Tuesday, March 09, 2010
When I received my new sockets I decided to take a few steps in the parallel bars at my Prosthetists office without holding on, just to see if it was possible. His set of parallel bars aren't very long, so I was only able to take about three steps. I did it, but my left hip, which is my weaker side, gave out and made it very difficult for me to stay balanced. My thoughts at that point were "my Prosthetist is nuts! Sure I can do it, but it will never be functional." However, when my Prosthetist saw me take those three steps he was amazed that I was able to do that much, considering I had only just received the new sockets. That was back in October.
What's so important about the sockets is the way they are aligned and the amount of support they give me. When you walk with crutches you are supposed to alternate your crutches as you walk. It should be right foot and left crutch, then left foot and right crutch. Does that make sense? Well, with my old set of sockets, which I had for about three years, I couldn't alternate my crutches. I tried, over and over again, and I could alternate them a little bit, but it never felt comfortable or stable. I found that I could move much easier if I used both crutches every time I stepped with my left foot. The real draw back to that was that I was transferring my weight on the crutches instead of my legs. What I learned when I switched Prosthetists and received the new sockets was that the old sockets were not aligned properly. The poor alignment was the reason that I couldn't alternate my crutches while walking!
Why is alternating the crutches so important? Because that movement, which is more natural, also allowed me to stop using the crutches for weight transfer, which has forced me to trust my legs. Now I alternate my crutches with every step and really only use them for balance. As I was walking at church on Sunday I started to pay attention to how little I was really using my crutches, so I decided to take a risk. I lifted both crutches off the ground and walked forward without using them. To my surprise, I didn't fall! My left hip still gave a little, but not enough to make me lose my balance.
Some of the people at the church saw it and told me how amazed they were. This gave me some much needed positive reinforcement, so I began trying it more and more. To the point that I may have been showing off a bit, but hey, it was good practice! Ultimately I walked about 20 to 25 feet without using the crutches! It was very difficult, partly because I still had the crutches in my hands and, muscle memory being what it is, my arms really wanted to walk with them. It takes a lot of concentration to keep my balance and while I felt stable, I didn't really feel in control. I can walk forward, but I can't turn or stop yet. Which means that I have some decisions to make.
Do I want to make this a real goal, instead of just something to play with every once in awhile? Do I want to put forth the physical effort that it will take to make walking without crutches functional? (To me functional means that I would walk this way in the community, I would be stable, safe, comfortable, and have the ability to alter speeds.)
I can walk with one crutch, but I don't do it very often. Other than at church the only time that I have walked with one crutch in the community was when I walked into a post office a few months ago. While standing in line at the post office I learned that even though I could walk with one crutch, I still needed the second crutch to stand comfortably. While standing with one crutch my back began to hurt because I wasn't able to easily shift my weight. This presents a tremendous obstacle to leaving the one crutch behind, I can't imagine how I would stand for any length of time without any crutches!
I am very happy with the way that I move now. If I can get to where I can walk with one crutch in the community on a regular basis it will open up the ability to carry things in my left hand, which would be very helpful. If I can walk with no crutches I might also have the ability to carry things that require two hands. (Currently I'm happy to have other people help me with large objects!) Would the ability to walk without crutches also give me the ability to dance again? (Doubtful that I would be very good, but slow dances might be ok.)
It's interesting, as my confidence grows each step seems to open up new opportunities, but these opportunities always come with new challenges as well. I have to ask myself if the benefits are worth the challenges. So far the answer has always been yes, but this is completely new territory. It is possible that as I become more comfortable with one crutch, and continue to "play" with walking without the crutches thing will happen naturally. That is the slower road and most likely will not allow me to reach the full potential that a focused effort would. At this point I have no answer as to how I will progress, but it is definitely a goal that I am considering. Only time will tell...