Welcome at the blog of Dini Commandeur. I've written quite a lot of columns for various magazines. I also write short stories every now and then. These columns and stories are available for everybody at this blog. I'll release new columns and stories periodically.


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« Belief in miracles | Home | The Last One »

Not usually that friendly…

Column January 2009 Thursday 15 January 2009 In August of last year, we spent a few days in the beautiful city of Nijmegen (in the east of The Netherlands). There, in a little square called “Doddendaal” to be exact, I made a tumble because I didn’t see a pothole in the sidewalk.


It was quite a bad fall: the left foot swell up right away and the right foot was bruised, there were scrapes on the right leg, the knee was bleeding, and a few ribs were hurting. The right side wasn’t that bad but the left foot would give me problems later on, that was immediately evident. When we returned to the hotel the desk clerks cried out and came running with the first-aid kit. The scrapes were disinfected, a band-aid was put on the knee, and a bag of ice on the sprained left foot. They were so kind, those girls. That night, we went to visit my sister and brother-in-law in the town of Didam, but at that point I could hardly walk anymore. My sister put up my foot and called the doctor. She, too, had made a fall a few years ago and had broken a small bone in her large toe, so she had the expertise of the experienced. It turned out that the small bone in the middle of my foot was indeed broken and the nurse skillfully put my lower leg up to the knee in a cast. That had to stay in place for a week, she said, followed by five weeks in a “walking cast”. She was so caring and kind, that nurse. The next day we went home and the week after I was very dependent on the people around me. However, besides the anti-clotting injections, I also received flowers, cards, and lots of attention, and I was treated like a princess.

After that week, we went to our own hospital where the regular cast was removed and, while the “cast master” put the saw into it, I looked around me. My surroundings were more interesting to me than that noisy saw so close to my leg. My eye caught a note on the wall: “Bluntness leads to breaks,” it said. However, bluntness wasn’t a problem for me. To the contrary, never were people as kind and friendly to me as during the time my leg was in a cast. In spite of the “walking cast” I still had to sit in a wheelchair quite often, like when we went to the city or the market. It was fascinating to experience for a while how people treat someone seated in a wheelchair. Although most people were friendly, there were also those that didn’t know how to act. Sometimes it happened that people addressed me as if I was a small child, as if I didn’t just have a leg in a cast but there was something else wrong as well. We found out that not every store is wheelchair friendly and the sidewalks in some shopping streets are a downright disaster. Never before had I noticed how many people haphazardly parked their bikes in the shopping streets – an extraordinary number of women’s bikes by the way. Try to pass all that in a wheelchair! Loose pavers and grout in the sidewalks are a problem too. “My” wheelchair wasn’t that stable and so it happened quite often that it almost toppled over. Every time, I was glad to return home safely after a trip in the wheelchair, as I had to constantly pay attention. Then the day came that the plaster was removed and the wheelchair was returned to the care center. “Be careful,” an acquaintance warned me. She had ruined her “good” leg leaning too heavily on it while suffering similar problems and she advised me to use a crutch for now when walking through the center of town. Car drivers would stop for me if I had to cross the road, regardless whether I used a pedestrian crossing or not. In the stores people would hold the door for me. I thought I was in America! With few exceptions it was almost abnormal how many people were kind to me.

Once more I had to return to the hospital for a check-up. The break had healed but the sprains had not. “That can take a long time,” the doctor said. I should count on six months, perhaps a year. It took some time indeed but slowly things got better. One day, I didn’t need the crutch anymore and I no longer was looked upon as a semi-invalid. That’s when I noticed the other side of the Netherlanders. Again, I encountered impoliteness and bluntness that can lead to breaks. The first time I entered my favorite shopping street without the crutch I almost was run over by a cyclist on the sidewalk, witnessed a near fistfight, and returned home disillusioned. After being spoiled for weeks by my friendly fellow city dwellers, I again was confronted by the other side of the citizenry. I wasn’t pleased. But a few weeks later, while walking home from the train station along a dimly lit path, I was assisted by a few friendly Moroccan guys, as I hardly saw anything due to my poor night vision. The youths directed their bicycle lights in front of me because I could have easily made a fall on that uneven pavement. To once again walk with a leg in a cast…. rather not.

And so I came to the conclusion that in every age group there are kind people who are willing to help, whether you walk with a crutch or not. And that people are generally friendly and helpful to others with a crutch or in a wheelchair, but that those same people can be very nosy and impolite once things are back to normal. Not very friendly, but apparently that’s normal.

Text: Dini Commandeur, Translation: Maria O’Neill


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