In a few days I get to celebrate 2 years of walking. Note that I said “walking,” not necessarily “walking WELL.” That will come later, Lord-willing, and at this point I’ll take what I can get.
I wrote to A(6) a while ago to ask him if he’d be okay with being a regular “character” in my writing. (I tried asking as many peeps as I could, but have opted for no pictures and initials since I couldn’t get to everyone. Plus I’m kind of weird like that.) As I told M (37) when I asked her, my intention is to portray Therapy as a positive thing because that’s what it’s been for me. Actually, I don’t think I told her that. I think I just said that my intention was for her to have a growing fan base. I meant the same for A. Both of them were totally cool about it. I did tell A that the title of my “Memoirs” is Learning How…to Walk so he’s kind of…important. But I said we’d worry about the blog first and then cross the Memoirs bridge when we came to it.
Learning how to walk has been a very popular search topic for me lately. Apparently there are lots of people learning how to walk as adults due to all kinds of illnesses and injury. So as I contemplate this 2nd anniversary I wanted to share the “Walking” chapter (ch. 12) from my “Memoirs.” I reread it for the first time in a while last night and realized that I had forgotten some of the hair-raising anxiety I felt when I was trying desperately to walk, but couldn’t. I was also struck by my statement, “Every step is a choice.” I would still often rather just lie down and cry, but lying down and crying haven’t gotten me anywhere in the last two years so I have to keep on walking. I have the opportunity to be mobile, so this train’s not a-stoppin’! Choo choo.
PS. To my friends in various stages of walking attainment or separation, I’m rooting for you.
12. Learning How To Walk
Before I could learn how to walk I had to learn how to sit and then how to stand. PT1 and PT18 used to make me sit on the side of the bed at the 2nd Hospital. At that time I still didn’t know what was going on. I just remember their faces and being convinced that the bed was really spinning like a merry-go-round with my feet dangling through a hole in the middle. The force was so strong that I was sure I would be thrown off any second so when my allotted time was up one of them would hold me by the arm and let me down gently until I was lying on the bed. It was the only safe place, as far as I was concerned, and it still is, since if I’m already lying down I can’t fall. Later in my stay, PT14 and PT15 would come and put me in a chair.
When I got to the 3rd Hospital, I had never sat in a chair for more than an hour before, and I had certainly never sat in a chair without a headrest. Now I did both since the wheelchair I used on my arrival was the only option until PT2 built out an old dinosaur for me. During some of my first physical therapy sessions PT2 had me propped up in a standing frame I called “The Vice.” He’d be busy taking my blood pressure to make sure I could tolerate standing, and I’d be there thinking, “Yep, he’s crazy,” because I thought I could still walk at that point. It turns out that he wasn’t crazy – he was just careful. After he was convinced that my body could withstand The Vice, PT2 wrote the order for me to stand in it every night. So after dinner my nurses faithfully wheeled the frame in and strung me up in it. It was painful at the time, but I could stand for abnormally long periods afterwards.
When I first learned to use a walker I got plenty of lectures on how to do it right, consisting mainly of phrases like, “Use the walker only for balance,” and “Keep the walker on the floor.” My instinct was to pick the walker up and position it in the way I wanted when we came to a corner, but that isn’t how you’re supposed to do it. My walker would be screeching along because I was leaning on it so much, which is why my therapists encouraged me to stand tall like a tree and resist hunching over it. Apparently their advice took root because by the time I got to The Place, PT8 told me it was good that I hadn’t developed the habit of leaning over too much.
At the 3rd hospital I met PT3, whose nickname (another therapist informed me) was “The Miracle Worker.” The fact that she had such a nice manner about her, combined with my obvious need for a miracle, convinced me that I should stick close to her. I was walking with her when I first got close enough to a mirror to see my face. I was holding one of the railings of a set of bars, and she had rolled a large mirror over to one end so I could see my body’s position. “PT3, what is going on with my skin?!” I exclaimed when we reached the mirror. I had other fish to fry at the moment, but all I could think of was that my skincare regimen had been disrupted for way too long. I have always had problem skin but this was…epic. PT3 laughed, which made me laugh, and I decided that I had better concentrate on learning how to walk instead of my complexion.
