Saturday, January 24, 2009
Walking in Winter
I'll admit that before the accident I didn't really worry about snow and ice. When I was in high school Mark Hatfield and I would go backpacking in Michigan every spring break. Inevitably, after several days of hiking, we would wake up to discover that our campsite had been covered in snow during the night! We would then turn back towards the cabin that had been our starting point. The forest is extremely beautiful when covered by a blanket of snow, but it can also be treacherous.
We rarely used existing trails, preferring to blaze our own paths through the wilderness. This, of course, meant that when that snow covered morning finally arrived we would have to deal with all sorts of obstacles. Snow drifts, fallen trees that we used for bridges were now ice covered, and hidden ponds, creeks, or other obstacles under the snow and ice. There were numerous slips, trips, and falls as we trudged our way back to the welcoming warmth of the cabin. (Of course, in those days, it was just another adventure for us, and one of the funniest things was to watch your friend fall face first into a snow bank with a 60 pound backpack on his back!)
Now the snow and ice is almost like an invisible prison to me. I don't like using my wheelchair in public. I prefer to walk whenever possible, and when the weather turns bad it deters me from leaving the house. Aside from the fact that I don't like using the wheelchair, there are complications to using it in the winter weather. The snow gets caked onto the wheels and, once I'm inside, it can create a rather large puddle which is especially embarrassing in a restaurant or other public place. Also, the wheelchair can easily get stuck in the snow, or on a patch of ice, which is very frustrating.
Walking certainly eliminates those issues, but if there's snow or ice in the mix it also increases the chance that I'll fall and potentially injure myself. The answer is that I have to be very careful. I take baby steps and I tend to keep my left leg straight the entire time, as opposed to using the knee on that leg and walking with a normal gait. This gives me a greater degree of stability. It also takes a lot longer for me to get where I'm going, but that's better than falling.
The other issues, of course, is managing the crutches. My balance has improved tremendously over the past six months, but I still need the crutches when I walk for both balance, and weight transfer. I have to be very careful with them on snow and ice. If one crutch starts to slide I have to transfer my weight off that crutch quickly, or else I'll go with it. Of course, I run the risk of the other crutch sliding as well, so I generally try to transfer more of my weight to my legs and only a little to the opposite crutch. It's a lot to think about while trying to move at the same time.
Once I've gotten inside I also have to worry about the floor. If it's tile, or some other hard surface, I have to be sure that the ends of my crutches are dry. There have been many times when, after a stressful walk from the car to a building, I've relaxed and almost bit it because my crutch was wet and slipped on the floor. (That's also an issue any time it rains.) I haven't fallen because I try not to take many risks and I'm extremely careful when I have to walk in an uncertain situation.
I have to admit that this time of year is difficult for me. Last week we had a fair amount of snow on the ground. On one hand I allowed it to deter me from leaving the house, which was aggravating. On the other hand, it made me nostalgic for those days hiking through the snow in Michigan, which became fairly depressing. Oh how I miss being able to go wherever I want, whenever I want, and not having to worry about the conditions I'm walking in!
There are so many reminders during this time of year of the things I can't do that it can get overwhelming. This is a part of my new reality. Accepting that there are things that I could do in the past that I simply cannot do as easily (or at all) anymore. Accepting those things doesn't really make it any easier, but it allows me to get through the disappointment faster. Once I've let go of those things I'm able to focus on more positive or productive things, and leave the moment of disappointment/depression behind me.
Friday, January 16, 2009
We talked for a while about her fears. Fear of not being able to walk on two prosthetics, fear of falling, fear of complications, and fear of how much this is going to change her life. She already has one prosthetic and has had difficulty walking with it. However, she's had problems with the leg that is about to be amputated since she got her first prosthetic. I was quick to point out that her issues with that leg probably have made it harder to walk with the one prosthetic that she has.
Her fears were all too familiar. When I first learned that my legs were gone I couldn't imagine being able to walk again. Then, when I got my first set of legs I was afraid of falling with every step I took. Indeed, I fell at least once a week with that set of legs! That fear can be paralyzing. There were many times that I wanted to give up, and I probably would have if not for the support of everyone around me.
As we talked I tried to point out that, at least physically speaking, she is in a much better position than I am. She will have both of her knees, so her mobility should be far better than mine. We talked about the fact that she will fall and that because she has her knees she will be able to get up much easier than me. Her knees will also allow her to climb stairs and maneuver other obstacles almost as easily as she did before.
We also talked about driving, modifications to the home, and other issues that she will now have to face. I gave her some information about the resources that are out there to help. Regardless of the fact that she still has her knees she will still have many challenges. Becoming an amputee changes your life in numerous ways. Everything that was once easy becomes far more difficult, which is extremely frustrating.
I would have loved to tell her that once she gets through this difficult period the fear will go away, but that's simply not true. The fact is that I still have to overcome fear every time I leave the house. As much as I love driving I'm scared every time I see another driver do something stupid that I'm going to be in another accident. Whenever I go someplace new, or do something that I haven't done since the accident I'm afraid that something will go wrong. I'm afraid that I won't be able to walk as far as I need to, or that I'll injure myself in some way. I don't think too far into the future because I'm afraid of what I'll have to deal with as I get older.
The point is to not let that fear take hold. To not let it become a paralyzing force in life. Yes, I face those fears almost everyday, but I use that fear to ensure that I think everything through and that I'm careful about how I approach the unknown. For me, my fear is a challenge to push through as opposed to a reason to stop living.
Thursday, January 01, 2009
Happy New Year!!!
Since the accident my New Years Eve celebrations have been spent either at my parents house or at my house. However, this year I made it a point to do something different. I had a few options, but ultimately decided to go to Eddie Adair's house. Eddie is a good friend and was my boss for several years. He made a comment on a recent blog update and I gave him a call after I read it. We hadn't been in touch for some time, but we always seem to pick up right where we left off. He extended the invite to come to his house to celebrate the big night, and I'm glad I decided to join them! We had a great time.
2008 was an interesting year for me. It held a lot of twists and turns that I never saw coming. On the down side there was the elimination of my job, more surgery, more infections, and more surgery again. On the up side I got to ride a horse, had more speaking opportunities, met some great new friends, built a new deck, made strides in walking with one crutch, successfully navigated Disney World, and made the transition to living on my own. I would have to say that it has been a momentous year. I can't imagine what 2009 has in store!
Unfortunately one of the goals that I had set for 2008 did not come to pass. That goal was to go skiing again. The main reason this didn't happen was because of our economic situation. I still want to experience the thrill of skiing down a snow covered mountain again, so this goal is not gone, just moved into the new year. I'm not sure what goals to set for 2009. I certainly have things that I want to do. However, in these uncertain times, I feel like I should approach 2009 without any expectations and with my eyes wide open for any opportunities that come my way. So, with that said, I guess my goals for 2009 are to continue to value each day, work through any obstacles that come my way without letting them take over my life, and enjoy myself as much as possible. Here's to 2009!