"The Cane Burning"
by Chris W. Glaze
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.
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.
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
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
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
think I was in shock for a minute. What a great idea. Now I had something
concrete to work towards.
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....
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