Brace yourselves

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 56, No. 10, December 2014, Page 472 Editorials

What can I do for you, Bob?”

“Doc, I need a note saying I can’t work due to the pain from my accident. I sit at a desk and my neck starts to tighten after a while. Hey, Doc, why are you wearing that neck brace?”

My life with a neck brace has been interesting. Not only do many of my patients come in to complain about their accident symptoms while I listen semi-patiently—braced in, so to speak—but all of them want to know what happened to me. I need more time in my day to allow for the frequent retelling of my tale. It would be nice to have a video playing on the TV in my waiting room with a blow-by-blow of the accident, but I’ve got it down to one line: “Me, bike, car—bike finished last, me second, the car won.”

Wearing a neck brace is not without some funny moments. My pillow has hit the floor numerous times as I go to tuck it under my chin while I replace the pillowcase. Same with the phone as I attempt the hands-free ear/shoulder cradle. Also, apparently, you look down at your belt to see the holes when you put it on, ditto with your jacket zipper (free neck brace tip—use a mirror). I didn’t realize how often people say, “Hey, look at that,” which holds a whole new level of difficulty if what they’re looking at is above and to one side or behind you, particularly if you are in a car.

I also find it interesting that the only people I meet in the real world who ask about my brace are people who appear to live on the street. As I walk past they often query, “Hey, what the F happened to you?” After a brief explanation they offer a sympathetic reply, “S, that’s messed up,” and then launch into their own story about when they got hit in a crosswalk or beat up and had to wear some sort of brace for a while.

But one observation in particular has really caused me to stop and think. I have noticed that people don’t look at me anymore; they only look at the brace. While I was in a restaurant recently I got up to go to the bathroom. During the trip I counted 23 people who glanced at my brace, avoided my eyes, and looked away. It’s as though they saw the disability but not the person. I found this process made me self-conscious and a little less confident. I found myself not wanting to walk past groups of strangers and started to avoid it if possible. I began to wonder if I have the same reaction when I see people with a disability. It was a sobering thought to consider that I was also guilty of only seeing the brace, crutches, wheelchair, etc., not the individual. Unlike many, I will soon be free of my brace and am now committed to seeing beyond the obvious and greeting those whom I meet with the eye-to-eye kindness we all deserve.

Lastly, I wonder if I will have a new craving for turtlenecks.

David R. Richardson, MD. Brace yourselves. BCMJ, Vol. 56, No. 10, December, 2014, Page(s) 472 - Editorials.

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