crutch hate

crutch hate 7.29.14

As part of the long-term project Be In Better Shape at 50 Than 40, I have committed to a workout regimen over the last four months that goes beyond anything I’ve done before. I lift weights three days a week. I’ve discovered the wonder of resistance bands, which provide a full-body workout that leaves me looking like I emerged from a swimming pool. And there’s always my old friend and nemesis, the treadmill.

Jumping atop the moving rubberized sidewalk to nowhere normally doesn’t damage me. And over close to two decades as an amputee, I’ve developed what I consider to be a highly sophisticated system of assessing and responding to socket discomfort that balances the benefits of being active against the risk of having to shut myself down for an extended period of time as result of injury. The operative words in that last sentence are, “I consider,” because they correctly imply that I’m exercising personal judgment. Unfortunately, as anyone knows who knows me can attest, the disconnect between my logic and actual logic is often vast. To wit: I found myself both surprised and chagrined a few weeks ago when my mind told me one thing and my body revealed another.

It was a long treadmill workout – 90 minutes. I pass the time watching old episodes of Louie on my Kindle Fire, a show I select because I think it reveals some sort of clever parallel between the futility of the main character’s existence and my unending walk to nowhere.

The first 45 minutes slid underneath me without incident. But as I closed in on an hour, I began feeling something that I generally classified as “not good”  at the end of my limb. I have felt this before. It is, in my view, the cost of being active when you encase part of your body in carbon fiber and plastic. I therefore usually try to push past the discomfort, secure in the knowledge that everything will be ok in the end based upon past experience. So, with close to 60 minutes already committed to this venture (and two episodes from Season 2 still queued up to see me through the end), I made the conscious decision to forge onward.

The discomfort increased to mild pain over the last half hour, but I forced myself through it, feeling that surge of satisfaction as I shut the treadmill down at the 90-minute mark. “Pain is all mental,” I reassured myself as I stepped off the treadmill to cool down. Except sometimes it isn’t. As I pushed my body back into motion to leave the gym, the sensation I felt at the end of my leg felt closer to “body part in open flame” than “mild bruise.”

I regularly have conversations with myself in my head when unexpected events occur. (I fear that as I get older, these talks will cross the threshold from silent to audible, at which point my children – seeing their dad muttering to himself all the time – will become well-acquainted with all the services that assisted living facilities in the greater New York area undoubtedly provide.)

Dave’s Brain: “Ow! Jesus. What is that?”

Dave’s Brain: [replying] “Whooooeeeee – not good. [Expletive deleted.] Maybe it’ll feel better with this next step – [sharp intake of breath] NOPE!

Dave’s Brain: “Maybe that decision to continue at the 55 minute mark wasn’t the smartest one I’ve made?”

Dave’s Brain: “I can’t have been wrong. I’ve done this before. It’ll all be fine when I get the socket off and re-don it.

I hobbled out to my car, into my house, up the stairs, and into my bathroom. Removal of the socket and liner confirmed – as usual – my stupidity. At the end of my leg I was now staring at a liquid-filled blister the size of two silver dollars.

Cursing myself, I grimly showered and gingerly put my prosthesis back on. I spent the rest of the day trying not to walk and, when I had to, tentatively loading my prosthetic side for a millisecond at a time. I went to sleep hoping that the next morning would reveal that I had Wolverine-like healing powers.

I do not.

*   *   *

While I’m quite adept at using crutches, it’s a skill I’d rather not have (or need). Over the course of the next day as a crutch person, I realized how differently I see myself when I’m not wearing my prosthesis.

When presented with opportunities to go out in public to run errands that I’m responsible for every day, I rejected them, choosing to stay in my house. When Cara offered to do them for me, I turned her down.

Dave’s Brain: “Just because you’re not wearing your prosthesis doesn’t mean you need other people to do everything for you. Suck it up.”

Dave’s Brain: “Flawless analysis. I’ll prove the point by sitting here like a block of cement.”

Even when I did have to go out – the boys needed me to run them to various activities late in the day – everything felt complicated and laborious. Getting into the car now required me to crutch past the front door, open the rear passenger door, toss my crutches in the back, close the rear door, hop back to the front door, open the front door, and slide into the seat. (In retrospect, I probably could’ve just gone in the front door and thrown my crutches into the back seat from there, but I’m not a crutch person, so nothing is intuitive. Also, I’m generally much smarter after the fact than I am in the moment.) As I climbed out of the car when returning home and a neighbor drove by, I asked myself (as if I were a brand-new amputee), “Did they see me with only one leg? What are they thinking if they did?”

One might think that after 17-plus years of life as an amputee, I would have gotten past these kinds of issues. Clearly, I haven’t. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I do find it fascinating, however, that so many years later, a blister at the end of my leg can immediately jolt me back into the “new amputee” mindset.

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