By Mims Cushing
Did you ever think when you were in school, running around playgrounds, that you would be using a cane in later life? Did you think that, as an older person, you’d be going to lunch with a good friend, both of you leaving a restaurant with a cane? Your pediatrician never told you that when you became a senior citizen you should use a cane, right?
My monthly column, titled “This ‘n That,” lets me write about all things serious and not serious. I prefer writing humor and lifestyle topics, but this subject is one I’ve been wanting to address for a while. The topic is the cane.
I have myositis, a rare autoimmune disease. Only 50,000 people in America have it. Very little is known about it. Myositis means chronic inflammation of the muscles. Muscles weaken or even atrophy. My leg muscles collapse sporadically, which makes me fall, and can cause broken bones and sometimes surgery. I’ve broken my ankle, pelvis, elbow, and both feet in the past 10 years. I’ve probably fallen 20 or so times. In mid-July 2018, I fell against a wall, and broke five vertebrae and cracked five ribs — so for many weeks no swimming for me, which is my go-to choice of exercise. Until lately, I have done three or four sessions a week of stretching exercise in aqua therapy — in a 90 degree hot therapy pool — and do stretches at home as I watch the news. Physical therapy is an essential part of my day so I can avoid immobility. You can’t be a couch potato if you have myositis.
For years, my lab reports didn’t show that I have osteoporosis; however, when you fall a lot you are automatically classified as having that ailment. (I do, also, have mild neuropathy, not from diabetes. Why I have it is unknown.)
To get back to the cane, I don’t feel the need to use it a lot, but when I do, people whom I barely know — or know very well — say, “What are you using that cane for?” or “You are too young to be using that?” or “How come you have a cane?” Worse, “You don’t need that thing!” What a rude thing to say! Do people think I’m using the cane for the fun of it? People say, “You look wonderful.” That’s nice, but the implication is you must be fine! You don’t need the cane!
In “Coping with a Myositis Disease,” written by patients, I read, “One of the most frustrating aspects of myositis is that your looks are deceiving … your looks do not portray your disability.” You look healthy on the outside, but on the inside things are not so pretty. If using a cane prevents me from falling, I will use it. (Sometimes, however, a cane can make a fall worse.)
A blood test and a muscle biopsy can point to myositis. To date, cures do not exist, although a few drugs such as prednisone and Methotrexate, a chemotherapy, can help. Hot weather worsens the symptoms. Extreme fatigue sometimes is so severe you need to nap a couple of times a day, but other days you are full of energy. The increased weakness causes you to fall and you can’t get up because your muscles won’t let you.
Strangers might open a door and offer to carry packages or tote bags. It is hard to open some doors that never seemed heavy in former days. Yes, I can open my own doors; however it’s nice that people are kind. So, when you see someone using a cane — smile and ask if they need a hand. Such a simple gesture, but so appreciated.