A few weeks ago, I hurt my leg while running. After a couple visits to a physical therapist, he told me he didn’t want to see me again until I got x-rays, and also to stop on the way home to get some crutches so I could try not bearing weight on my leg for a week to see if that would help. I’m about four days into not bearing weight on my leg. It’s going okay; I am grateful to have the crutches when my leg’s hurting but they really cramp my style. And, because I was walking on my leg for a few weeks before trying this whole non-weightbearing thing, it’s sometimes hard for me to justify the crutches — it’s so much easier to just limp across the room than to try to juggle holding, well, anything while using the crutches. And when something urgent happens, like when Gracie said “Mom, I didn’t mean to bite my finger” while holding up a bloody digit, it’s more important to me to get her cleaned and bandaged than to deal with the crutches.
I’ve never had a major lower extremity injury before. I’ve broken some toes (one toe twice, to be precise) but never hurt anything that made it terribly hard to bear weight. I’ve never had to use crutches, or a cane, or a walker, or a wheelchair, or any other assistive device. It’s been a bit eye-opening. First of all, I realized just how narrow the walkways in my house really are, and just how nice it is to find a wide hallway. Second, I realized why it was such a big deal when Gracie learned to walk on uneven surfaces. I knew it was cool when Gracie first did it but never realized how very hard it is to walk on something not smooth when you’re not entirely sure of your balance. Third, I found out that crutches and water really do not mix. It made me wonder if Gracie’s walker is harder to use when there’s water on the ground. At least it doesn’t slip out from under her and make her step hard on her sore leg…
There have been other things I’ve discovered, too, like just how annoying it is to open a heavy door while trying to balance on crutches without totally killing your leg. Those automatic door openers are awesome! Suddenly I wish they were on every door. It makes me think how it would be that much harder for someone in a wheelchair. How do they even do it?? How do you maneuver your chair while pushing a heavy door, then quickly get inside before it closes? It must be so frustrating.
I know that what I’m going through is NOTHING compared to someone with a permanent, life-long disability who needs to use an assistive device just to get around. My injury is short-term — hopefully I’ll even be able to run again very soon (getting a little stir crazy here!). But this has been eye-opening. There are things we take for granted — being able to stand up, walk around, hold stuff while we’re walking, etc. — that people like Gracie will never be able to do so easily. Even though Gracie gets stronger every day and is really doing great, she has to concentrate very hard at keeping her balance when she walks. Carrying things, even small things like dolls or books, makes it very hard for her. When she uses her walker, she can put things into her basket (that was a moment of inspiration on Chad’s part — we attached a bicycle basket to the side of her walker so she can tote her stuff). However, she is limited to whatever fits in the basket. It’s not like she could carry an armload of books or a sheaf of papers.
My time not bearing weight will (hopefully) be over soon. Even if it takes a few weeks for my leg to heal, it will be temporary. I will probably still be able to run that 10K in the fall. I will be able to carry my 40-lb girl around soon. I will soon be able to open doors, walk through tight hallways, and run on the grass. I will be able to forget the many day-to-day inconveniences that people with disabilities face every single day. But hopefully I won’t forget how frustrating it felt to try to navigate a world without the full use of my body. Gracie navigates this world for able-bodied people every day, and she does it so gracefully. It’s part of her amazingness.