Friday, October 28, 2011

Girlish Screams

It was the most girlish scream that this (fairly) deep-voiced man could make. It was my first physical therapy appointment, and, after some rudimentary measurements of my feet in comparison to each other, I began to do some basic stretches.
The stretches consisted of "alphabets"--moving the foot in circles that supposedly mimic the letters of the alphabet--and a 12 to 6 movement. The physical therapist then used an elastic band against which I was to push and then to "pull."
Finally, she had me stand with my left slightly in back of my right, and without the warning I expected, told me, "We're going to take a step."
"I don't think I can do it." (I knew I couldn't do it.)
"Yes, you can. The tendon has been repaired, it's regrown, it's ready."
With her flanking my left shoulder, I shuffled forward slowly with my left, then got ready to take the step with the right that would force me to plant on my left.
Then I got ready to take the step with the right that would force me to plant on my left.
Then I got ready...
I literally shook as I tried to reconcile the rupturing of this incredibly important tendon, its betrayal to my body, with the task she was asking/telling me to do.
After about minute of putting barely-detectable pressure on the left foot, I scraped forward, letting out a high-pitched, girlie noise as I felt that my left couldn't support me. I lunged forward, grabbing awkwardly onto a cabinet and leaning against her shoulder.
Thankfully, every step won't be this hard.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Long Road Back

"Bring a left shoe next time I see you," my orthopedist repeated, fairly cryptically, as I exited his office two weeks ago. Everything in my recovery having gone according to plan up until that time, he told me that my next appointment would allow me to walk out of his office with a real left shoe, not a boot.
His "left shoe" comment was enough to get me excited and nervous upon entering his office for yesterday's appointment. I'd told anyone who asked (and some who didn't) that the next time they'd see me, I'd be at least hobbling and wearing a left shoe for the first time since my surgery eight weeks before. I even told a few people that the wheelchair that had been helping me navigate the hallways and my classroom at school was going to be collecting dust very soon, maybe even in a few days.
Shoot, I even flirted with the idea of a "I Can Walk Again" party at my apartment that would have been tonight. The idea of me, even a hobbling me, being unable to play host in any meaningful way, put an end to the party idea, but anything was possible as I sat on the fresh sheet, waiting for Dr. Owen.
With a clinical efficiency that somehow is teamed with an incredibly-empathetic bedside manner, he retrieved the thick green Adidas shoe I'd brought ("Bring something substantial for your left shoe," he'd said last time) and loosened the laces as much as possible.
It must have taken two minutes for me to have the confidence to pull the laces and shoe tight over my foot, a bit of a surreal experience after so much buildup. The feel of the shoe was not so much uncomfortable as foreign.
With a flourish, I hopped off my chair to take my first step, felt a twinge of nerves, and followed the doctor's advice--"Use the crutches if you want."
With a stumble and a slight drag of the left foot, the foot, bootless, made contact with the earth and moved forward ever so slightly. It felt good and it felt very weird.
Telling me that my surgical wound was healing nicely and complimenting me on my progress, Doc told me that I was technically freed from the crutches, but they were to be used if needed.
They are needed. As Doc stepped out to get some paperwork and set up my first physical therapy appointment, I tried out my new gait in the office and right outside, maniacally "walking" back and forth in an area about eight feet by eight feet, pacing like an expectant father. A few tiny attempts told me that the crutches were necessary for any positive movements.
In the first few steps, and the halting and frustrating ones I've taken today, it is clear that my left foot is, at this time, not committed mentally or physically to moving forward on its own. Though I've stood lightly on both feet a few times, always with a closeby wall or grip for insurance, pushing off my left foot with its rebuilt Achilles tendon is not in the cards at this time.
Which made it all the more ironic when Doc Owen, as far as I know not a reader of this blog, told me to let the physical therapists know about my goals. "The therapists need to know if it's a matter of 'I want to just be able to walk to the store with no trouble' versus 'I wanna be able to dunk a basketball,' so they can create the right rehab program," he said.
Without replying, I thought to myself how badly I want to dunk a basketball. The thought of that first dunk, though, right now seems as alien as me giving birth.
My foot doesn't want to push off. My foot can't push off. This year's Students versus Faculty Game (something I take quite seriously) is set for February and already has been ruled out. My calf has atrophied to scary proportions. An accidental and light whack of the tip of my left shoe against a chair leg smarts for a good two minutes.
Here I am, deeply immersed in the conflict of this developing story. Everything is set for the buildup of drama.
I just don't have the happy ending in sight.

The Ageless Wonders

Many a priest was there who earned the nickname "Father What-a-Waste" from my female college classmates. The Catholic university had many priests as professors--many of them who were barely older than the students, many who just seemed that young.
The priests, highly-educated, cultured, and well-spoken, were fawned over by the girls, with a big part of the priests' appeal resting in the fact that they were untouchable and unattainable-truly "playing hard to get."
I remember my amazement that a favorite priest of mine-an important part of my formative years-was forty years old when he'd taught me a few years before in a creative writing course. I would have sworn before a jury that he was no older than 30 at that time.
The priests themselves were known to joke that it was the lack of a family and its responsibilities that made them appear so young. The vigorous eighty-something priest from Colombia who traveled there at least three times a year to visit family and take his annual trip to the family farm to help with the harvest was one shining example of this longevity.
So too was the fifty-something who had traveled to Los Angeles to participate every marathon since its inception in 1984.
The chaplain for the baseball team who regularly attended practice and shagged fly balls (albeit it not at Vince Coleman speed) when the team was short on players? Fifty-two without a noticeable gray hair.
Forget Ponce de Leon and Botox-the priests are the ones who have the answers to The Fountain of Youth.