In this Alice in Wonderland inspired piece, regular guest blogger, Martin Baum shares how he overcame his fear of standing out to appreciate the interesting conversation starters that walking aids can be.
According to Google a walking stick is defined thus; a straight rod or stick (as of wood or aluminium) that is used to provide stability in walking or hiking. Personally, I find keeping with the tried and tested wood or aluminium very reassuring. After all, if something is working properly then I would say it is probably best to just leave it alone. In other words, if it ain’t broke why fix it? But then, and just to make this blog a little more interesting, what about considering cabbage stalk?
I raged against the machine or rather, and perhaps somewhat less dramatically, the NHS aluminium walking sticks that kept being delivered to my door.
Yes, such a thing does exist. A walking stick made from actual Jersey cabbage aka walking stick kale or, as I preferably like to call it, Ron’s stick of woe, after I inherited my cabbage stalk stick from my late father, Ronald. And what a priceless heirloom it turned out to be, albeit emotionally not financially. Now who is to say whether dad would have ever been aware or not, but his legacy was instrumental in helping me get over ‘it’ when all else before failed to get me to use a walking stick.
As any MSer who has transitioned to using one will know, I can honestly attest that getting over ‘it’, the ignominy of using something to help sit, stand and walk, is as hard as it psychologically gets. I was no exception. I raged against the machine or rather, and perhaps somewhat less dramatically, the NHS aluminium walking sticks that kept being delivered to my door. The NHS were quite tenacious in trying to convert me, no matter how much I failed to be seen walking with one whenever I had an appointment at the hospital.
Yet the moment I held – I felt – the top of my father’s upright cabbage stalk stick in the palm of my right hand was when my relationship with MS became meaningful.
As if being an MSer was not bad enough without being pressed, as I saw it, into padding about with something that screamed ‘disabled’. It was not going to happen. To me the unchanging NHS-approved concept of a straight or duck handled walking stick was as medieval as it got, as repressive as wearing a scarlet letter, as discomforting as being pilloried, as archaic as wearing a gold chain attached to a pair of spectacles.
Yet the moment I held – I felt – the top of my father’s upright cabbage stalk stick in the palm of my right hand was when my relationship with MS became meaningful. It got real. I was even more proud to be seen with a quirky-looking curio when a lady of, shall I say, mature years, engaged me in an unexpected conversation about my stick.
She was taken by the idiosyncratic knobbly shape of the varnished stalk, comparing it against her own fit-for-purpose, plastic collapsible one. She was quick to notice the antique Jersey Cabbage Walking Stick badge set into the nob on the top. We had quite an animated conversation about our own individual sticks which, I think, we both got a kick out of.
That brief encounter was not to be the last with a stranger. Over the years, as the stick has become quite the strange and interesting point of conversation in parks and garden centres, I have become quite the authority (aka bore) on the subject: “Oh yes, of course, historically, the stalks were made into walking sticks, of which 30,000 a year were being sold by the early 20th century…” These days you could say I was the cabbage stalk yadda yadda man.
For most of my 40 years as an MSer, standing out because of my condition had been my deepest fear. It was my Room 101, there to be identified as the man struggling to walk the disabled walk of shame. Ridiculous, of course it was, I can see that now. My issue, however, I now recognise, was as much about confidence – raising my self-esteem - as it was about having MS.
Up until I embraced that beautiful, twisted, uneven, eccentric-looking stick, I was unable to fully accept and fulfil my life as an MSer. Thanks to my father this confidence-enhancing, cabbage stalk placebo has changed my life and I would not have it any other way.