It took being in a wheelchair to learn how to ask for help

I still don’t wish a lack of access on anybody

Sangeeta Kalsi
Human Parts
Published in
9 min readOct 20, 2023

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The street that leads to my university in Florence, Tuscany, obliterated with folks, just a sea of cobblestones and tiny sidewalks. The best things are free — of accessibility. (Source: Author)

It is a beautiful September morning, the year is 2021, and I’m crawling to the intercom in my florentine apartment to let the paramedics in. In my delirium I couldn’t remember my own name or where my IDs were when they asked. I speak six languages and couldn’t find words in any of them. All I remember is that all my life force had rushed into my feet and they were so heavy I couldn’t stand. Next thing I knew I was on a stretcher, being held by a resident doctor while choking back tears at the sight of the X-ray.

“Frattura,” he awkwardly paused, pointing at the fracture.

“Ma e’ piccola, non preoccuparti.” But it’s small, don’t worry.

As I would only learn months later, I had broken my foot in three places, at varying degrees of depth, and my worst-case scenario was immediate surgery in that moment. But they told me I was fortunate enough to just get a subcutaneous injection everyday for a month and a half and wear a cast, instead. We won’t get into how that injection could’ve been a pill, or that the cast should’ve been physiotherapy and a hard boot.

At this time I only speak rudimentary Italian and am completely reliant on the kindness of strangers. A stranger wheels me out of the hospital. Another hoists me into the cab and a third brings me my first ever pair of crutches. But when I step into my home it’s just me, a pair of crutches and 30 needles in a recyclable bag.

The truth is, it wasn’t like I didn’t have friends — I had some at university, others in my shared apartment, some more that I met through apps — or family — albeit they were oceans away, they exist! — but what I had was an inability to ask for help.

I was that dyslexic child who couldn’t spell my own name so I never wrote it on the front of my book — until the teacher used it for a spelling test in Hindi. I was that little girl who didn’t ask my parents to help me study, my sister to hold me, my friends to listen when I struggled. I was so used to being my older sister and mother’s therapist, my friends’ confidante, my boyfriends’ and girlfriends’ most attentive listener, that by the time my needs needed meeting, I was already…

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Sangeeta Kalsi
Human Parts

I write about art and society through the lens of an immigrant.