Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Shaking Things Up

I am standing in those Canadian crutches, no easy task

We all have a tendency to allow our lives to fall into an established pattern or routine because  it is familiar and easy. My physical therapy sessions have fallen into that category until Chris, my physical therapist, decided to "shake things up" a bit--a successful attempt to get me more motivated.

Trying to maintain the line between professionalism and frendship between Chris and myself has become somewhat skewed. Because she and I enjoy each other's company so much it was easy for friendship to blossom.

Last week Chris said, "I have to talk to you about something." I said, "Chris you can talk to me about anything." She went on to ask me what I hope to achieve through my therapy and what my ultimate goal was? I replied that I thought we had already eastablished my goal-- to walk unaided.

Chris continued to explain that I had completed forty PT sessions in twenty weeks and although I had made great strides in that period, I had reached a plateau of sorts. I realize that the conversation we had was not easy for her, as she did not want to belittle my achievements thus far, but at the same time we had to move further along, if that is what I wanted to do.

She went on to say she has a responsibility as a physical therapist to report my progress and she felt that in order to get closer to my ultimate goal, we had to become a little more daring, trying bolder and more advanced techniques.She had even mentioned that perhaps I should take a break from therapy so that I could perfect what I had learned by putting it into pracitical everyday use.

The next logical step in my progression is to move from walking with a walker to walking with Canadian crutches. Canadian crutches are the type of crutches that have the bands that wrap around your forearms.

After our conversation something must have struck a chord in me and I walked within the parallel bars, but not touching them, on Canadian crutches. This was the first time I had done that and it was yet another milestone in my progression.

After completing the walk I asked her if I should just finish my already scheduled appointments and then take that break she had mentioned earlier. Chris said, "well not now, not after you have just walked on the crutches for the first time. I think we should keep going."

At today's session I stood up from my wheelchair using one bar and one Canadian crutch and proceded to walk within the parallel bars on three seperate occasions. These recent accomplishments were a result of our conversation from the previous week. I don't think Chris set out to deliberately put pressure on me to perform at a higher level, but she got her point across. Serendipity at it's best!

Progressing in my journey to learn to walk on two above knee prosthetic legs is going to involve some calulated risk. If I want to remain walking on my walker, that of course is my perogative, but anyone who knows me, knows that will never be good enough.

Walking those few times on those crutches has remotivated me to continue down my path to see just how far I can get. Sometimes we all need to have things "shaken up" a bit to get ourselves going again.

Stepping outside our comfort zone is not always easy, it is even harder to "step out" with prosthetic legs, but great strides and achievements are not always easy. (Excuse those puns).

Thank goodness Chris and I had  our little talk, it has helped me tremendously. I hope all of you have someone like Chris in your life to help "shake things up" from time to time, it keeps life interesting.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Being Human

Let me try to paint a portrait for you of what it is like to walk on two above knee prosthetic legs. Imagine if you can walking on two stilts. I used to describe walking on my prosthetic  legs in that manner, however it is not quite accurate.

Imagine trying to walk on two stilts that both have hinges in them (the knee), that is actually a better description of what walking is like for me.

A couple of weeks ago at physical therapy we tried something different. The exercise was to try to walk without using a walker outside the parallel bars. My therapist, Chris, was in front facing me with my hands on her shoulders. My prosthetist, another Chris, was behind me trying to help me get my hip motion correct, by moving my hips as I attempted to walk.

It was one of the most terrifying things I ever attempted to do. Suffice it to say I was not successful. The reason I am writing this is because I was shocked at how much fear it evoked in me. Rarely, if ever, do I have such feelings of fear with respect to this whole leg loss scenario.

I am almost at a loss of words to describe the feelings of being completely out of control that I felt. A lot of what I do when I walk, stand, sit and reach for things in a standing position involve some degree of loss of control but I have learned to recognize those feelings and over time have developed a degree of control that doesn't involve fear.

Of course the terror I was feeling was evident not only my face but I practically decapitated Chris by grapping her neck to keep my balance. After I calmed down from the incident I tried to explain why I reacted the way I did, which by the way was completely unexpected. Chris, my therapist, said she understood and admitted although she is in a profession where people in my situation are not uncommon, she still cannot accurately feel what I feel.

I guess the question that remains in my mind is where did that feeling of fear come from and why is it there? I suppose anyone could have or would have reactly similarily and yet I was surprised and disappointed  that I did not handle it more successfully and with more dignity. I have looked at You Tube videos of bilateral above knee amputees who walk unaided up and down hills, play golf , etc.and that is still my goal, however the unexpected fear I felt sometimes makes me wonder if I am being unrealistic.

I am trying to understand fear and I already know that a lot of fear is caused by lack of faith.

Another bewildering reaction occured last week that was also surprising  to me. I had been having a really good day. Bill and I had gone to Costco and we were back at my place. I stood in the kitchen and for some reason my left leg became detached, probably because I inadvertantly hit the release button. Be that as it may, although I was slightly irritated I went to the bedroom,  reattached it, and never gave it much thought.

