Since my initial accident, I had undergone nine surgeries to repair the damage of my shattered ankle. Each time I had to learn to walk again, which meant wheelchairs, crutches, cane and ultimately walking without aids. I had physio and occupational therapy for each of those operations with the exception of the last two operations. The orthopedic surgeon, who is arguably the best in Ontario, and well respected in Canada, did not want the grafts and fancy pebble fusions touched and therefore did not require physio.
I wish we had taken a video of how I walked before this operation. As shared in other posts, my ankle was fused on an angle that required me to wear shoes with a 2 ¾ inch heal in order to walk without a noticeable limp. This enabled my knee to be bent and me to swing my leg forward. Without the shoe, well… I walked like the “Hunchback of Notre Dame” with my leg swinging awkwardly out to the side. Even with the shoe on, as the day progressed, I began to drag the bad leg or bump into walls, as I walked in a circle.
I had little feeling in my left foot. I relied exclusively on my right leg to walk. When clients were not looking, I had my cane tucked away and used it when meetings were over. I would facilitate by pulling a chair over and lean my bad leg on the chair. In pictures posted on this site, my cane is hidden behind me.
My second week of in-patient hospital gait training therapy where they teach you to walk with your prosthesis, I had what I thought was a set-back. I sailed through week one. I was walking on the parallel bars, then on the walker. Climbing stairs like a trooper. I had a “pass” from the hospital to go home for the weekend and successfully got my leg on both days and kept it on for 7 hours moving about the house, but not walking on it as per therapists’ orders.
Then came week two in the hospital, and I my first “off day.” Monday my leg just did not feel right in the prosthesis. It felt tight and uncomfortable and all the progress in my gait the week before was gone. I was told to put my leg on earlier in the morning the next day. (Earlier?!? My therapy is at 9 a.m.) So very diligently, I attempted to put my leg on at 8 a.m. the next morning with my 4 ply sock. I huffed and I puffed but I did not hear a click that I was in. I used my mirror and Iphone flashlight but could not really tell if I was aligned. I sat for 20 minutes considering what to do. Then I wheeled out and found assistance from a Physical Therapy Assistant. He looked and said it was aligned but after a push from him, decided to just pull my leg out a bit and then we pushed it back it and it finally clicked. Success! However, once 9 a.m. rolled around and we started our walking, I immediately stated, something is wrong. The prosthesis felt too tight and I couldn’t walk like I did last week. The therapist immediately halted the walking, as it was obvious from my gait I was uncomfortable. We switched to a 2 ply sock which was more comfortable and did some work but we shortened the session rather than walk with a poor gait. I took the prosthetic leg off early.
The therapeutic team went through a checklist of items with me to make sure I had not done anything to make it swell, such as: was my shrinker tight enough? did I wear it all the time when the prosthesis was off? make sure I shower at night not during the day?
The third day I woke up and put the prosthesis on even earlier. It went on without a hitch with the two-ply sock. The nurse gave me my medications an hour before therapy, which is very helpful. At 9 a.m. sharp we went to therapy and were back to walking with a walker; doing the stairs and to my surprise, the therapist brought out a cane and I walked with a cane. I walked with a cane less than 7 weeks after having my leg amputated!
On the second day of week two, I had been scared and overwhelmed. I have business meetings I will have to fly to in two weeks. I have to make a living. My son who has been helping me (when he is not working full time during the day remotely for his employer) has to return to Alberta. And then today, I was back on track.
My team lead/therapist that owns the company who is making my prosthetic leg came to my room after my session. He reminded me of three key things:
- First, there will always be off days as an amputee. This was not a water blister or a fall. It was just swelling.
- Second, I need to learn to trust the leg. That is the priority for the therapeutic team working with me over the next while. As he explained, I have not had a leg that I could trust to walk on for many years. As a result, I have had to compensate. Now I have a leg that I can trust that will be stable and reliable. Learning to trust the leg and not use my old tools (leaning on the other leg with 65% of my weight, for example) is one of our many challenges to overcome.
- Third, even if we don’t break any of my old habits, my team lead/therapist says, “Today you walk better now after 7 days than you have in 20 years.”
Crazy, just crazy the journey I have been on. The pain I have lived in. The accomplishments I have achieved at work regardless of the debilitating disability. The compassion and caring I have always shown for others despite my fatigue. My ability to persevere and live a meaningful life is due to my love for my children and my passion for work in First Nation communities. That dedication and commitment is what drives me.
And nothing, nothing, will stop me and my girls from continuing on that same journey now. Trust the Leg and carry on the pathway.