24 years ago I took my first steps as a toddler and in a few hours I will take my first steps as a cyborg.
It is finally happening. Like a kid on Christmas Eve awaiting a sack full of presents from Santa, I barely slept last night. All night I had butterflies fluttering up a storm. Every nerve pulsating with anticipation.
I’m almost a little teary as I think about how momentous today is.
Everything I have done in the past five months has been leading up to this moment. Every appointment, every exercise session, every weight loading, it has all been for this moment.
Like an athlete preparing for the Olympics I have worked hard, pushed my body to new limits and done everything I could possibly do to ensure I am prepared and in the best shape to achieve today. My life has been so singularly focused on this outcome.
No matter what happens I know I have given it my all, worked the hardest I could and given myself the best possible chance.
It’s almost that moment where you are lead to the sporting arena; you take your jacket off and take your position on the blocks. It all comes down to this moment.
In a way I have been waiting for this moment my entire life. To walk without pain. To walk as close as possible to an able bodied person.
My fellow cyborgs seem almost unfazed about the whole thing. Maybe they are just shielding their excitement whereas I am wearing mine like a fluorescent badge. It doesn’t seem to be everything for them. Maybe it is because even this leg is still second rate to the real one they once had. But for me this will the best I have ever known.
Maybe that’s why this seems to mean the most to me and why I have been so singularly focused.
Back at that first appointment Dr Al Muderis was hesitant about doing this operation on me. He said he wanted to choose candidates where it would make a significant difference in their life. Because I wore my leg and managed quite well he didn’t seem to think it would make as huge as difference to me as it would someone who chose not to wear their leg and use crutches instead.
But it will make just as much as an impact and a difference in my life, in a way maybe more.
My goals are quite ambitious but they will allow me to live a life that very closely resembles an active able-bodied life. And isn’t that something they want to achieve?
This will quite literally change my life. I’m getting quite teary and shaky thinking about it.
After my morning physio session Chris tells me to try and rest before the appointment and try not to spend too long doing my hair. Yeah, yeah.
After an eternity 1pm finally rolls around. Ali, Daniel and I are seated in the gym waiting for Stephan to arrive. I can’t stop grinning. Chris and the other physios keep laughing at me.
15 minutes roll by and I am getting impatient.
Finally Stephan’s figure appears in the doorway. I have never been so excited to see him.
He is carrying two metal suitcases containing our legs.
The other guys agree to let me go first as I am practically jumping out of my skin with excitement. My smile threatens to jump off my face it is so huge. I can’t help it.
Stephan pulls the pieces of the leg out of the case and assembles it before bringing it over to measure it up against me. It is made with a temporary knee as my proper knee is on order and due to arrive in a couple of days. They also want to add a part that will help with my hip alignment.
He shows me how to screw it on with the allen key. And then it is time. I stand and it feels incredible to be upright again. There is no pain standing despite having my weight on it.
Then it’s time to take my first step. I almost can’t breathe.
Left leg up, left leg down. Right leg up, right leg down.
My god it feels amazing. I let out a squeal of excitement and my grin grows. Someone comments that my grin is so huge you can see it from behind.
“Forget about having a sore leg tomorrow, your cheeks are going to be sore,” they say with pearls of laughter.
I get to the end of the bars and spin around and do it again. And again and again. Lap after lap. It is only when Stephan and Chris ask me about pain in my hip that I remember, oh yeah that was a concern.
I laugh. I had forgotten about that.
“No it feels fine,” I say with surprise.
There is hardly any pain at all, just a little when you step down and transfer the weight but they tell me that is to be expected.
I ask Stephan how my gait is compared to the video he took a few months ago of me walking with my old leg.
“So much better,” he says.
“You were hitching a lot then and you’re hardly hitching now at all.”
This means I am walking with less of a limp.
I convince Chris to let me walk down the hall on crutches. He walks beside me and I feel on top of the world.
He then tells me to sit down and rest.
Rest? Are you kidding I don’t want to be off this bad boy.
I relent but no sooner have I sat down Nicole arrives to see my big moment. I look up at Chris.
“Please can I show Nicole?”
“Alright go on,” he says reluctantly.
Nicole is just as excited for me. They both tell me I will find my muscles will strengthen, grow and tone up in my right side quite quickly.
“Oh to have an even butt would be amazing,” I say with a sigh.
They both think this is hilarious but I am deadly seriously.
“Right sit down and rest,” Chris says sternly.
I do as I am told but then one of the old guys that has been with me in the gym all week comes in and I have to show him.
I look expectantly at Chris.
He rolls his eyes.
“Righto, away you go. Any excuse to walk more.”
One of the old ladies comes up to me with a tear in her eye.
“That was just beautiful,” she says.
“You’ll be playing soccer in no time.”
I look at Chris.
“Don’t give her ideas,” he says with mock sternness.
Later he is more serious.
“Now you’ve done a lot of walking today and will properly be quite sore tomorrow. You have to take it easy and promise me you won’t do too much and if it is sore or painful you will tell me.”
“I’m serious,” he says fixing me with a firm look.
“If I let you take the leg back to your room you have to promise me you won’t wear it tonight. Otherwise I will have to confiscate it and lock it up.”
“He has done it before,” Nicole adds.
“Or I will take away the allen key and your gym privileges.”
He means business.
I reluctantly agree.
We talk to Stephan about the other legs I hope to add to my collection. The one with the heel that you can adjust to wear high heels.
Nicole gives me the best tips about what heels to buy. Wedges are the go at first as they will be more supportive.
Then the waterproof beach leg and the leg for the gym.
Stephan asks what I want to do at the gym and I tell him; pump class, step class, combat, attack, boxing, cross-trainer, cycle. His eyes nearly pop out of his head.
He tells me I will need to go easy into these things and seems a little hesitant to tell me I will be able to do them.
“At least not for the near future,” Chris adds.
“How near are you talking?’
“I just want to know that I will be able to get back to doing everything I was doing. I don’t want to have gone through all of this to not be able to function as well as before.”
They tell me I might just need to modify things a little at first.
Stephan finally tells me Mitch was back to doing everything he was doing at the gym within three months.
I grin at Chris.
“You don’t need to set any records,” he reminds me.
This is true but three months I am happy with. I can live with this.
Chris lets me walk back to my room and the nurses on the ward are excited to see me standing upright.
“You’ll be running around in no time,” they say.
I smile at Chris.
“Don’t even think about it,” he says.
Afterwards back in my room I feel completely drained. I feel spent and empty. Everything has built up to this moment and now it is done. I’m not sure why but I finding myself crying. I guess it’s like when you are kid and you spend months looking forward to your birthday or Christmas and then when it’s over there is a sort of sadness and you wish you could go back and relive it all again.
But then the phone calls start. Everyone is so excited for me, for my new life as a cyborg. The cloud instantly lifts and the excitement floods back in. I did it: I took my first steps. And it didn’t hurt. I can walk again; this new leg is going to be amazing.
My life will not be the same.
Bring on this cyborg life.