I felt safe in the parallel bars, and spent a lot of time in them at The Place. I liked the fact that I could grab on to them if I felt myself falling. Depending on another person was a different matter. The first time PT6 told me to leave my walker behind and walk holding his hands instead, I asked, “Are you sure?” Then again, “Quite sure?” He answered in the affirmative with great finality both times, so there was nothing for me to do but get up and walk. I allowed myself the liberty of clinging to his forearms instead of holding his hands, though. When a similar scene occurred with PT8, he responded, “I’m sure, are you sure?” So I paused to consider and told him that I wanted to walk really badly, so yes, I was sure.
I knew it was only a matter of time until PT6 suggested walking without holding on to anything at all, and I was scared stiff. One morning Mom caught me crying in my bed and her maternal intuition told her that it was because I was afraid to walk. After some quality time with the Scripture and sermons on my iPod I felt calmer and told her, “I know what the right thing to do is.” For me, that meant putting one foot in front of the other even though I was scared. I was so stressed out as the anticipation built that my blood pressure would rise ten or twenty points from when OT6 took it at the beginning of our session, to when PT6 took it at the start of physical therapy. To this day, every step is a choice. I would much rather lie down and cry, but I continue to walk.
The fateful day came just as I thought it would. PT6 was very kind, though, and gave me advance notice that he thought we should practice walking outside the parallel bars during the following week. “Do you have some sort of magic wand you got in therapy school that will make people learn to walk without actually walking?” I asked. PT6 said “No,” and told me there was no pill for that sort of thing either. “This whole situation is so bizarre I figured I might as well ask,” I told him, and continued to dutifully push the giant shopping cart across the gym. Having eliminated any other possibility, I was thinking, “Fine…we’ll do this your way,” rather grudgingly as I pushed the cart.
Knowing that there was one method of learning how to walk, I prepared myself as best as I could. I was determined not to cry all over PT6, since “There’s no crying in baseball!” (That’s what Tom Hanks tells one of his players in A League of Their Own.) So I prepared myself accordingly. Jewelry has always been a strong motivator for me so I purchased a sapphire and diamond band to wear after my first real walk. I also practiced by walking in the bathroom – the only time I was really alone behind a closed door, although it took several months for me to be allowed to use a bathroom by myself. Don’t worry, Mom. I was always near a wall I could lean against.
PT6 was stricken by a bad strain of the flu the following week, so while he was making sure he was getting plenty of fluids and rest at home, I took my first walk around the gym with PT16. She held on to me and stationed chairs every few feet along my path, and when we reached the first one I told her that I had never been so happy to see a chair in my life. Still, I was waiting for the time when I could walk without holding on to anything, and without anyone holding on to me. “The only thing worse than walking,” I told Mom that week as we exited The Place, “is not walking.”
It happened in my kitchen. True to form, I got impatient and decided that I was going to make this walk happen. We have an island in the middle of our kitchen, and I intended to make my way around it without touching anything. On my first round I stumbled and needed to clutch at a bar stool, but on the second round I tightened up my core and pressed down with my toes when I felt myself falling, and made it successfully around the room. “That counts,” I told Mom, and then I sat down to write to Dr. Dogan and the people at RIO to tell them that their labors had paid off.
Besides the fact that I got to wear that ring, the other good thing about walking first at home was that the probability of me crying all over PT6 was much lower. Since the worst was over I wasn’t scared anymore, and pretty soon PT6 brought out a quad cane (a cane with four feet that stands up on its own) for me to practice with. The first time, he let me hold one of his hands and told me to just walk without even thinking about it, and I found that I was simply carrying the quad cane alongside of me. While I was practicing at home with it, Mom advised me that I needed to actually put the quad cane on the floor and use it instead of letting it hover in the air while I took the next step. As you can see, I found walking with a cane as unnatural as using a walker.
Sometimes when I walk now with my cane I pretend that I’m my friend, M, from the 3rd Hospital. Half of her body was crushed in a car accident, and the fact that her husband dropped everything to accompany her on the long road to recovery is a strong testament to the kind of people they both are. M’s loving parents were also there, and it made me feel better to see them if my own were absent. When I first arrived M was sitting in a wheelchair like me, but a month later I saw her cruising around with her cane in spite of the pain. I wished so hard that I could walk like her. I still do.