Each handicap is like a hurdle in a steeplechase, and when you ride up to it, if you throw your heart over, the horse will go along, too. ~~Lawrence Bixby

Thursday, June 30, 2011

My Big Fat Tool Kit

It started with falling. A lot. Falling down the back porch stairs. In grocery stores, coffee shops. One bad fall just before a concert in which I had a solo. Usually I'd land on my knees (which contributed to a very painful torn meniscus and surgery to repair it last summer) and occasionally on my bum (which once contributed to a very colorful hip and cheek - no photo included here). The falls were due to a combination of loss of balance from peripheral neuropathy and from foot drop. My toes would catch on the slightest bump and over I'd go, with no good recovery mechanism because of the balance issue.

I'm using the past tense here, not because the problems have gone away, but because I have some tools at my disposal and because I've become so mindful of my movements and out of necessity, walk very slowly (which usually isn't a bad thing at all). It’s been more than a year since I’ve fallen. I've had some close calls, but with physical supports and mindfulness, I’ve managed to avoid that most unpleasant feeling of taking a tumble without a net.

I started with a cane. Looking back, that was probably the most difficult decision to make, as it signified the first real acknowledgement of disability. At first I used it only when I was out and about. It offers me stability and, as a wise person pointed out to me, it’s a signal to others that I have a physical challenge that isn’t immediately obvious. It was becoming difficult to be in crowds – I get panicky when I feel trapped or when I’m being jostled and the risk of falling greatly increases. Soon I was using the cane most of the time, even in the house.

Two years ago I was in the hospital for a surgery (which I may or may not discuss later). Apparently it became obvious to at least one nurse and by extension, my doctor, that a walker would be a good choice for me. A couple weeks later, the home health van pulled up and delivered one to me, which I was completely unaware of and unprepared for, emotionally. The walker sat for a week or two, me staring at it, feeling resentful and unwilling to take that step (so to speak). But when Laurie and I went for a walk and I was able to go farther than I had for months – maybe even years – I had a change of heart. I embraced it, decorated it (sock monkeys rule!) and began to have fun with it. What I love about these walkers is the built in seat – if I get fatigued or sore, I can turn around and voila! A chair! Waiting in line at the post office? No problem. At a party with limited seating? Thanks, I brought my own.

Ms. P and I "stroll" around the block
But the thing about a walker is, well, you still have to walk. And that’s become increasingly difficult and painful for me. I was having to drive everywhere, even just a few blocks to the grocery store or the library. So when Laurie’s brother and sister-in-law told us their friend was selling an electric scooter for a very good price, I decided to give it a whirl. Wow. Talk about getting my life back! Now I can zip all around the neighborhood, take Liza for long walks at her pace, go to the grocery store, the bank, the library and just MEANDER! I haven’t meandered for years! I feel like I’ve reclaimed my neighborhood. I’m taking photos again (my photo blog), now from the seat of the scooter – I call it “scootography.”

The point I'm trying to make in this long winded post is how difficult it is to accept disability - and nothing screams disability like canes, walkers and scooters - but once the hurdle is cleared, the tools available to us can improve the quality of life enormously. I could easily become a shut-in. But there's a lot of living to do out there in the world, and I'm so grateful for the tools available to help me do that. And to the people who've encouraged me to take advantage of them and who help make that happen.

Next up:  the biggest, fattest tool of all. We get a stair lift installed tomorrow!



Laura said...

This is an important post. I'm sure there are many who feel alone in their struggle to accept. Describing it, owning it, and talking about how you worked through it will be very helpful for them.

And on a completely different subject, some of your readers may not know who Liza is ... time for some photos !!!

Tiffin said...

I agree with Laura, especially about taking ownership of your physical reality and making it work. Quality of life is enhanced by what you are able to bring to your life to make it the most full. In your case, the incremental steps of cane, walker and scooter, which sustain your sense of freedom. Good stuff, Ter.

gwenlyn said...

She's ba-ack! I'm so gla-ad! (Can I come over and ride the lift?)

Not to mock; I know your journey has been...everything. You have given your loved ones access to you too!

Terri said...

Gwenlyn: Oh yes, rides for sure! We can race up the stairs. Re the scooter - never thought I'd hear Laurie tell me to slow down when we're on a walk!

Thank you, Laura and Tui. I'd like to get some contributions from others dealing with physical challenges too.

Photos of Liza soon! I'm so curious how she'll react to the stair lift! I'm thinking I'll teach her to operate it!

guatherbelle said...

Terri, this is so honest and lacking in self pity or any hint of 'poor me.' It is uplifting and encouraging. I know that someone out there who's been afraid to take that first step, be it a cane, walker or scooter, will be inspired by you. I'm so proud to know you.

Terri said...

Oh, thank you Lee! xoxoxo

Nancy said...

Hi Sister, It takes however long it takes to really understand what's changed, doesn't it. Then you wade through your own (and others'?) perceptions of why/when/how, stir the feelings, and then muster the fortitude to adapt.

Others have adapted with you, some have watched with hope, some have been your cheerleaders, some poo-poo-ers and as you say, some just unable to ask what's going on. But there you are, in your quiet revolution, with a blossoming determination to keep on dancing.

Next time we're together, I think we should work on the part where we hold hands and SKIP.... if I can keep up with you, that is.

Terri said...

Nancy -- now I'll have to figure out how to scooter skip! Thanks, sister! Love you.

Laurie said...

It took awhile for you to warm up to the idea of the scooter too - I think they first mentioned it about a year before you said yes to them bringing it here.

I'm so glad it's given you the ability to meander again, walk (run) the dog, and allow me to be the one who says "slow down please"!

Wendy said...

I love this post, Terri - and I applaud you for being open minded enough to allow the tools to come into your life and give you new freedom. As a physical therapist, it is often my job to try to "convince" people to accept the gadgets and aids...and it it never an easy transition. I think posts like this are very valuable to others who find themselves where you were not too long ago - trying to accept that "tools" might make disability more obvious, but they can also open up your world.