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How Decorating My Cane Helped Me Find a New Path After Brain Injury

When I got home from the hospital, I did a great deal of sitting. Just getting across the room was a significant challenge; going to the other end of the house to go to the bathroom was a seriously considered undertaking. I did a lot of observing from my wonderful, cushioned rocker in our living room.

By my side, ready at a minute or two’s notice, was the cane I had brought home from the hospital. Ugly, stainless steel, four little feet at its base to provide better balance, this cane was able to remain standing even when I let it go. It was never a problem to remember where I left it since there it waved like a buoy in the ocean, reminding me and everyone else of its presence.

The little hill where I live has four houses at the top of it. The street dead-ends right at the end of my yard. Years ago, when my children were growing up, the four houses up here provided the neighborhood with about 10 or 11 children (depending on who wanted to be counted as children). The end of the street has about 200 feet of relatively level, quiet road in which to play and have games of football and basketball. The bike riding in those years was almost constant. My house is only about four feet back from the street, and our dining room and living room offer a front-row seat on the “Silver Lake 500” oval race track. Dinner was often a neighborhood affair as racers streamed past our window calling out greetings, and checking to see when my children could come out to play.

As I watched the bicycle races in front of our house, I noticed that my rather nondescript cane had a rubber handle that looked remarkably like a bicycle handlebar, complete with the little hole at the end of the handle. It was as though it was waiting for streamers, just like those that adorned several bikes being ridden right outside my window.
I started feeling jealous. I wanted to play, too. My shiny silver cane waved at me as it stood upright in my living room, mocking my longings. It was able to stand alone unsupported while I needed its help for every step I took.

I looked at the hole in the handle, and then at the bikes whipping through the outdoor games in the street, streamers flying from many of these bike’s handlebars, and decided, “I need some streamers, too.” I had no sooner voiced my wish than the hunt was on. I was humbled at the determination that my parents (who were staying with me that first summer as I began to heal), and my siblings, who were all relatively local, put into this quest. They had some close calls. One shop had just been completely bought out of bike streamers by a mom planning a birthday party for 26. Other stores were simply out of stock, but my sister finally had success when she ventured into a party store, which offered iridescent curlicue streamers. She grabbed them and headed for my house.

With triumph, those streamers were presented to me and installed into the handle of my cane. Cinderella had become a princess! Afterward, everywhere I went, children wanted to stroke the streamers, and of course, I was delighted—the focus had stopped being on me and questions about why I was having difficulty walking, and instead became all about my decorated cane. With time the curly streamers lost their bounce and grew scraggly, but they maintained their attraction.

It felt silly to imagine my streamers flying in the wind, like the children in my neighborhood who sailed past our house on their bikes. But I allowed myself to dream. Little did I know that one day I would meet the man who understood the longings of my heart, and found a tandem bicycle I could ride with him. My dreams of flying like the wind, a pipe dream so many years before as I struggled along supported by my cane with curlicue streamers, became a reality and continues to be real each time we get onto our adaptive tandem bike on local and less local rail trails, exploring the countryside.