That’s Not Helpful!

Here’s a riddle:  how is a broken foot like being pregnant? 

(No, it has nothing to do with wait times.)

Mid-October I entirely missed the last two steps of the stairs to the basement floor and BLAM! Didn’t even experience the slip and fall. Hurt so much I didn’t even cuss, and only OW’d so folks would know I’d been hurt. My ankle really hurt, so I limped to my bedroom and pulled on an ankle elastic (which I keep in my purse because being hypermobile means easily spraining things). Hobbled around the rest of the day, giving it the usual Rest-Ice-Compression-Elevation between doing stuff. That was a Friday.

The next day it was really swollen, with a purple bruise covering the entire upper surface, but it wasn’t horribly painful like a migraine. I called out from stocking work at the grocery, rested more, and tied on a foot brace. My son-in-law said it might be broken (it’s good to have a medic in the house).

Guess what? Broken bones are not always screamingly painful. Whoda thunk?

Sunday I went to the walk-in clinic, and yeup, two of my metatarsals were broken, in a displacement fracture, no less. (Meaning, the bones weren’t even lined up, but were slightly ajar.) They put on a splint. The next day I went to an orthopedist, and after due examination of the clinic’s radiographs, the doc sent me to get a boot-type cast, and make follow-up appointments. On my end, I remembered to get a ‘script for a temporary Disabled Parking permit. Whee.

That was the easy part. But OMG the annoying part is not the broken foot itself.

The annoying part is dealing with the public,
those discourteous, “well-intended”, damnably useless interactions!

Because you see, when you have a physically-apparent injury, one’s body suddenly becomes part of the public’s purview; they are free to make enquiries, “do help to you”, “charmingly” engage in the social distancing of pity, and give malcommendations.

(Hopefully I won’t use up my month’s share of sarcasm quote marks, but one must hazards risk.)

It’s intrusive. Being visibly disabled [sometimes] means losing status to where anyone can ask most anything of you.I don’t mind answering questions from family, coworkers, and friends about the event and my recuperative status. But seriously, why should every random stranger feel privileged to details? Were the issue nephrological, nobody would want to know what was wrong with my bladder, or why I had to make so many bathroom trips, about the thrills of contrast dye, or what my urologist recommended. Yet like when bearing a belly bump, it’s open season. WTF?

It’s unaccommodating disaccommodating. I had not even left the orthopedists office when I was first treated to un-wanted, un-needed, un-help. I had used crutches before (decades ago when I stepped into a rabbit hole, and you can imagine all the er, lame jokes that transpired), and it took but a couple of days to re-acquire my expertise. When I’m using crutches and opening a push-door, the dance goes as follows: swing my body around to back into the door and push against the bar with my buttocks, then after creating the useful gap, balance on the strong foot to turn again, and swing the crutch on my working side around to prop open the door with the rubber foot. Well, the doctors had removed the splint and were sending me down the hall to get the boot. So with my fractured foot all bare, I approached the door to the waiting room and had gotten as far as butting open the door when —

— some idjit hanging around the waiting room decided to be “helpful” and without saying anything, bounded over and suddenly yanked the door open! Mind you, I was balanced on one foot and leaning backwards against the door, so guess what?! Well, I may be clumsy (it comes with the large territory of hypermobility) but thankfully I also have lightning-fast reflexes, and was able to crash to the floor safely. (Dancers and gymnasts know whereof I speak.) That’s not helpful!

And then we have the other unwanted bits of the social model of disability.

It’s … infantilising. Such as when I’m doing something totally mundane, just minding my own beeswax and swinging through a store to get to the restrooms, when some complete stranger feels the need to comment upon my mobility,

“You’re really good at that!”

Except it doesn’t sound at all like admiration at my ability to execute stunning pivots around pyramids of produce, but rather like praising a school child who had colored between the lines on a Kindergarten worksheet.

It’s patronising. When I took advantage of the store’s motorcart to shop for groceries and am cruising at a whopping three miles per hour in a straight line down the middle of the bread-and-jam aisle, and receive a smarmy,

“Wow, look at you go!”

And of course, it’s pitying. 

“Oh, you poor thing!”

There is the assumption of Injury As Tragedy; they have to know when it’s going to be better. Well, what if it’s never going to get “better”? What if it’s permanent, or chronic and intermittent?  It’s the sort of pity where people can’t see past the “broken” part and are uncomfortable; they’re full of Schadenfreude, relieved that the Bad Thing didn’t happen to them. Sometimes the coin of pity they pass along is a kind of magical thinking, token payment to Fate to avert similar disaster.

That’s not helpful.

And let us not forget the malcommendations, a subject of such amazing WhatTheFuckery that it deserved its own post. To wit:

You can tell that you’re running into the lousy end of helpers when the need for social recognition outweighs and over-rules the negative feedback from the recipients. You can tell when they lose the “take it or leave it” perspective and insist that what you need is what they have to offer. Protesting the inappropriateness of their pet form of aid is often useless; you get condescending responses about how they are “specially” qualified, and how you are being unappreciative, and cannot know what is best for you simply because you are of the recipient class.

Such dread Helpers and Fixers want not just the ego-boost and recognition; they want status, and will even sometimes create their own imaginary status markers as proof of why others should recognise their special knowledge and munificent public service. At worst they are narcissistic, at best, merely clueless.

One of the oddest things I have run into with such types is not just the insistence that their pet solution is what is needed, but that any solution they have heard of should be helpful and tried. The advice is coming from them and they want what’s best for you, therefor it’s automatically good advice. I have at times been left so amazed that someone could suggest doing something so far off base with my needs, so profoundly inappropriate, that I was all but sputtering. It wasn’t just an off-target bit of advice, an unhelpful recommendation. It was, I decided later, a malcommendation, a bad recommendation (usually inadvertent) but still bad advice nonetheless.

To take that abstract description to a real-life example, I offer this:

I was at one of my jobs, and a coworker said she would do thus-and-such for me. “Oh, no-no, that’s okay; I’m fine,” I politely dismissed, because I had already sussed out how I was going to perform my duties with my own modifications. But no, she was insistent; after all, she was (at her other job) a medical assistant of some sort,

“No no — I know all about that,” she asserted, her smugness wafting over in a perfumed cloud.

::CRINGE::

Look, as a medical assistant or what-have-you, you don’t know “all about that”; it’s obvious that the doctors know LOTS more.

Secondly, you’re presuming that you know what is best to do TO me, or to do FOR me. Apparently you’ve not realised that I don’t want to be a passive recipient of your “expertise”.

Seriously, when doctors-medics-aides-ancillary-healthcare-professionals know things I don’t know, that’s great! That’s why I’m here visiting your officies. But please, presume some self-awareness of my actual needs, and competency on my part. Work WITH me.

Otherwise, that’s not helpful.

1 Comment

  1. Lindsay said,

    3 December 2011 at 21:30

    Yikes! Especially the person who opened the door while you were leaning on it … that blows my mind.


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