Monday, January 25, 2016

Learning to Use a Walker/Rollator (ALS Humor)

 "A heavy-set woman goes into a drug store and asks for talcum powder.
The bowlegged clerk says, "Walk this way," the woman answers,
"If I could walk that way I wouldn’t need talcum powder!"
- Classic joke from Vaudeville era -

My ALS symptoms began in 2010 and first showed up in my feet and legs. Normally strong and coordinated from years of gymnastics, fitness classes and even dancing on stage in community theater productions, my lower limbs suddenly became weak and unreliable. Not falling came to be my number one priority as something as simple as walking across the room now demanded my full attention. Suffice to say, my movements fell into the less-than-graceful category!

One day I’d wake up with tight muscles, the next day they were floppy. Occasionally, my right knee buckled and gave way as if I'd just stepped into a hole. Ironically in my dancer’s-mind, the movements felt vaguely familiar and I began to give them names: Oh today, I’m walking like the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz! And - - Oops, now I’m doing the Tin Man walk!

I had a 'pirate walk,' a 'zombie walk' and even a pretty good impression of a gymnast trying not to fall off the balance beam.

One day while randomly searching the Internet, I stumbled across a video that had me laughing all the way through: Ministry of Silly Walks; a vintage 1970s comedy sketch by Monty Python’s Flying Circus. That’s me! I exclaimed. That’s me!  Yes, it’s probably very “un-P.C.” to find humor in a mockery of silly walks, but I thought…who else than a person with ALS, could fully appreciate how well John Cleese performed and how hard it must have been to do? Besides, isn’t one of the key principles of a resilient life - - “To have the ability to laugh at oneself?”

My neurologist sagely advised I find other things to laugh about and recommended that I get a walker.

Officially, it’s called a Rollator. Walkers are those bare-bones, aluminum, wheel-less, standard hospital-issued devices mostly used by those recovering from hip or knee surgery or, little old ladies in nursing homes.

I sat and had a hard look at my new Rollator - - and it looked back at me. It was black, had four wheels, could fold up and reminded me of bag-ladies who pushed theirs piled high with clothing while shuffling across busy intersections in downtown Chicago. At this point I knew I’d better invoke another key principle of resilience and “Change My Mindset!”

First, I decided to accept the fact it was an assistive device meant to help me walk better and maintain independence; not something that defined me or was a transition towards possible demise. In gymnastics we always used smaller versions of equipment to help practice skills and gain confidence, so I saw my Rollator as a pair of mini-parallel bars on wheels. It would help me maintain a perfect dancer’s posture; roll along with each step and to - - finally relax!

My Rollator doesn’t have a name. I haven’t decorated it with flowers, stickers or a clown horn. OK - - I do have a bell.

Besides helping me walk tall it’s even become part of my daily exercise routine. I stand directly in front of a sturdy chair with the Rollator positioned in front of me - - wheels locked in place. I can then do any number of simple standing yoga or Tai Chi movements knowing that if I lose balance, the chair is behind me and the Rollator is an easy grab in front.

Now for some “Rollator Etiquette”- - No, not for us pALS (people with ALS) but for all YOU non-Rollators out there.

Number One: I’m not pushing a beverage cart! When we chance to meet up and stop to chat, please resist the urge to cross one foot over the other, place one hand on my Rollator, the other on your hip and nonchalantly lean in as if you’re at the local bar. The reason we’re both balancing successfully is due to my death-grip on the hand-brakes! Next time, I’m dumping us both!

Number Two: The next time you park your car in that cushy area right next to a handicapped parking spot thinking you’ll avoid door-dings by encroaching onto the painted lines - - don’t be surprised to return and find the new pin-striping on your car is at the height of my handlebars!

Number Three: Here’s a shout-out to drug store cashiers everywhere. I’m using a Rollator for a reason! So if, when I’m next up and have to traverse the space from where I was waiting patiently to arrive at your counter area  - - it will take me a few seconds longer than your other customers. Simply hollering, “Do you have your CVS card?” - - Will not make me go faster! I’ll get up to you when I get up to you.

Now that four years have gone by and I’m still pushing mine, I’ll have to admit that I imagine myself a bit of an expert on the topic of Rollators. Driving by a yard sale I can spot one and pretty much I.D. make, model and age.

Just like race cars, the best designs seem to come from Europe. And here's a little secret -  - the measure of quality is in the wheels - - the bigger the better. Think “Monster Trucks,” with jumbo wheels that roll right over junked cars and other obstacles. A Rollator fitted with eight-inch wheels can take on lumpy grass, gravel parking lots and cracked cement ramps with the ease of an all-terrain vehicle.

So four years later, “Do I still like my Rollator?”

You bet I do! In fact, I have three! One in the car, one in the house and one on the back porch - - it all makes for seamless travel from one end of the property to the other. Just call me the 'pony express of Rollators!'

Interesting Factoid:
Did you know that the old Vaudeville joke at the top of this article - - the 1974 movie Young Frankenstein - - and the band Aerosmith all have something in common?

According to Gene Wilder, who co-wrote the script and played Doctor Frankenstein, the joke was added into the movie by Mel Brooks as a tribute to the old Vaudeville "talcum powder" joke. When the movie Young Frankenstein hit the theaters, the band Aerosmith happened to be working on its third studio album, Toys in the Attic (1975) and had already written the music for a song but couldn't come up with any lyrics to go with it.

After a while, the band decided to take a break and see a late night showing of Young Frankenstein, where the gag inspired them to write the hit we all know and love, Walk This Way.

Dagmar Munn
ALS and Wellness Blogger 

  "You can live a balanced life while living 
with ALS. It's a mindset."


  1. Only YOU & your positive outlook and intelligence to make wise decisions could have written this fascinating piece so well, Daggie. Am I fortunate to know you? Yes, I know I am! Do I need a Rollator...'not yet, but when/if the time comes, you can be sure, I'll select an 8" wheel European model! Andi

    1. Thanks Andi. Happy to share the chuckles of Life!

  2. Dagmar, you have outdone yourself with this one! And, no, you are NOT politically incorrect! We hide ourselves too often in that guise these days, and have lost the ability to be HONEST! Thank you for your honesty.

  3. Another great post and done so well! I am thankful for you Dagmar and all you do to help others! You truly are a bit of sunshine! My best to you, Cindy

  4. Thank you Dagmar. I am always so encouraged by your humor and outlook with things that come your way. I know you don't just snap your fingers and it happens but you do make every effort to live life with joy and quality. I always smile and laugh when I read what your sharing. Looking forward to your next post. Your contagious so I'm carrying humor through this day and sharing it as well. :)

  5. Thanks so much Cindy! It's so good to know we're sharing a laugh together. While we all wait for the cure for ALS, we can still be WELL :-) Dagmar

  6. Dagmar are an reading your blog and articles.....a person doesn't have to have ALS to apply these lessons and humor to life....I have Fibromyalgia and episodic MS.....and your articles are always helpful, informational....and fun to read....can't wait for the next one..Keep us laughing and thinking!!!!..Dianna Jensen....

  7. Thank you Dianna! And I in return enjoy knowing I'm adding a smile to your day. Hugs back to you across the miles! :-)

  8. Dagmar ,
    I have being diagnosed with ALS since one month ,the symptomes started out of the blue 2 month ago ,but I feel already the need for a cane ,and I was surprised to like it ,it sort of reconnected me with this old fashioned piece of masculine elegance ,I might buy soon a fedora and a pair of white gloves ,be careful ladies...,what can I say , I'm french ...
    Thank you for your advices and your humour .I can feel the decline of my muscles day by day but I can feel that my soul is growing even faster.


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