31 July 2011

Kids say the darnedest things!

Walking down the sidewalk with a friend, we passed a young mother with her five-year old son. After we had gone a few steps further, I heard the little boy say, "Mommy, where's her leg?"
That is the most amusing and confounding remark I have ever heard in reaction to my missing leg. People have asked How? What? When? ...but never Where?
What are some of the difficult questions you've heard from children about your disability? The disabilities of others? And how do you answer them? 


22 July 2011

New socket, new day

I've had a new socket since last Thursday, one that I was awaiting with great anticipation. Now that I've been using it for a few days, I know that many of my hopes have been realized -- It fits well, in fact it feels 'right' -- snug all around but not too tight. But my greatest hope was dashed -- I didn't snap it on, jump up and run across the room. No spinning and twirling and jumping for joy. There was no miracle. No, my movements are still slow, small steps taken with great concentration and care.
My entire being is crying out for the ability to run across an open field, followed by my dog Tino, lightly scamper across the rocks in a stream, feeling cool water pass over my toes.
I KNOW I've made progress. I KNOW it's a long road. I KNOW it's slow, I have to take baby steps before I can run. But how long will it take? And what abilities will I have? Those are the questions that no one can answer.
I'm a positive person. I'm an optimist, I believe in the future. But sometimes doubt creeps in as I realize that I don't know what the outcomes will be and that fear makes me doubt the rosy future that I normally believe in. I have learned that those doubts are part of me, as much as my hopes and dreams are a part of me. And I can choose which to believe.
What I do know is that even though I can't predict the future, I can do a lot to make my future dreams come true. For example, if I don't take baby steps, I will never learn to run. If I don't practice swimming laps in the pool, I will never be able to swim across Lake George. If I don't believe in my own abilities, I will never reach my goals.


Some days are better than others

Let's face it -- some days I wake up and just feel lousy. The alarm goes off but I'm still tired, I want to sleep. My body aches all over. The dog barks, wanting to go out, and I really don't feel like getting up and out to take him for a walk. Can't I just roll over, go back to sleep, and dream it all away? Some days it's just all of the tiny little extra steps that wear me down. For me to get up and out of the house in the morning, it just takes longer than it did when I was able-bodied--and some of this will never change. 
I've always enjoyed slow mornings. I'm not one of those people who jumps out of bed, raring to go. I'm fuzzy-headed and want to spend 30 minutes drinking coffee and reading the newspaper before I even speak to another human being. Then I like to exercise (I used to run three miles or do an hour-long yoga routine), shower and get dressed. When I was self-employed, I usually started work at 10am.
As an amputee, everything takes longer. Morning coffee? Try walking around with a cup of coffee in your hand--on one leg. Showering? Just be careful while shampooing one-handed, holding a grab bar with the other. And putting on lotion afterward, I have to sit still, no walking into the kitchen for that second cup of coffee while I rub my hands together. Getting dressed, I have to follow a strict protocol: after making sure that all items are within reach, first put the pants on the prosthesis, followed by sock and shoe. Next, don the liner (and for me a second liner), then step into the other pant leg and put on sock and shoe. This is done sitting, with the prosthesis balanced between my legs and my pants likely dropping to the floor (which encourages good housekeeping). Next I stand up to don the prosthesis, trying to hold up my pants with one hand, steady myself with another by holding onto a chair or table, and simultaneously somehow using both hands to hold the prosthesis upright (usually my pants end up on the floor again). Once the pin is inserted and I have a secure fit, I can bend over and pull up my pants. Depending on the shirt I'm wearing that day, my camisole is tucked in or pulled over my pants (I usually wear a camisole because it makes my scarred belly feel protected). Tucking it in sometimes requires dropping my pants again.
As you can tell, this--pants on the floor--is one of my pet peeves. Especially when traveling and using public restrooms, I get very annoyed at having to drop my pants. I've figured out many ways to bunch up my clothes, brace myself against the wall of a stall or otherwise contort myself to avoid letting my pants fall onto the public restroom floor (yuk!).
So some mornings I don't want to face all of the petty annoyances that I have to experience in order to get out and face the world in the morning. Some days I'd rather stay in my pajamas and stay in bed. Some days I get pretty close to that (some days I work from home), lounging in shorts and t-shirts. But except for those days, I do get up and get ready and get out. I know that it's necessary for me to do it every day or soon I would not be doing it at all. It's one of the small steps in my slow recovery to return to full functioning. And no one can make that happen but me.

