On January 12, I fractured a metatarsal bone in my right foot. I had tickets to see Rigoletto on February 6 and the Abduction from the Seraglio on February 12 at the Four Seasons Centre and the Danil Trifonov recital on February 1 at Koerner Hall. A few days later I emerged from my initial hazy state and began to give some thought to how I would attend these events in a cast.
To understand what it’s like to make such plans, you need to know something about the cast. The Aircast Walking Brace is a removable semi-rigid plastic open-toed knee-high boot lined with foam with inflatable pockets that you pump up pneumatically to customize the fit once you’ve buckled the three wide Velcro straps. The rocker sole with treads is described as “slip resistant”. The terms “walking” and “slip resistant” are open to interpretation. It would be more accurate to call it a “Hobbling Brace” because it is bulky, rigid, and higher than street shoes, so you end up with a tilted, seesawing, slow gait. And while it may be slip resistant on some indoor surfaces, the treads are not remotely snow or ice-worthy. Every step on ice, in snow or slush, is risky. Also, the exposure of the open toe creates rapid discomfort and even risk of frostbite in sub-zero temperatures. The only safe strategy in winter is to transfer seamlessly from one dry, enclosed area to another.
The other thing you need to understand is that bone fracture recovery is long, slow and incremental. Planning has to be provisional because it’s not possible to know how swollen or painful your foot will be on any given day. Furthermore, learning to walk in a cast is a slow progression. When I was fitted for the cast in the emergency ward, I was instructed to lead with my uninjured left leg and then step with the injured right foot, but I soon discovered that my habit was to lead with my right foot. Trying to shift lifelong motoric habits is not a matter of simple self-correction, although that was all I had to rely on. Many learning challenges are frustrating and painstaking, but where walking is concerned, the consequence of an error can be a fall, which adds considerable worry. Taking fledgling steps in the cast, I became aware that the depth of the stair, which was inconsequential in a shoe, was a bit shallow in the boot, causing a slight pitch forward that was a bit scary at the top of a staircase. The smallest of snow banks on the edge of a curb was too wide to step over because I would have to transfer all my weight onto one foot while stretching across it, and the cast weighs more than my boot, causing further imbalance. The nearly imperceptible slope of my driveway gave me the feeling that I was gaining slight momentum that could be difficult to stop. The supposed solution of travelling by car was offset by the problem of getting into one: I had to face away from the car squat so my butt could land on the seat and then lift my legs and swivel into the car.
Being reduced to temporary toddlerhood undermines confidence. So the prospect of an outing to a large venue filled with mobile people sitting in close proximity in the middle of winter was rather daunting. I wanted to think through the details and ensure that there would be no surprises. The main thing I needed to know was how to get into these places without exposure to the elements — information I was sure would be easy to obtain. I was astonished when I discovered that neither Koerner Hall nor The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts mention anything about protection from snow, ice or rain on their websites.
The Four Seasons Centre
This is what it says on the “plan your visit” screen of the COC website:
“All levels of the Four Seasons Centre can be reached by elevator. There are designated seating locations in multiple price levels throughout the auditorium, which can accommodate patrons in wheelchairs, except on Ring 5. In addition, there are a number of transfer-arm seats on all levels. A limited number of parking spaces [italics mine] in the underground parking garage are reserved for patrons requiring a wheelchair location, subject to availability”.
This is information about the interior of the Four Seasons Centre, not about how to actually get into it, with the focus on wheelchairs. A separate extensive page on Accessibility Policies lists even more accommodations including service animals, support persons, braille, staff training for compliance with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and much more. The part about Assistive Devices refers to wheelchairs, walkers and canes, with no mention of casts.
None of it applied to me, so I gave the COC a call. When I asked the customer service representative whether there is temporary underground accommodation for drop off and pick up in car without parking the response was “Good question!”
After consulting a website and a COC employee, I decided not to do any further research. Instead, I asked to switch my tickets to the end of the run, which would be six weeks after the injury, with the hope that both the weather and my foot would have improved. I’ll describe what happened in the second part of this feature.
Danil Trifonov cancelled his March 2017 recital when he lost his passport, rescheduling it for February 1, 2018. I was going to have to attend this event in a cast or not at all. As with the Four Seasons Centre, the Royal Conservatory website states that their box office and Philosopher’s Walk entrances are wheelchair and stroller accessible without any reference to entering the building without exposure to inclement weather. The building does not have underground parking. While there must be a way that they get large instruments and audio equipment, not to mention brides in full regalia in and out of the place without getting wet, (it is a popular wedding venue) this is not openly stated on the website.
There were other wrinkles: I was going to have to wait in line the night of the concert to pick up a replacement ticket, and standing in the cast for any length of time was painful and caused swelling. The concert was sold out, so I couldn’t switch my ticket to an aisle seat where I could stretch the boot out or move to the more spacious area designated for wheelchairs. It was also a long walk to my seat, which was near the front of the hall. The handicap washroom in the hall is often seriously lined up at intermission and the public washroom is in the basement and the elevator is not close to it by hobbling standards.
The personnel at the box office were receptive and willing to help but the help they were able to offer wasn’t really what I needed. For example, they couldn’t e-mail me my ticket so I could print it at home instead of standing in line because their computer system wouldn’t allow it. It was reassuring to know that if I needed it, they would take me to my seat in a wheelchair, but what I really needed was dry access and a different seat. I realized that I would just have to create my own adaptations. Early in the day I reserved a cab, planning to arrive an hour before the concert to avoid getting caught in a crowd entering the building; I asked the friend I was sitting with to trade seats with me so I could have the aisle, (fortunately we weren’t in the middle of the row), and I got advanced permission to go directly to the head of the ticket line. I even packed an extra pair of dry socks so I could change if I got caught in snow or rain while transferring from the street to the building. I was aware that all these strategies were highly prone to Murphy’s Law.
In the next installment, I’ll describe, “what went wrong that could go wrong”.