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.


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