt. The driver of the Bronco hadn’t been scratched. I hadn’t been so lucky. An ambulance carried Debby and me to a close community hospital. From there I had been transferred to a larger hospital better equipped to handle critical trauma cases. Within the hour I was in surgery. The blow to my head had resulted in a blood clot between my skull and brain, and it was causing dangerous cranial pressure. They successfully removed the hematoma but I remained in a deep coma. All of my other injuries took a back seat to the life threatening head injury and the resulting coma. My family was told that they could only wait and see what the outcome would be. For a month my body fought its way out of the coma. With some coaching from Jeff (my fiancé), I greeted my parents on Christmas morning with my first words. Slowly, and in a low monotone voice I said “Merry Christmas”. As soon as I was alert enough I was transferred to Emory’s Center for Rehabilitation Medicine. There I began to rebuild my life. For two months lived in a wheelchair. I earned the name ‘Speedy’ by rolling down the halls oblivious to any objects, including toes, that might get in the way.

 

One day close to the end of my in-patient stay, Sharon waltzed in to my room carrying this four-legged aluminum contraption. “Well hello Miss Priss! (she had given me the nickname Prissy Chrissy) No more free rides for you.”

 

I looked at that weird cane and thought to myself “Thrills, chills, and excitement. No way I’m going to use that thing!” I didn’t want a thing to do with that.

 

I wanted to be just like I had been. I especially hated the fact that when I did use it someone had to walk with me and keep a firm grip on my belt loops. I gave in and used the quad-cane even though I despised it. Soon I was able to use it alone and this step in my progress received quite a fuss and many congratulations from the staff. The more this went on, the more discouraged I got. I wanted to walk alone! I didn’t want to settle for less.

 

I went home with my wheelchair and a wooden cane. The wheelchair allowed me to move about alone, but I had to have someone with me when I used the cane. I was outside the hospital setting now and I had to get used to the idea that I would have to deal with the public. Some people can be so insensitive and I had to learn to live with that. I grew more determined than ever that I would walk, and I would walk alone.

 

I tried decorating the cane. I personalized it with gold letters and placed puffy flower stickers around it. I even thought about wrapping it up like a candy cane. All attempts to disguise it only made it more obvious. The cane I was so dependent on served as constant reminder of the person I had been and was striving to be again.

 

One night we were sitting around the table after dinner talking about different things. There was nothing strange about that, my family had spent that time together.

 

I happened to catch Mom’s eye looking for something. As I watched her survey the area for my cane, I didn’t say anything. I knew what was coming. Her voice was a mixture of concern and irritation with an overlying calmness. “Christie, where is your cane?” she asked me.

 

“Uh, I don’t know.” I thought fast, act dumb-yeah! That usually works. I had learned that I could fall back on that answer to stay out of trouble because people really didn’t know if my head injury had affected my thinking.

 

“Young lady!” Dad looked at me with that stern look that meant my answer didn’t wash. This was not a good sign. First Mom calls me by my entire first name and then Dad addresses me as young lady. No more kidding around.

 

“I hate that cane. Canes are for old people. I can walk without it. There’s no way I’m going back to school with that thing. I wish I could burn that stupid cane.” There, I had said it.

 

“That’s what we’ll do! When, and only when your therapist says you can go without it, we will burn your cane. In fact, we will have a big celebration,” Mom announced.

 

I think I was in shock for a minute. What a great idea. Now I had something concrete to work towards.

 

Our family spent two weeks on the Florida coast that summer. My therapist had explained how walking just ankle deep in the surf would help with my strength and balance. At least twice a day we would take walks on the beach. At first I could only walk a short distance, but as my strength increased, so did the walks. By the end of July my cane was disappearing more and more. It was obvious that I didn’t need it. My therapist agreed that I was just carrying the thing around. Plans for the “cane burning party” got under way. I wrote this letter to serve as an invitation....

 

During the past ten months I have experienced the following

 

STEP 1:     Waking up flat on my back and thinking that this was all a bad dream.

 

STEP 2:     Going to Emory Rehab and getting my set of “wheels”.

 

STEP 3:     Introducing all the walls and toes at Emory to the ‘Speed Demon’.

 

STEP 4:     Learning to walk with a quad-cane and someone attached to my belt loops.

 

STEP 5:     Trying to use that four-legged contraption without knocking down everything and everybody in my way.

 

STEP 6:     Getting a regular cane to use.

 

STEP 7:     Finding out how far a cane will reach when you want to “nudge” someone across the room.

 

STEP 8:     "Losing" my cane and having it turn up in the weirdest places, like the  garbage can.

 

Now I’m going to get my "REVENGE". I would like everyone who supported me and my family during this time to come and celebrate with me. There is going to be a...      

 

CANE BURNING PARTY!  

 

Please come watch with me as the cane burns.

 

 

 

Mom began baking two weeks before the party. The day of the party Dad began soaking the cane in lighter fluid to make sure it burned. Four of Mom’s friends helped out by serving the massive turnout. Our house had never seen so many people at one time. Along with friends and relatives, two of my therapists and the lady who’s yard my car had helped to re-landscape came. 

 

As the sun began to set and darkness fell, everyone began to wander outside and encircle the barrel containing the cane. Dad helped me strike the match that I used to ignite the blaze that would transform the cane into a pile of ashes.

As we all stood around watching the cane become engulfed in the flames, everyone began to sing. As if on queue, everybody started singing Lets Just Praise The Lord. Our voices filled the air with praises as the cane disappeared into the fire. I had envisioned the burning of that cane as a sign that now I was an independent person. 

 

But, as I stood among the huge circle of people who were there to celebrate with me, I looked into their faces. I realized that without these people there would be no reason to celebrate. I saw Peg. She had brought food and companionship to Mom as she sat by my hospital bed while I lay semi­conscious. She brought my favorite cherry milkshakes to sip on when I was able. Our neighbors were there. 

 

They had let me use their pool for my daily water therapy. Sharla and Vicki Dean had been my swim “coaches” working with me daily. Kevin, my little brother, helped me keep things in perspective by doing what little brothers do best. Lois was there. As my physical therapist she had pushed me when I was discouraged; other times pulling me back from trying things I wasn’t ready for. Barbara and Vicky were always there to lend a hand, lift a spirit, or simply give a hug. My parents encouraged me to get back in school and on with my life when they felt like holding on and protecting me. They knew that I had to go on with my life, for my sake. There were innumerable notes and little gifts people had sent me while I was in the hospital that helped keep my spirits up while I was away from home. The prayers of everyone constantly lifted my family and me during this time. There are many, many others I could write about, and I thank them all for their love and support.

 

As I watched all of these people, I realized that I had depended on others in striving for my own independence. Today I am a “normal” person who can rely on myself. But, I hope I never have to walk alone.


1985 by Chris W. Glaze, All Rights Reserved                                This page last    August 26, 2009