Thursday, July 21, 2011
Losing my security blanket
As of the beginning of this week, I will no longer be bringing my wheelchair into town for any reason. I will now use only my leg brace in town, including when I go to swim at the YMCA.
I look back on the day that I got my own wheelchair. It was an exciting day, one filled with hope and the promise of exciting possibilities. I zoomed around the hallways, weaving in and out of nurses, doctors, aids, patients and family members at top speed. I started doing wheelies every spare second, though we weren't supposed to. I didn't have my legs back but I had my mobility again. It was like getting the keys to a new car, finally able to leave under my own power.
I think how far this chair has gotten me. The paint is scratched and the parts are slightly worn in, a testament to the fact that I wasn't content to sit at home. It got me through the summer months of rehab at Kennedy Krieger, crossing the country to Colorado, crossing back to North Carolina, flying to Minnesota. I've taken it to pools, museums, zoos, aquariums, to fine dining, to fast food, through memories of euphoria, and memories of pain that are forever tattooed across the vision of the past. I've wheeled through tiled hallways, city streets, grassy fields, and forest paths. Through it all, it has carried me farther than I ever imagined.
I now need to leave it behind, for good. I've been using it for shorter and shorter bursts, using it mainly on either side of sleeping and for going to the pool. My body is now at the point where I can walk around without the help of the chair almost the entire day if I'm wearing my leg brace. I'm mostly using the wheelchair out of habit, though a part of me doesn't want to leave it just yet. My chair has become the security blanket that I've been clinging to with childish abandon.
I decided at the start of this week that I was going to leave it behind when I went into town. The reason this was a big step: I'd never before used just the leg brace when I've gone into the YMCA pool. It's physically demanding and require some extra planning:
1) I normally had my backpack full of personal items, bathroom supplies, wallet, and my phone; my backpack stayed on the back of my chair, wearing a smooth divot into my backrest. I now have to carry these in, along with my swimsuit, towel, and water shoes. You try carrying all that on your back without tipping over. Yeesh!
2) My leg brace can't get wet. I have to leave it locked up in the locker room, which mean I don't have it to use as I walk out. I leave the locker room with no brace and my crutches. I'm able to kick out my leg effectively and move it in time so it doesn't fall behind though the muscles surrounding the knee are not strong enough to hold my weight. While I do have to worry about the crutches slipping on the wet floor I still have one good leg to lean on through the process.
3) Getting in and out of the pool. This is actually the easiest step in the process. There is a pole near the deep end which I can use to lean on while I set down my crutches. Then I simply jump in! (no cannon balls yet) When I get out I use the pole to help me stand and then I pick up my crutches.
4) This is all a lot of work. I try and get the most out of my time when I swim so I'm usually pretty tired by the end. With my chair, when I was finished I was able to slouch and wheel myself to the showers. Now I have more walking ahead of me before I can look forward to going home. This is a positive in the long term, though when I'm tired I tend to care less and less about the long term.
Despite these concerns I've done well. The most exciting part of the process was the people, most of whom already knew me as the guy in the wheelchair. Few knew I could walk at all, since I'd never walked in before. Even those who knew I was doing some walking were unaware that I walking as well as I am. I got lots of encouragement, praise, and support. The one comment that never fails to crack me up is "I had no idea you were so TALL!"*
All in all the loss of my security blanket went pretty well. It was tiring but I know it will be worth it. It seems that I'm going through the steps of childhood all over again: learn to sit up, learn to roll over, learn to crawl, learn to walk, get rid of security blanket... and I thought going through this the first time was hard enough.
*This is actually a fairly common observation. I'm 6'1" but in my wheelchair I was under 5 feet. I've lost track of the number of times I've heard this.