Click the picture for the story of Calypso, the Three Legged Green Sea Turtle, and why she's my symbol

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Return to the Water

In case you didn't know, if you have an open incision (such as the kind you'd get from surgery) you're not allowed to swim. Swimming greatly increases the chance of infection and causes the scar to heal really strangely. My body heals extremely slowly ever since the accident, so the incisions should have taken a month to heal has taken almost 3 months! But finally I'm getting BACK IN THE WATER!!!

Awesome turtles thanks to surf photographer Clark Little

The sea turtle has become my symbol in more ways than I had ever imagined: I'm slow and awkward on land but in the water I can dominate. I've been aching to swim for ages now; I always feel slightly incomplete without the water to play in. Besides being a great workout, it loosens all my joints giving me freedom of movement that I don't usually enjoy.

Since my hiatus from the water, I've become significantly more mobile on land. There are however many moves that simply cannot be performed with canes and a gimp leg. In the water these limitations vanish. Suddenly, I can perform headstands, do flips, do karate kicks, and move my body in ways that only bring frustration when I attempt them on land.

When I'm in the water I feel like a crippled ninja!

The moves I can perform now on land were the ones I was practicing in the water only a few months ago. So the crazier I get in the water now the better I will be able to move on land soon enough. Are you ready?

Friday, February 24, 2012

The evolution of the cane

Many of you have heard me discuss my leg braces (KAFO, stance-KAFO, and Roboleg) and my AFO (Ankle Foot Orthosis, or ankle brace), in gory detail. What you may not be aware of is the fact I've used many different walking aids over the past two years. The latest of which is my new cane (singular), the Airgo Comfort Plus.

It's design is sleek and smooth, it's got an awesome color, and its more sturdy than any of the canes I'm currently using.

For those who missed it, after I was injured on December 29, 2009 I couldn't move either of my legs for a month. I had given up hope of getting function back at that point when, surprise, I got a toe wiggling. Though this was an immensely positive sign it was months before I could even stand in the parallel bars.

After months of toil and hard work I was able to stand up using  a walker and a leg brace that looked like it had been used when Polio was still around. The four legs of the walker allowed me to hang on tightly without falling over. This was a big step, proving that I had the potential to be standing and walking again. I used the walker for weeks while I slowly became used to standing upright and walking/limping forward.

The tree's not moving... Well NOW what am I supposed to do?

As I left inpatient I was given a pair of crutches from a friend who had moved on to using canes.

These allowed greater freedom of movement, now that I was starting to gain back my strength and endurance. Around this same time I also acquired my stance-KAFO (Knee Ankle Foot Orthosis, or full leg brace) and continued to relearn how to walk. I still have these crutches and hope to pass them on to someone else who needs them.

Fast forward to 2011, when I got my flame canes.

Inspired by the same person who gave me my crutches, I got two matching flame canes when I was ready for the challenge. It was hard at first to balance without the extra support from my crutches but I begun to use my canes more and more.

My physical therapists experimented with different cane combinations/types:
using one cane only,

using a quad cane,

trialing out other canes, as well as trialing these with all my different types of leg and ankle braces. I settled on using my pair of flame canes and my AFO to get around.

Now that I've finally gotten rid of my wheelchair for good (knock on wood) I've been looking about for a new goal to work towards. Though I've been able to walk with only one cane for some time (see video above) I've had a hard time doing this for more than a few minutes at a time. This past week I decided it was time to move from double canes to a single cane. It didn't take long to find this sleek and durable cane, the device that will help me limp my way into the future.

For anyone who is first starting out with a new spinal cord injury I have two pieces of advice:

1) Always listen to your physical therapist. They generally are very knowledgeable and will have practical suggestions that will help you physically improve.

2) Never be afraid to try new things. This includes braces, walking aids, physically challenging feats, social situations, a new job, a new school, etc. You never know what could happen to you and it just might be amazing.

I never expected to be walking again and yet here I am. I am not promising that those without working legs will suddenly rise up, walk, run, and dance the hula. But if you challenge yourself you are almost guaranteed to find you can do more than you thought you could.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Turtle Speed in Trafic

Last Post: Balance Test and Clubbing

The last post time I talked about going out into a club and having a blast. This time, not so much. I got separated from my friends for a few minutes in a crowd. I have a bit of difficulty walking in in straight lines, due to the lack of some key stabilizing muscles of my trunk and leg. So I ended up knocking into a few people, who all apologized to me before I had time to even start one of my own.

