A few weeks ago I did something silly. I was attempting to play basketball with a group of men in a park. It did not go so well. I tried to take the ball and dribble to the basket but my feet tangled up with someone else's and I quickly fell to the ground. I did not have a chance to put my hands up to protect my head, so it was the first thing that connected with the pavement. Luckily someone had a first aid kit, and there was an Urgent Care nearby, so I was able to get taken care of without much more than a nasty gash on the side of my head. They cleaned it up and put a large bandage over it and told me to go home and heal.
Over the next week, I walked around with a significant bandage on my head right above my eye, and I noticed something about those who I encountered. I didn't notice at first, but I started to see a pattern in my interactions, and most seemed to fall into three categories.
First was the avoider. Having a conversation about work, talking directly to the person and they said nothing about the large white gauges with tape on my head. Is it that they don't want to embarrass me or they fear it is going to be something they don't want to talk about? What if my response is that it is cancer or something which will make them feel sorry for me? Not sure but I noticed that some conversations were awkward because they wanted to ask but just couldn't.
The second was "the concerned." They usually started with the words "Oh, my goodness." Followed by something like "are you ok" or "what happened." They want to hear the whole story and usually follow up with several questions. This encounter will be followed up by a story about themselves or someone else who had something similar happen to them. They are very empathetic and make sure you know they are glad you are ok before they walk away.
The third kinds are the Smart Aleck or the direct. Maybe these people knew me better, but it wasn't always that they were close friends. The conversation starter was something like "what did you do now" or "Did you wife hit you with the frying pan again." Generally, it was a direct question or comment to find out what happened. They usually want a quick explanation maybe they had a follow-up question and then on to whatever other business we had to discuss.
Over the last 27 years, my son has been in a wheelchair, walker or crutches due to his disability. There were times he was in casts or leg braces due to surgeries, and I don't think I noticed this pattern, but as I think back, I can see that many encounters went one of these ways. Some people talked to us never looking at our son and never engaging him. Others came across overly sympathetic, so sorry for our situation telling us how wonderful we were for doing what all parents do, raise our children.
If anyone took the time to talk directly to my son, they would have found out just how smart and articulate he is. As a parent, it hurts to know people are making assumptions about him based on his physical abilities, not knowing that he is currently in his second year of his Ph.D. in ancient history at an Ivy league school. It seems even worse to know that they could find out just how smart he is only by saying hello.