Sunday, December 12, 2010


Growing Confidence...and Humility

As you know, I walk on my prostheses every time I leave the house. Even though I've played with using one crutch quite a bit, and have toyed with walking around without using the crutches, for the most part I always use both crutches for safety and stability. For the past four years this has been my habit, even though I know I can walk with one crutch I've felt uncomfortable with the idea of leaving the second crutch behind.

About six to eight months ago (if I'm remembering correctly) I needed to stop at a post office to mail a package. I could have put the package in my shoulder bag to carry it inside, but decided it was a good opportunity to see if I could be functional (carry the package) while using one crutch. (I think I shared this experience in an earlier post.) I was able to carry the package inside, but quickly discovered while standing in line that without the second crutch it was hard to stand in place for any period of time. My back began to hurt from the pressure of standing, and I couldn't shift my weight to relieve the pain. By the time I got to the car I was shaking from the effort. Didn't try that again.

Then, maybe two months after that, I needed to drop a poster for the Wheel-A-Thon off at my Prosthetist's office. I didn't want to fold up the poster to fit it in my bag, and I knew I wouldn't be standing still for any length of time, so I decided to leave the second crutch in the car. (Plus, I knew this would make my Prosthetist happy!) The challenge this time would be stepping over a curb with one crutch, which I had never tried before. Sure, I could have walked around the car to the curb cut (ramped part of the curb), but that was a longer distance. So, I got out of the car and stepped over the curb onto the side walk. With a big sigh of relief that I hadn't fallen, and a huge grin of new found ability on my face, I walked into the entry of the office building to discover that my Prosthetist's office was closed for the day.

I slid the poster under his door and turned around to walk back to the car. Feeling pretty proud of myself for maneuvering over the curb, walking down the sidewalk, opening the exterior door, being able to bend over to slide the poster under the door, then exiting the building while only using one crutch I approached the curb. Stepping down off the curb was the part that worried me the most, but stepping up onto the curb had been much easier than I expected so surely stepping down wouldn't be a big deal either...right? I extended my crutch then stepped down with one foot...and damn near fell flat on my face. Luckily I was close to my car so I was able to catch myself on the hood of the car and stabilize before getting in. Back to using both crutches again and just playing with the single crutch and unassisted (no crutches) walking from time to time in a safe place, or when I want to show off.

For the rest of the year I have used two crutches in almost every situation, feeling comfortable with them, I haven't seen any reason to rock the boat. (Even after climbing the ladder and rocking the boat...literally) Towards the end of the fall I started noticing how much easier it had become to walk down different slopes. I could walk down my parents driveway with confidence, not having to consider every step. I began to trust my c-legs more and stopped taking timid steps in new places, simply believing that the micro-processor's in my knees would do their job and provide the stability I needed. I began moving faster and walking with more confidence.

On the second Saturday in November my sister Sarah and I went to the Colt's game. I was in my wheelchair for this event, because even using two crutches Lucas Oil Stadium is a big challenge, simply because of the crowds and the distances (plus I had never been to Lucas Oil Stadium and didn't know what I would need to deal with). However, I did take one crutch with me just in case I needed it. Mom and Dad dropped us off and picked us up so that we wouldn't have to mess with parking. When they brought us back to Sarah's house I found myself having to step off a curb with only one crutch for the third time. I asked Dad to stand nearby and, while touching his shoulder, was able to step down from the curb very easily. Dad even commented that he didn't feel me putting any weight on him what-so-ever. As long as there's something I can touch I'm fine, but if not, I lose my balance.

I didn't play with functional single crutch walking (like the trips to the post office or the Prosthetist's office) again until about a month ago. On the third Wednesday of November I got up early to get ready for the Mayor's Advisory Council on Disability meeting, like I do every third Wednesday of the month. On the way I stopped at a McDonalds drive-thru for breakfast, like I do every third Wednesday of the month. (I know, it's horrible for my cholesterol, but this my "3rd Wednesday of the month/I have an early meeting and don't get up early enough to include making myself breakfast" treat.) I also got myself a cup of coffee. Now, this is my routine for every 3rd Wed. of the month. I eat my sausage egg and cheese McGriddle in the car on my way to the meeting (anybody wondering how I'm able to do that while driving with hand controls?...I'm just that good...), and usually get a few sips of coffee in before I arrive. I then grab both of my crutches, leave the coffee in the car, and go into the building for an hour and a half to two hour meeting. I always return to cold coffee or a watered down beverage if get something cold.

Last month I decided that I wasn't going to let another cup of coffee go cold. I grabbed one crutch, got out of the car, turned around to get my coffee out of the car, closed the car door, stepped over the curb, walked to the door of the building (which conveniently enters straight into the meeting room), opened the door, entered, turned around and closed the door, then turned around to walk to the table, set my coffee down, pulled out my chair, and took my seat! Such a simple thing, but also a momentous occasion, as I felt less constrained by my disability than I had for a while. Of course, walking out I would have to deal with stepping off the curb again, but this time I purposely stepped down where I could touch the hood of my car at the same time. No balance issues as long as I'm touching something.

These two experiences gave me new motivation. At Thanksgiving I was able to walk around at Mom and Dad's house, carry my beverage of choice with me, and socialize with people rather than sitting in one place and waiting for them to come to me! Again, it seems a small thing, but the new sense of freedom from something so simple is almost over powering.

My confidence was so strengthened that the Sunday after Thanksgiving, while standing in Mom and Dad's kitchen, I decided to see if I could lift Madeline (my 9 year old Niece) up off the floor with my free arm. I bent down, wrapped my arm around her, and lifted her a few inches up. Rather pleased with myself I even took a few small steps while holding her up! That was more effort than it was worth, so I found a chair to sit in near the tree and we started decorating. Later, as I was getting ready to leave, Madeline came over to give me a hug. I was already standing, so I bent down like normal and gently gave her a hug, which is difficult with crutches, and not really much of a hug at all. (At least not from my perspective.) Since I was still using one crutch I decided to wrap my free arm around her again and pulled her to my chest. This time I stood up completely, and gave my 9 year old Niece the first real hug that I had given her, while standing, in five years! She didn't notice, but I had to blink back a little tear.

So, I've been feeling pretty confident about my ability to walk lately. Imagine how shocked I was to fall down for the first time in probably a year and a half! This past Friday I walked into a gas station to buy a snickers. The ground outside was wet from melting snow. I didn't have any issues outside but, as soon as I stepped into the convenience store I felt one of my crutches (I still use both on a day to day basis) slip on the floor. I recovered, walked to the counter, bought my snickers and turned around to walk out. As I was getting close to the door I felt one of my crutches slip on the floor again. I shifted my weight, and immediately felt the other crutch slide away, taking my remaining balance with it! I hit the floor hard, but only managed to break the skin on my knuckles. (Luckily, thanks to spending part of my youth learning Karate, I know how to fall without injuring myself too severely!) The Manager immediately rushed over, knelt down, and put his arms under mine to pick me up. I stopped him, mentioned that he hadn't asked if he could do that, and told he and another of his employees how best to help me up. As I walked out I found myself feeling pretty humble...the next day I would feel sore...but for that moment I was humbled by the fact that no matter how good I get with the c-legs there's always a risk of falling, and that maybe God didn't want me to eat that snickers bar...

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