Cyborg Walking School

My eyes spring open. My first thought is my new toy sitting at the foot of my bed. Like a little kid at Christmas I just want to get up and play with it. Test it out, see what it can do, how fast it can go. But I had promised Chris I wouldn’t walk on it until it was time for physio.

But as I swung my legs over the side of the bed I wondered just how quick and easy it would be to slip the leg on of a morning.

I look down at the leg and then at the allen key and then back at the leg.

I had promised Chris that I wouldn’t walk on the leg, not that I wouldn’t put it on.

I slip it on and turn the bolt. Nice and simple, it takes a few seconds. Then I go to take it off. I can’t get the screw to loosen. It is stuck.

Uh no, I’m in trouble now. If I walk to the other side of the room to get the screwdriver then I have broken my promise to Chris and my gym privileges will be revoked. If I call the nurses they will tell Chris and the outcome will be the same.

I fiddle furiously.

To my relief it slips off eventually. I breathe a sigh of relief.

cyborg leg

9am couldn’t come soon enough. I feel a renewed sense of excitement. I can’t wait for day two and to see an improvement from yesterday. I am pleasantly surprised to find I have no pain from yesterday’s session nor is my hip sore in the slightest. This is most encouraging. Maybe all my hard work is paying off. All those exercises were worth it.

Ali calls by my room and we walk down to the gym together in a bubble of excitement.

I am still slow but maybe the slightest bit quicker than yesterday. The slightest bit.

Chris seems as surprised as I am about the lack of pain, but it is a good thing as it means I can go hard today.

Cyborg walking school is in session. First up is some walking along the bars and then side ways walking, crab like to practice the shifting of weight to the leg and getting it used to supporting the whole body weight.

There are small shoots of pain up the leg and around the tip but nothing too major and the pain seems more muscular than bone so that seems to be a good sign.

It is hard work and feels quite unnatural.

Chris notices when I am walking and doing the exercises that I having trouble transferring the weight evenly, I am still favouring the left side quite a lot. I am walking the way I feel I always have and the way that comes quite naturally so I wonder if I have ever really walked properly with the correct weight transfer. Without seeing my gait analysis video from before the surgery, Chris can’t say for certain but thinks this probably the case.

Ali seems old hat at it all and moves seamlessly through the exercises. She can’t stand for as long and tolerate as many but she does them all so naturally. She talks about the work she did in her physio sessions after she first lost her leg and was learning to walk and this seems to be quite similar.

It is completely foreign to me. Despite having been an amputee all my life I have never done any physio, gait training or any work at all on my walking. As a baby I simply learnt to walk with the leg, without crutches, like any other kid and I have just walked like that ever since never really giving it a second thought.

Core work on the bed wearing the leg is actually the toughest part of the first session. Not in terms of the core exercises hurting at all but just the pressure of having the leg attached and bent up really hurts the bone and feels heavy and painful around the tip. I try my best to just grit my teeth and get on with it trying to do as many sit-ups as I can so I can concentrate on the burn in my abs rather than in my leg.

Twisting my leg around to try and swing it off the bed is when I encounter the full slam of pain. I think I must have twisted too sharply and the tug on the bone is enough to almost make me pass out. I won’t be doing that again. Very slowly and gently I swing my leg off the bed with my hands. With both feet on the floor again the pain subsides.

I want to stay longer but Chris kicks me out of the gym, telling me I need to rest, properly rest, before our next session.

I begrudgingly leave and begin the slow snail pace walk back to my room.

Chris and one of the other physios are walking behind me and I can hear them discussing me.

The female physio is telling Chris how much better Ali is weight baring and weight shifting. My heart sinks. Chris tells her I am a different case with the whole not having a hip and all and is unsure if it’s the leg itself that needs adjusting or is just how I walk. I know I shouldn’t worry about comparisons to Ali as we are both different and on different journeys but still it is hard to hear.

I feel frustrated with myself at how slow and cumbersome I feel. I know it’s only the first session of the second day but I am not used to feeling so incapable.

