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.

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