Brand building through storytelling

Into any healthy life a cane can tap

While scanning a dark movie theatre in search of my husband’s face, I spotted the bright chrome glint of the cane that he was waving in my direction like a banner. A cane, we have lately discovered, has uses undreamed-of by those who have no call for one. It can flick light switches, press elevator buttons and open California shutters. In saucy hands it can tickle a spouse’s bum.

A good six weeks ago my husband rose from the chair in which he’d just spent an hours-long board meeting and noticed that all was not well with his knee. The next morning he proposed a vigorous walk to shake out the kinks. Bad idea. After forty-five minutes of urban hiking in which he labored to match my pace, he hobbled to the street car while I, to my shame, strode on. Surely he’d be fine with a few hours’ rest and an ice pack. Surely it takes more than a chair and a Sunday stroll to ground a healthy guy of 60 whose favourite weekend diversion is a vigorous country walk with at least one steep ascent.

So began our eye-opening detour to the land of the less-than-fully able. You think you can’t possibly get there till you’re 80 at the very least. But somewhere in your passage through middle age, your once-reliable body becomes less forgiving. You discover that you don’t have to run a marathon, climb a rock face or do anything remotely brag-worthy to get an injury that changes your life, if only temporarily. You can actually get injured sitting. Yes, really.It turns out that marathon sitting, while perfectly fine for a kid lost in a book, is bad news for a midlifer at a conference table. Sitting put stress on my husband’s knee and now he has a treatable but persistant condition known as “joint mice”—loose bits of cartilage that float around making trouble. Prescription: physiotherapy.

We expect to return to the hiking trail. We just can’t be sure when we’ll get there. Although my husband needs the cane a bit less these days, I’ve grown accustomed to seeing it hooked over a chair—as familiar as the newspapers strewn on the kitchen island.

I was the one who bought the cane, since only I could dash through the rainy streets of San Francisco in search of a device that would get my husband from Starbuck’s to our hotel around the corner. We were concluding a west coast trip on which the knee had steadily worsened. The closest Walgreen’s sold only rinky-dink collapsible canes, which don’t support my husband’s weight (a fact just established by a visit to emerg). Off I sprinted to the next Walgreen’s. They had electric-blue canes, fake wood canes, bronze canes with swirls and a pink cane that, as the clerk pointed out, was a perfect match for my raincoat. “It’s for my husband,” I said, peeved that anyone might think the cane was for me. Then I called my husband at Starbuck’s to get his views on the serious-looking chrome model that looked as if it might do. He thought it sounded just like the useless canes at the hospital. I detected an all-consuming effort to sound proactive as opposed to frantic. “What about a traditional wooden cane?” he asked. “That’s what I want.”

I wished I could be shopping for asparagus. Or a backpack, or a dishwasher—something, anything that I actually know how to buy. Where in San Francisco could I track down a wooden cane? Flying out of Walgreen’s, I spotted a lean and scruffy-looking fellow tap-tapping along with the cane of my dreams. “Excuse me, sir,” I called. “Where did you buy your cane?” I coveted the cane the way, on more frivolous shopping expeditions, I had coveted the peach leather jacket of a stranger with impeccable style. But the man with the wooden cane had no idea where it came from. A gift, he said.

Back at Starbuck’s, I was mulling Google search terms that might find us a wooden cane in San Francisco when my husband decided that he’d better make do with the chrome cane from Walgreen’s. So now it’s his for as long as he needs it. Or should I say “ours”? Because there’s no telling when I might have to give it a go.

Funny thing about canes. You don’t even see them, much less think about them, until they land with a transformative thud on your list of essentials. Unlike wheelchairs, they don’t force the temporarily able to navigate around them. They’re easy to ignore—or used to be. The other day in my neighbourhood, I passed a woman on two canes who couldn’t have been much more than 40. She was heading my way as I strode home from the gym. It was perfect spring walking weather—the air soft, with a hint of breeze that tossed the woman’s auburn curls. Maybe that’s why she was smiling.

Posted by Rona

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