I have gone from being fully capable, independent and highly functioning to then being on crutches which was at first a hard transition but then I found I could manage quite well and was able to almost do all I used to. I was able to be independent, move easily and still go to the gym. And now I feel like a baby hippo trying to take its first steps. I feel so slow and awkward.

inspiration

I try a quick mediation and focus on some inspirational quotes. Today’s motto is “It’s not about being the best, it’s about being better than you were yesterday.”

Right, chin up butter cup get your butt back down to the gym and walk your very best.

Maybe there is a slight improvement in my weight shifting and performance of the exercises. Slight.

Chris wheels out a full length mirror so I can watch myself and ensure I am doing them correctly. Urgh I am not a fan of watching myself work-out at all. I would prefer to keep the picture alive in my head that I look graceful rather than the reality. Why spoil the illusion with reality? But I don’t look too bad. In fact this leg without the bulky socket is rather slim line and I look relatively normal.  Plus I am wearing Lorna Jane tights, which I had never been able to do before. Focus on the positive right?

I’m not allowed access to the cross-trainer and the bike again today as Chris wants to make sure I am can handle today and not be too worn out.

But to make up for it he has brought a USB with some shows and movies he has downloaded for me. I am giddy with joy that I can watch the new episode of Girls after all. He shows me how to plug it into the TV and sneakily steals me the remote from the patient lounge so I can operate the TV with a proper remote and not the dinky hospital one that is attached to the bed.

I feel immense gratitude towards him. This has made my day and lifted my spirits. He is such a sweet guy to have gone out of his way for me like this and certainly makes my forced rest more bearable.

With buoyed spirits it’s time for my third session at cyborg walking school.

There is no increased pain after the multiple sessions so I’m pretty pleased.

Then it’s time to do all the leg exercises I was doing to improve the muscle in my stump prior to walking, but this time with the leg on.

I watch Ali sail through them like a graceful gazelle.

I strain my muscles with all my might. I can feel them shaking they are working so hard. I glance at my leg, it has not raised an inch. The same goes for the whole sequence of exercises. I am working so hard and seeing such minimal results. I am so frustrated with my body. It seems to be betraying my mind. I tell it to do something and it refuses. Like my very first visit to the physio it is again glaringly apparent that I have absolutely zero muscle tone in my right leg. I try not to cry. At least not in front of Chris. No weakness will be shown in this gym. Cyborg rule.

I apologize to him for struggling so much with the exercises. I worry I am a boring patient for him and I hope he is disappointed he got me rather than Ali who seems to be sailing through it all.

He reassures me it is natural I am finding them hard as unlike Ali who only recently lost her leg, I have never before used these muscles. For 25 years they have laid dormant. Lazy and hitching a free ride esstentially. Any wonder they are freaking out at being called to work.

Well then right leg muscles, the free ride is over. Time to get to work.

The tables have turned and I feel like one of the oldies struggling with the simplest movements and exercises.

To finish up and as a reward Chris hands me some 5kg dumbbells and says I can do some weights while he finishes up his paperwork.

Again I feel immense gratitude. I think he knows I need to do something that I am good at to feel good about myself again.

As he walks me back to my room he tells me to keep my chin up, that I’m doing well.

“You like challenges, just think of this as a really big one.”

I know it’s only the second day and I what I have achieved today is great, a step in the right direction, literally.

But I can’t help it as soon as he leaves the tears come. I can’t help but feel frustrated and a little flat. I have such big plans for this leg but right now I feel like I am standing at the foot of Mount Everest.

I knew this would be the toughest part. I was prepared for this and yet the frustration is like a naughty toddler throwing a tantrum in my mind. It’s hard to ignore.

I had always thought I was a patient person but I am learning that I really am not. This is my lesson to learn.

Standing feels amazing, I feel so tall and balanced and natural so I will focus on this. And later when I am crutching to the kitchen it feels unnatural and weird not to be wearing my leg. I may feel slow and clumsy but already it feels a part of me.

It’s not going to be easy, but it sure as hell is going to be worth it. By the time I walk out of here in two weeks I will have conquered my Everest.

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