I love my cane.
I’ve been in pain for a long time. To be more specific, my leg pain has been pestering me for probably a decade or so. Either leg — it alternates without rhyme or reason. The left has seemed to bother me more, but perhaps that’s because I’m biased as a northpaw. It was originally chalked up to “growing pains,” but the pain remained when I stopped growing, creating a discrepancy to be answered for.
It wasn’t answered. The pain continued, frustrating but manageable with roll-on lidocaine, which in high school I often kept in my backpack for flare-ups and carried to the bathroom for application. After I rolled my pant leg down, the white residue disappeared from view and the pain was totally invisible save a subtle grimace. Sometimes I wished people could see it. I worked through the pain, only offering myself grace when I could barely move one foot in front of the other. Even with this tenacity, I was a regular at the nurse’s office.
It worsened at Amherst. Following excruciating pain and an Amherst College Emergency Medical Services (ACEMS) call in my first semester, I went to Cooley Dickinson Hospital at 3 a.m. I hate hospitals (as someone diagnosed with epilepsy at 13, I’m far too used to them), but I was worn down to the point where I wanted a medical professional to do something. The pain faded away eventually, as it always does: without answer or diagnosis. It comes and goes when it pleases, but it refuses identification (and thus, meaningful treatment). Recently, it’s been slated under the acronym AMPS (Amplified Musculoskeletal Pain Syndrome), a vague umbrella term that feels more like a medical shoulder-shrug than anything else. I’ve also been told I’m Vitamin D deficient, but weekly supplements changed nothing. Like a ghost, my pain can’t be pinned down.
I realized that I wanted a cane shortly after the hospital. It was becoming more and more difficult to walk to Valentine Dining Hall during a bad flare-up. This meant I was often stranded in my dorm room, hunger weakening my body to the point where I couldn’t move my aching limbs beyond my twin XL bed, too physically weak to get food, but having no way to get food without walking. I always used my spoons for academic work, surviving on whatever snacks I had in my bedroom and isolating myself in the process. I often felt close to fainting.
Then came the cane. Purchased during winter break, at a CVS in my hometown, it became my lifeline. If you haven’t seen it, you’ve probably heard it: a distinct thump as I walk, used on days when my leg pain is at least noticeable enough to be bothersome.
It’s pink and purple, with a floral pattern. The day I tried using it, I was struggling with the tension screw until two strangers gave me advice, helping me fit it to my height. Their kindness struck me. The cane I use is a testament to the goodness of people, and it reminds me that for every judgmental glance, there are two helping hands.
Some people — abled people, specifically — view it as a symbol of something sad, weak, pathetic. If my pain is bad enough to warrant a cane at 19 years old, they say, barely mincing their words, tragedy has truly struck. But I disagree. It’s been that bad for a while — I simply didn’t express it. I gritted my teeth and kept going. And nobody knew any different.
I love my cane. It’s cute, and pink is my favorite color. It provides me with so much more freedom: No matter how I feel, I’m no longer bound to the whims of my dysfunctional body. I can eat, and go to events (most of the time — event planners, please remember accessibility! I need to sit!) and hang out with my friends. It’s a tool of mobility, of liberation, of freedom. It alienates me with a visible disability, but connects me with other cane users.
My cane helps me go beyond survival to truly living, never fearing sudden, immobilizing flare-ups. My leg pain remains as elusive and agonizing as ever. But it’s far less debilitating — every thump you hear in the hallways is proof.