Monday, April 29, 2013
My National Limb Loss Awareness Month
April was a busy month, and a fun month! Every week I had at least one speaking engagement, sometimes two, sometimes more than one on the same day. I wish every month could go that way. At the start of the month I had the pleasure of spending time on UIndy's campus, presenting the ADA to a group of Physical Therapy students (the Americans with Disabilities Act, not to be confused with the American Dental Association...I point this out because I have a friend who works for the ADA...see, you're not sure which one I'm referring to...but I digress). After my one hour pseudo lecture, I then participated in a panel discussion with a few other people with various disabilities discussing the psychological impact of an acquired disability. We did this two weeks in a row and on the second week, after the lecture and panel discussion were all wrapped up, I stuck around after class to test out a theory.
About six years ago, after I ran out of insurance coverage for physical therapy visits (but long before I was really able to walk very well with the prosthetics), my Physical Therapist, Renee, had me come to UIndy to work with her students. This gave them some hands on experience under her supervision and gave me a way to continue learning how to walk, also under her supervision. One of the things that we had tried, but I was never able to achieve, was to see if I could stand up from the floor without crawling to a stable piece of furniture or something to push myself up with. I haven't tried it since then, not even when I got the C-legs, but lately I've been feeling more stable and I had a theory that I might be able to do it now.
So, after the last panel discussion was done, Renee and I walked over to a different room to give it a try. Now, Renee's approach was a little different than it had been 6 years ago. This time she had one of her students pull up a video of a bi-lateral above knee amputee standing up from the floor with out any outside assistance. The motion was pretty much what we had tried six years ago, but it helped me to see how someone else would do it.
Resisting the urge to knock me to the floor, Renee wrapped a gait belt around my waist then stood back as I lowered myself down to my knees using a nearby mat-table. I got down onto all fours and placed a crutch on the floor near my right hand. Renee stood in front of me, a respectful distance away, but close enough that she could lend a hand if necessary. One of her students stood behind me holding on to the gait belt, prepared to pull if I lost my balance.
I kicked my right foot out to my right side, heard the knee straighten, and felt the boot gain traction on the tile floor. (Yeah, I was wearing my hiking boots.) I shifted my weight to begin rising up on that leg and tried to straighten my left knee underneath me, but the toe of my left boot just slid on the floor and I couldn't stabilize the foot enough to get the knee to straighten. Instead of giving up, I trusted my right knee not to give out and shifted more weight onto that leg as I lifted my left hip allowing more room for the left foot to gain traction. It worked! I was able to get both legs straightened out to either side with my hips bent and my head near the floor. I was in what I believe most Yoga experts would call "Downward Dog".
My prosthetic legs were probably supporting about 40% of the weight while my hands and arms were supporting the 60% that was still forward and low to the ground. This was the moment of truth. 6 years ago I couldn't get past this position. I shifted a little more weight back onto my hips and legs, allowing me to lift my right hand and quickly grab a crutch. I then moved the crutch to a central position, got it fairly stable and then walked my hands up the crutch until I was standing!
It wasn't easy, not by a long shot...requires the use of muscles that don't really see a lot of action anymore, but I was shocked at how simple it really was. Why did it take me six years to try it again? I smiled at Renee and said "let's see if I can do it without the crutch." She was game, so stood back as I resumed the all fours position. Renee stood at about the same place that she had the first time, and her student actually relaxed her grip on the gait belt and just held onto the tail end of it rather than tucking her hand into my waist. Her more relaxed grip gave me a little more room to make adjustments while weight shifting and I was able to get into "downward dog" much faster.
"Ok, here goes!" I said as I tightened my abs and pushed through my fingertips into the floor. With a kind of rolling snap my upper body came up and quickly oriented itself into the right position above my hips. My hands quickly rose up and came to rest on Renee's shoulders. The issue, of course, is that without my crutches, my side to side balance while standing is a little off. If she hadn't have been there I would have needed to launch straight into a step or risk falling before ever really straightening up. Still, I had done it.
Two attempts were enough. I know I can do it now. The reality is that I've probably been able to do it for a long time. It just goes to show that every once in a while it's important to look back at old unrealized goals and see if anything has changed that might lead to a different outcome...
The rest of the month has flown by. I traveled over to Kettering Ohio for an opportunity to speak with a group of Nurses about my experiences in the burn unit and what it's like to be a tissue recipient. I also spent some time visiting with several of the Nurses at Wishard Hospital (here in Indy) who are very involved in the tissue donation process, but never get to see the end result of the lives saved through the donor's gifts. There was a small group of tissue and organ recipients who came to share our stories with them, and I thought it was really smart of the hospital to ask us to come in late at night and visit with the Nurses who never get the experience of having guest speakers in their breakroom!
The last week of the month involved more time at Wishard hospital, this time visiting with several patients in the burn unit, offering what assistance I can give in their recovery. Then a great Walking School session that also included an Amputee Support Group meeting. Walking School is a great opportunity for any amputee to either learn to walk for the first time, or refine their skills. It's also a great opportunity for PT's to get continuing education credits...still haven't figured out how to get a date out of it though...
The month ended on a particularly special high for me. A return to my Alma-Mater, Purdue University. One of my professors asked me to give a 90 minute presentation to the students in his Human Resources class as part of their HR day. HR day is a deal he makes with his students, where they get about a month of Friday classes canceled in return for spending most of a Saturday listening to the wisdom of people like me... So much fun, and such a great way to lead into May! Hope you're enjoying the Spring!