As my wife and I were about to start a fall hike in the Rio Grande bosque, a beautiful forested ribbon of gold every October, we took pause at a posted sign at the trailhead. The warning was ominous. “Coyotes live here!” The exclamation points were numerous. “Be aware!” And the advice was a complete and total no-brainer for someone with walking issues due to multiple sclerosis. “Do not run from a coyote. Back away slowly.”
Because of my disease and my ability to run as
fast as Usain Bolt can crawl with a bum knee, I have the unique opportunity to
follow coyote safety guidelines others might ignore. Be a roadrunner and skedaddle
at the site of Wile E.? Not me. I would back away slowly (emphasis on slowly),
taking full advantage of underwear that absorbs moisture. And since I use
forearm crutches, I have a built-in defense system. If a curious coyote dared
to approach, I’d beat ‘em back. I’d protect all in my party. I’d be the hero.
“After that first panicked swing, you’d lose your balance,
teeter over, and hurt yourself.” Laura had a good point. I had a much better
chance of being an afternoon snack—albeit a disease-riddled snack—than being a
savior. Admittedly I would have to rely on her to use one of my forearm
crutches as a club to fend off that pack of ravenous, mangy coyotes. But it
would be my crutch, because of my MS, that ultimately would save the
So see, once again MS comes
to the rescue. It’s easy to forget all of the good things that can come with
having this disease. (Literally, because of cognitive issues, many of us tend
to forget things, but let’s not go there right now.) So get out and hike. And protect
the normals from coyotes. Beep! Beep!
In the fall of 2009, it arrived in the mail. That unisex white dude in a wheelchair, laminated on blue, with a perfectly cut hook for your rearview mirror. When filling out the application for the handicapped placard I felt so guilty. Was I lying? New Mexico says to get such a placard, I had certify that I couldn’t walk 100 feet without stopping to rest. Well, I live on a postage stamp—not even 1/10 of an acre—and the distance from my driveway to my bedroom is farther. Technically I could make it 33 meters without stopping at the couch—using my walker I don’t need to pause. Or I had to certify that I couldn’t walk “without the use of a brace, cane or crutch or without assistance from another person, a prosthetic device, a wheelchair or other assistive device.” They didn’t specify “safely”—technically I could drunken sailor myself around without aids for short distances. And finally, that I was “so severely limited in the ability to walk due to an arthritic, neurologic or orthopedic condition that the person cannot ascend or descend more than 10 stair steps.” Given a railing and time, I could make it up a flight. Heck, I certainly could make it down (again, nothing in the language about “safely”).
So when I went to wield my new parking powers for the very first time, I did so sheepishly. Until I discovered all 48 of the handicapped spots at the mega-super-cina-plex were taken. And the entire time I was there, I saw not one person using a cane or wheelchair. Curious. The closest handicap parking spots were 500 feet from the entrance (not to mention, to get from the box office to your seat had to be another 500 feet). Which means a) the system is being grossly abused, b) there are a ton of people with cardiac and lung conditions (the only other medical conditions stated on the application), or c) the eligibility criteria is flawed. In truth, all three are probably correct. Many of my fellow MSers would not qualify under the above restrictions, but without handicap parking access, that extra 500 feet today might mean a day in bed tomorrow just to recover. So put aside that guilt, save your body, live your life, and get that placard. I did.
Originally published October 27th, 2010. Edited for clarity.