16 April 2010

The Done Thing

Being quadriplegic creates some unexpectedly perplexing questions of etiquette. I never anticipated being quadriplegic, of course, but even if I had, I could never have anticipated how awkward it would make the most basic social interactions.

Like shaking hands.

I'm always momentarily horrified when I see someone approaching me with their hand outstretched. I don't want to be unfriendly or rude, but no way can I extend my arm and manage a normal handshake. Even a fist bump is beyond me. My usual response is an awkward smile and a shrug, as I mumble something about how "I can't... ", leaving the other person standing there with their hand stuck out, looking awkward.

I visited the Rehab Medicine Dr. the other day. You've got to figure he sees more than his share of quadriplegics, so he must know what to do in this situation, right? His solution was to walk up, reach into my lap, and shake my fist. It felt kind of... weird... but that's one approach, I guess. I can't really see sticking out my fist as best I can and expecting anyone else to know what to do with it. I wouldn't, if it was me.

That was probably the most interesting thing about the visit with the Rehab Medicine guy. I didn't really expect him to have much to offer, but I guess it's worth checking in from time to time. He's a really nice guy, and he is good about working through my laundry list of symptoms and making suggestions. Mostly he told me to do what I  already know I need to do: arrange for backup/respite care, get a lift, make sure I periodically shift my weight off of proto-pressure sores, change the control on my wheelchair so I can get out of the house. Somehow, hearing someone else say it does not make it seem less overwhelming. I always hope that one of these appointments will just fix everything, and even though I know this is an unreasonable expectation, I'm always mildly disappointed when it doesn't.

Still, the Rehab Medicine guy spent an hour with us ("us" being me and Scarecrow, not the Royal "us") and gave it his best shot. On the way out, he reached in my lap and shook my fist again. It still felt... weird.

Some people, when they realize I'm not going to be able to do anything with their outstretched hand, manage to gracefully resolve the situation by patting me on the shoulder. That's OK. It's actually nice.


  1. Fascinating entry and perspective. Even though a spouse caregiver of two decades I too sometimes stumble when greeting a person with a disability either psychical or mental using the tried and true handshake. Whenever my extended hand is not returned I just follow through to a gentle shoulder pat. It is just something about greeting another by making physical contact.

    Caregivingly Yours, Patrick

  2. Interesting post Zoom. I know I'd falter especially on the choice of whether to touch alternatively to the shake. Touch can be so comforting or invasive and we all perceive it so differently. I'm more on the touch junkie end of the spectrum but realize that others aren't.

    More to think about...