I posted this a few weeks ago on the CCI site:
Everywhere, people look or stare. I always smile back, over the rigid chin-frame of the Aspen collar built into the vest. This probably looks idiotic, but I feel guilty if people feel sorry for me. I want to alleviate their discomfort with the situation, so I smile, a big toothy grin, no matter how bad I am feeling.
We park in front of the clinic and while I wait in the truck, on the passenger side, a neighbor stops to say hi. Again, imprisoned in a fashion which only allows me to look forward, I slide my eyes painfully to the right to see who is approaching the truck. He is in his mid-20's and it's nice of him to stop to say hi. But he stands opposite my right shoulder, so I cannot see him at all. I wonder if he is doing that because if he stood straight ahead of me, I could see his discomfort with the situation.
Entering the grocery store, an elderly woman holds the door open forme. I feel odd about this. I know she is being kind and thoughtful,but I am 30 years younger than she is, and that briefly saddens me.Walking down one of the aisles in the market, a man is standing in the middle of the aisle. He is concentrating on some product on a lower shelf. I want to get past him by walking behind him, that way he wouldn't see my vest and I wouldn't see his understandable "double-take." But he is too close on that side of the aisle, so I must cross in front of him, and just ignore his looks.
At the Post Office, people hold the doors open for me, and allow me to go first in line. I smile again, as always, not wanting to cause any sympathy. It feels important to me that they do NOT feel sorry for me, and I don't know why.We live in a small town, so people here feel free to ask, "That looks restrictive. How long must you wear that?" "What happened to you?" I always give honest answers, wanting to educate them about a Jefferson fracture, the importance of wearing a helmet while horseback riding, about the wonderful doctor in NY who took the time to find out that my C1 is still broken even after 3.5 years. Thus, a quick run into the building to check the mail will always last 15 minutes or more. My husband, who drives for me because I cannot look right and left in a CTO vest, has learned to be very patient.
Little kids always stare, and often ask questions. I have found thatI am not yet capable of making this an educational experience. None of my answers quite satisfy a curious child. There are always more questions. Some have suggested that I just tell kids that I'm a super-hero, but frankly, I don't feel very gallant or possessing of super-human powers. It's always the hardest with little kids...but I've become pretty good at just ignoring them, too.
At the gas station, we end up parked at the pump facing directly toward another car there to fill up on "cheap" $2.75 per gallon fuel. The driver must have no social skills, because he stares at me the whole time. I could smile and wave at him, but by this time, I am too weak, and I don't care. If he doesn't care how I feel when he stares, then I don't care if he's feeling sorry for me or not. Somehow, I don't think that he is.
On top of an all-consuming sense of being painfully, neurologically off; on top of constant neck pain and a CTO vest that gives me a sense of choking, claustrophobia at times; on top of feet that don't feel the ground and arms that burn and itch and suffer lancinating pains, there is this facet of dealing with a well-meaning public. Like anyone dealing with a deformity, I would guess, it can be tiresome, funny, or embarrassing at varying times. I am blessed that I can take off my "deformity" when I get home. In about six months, after my fusion at TCI, I will be wearing a halof or 3 months. I should be well-practiced by then about how to handle those I see when out in the public.