A short time later I heated some black bean soup for lunch. I had already given Bill his portion and had my bowl of soup balanced on my lap as I wheeled into the living room.  It fell off my lap, the bowl broke and the black bean soup flew everywhere.

My intial reaction was anger and irritation quickly followed by an onslaught of tears. I sat there momentarily crying not over spilt milk but over spilt soup. I do not know why I reacted the way I did. Fortunately Bill could see how upset the incident had made me and without speaking a word jumped into action, cleaning up the broken soup bowl and wiping up the spilled soup.

Again I don't know why I reacted the way I did and it bothers me. I talked to Steve about it and he said it was probably pent up frustration that had been building over time. He continued to say he realized to a greater or lesser degree how difficult and frustrating doing everyday tasks must be for me.

Now you may be asking yourself why is he writing about all this?

After having read Eckhart Tolle's book, "The Power of Now" several times, the book advises that we step back in a nonjudgmental way and look at ourselves observing our various reactions in various situations. My observations have made me aware of myself. In an attempt to be nonjudgmental, it has revealed to me that perhaps I could begin to get a better grip on my emotions and reactions and find that inner peace which we all harbor within ourselves.

After I had begun writing  this particular blog entry (yesterday) and before it was completed, I had my usual physical therapy appointment with Chris. I told Chris what I  was writing about and she said we are all human beings and anyone could have reacted in those situations the same as you. She went on to say that most people in my circumstances would have similar or often times worse reactions but that my adverse responses were few and far between.

I remember reading in a book about an exmarine who became a bilateral AK amputee as a result of a land mine. He explained in his book that his anger was so great intially he used throw his prosthetic legs across the room and at the wall.

Observing my reactions and being aware of  what circumstances prevoke negative ones, may help me with future outbursts. If that doesn't work, I have to realize that those feelings of fear,anger, frustration and disappointment are normal and even expected given my situation.

I have to give myself permission to be a human being......we all do.


Friday, September 9, 2011


In our society everything is about money or lack of money. What you wear, what your educational level is, where you live and even how straightened and whitened your teeth are, is all determined by how much money you have or do not have.

It has always troubled me that we don't or can't look beyond our  socioeconomic boundries that seem to determine a person's worth in the eyes of others.

In the final analysis as we approach death we are stripped of all of the worldly things we have accumulated over our lifetimes, what we are left with is our actual worth. What kind of person were we? Were we kind? Were we loved by others? Did we give back to others?  The answers to these questions are what actually determine how wealthy we really were in our lifetime.

As we live our day to day lives it would  seem advantageous for all of us to pay more attention to the inside of ourselves rather than by being consumed by external appearances.

Anyone who knows me already knows that I have struggled with issue of money all of my life and still continue to do so. Lack of money can become a real source of depression and anxiety if you allow it. On a daily basis we are subjected or rather bombarded with advertising that tells us over and over again we are nothing without the best car, the biggest house, the latest electronic gadget, etc.

I believe that bombardment of advertising has led to a lot of economic hardship for people who believe their self worth is determined by material objects. Naturally I have become somewhat affected myself by all of these advertising ploys.

As I get older and I think after having suffered the loss of my legs, I have begun to pay more attention to the inside of myself and less attention to my outward appearance. The loss of my legs has forced me to look at myself more analytically. I have had an epiphany of sorts. I understand more fully that my outward appearance physically has little to do with what kind of person I really am.

All the money in the world would never buy me the God given legs I was born with. Having legs or not having legs does not define me, similarily having or not having money does not define me either.

I want to live my life with grace and dignity remembering the most important things in life, loving others, being loved by others, and having compassion for my fellow man and woman are just a few of my life's goals. It might be beneficial for all of us to occasionally take a step back, look at our lives and see if we like not the car we drive or the home we live in, but rather do we like the type of person we are on the inside? Are we happy with who we are rather than what we own?

I am not foolish enough to believe that having money does not make your life easier, but we have to be careful not to allow money to completely dictate our lives. We all know of someone who has spent their entire life accumulating wealth and power but it has been to the detriment of the more important aspects of their life; like not being present for their family or friends, not spending those precious moments with their children growing up etc.

I understand the constraints money or lack of money places on us as human beings in our society. However, sometimes with the lack of money comes the ability and time to really take a look inside ourselves--to examine our souls.

I have mentioned something my friend, Michelle McKinney Hammond, said to me in the hospital after the loss of my second leg, which I feel bears repeating, "out of great losses come great blessings." I want to be able to look at my life in hindsight and be proud and thankful for how I have lived and learned in my lifetime.

I want my life to be a life not full of regrets of what I did or did not do, but rather to know in my heart that my existence has been one of love, compassion, faith and perseverance. It is my wish that we all will feel that way about ourselves. How do you feel about yourself at this very moment of your life? After all this very moment is the only moment we really have.