13 July 2011

Dog park

Every morning I take my dog Tino, a 20 lb Mini Schnauzer, to the local dog park. I've found the regulars to be an eclectic mix -- a programmer, an aerospace engineer, a single mother of twin boys -- but they all have in common a love of dogs and a friendly attitude. Even though I've been going to the park for only three months, everyone seems to know me already. I suppose I'm hard to miss: I'm an AKA and have been on crutches for most of that time. It must be quite a spectacle, seeing me crutching around the one acre wooded park following Tino. My phone is in the front pocket of my cargo pants, a headset usually in my right ear, and colorful plastic bags left over from the previous Sunday's New York Times poke out of the other pockets.
Our visits to the park follow a predictable routine. At the entrance gate, Tino barks like mad to announce his arrival. Next he trots around the perimeter as if he were a sentry on duty, stopping to mark every tree and inspect all of the rocks (and marks most of them too). Three times I stoop to pick up after him; after that I know it's safe to let him wander without having to clean up after him again. Then I'll take a few minutes to check email or make a quick phone call before joining the other dog owners around a picnic table.
One of the regulars is also an amputee, an older man with two white German Shepherds. We met the first week I visited the park, and I learned that he's been an amputee since 1956. During the first couple of times we met we compared notes about prostheses and prosthetists, and talked about healing and tips for keeping liners clean. Now we've moved on to discussion of ordinary matters like our respective plans for summer vacation and what books we're reading now, but I will always treasure that opening conversation, the immediate intimacy and openness we both allowed, despite being strangers, because of the odd condition that we share.

09 July 2011

Controlled fall

I've received advice from more than one amputee about falling -- 'tuck and roll,' they say, or 'learn to control your fall,' so I won't get hurt. During the past two years living without a leg and (mostly) without a prosthesis, I've been getting around on crutches. At home I'm in a wheelchair most of the time and sometimes will hop across the room (or rather I did, until I learned recently that hopping is especially dangerous and damaging to joints).
Before I lost my leg I was an active skier (50+ days on the mountain each winter) and mountain biker in the Rocky Mountains and red rock desert of Colorado, Utah and Arizona. Both of these sports are essentially a series of controlled falls. You point yourself downhill and through a series of technical maneuvers, balance and plain old-fashioned luck, you guide you fall yet inevitably you move downhill; you experience the thrill of pushing your physical limits while in the grip of gravity. 
Now my daily mobility is also dependent on gravity. Sometimes the movements feel similar to my past activities, but now it's a different game I play with gravity. Sometimes I use gravity to pull me down and forward, as when I'm moving from wheelchair to sofa. Other times I have to pull against it, lifting myself up and out of a chair, but then I'll use the momentum to continue to propel myself forward, as when taking steps with crutches. Sometimes I feel out of balance and almost out of control, as if I'm taking big chances to rely on my balance and land on my target seat. Yet so far I've fallen fewer times than I can count on one hand and haven't had any injuries worse than a big bruise on my behind.
All of these experiences, this playing with gravity and learning to fall safely, give me insight into re-learning how to walk. A proper gait includes fully weighting my left leg (prosthesis) to trigger the knee function. Learning to walk down a slope or down stairs step-over-step using the C-leg is a more intense act of trust, requiring reliance on the prosthetic knee to fully support my body weight while I move through mid-air.
The better I understand the functionality of my new prosthesis and my new physical limits, and the more experience I have using my prosthesis, the better I understand how to use my new 'gear' to play with gravity and learn to once again enjoy the controlled fall.