Friday, January 11, 2013
My Hiking Boots
It sounds like my parents talking to some other people. I turn my head, squint my eyes, and can see them on the other side of the room. Mom, Dad, and one or two other people, but I'm not sure who they are. The others might be familiar, or maybe not. Sitting in a corner near the group of people, I see my gore-tex lined red leather hiking boots, that I have worn almost daily since high school. (They are getting a little tight and it's probably well past time to replace them, but they've held up really well over the years and I just haven't gotten around to it yet.)
"Can someone bring me my boots?" I ask. "I need to go to the bathroom."
No one seems to notice. I try to sit up in bed to get their attention. They notice my movement and come closer around the bed. Again I ask "Can someone bring me my boots so I can go to the bathroom?"
The lighting in the room is dark, there's a gray light coming from the window, and my eyesight is so bad that I can't see their faces clearly. A woman's voice says "I think he's trying to says something."
"Of course I said something!" I say brusquely. "I asked for my boots so that I can go take a leak! What is it you don't understand about that?!" As I'm saying this my frustration shows on my face and in my body language while I try to sit up.
Someone, possibly my Mom, puts her finger in my throat and says "We're here, you're ok, what do you need?" (Or something like that. I really needed to get to the bathroom and was too confused by her finger pushing on my throat to pay attention to her words.)
I lay my head back against the pillow and ask "Please bring me my boots so that I can go pee."
I still can't see well enough to see their faces, but the finger is removed from my throat. There is a moment of quiet, then my Dad says "It's ok, you don't need to get up."
I take a breath to respond and once again I feel the finger on my throat. "I need my boots so that I can go to the bathroom, so that I can pee." I don't understand why this is so difficult.
Dad replies "just go in the bed."
"I'm not going to pee in the bed, and I don't want to walk barefoot on the floor. That's why I need my boots." Why is my Dad telling me to pee in the bed, and why do I have to explain this to him?
Again my Dad says "It's ok, just go in the bed, you won't make a mess."
The finger is removed and I give up arguing. There's a little more to the story, but we'll save that for another time. I don't really know where this memory falls in the order of things. It was very early, at a point where my body and mind were both starting to become self aware after almost 6 weeks of drug induced sleep. This may, in fact, be my first real memory of being awake in the hospital. Time was a jumble, so there are a few choice memories that have no real place in time, no clear memory of what came before, but these experiences did happen regardless of their chronological order. Sadly, this is also not the only early memory that coincides with a bodily function, or senses for that matter, coming back online.
I cannot fully trust my memories from that time of my life. The memory is so close to the medically induced coma that I can't be certain that I have the words, or even the players (besides myself starring in the role of me), correct. What is clear is the memory of being aware that I needed to urinate. Being aware that I was in a hospital bed and that walking barefoot on a hospital floor seemed like a bad idea. Being aware of people around me and that one or both parents were present among them, but not being able to see them clearly. Being aware of someone pressing a finger into my throat every time I tried to speak. Asking repeatedly for my boots and explaining why I needed them. Trying desperately to communicate and not understanding why people couldn't hear my words and why their responses seemed utterly ridiculous. Seeing my boots in the room.
Now, the reality was that my legs had been amputated (so no reason to worry about walking barefoot). I'd been catheterized (no need to get out of bed to urinate...not as nice as it sounds). My jaw was wired shut (though in my memory I was able to move my mouth freely) and there was a trache sticking out of my throat (the reason no one could understand me without building pressure to allow me to make sound...or at least that's how I understand it...not real clear on the science with that one). My boots were across town in my bedroom closet at home. If I had been able to see clearly I'd imagine that the looks on the faces of the people around me would have shown a mix of sadness, confusion, and fear as they tried to figure out how to tell me that I might not ever need boots again.
I was never really a tennis shoe kind of guy. After I got my hiking boots in high school (in preparation for one of many backpacking trips) I wore them almost everyday unless I could get away with sandals, or was at work in dress shoes. Those hiking boots really have held up well over the years. After I returned home from the hospital (via a four month layover at Mom and Dad's) I just didn't have the heart to throw them away. They got tucked back into a corner to make room for prosthetic legs wearing a pair tennis shoes that I have never actually felt on my feet.
Every winter when it snows I think of how warm and dry my feet and ankles always stayed in those boots. I think about how I could walk through creeks, or snow, and never worry about getting my feet wet unless the boots were completely submerged in water. I think about the traction those boots gave me when hiking over uneven terrain. Every time I clean out my closet I come across those boots, which are really just taking up space and I think about all the places I've walked in them, and seven years later they still haven't been tossed out.
Every once in a while I look at them and wonder: Would they fit? It's hard enough to put regular shoes on my feet, sometimes even harder to take them off, how difficult would boots be? Would I be able to walk with them? If I could walk with them, where could I go that I can't go now?
This past year I saw a man with one prosthetic leg like mine, and one human leg (a unilateral above knee amputee with a C-Leg), wearing a pair of hiking boots that were similar in style (though much newer) to the ones in my closet. I asked him about it and he said that it was different, but not too difficult for him. Of course then he looked at me and said "It might be more difficult for you."
As the snow and ice were approaching I finally decided to stop wondering. I pulled out my boots, discovered that one lace had somehow gone missing over the last seven years. Picked up some laces while out Christmas shopping and then, on Christmas Day in anticipation of the "blizzard" that was supposed to hit the next day, I put the boots on my feet! Surprisingly, it's actually easier to put them on and take them off than any other footwear I own. The next step was walking, and it is different, took some getting used to, but they work and honestly feel more secure than my tennis shoes. When my driveway turned into a sheet of ice and I needed to get to my Dad's car I felt comfortable leaving through the front door of my house (which only happens a few times a year because I come and go through the garage) and walking through the snow in my yard. Think about that for a minute...I walked in snow for the first time in seven years!
My old boots have purpose once again. I know how they feel on my feet. They've already allowed me to step where I otherwise wouldn't. I feel a little more like my old self, and my feet are happy! The point of the story...never ignore the benefits of an old pair of boots!