What the world looks like ALL the time.
I did find my friends in short order but this is just another example of how turtle speed has impacted my life. "Turtle Speed" is the name my friends have given to my sluggish pace; it comes in two varieties, the limp and hyper speed. My pace has increased since I've started walking, with the limp about as fast as my old top speed and hyper speed akin to the speed walk. My speed continues to improve with time, so I have high hopes.

In the mean time I will spend countless hours catching up, flagging down friends who got ahead of me, and undoubtedly getting lost. It's a good thing I'm not in a rush...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Balance Test and Clubbing

For anyone who read my previous post, Anatomy of the Awkward Crippled White Man's Dance, I made it clear that though I may look funny, I still love to dance. I got a chance to practice these ''skills'', at the birthday celebration of an amazing friend of mine. We went to a dance club in Norfolk, got on the dance floor to the techno-remix of every pop-icon of the last 40 years, and danced till we dropped. It was a blast! I took one cane on to the dance floor and showed that my hips and body may not be as nimble as I used to be, but I can still move to the beat.

I got a good workout, moving my body in ways it hasn't moved in years. This is proof of what everyone has told me again and again, that my improvement is become more clear and obvious every day.

I've even had official tests to prove the point. One test that has now been performed three separate times, twice after surgery and once this past week, is the Berg's Balance Test. This test involves performing various tasks (standing, sitting, picking things off the floor) that require various amounts of balance. The first time I took the test I scored in the low 30's (out of 56), not bad considering I was fresh out of surgery. I then went through a week of intense physical therapy after surgery and at the end of the week I performed the balance test again; I gained a few points, putting me in the high 30's (out of 56).

Yeah, it's kind of like that.

Almost two months after surgery, my physical therapists decided to perform the Berg's Balance test again to see how far I had progressed. I scored in the high 40's, gaining 10 points and improving in almost every category. Now that I'm allowed to bend, twist, and lift over 10 lbs I've been able to push myself once again. I'm getting stronger, my balance is better, and everything is looking up.

I'm enjoying this period of optimism and excitement. Every one who has seen me on a regular basis has remarked how my walking, standing, balancing, posture, etc., was looking better. I've been raised to be humble and not let success go to my head; so I'll keep plugging along. My prediction for this time next year I'll be walking onto the dance floor instead of awkwardly limping on. I can't promise you'll really want watch, since it's still likely to be pretty strange looking. So here's a message to all those watching silently from the sides: If this weirdo got onto the dance floor, why are YOU waiting on the sidelines?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Anatomy of the Awkward Crippled White Man's Dance

Those of you who have known me since before the accident know I've never been a particularly good dancer (no coordination and two left feet never helped me out). I had limited skills; I could freak dance with the best of them, I even learned to swing dance, thanks to some of my closest high school friends. Losing mobility in the lower half of my body threw what few moves I had out the window. For those unaware, I was paralyzed from a car accident, T-10 (thoracic vertebrae) down, not able to move either of my legs. A month after the accident I got a toe moving and from there I've gotten both legs moving.

Me relearning how to walk

The problem with movement is that not all of it is equal. For those unaware, movement comes in two forms: gross movement and fine movement. Gross movement is the ability to kick out or jerk a limb. Fine movement is the ability to make small controlled movements. Fine motor skills take the combination of larger muscles and smaller stabilizing muscles. Obviously these take much longer to build and even longer to use properly.

Back when I was still having trouble standing and walking.

My right leg from the very beginning has been recovering faster, with most gross and fine motor skills returning. Though it has taken over two years, my right leg is almost back to where it was pre-accident. The left leg is always the late one to the party. It has made some great strides in gross movement, allowing me to walk around. The fine movements are still lagging though. I can move it mostly where I want to, but it's always slow and is difficult to control.

Lack of fine motor skills is the real difference between your darling's "masterpiece" and art.

And there is more involved in the process than just legs. My abs and obliques, the muscles used to control your hips and waist, have had two years without doing a whole lot. I've slowly started to build these up but my time in my wheelchair did me no favors. All the small stabilizing muscles people take for granted are no longer there. I now have something to work toward.

 cliffnotes for trunk muscles

Now that I've finally ditched the wheelchair for good I can get back to pulling off my awkward mistimed moves. In the mean time everyone is just going to have to live with my jerky, weird looking, and probably embarrassing dancing and everyone can just shut the hell up! So dance like there's nobody's watching!

 Peter, before the accident, getting his "groove" on. He don't care what you think.
If you don't get this, go to and look up Honey Badger.