Two days before fall break, when prelim season had first dawned, I broke my ankle in Uris Library — a feat that sounds nearly impossible. As my friend Claire so eloquently put it, athletes break their bones on the field and nerds break their bones in the library. In my opinion, the market for extreme sports should now include hardcore studying.
Since my injury, I’ve had to go to endless doctor appointments, withdraw from beloved classes, attend daily physical therapy sessions and go home for surgery, only to miss a month of school. The postoperative pain continues to be excruciating, yet it is the least of my problems. I wake up several times throughout the night nauseated by stress and anxiety, bogged down by an infinite number of questions. How will I shower? How will I hold my plate at Risley? Will that boy lose interest in me because I’m now on crutches? How much can I handle on my own before I ask for help? While I can’t begin to understand what it’s like to be permanently handicapped, I can relate to the frustration of lacking self-control.
A physical ailment is not confined to the body. My experience has been heartbreaking, overwhelmingly emotional and has undoubtedly impacted my mental health. We constantly see people on campus who need physical assistance in one way or another, and, for many of us, this sight registers in our brain just as much as another person with a North Face backpack or Canada Goose jacket. We walk through this campus indifferent to our surroundings.
Cornell students can be incredibly compassionate and incredibly oblivious. Please, hold the door and wipe the snow off of your shoes when you enter a building. Because I promise you at some point or another, there will be someone strolling through that same hallway with a pair of crutches, scared for their life that they will slip on the tracks of water you left behind. By no means is Cornell user friendly. I find it hard to name a building that doesn’t require at least a few steps to get into, something that I never paid attention to before. Risley has no railing, Rockefeller requires a step just to approach the basement elevator and the entrance of the Physical Sciences Building is hopeless. Cornell is intentionally built to give the impression that we are constantly ascending and transcending — and one way in which it thinks to do that is by a means that exclude the differently abled.
To the student in my English class who pulled my chair out for me in the beginning of the lecture, and then asked me if I needed any help at the end, you have taught me so much about how I want to go into the world when I am better healed. Little gestures go a long way. As Cornell students, the best thing we can do is be mindful and receptive. When the moment comes, take your Airpods out and take your time. I am certain that I have overlooked someone who may have benefitted from my help, but was too caught up in my own world to notice.
To others like me, whose mobility is temporarily compromised, I assure you that Cornell is more accessible than you think. The Student Disability Services has been a terrific resource, with solutions to most of my problems, such as CULift (a campus ride service). I promise there are ways to access every building — take it from someone who had classes in the hauntingly steep monster that is Baker Laboratory. Also, if this is an option for you, I would recommend getting a second health opinion. If I had trusted the X-Rays Cornell Health took, I would have never gotten surgery and would have likely been permanently handicapped.
To my teachers: I know that when you ask the class to shift the arrangement of the room to accommodate me that you have the absolute best of intentions. But, personally, I would rather crutch the extra few feet just to save myself the extra embarrassment. When it comes to my health and assignments, I am constantly amazed by how considerate professors are, and that’s truly a testament to how extraordinary Cornell’s faculty is. I am reminded of how lucky I am.
In hopes of cheering me up, people are constantly telling me that I will “learn so much from this experience.” I always cringe at that comment because, of course, I would have rather not gone through this and not have learned. Yet, it is inevitable that I limp away with a few tokens. When my life became limited to a strict schedule of going to class and coming home immediately after, I lost the texture of my Cornell experience. Sure, we come here for the academics. But we stay for the extracurriculars, the dining hall chats, the frat parties and the hospitality of the TCAT driver at 2 a.m. when we’re leaving Uris.
Odeya Rosenband is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Passionfruit runs every other Tuesday this semester.