As of November 1st, I officially lost my status as Temporarily Disabled Barbie. (At least according to the State of Washington.)

When I had my accident in 2010 – a fall that shattered my kneecap into 5 pieces –they reconstructed the kneecap using two screws. Two screws that, on the x-rays, looked like Home Depot drywall screws, not the advanced medical technology I was expecting. I wasn’t allowed to bear weight on the leg for 6 entire weeks, which led to some staggering atrophy. During that period, a friend asked if my doctor had granted me a temporary handicapped parking permit, and I was baffled. I had always pictured handicaps as a binary thing – you have them or you don’t – not a phase.

But I met all the criteria, and thusly I joined the ranks of the red parking tags. It felt impossibly strange and almost a little disheartening the first time I pulled into one of the formerly forbidden spaces. It’s funny how that one little change pretty much impacts everything you do, if you live in a driving situation like I do. The handicapped parking was a framing device for everything I did; an every day reminder that something terrible had happened to me. You take your daily routine for granted; find it comforting to make the same walk to and from your car every morning, perhaps – and then one night everything changes.

Yes, it was certainly nice having instant “rock star” parking, but I would have traded it in a millisecond to undo the damage that had been done to my body and my life. The other way the tag affected me was in the timing of my life. If you’re almost guaranteed a parking space at 80% of the places you go, you can cut departures closer to the wire, leave less time for parking. This was especially true at work – if you roll in after 10 you usually have to park at another building, but with my pass I could work from home in the morning and roll in whenever I felt like switching venues. It also enabled me to switch between buildings at Microsoft without relying on the shuttle service, which is nice to have but sometimes slow.

The temporary tags are good for 6 months. When my first was about to expire, I realized that we were heading into wintertime. Wintertime with icy parking lots. My fall happened in a parking lot. And I was still limping somewhat despite physical therapy, and experiencing regular chronic pain in the form of shooting pains and aches. So I talked to my doctor and had the pass renewed. Another six months of a daily reminder that my “old normal” was a thing of the past.

Near the end of those six months we reached another milestone – my one-year surgical anniversary. An important date because I was then allowed by my orthopedic surgeon to go in and have the screws removed if they were still causing pain. A part of me assumed most of my continued pain was a permanent thing, and I worried that removing the screws was all risk and no reward. But a survey of friends who had hardware in their bodies returned an almost unanimous opinion: get the hardware out if the option was available.

Of course, this meant I was going back in for surgery – and this time, I’d be walking with a hollow kneecap for 6-12 weeks while my body healed. Once more to the handicapped paperwork – no risking all of the progress we had made during what was probably my most vulnerable time in the whole ordeal.

Medical images
The source of my handicap, before and after. Be glad I'm not posting the original X-ray, where my kneecap looks like a broken cartoon egg.

But this time, there isn’t a compelling reason to renew the placard, and that is largely due to the miraculous change in my knee’s health since the removal of the screws. Night and day difference, almost immediately. Couple that with another 3 months of physical therapy, and I can now walk without feeling my knee.


This feels like nothing short of a miracle. Every day I was conscious of that injury. If I had to sit for longer than an hour I usually had to prop my leg up straight or endure nasty pain and stiffness (another justification for the original HCP pass – stiff legs after 70 minutes of traffic). A few weeks ago, I sat on a nonstop plane for Orlando, never getting up, in standard coach seating – and experienced no pain in my knee. I *never* thought I’d get that far.

This morning, I parked my car in the same area I used to park it back in February 2010 and before. I walked the extra distance to the elevator, still marveling that I don’t feel the walk. It’s not painful. Sure, I have bad days. Mild arthritis with climate changes, sensitivity when kneeling, occasional aches. But the mechanics of walking no longer trigger any nerves.

Suddenly, it feels like I’ve emerged from a very long tunnel. Of course I’ll never be the same… I have a scar the size of Texas surrounded by a constellation of smaller arthroscope scars. I have a fear of curbs (they sneak up on you.) A relationship ended, most likely catalyzed by the injury’s longer term effects. And I need to relearn normal things, like paying for street parking and arriving at work strategically when I know there will be parking available. I’ll be chronically late to morning meetings for a while.

But when I’m walking from my car to the elevator, just like I always did, I am filled with gratitude for good medical care – and gratitude for the great gift of unconscious walking. We walk every day, all the time. It’s hard to be your best self when suffering a constant daily reminder of your wounds. I honestly thought I’d never get my best self back. Yet now, on the other side of the tunnel, I feel like I have a fighting chance.

As long as I stay clear of any more ninja curbs.

(I’m not ENTIRELY ruling out getting another placard… I don’t know what the coldest of the weather will hold this year. But I want to try. The whole goal – the lofty, almost unreachable goal – was to return to my former strength and capabilities. A handicapped parking pass wasn’t part of that deal. And I don’t want to waste any karma on a pass I don’t need.)