41. One Leg at a Time

The Wild Ones at gymnastics class; What stretching used to look like for me
(FYI I was a crummy gymnast – too tall and heavy to get airborne properly)

I shared a room with a bunch of girls when we were all teenagers at a conference eons ago. One morning I was all ready except I decided I needed to change my pants. So I sat on the bed and shoved both legs simultaneously into a different pair of jeans. I then noticed my friend, A, laughing in the corner of the room. I asked her what was so funny and she said, “Most people put their pants on one leg at a time.

I had some sort of subconscious notion that this was the accepted way of putting pants on, but my two-legged method had worked for more than a decade, and no one had been there to observe and correct the technique I had developed when left to my own devices. I will admit, though, that it’s probably symbolic of how I do things in general. Did things, I should say.

For several months I was unable to dress myself independently at all, much less put on a pair of pants with both legs at once. OT3 once asked me if I remembered having to get dressed while still lying in bed at the 3rd Hospital. I didn’t know that was even possible, and no, I had no recollection of doing any such thing. She told me not to worry – lots of people block the early days of their stay out.

Then I had a breakthrough: a while after we came home I was strong enough for OT6 to teach me to put on a pair of pants while staying in my wheelchair. To be more accurate, you kind of have to hold your body suspended over the seat (you get to use an arm to prop yourself up) long enough to dress properly. Once she taught me this technique, my independence factor soared. I do, however, employ the one leg at a time rule now.

My left leg has been acting up lately, and the “Ouch” reminds me of the focus I’m supposed to put on it in general. When I first woke up I wasn’t aware enough to know that my left side was problematic (I thought I could still walk). I just remember PT2 teaching Mom and Dad to always stand on my left since I tended to stray in that direction.

By the time I got to The Place I had improved enough that I didn’t veer leftwards often at all. Near the end of 2011, though, my left leg began to be uncooperative. The first time was when PT6 told me to practice climbing the stairs by taking two at a time on the way up. My right leg carried me upwards with no problem, but when I shifted to my left leg it crumpled up under my weight. Good thing PT6 was paying close attention since he had to catch my gait belt and haul me up the stairs. The second time was when we were doing a kneeling exercise. I was supposed to switch from kneeling on both knees to raising one leg up so I was resting only on one knee. Raising my right leg was uneventful, but I needed some special coaching to get that left one up, and once it was up we both noticed that it was hovering strangely in the air for longer than was normal before I set it on the mat.

Fast-forward 8-9 months. At The New Place PT30 would stand behind me in the parallel bars and tell me to shift my weight from side to side. One day PT29 was facing me and observing the weight-shifting. It took her 2 seconds to note that shifting to my right was no problem but when it was time to shift to my left I kind of stopped at midline then catapulted my weight onto my left leg instead of using a nice fluid motion. I had no idea I was doing this. Even after she told me what she observed I couldn’t see it in the mirror that sat at the end of the parallel bars – I just took her word for it. So PT30 kept making me do all these crazy balance exercises in the bars and PT29 showed me how to stand in a corner (good for home exercise) and practice standing on one leg.

These days PT38 makes me stand on one leg in the pool and PT37 will say things like, “Get that left leg on board” (with whatever we’re doing). Thanks to PT29 I’ve finally noticed that when I wash my hands in the sink I automatically put more weight on my right leg so I try to even the distribution out, and I think hard about how I get out of a chair so that I’m using my left leg more than in the past. The problem is that I never know if it’s going to take my weight or collapse like a card table being folded up. It’s the not knowing that makes me nervous. Things go better if I’m not thinking about weight-bearing and I just do XYZ, and most of the time my leg is okay.

I grew up surrounded by the notion that if you believe that what you believe is the truth, then it’s okay – those beliefs can stand up under the weight of hard questions. It wasn’t until I was grown up, though, that I asked some of those hard questions myself. I am happy to report that my beliefs exhibited good weight-bearing. Now it’s just my leg I have to be concerned about.