First Step Flutters

I could name all the major bones in my lower limbs before learning how to walk. It was around pre-school that I had my first long-leg braces (KFO's) made. They are remembered with great disgust: the plastic was always sweaty against my skin so I would wear tights underneath, my sneakers always looked overly bloated as I tried to jam the foot piece in, and the clunky contraptions seemed to weigh about the same as a newborn elephant. My doctors and parents tried to make them more appealing: When I complained about how hot they always were they cut holes into the braces, then they printed cartoon characters on them - the left foot had Tweety bird and the right foot had Road Runner. Still I would dread putting them on once a day before school and rip off the velcro coverings the second I got home - relishing the feeling of carpet and the denim from my jeans against my skin.

Today I don't remember how many times a week I went to physical therapy at Children's Hospital in Boston, but I would guess at least twice a week. I don't remember much about the sessions except that I seemed to not mind having to put my leg braces on for my first P.T. After all how could I? Her name was Sandy too. Vaguely I remember taking my first steps, ever. She had showed my parents how to properly place my legs inside my braces, making sure my heel was firmly at the bottom of the foot plate. She showed them how the velcro straps were to be snug but not too tight, and the way the metal locks on the side of each brace worked. A little piece would slide up to lock the knee in place and back down when I needed to bend my knee freely.
Sandy the P.T. had dark brown shoulder length hair and it wasn't long after that I asked for the same haircut. I wanted to be exactly like her! It didn't matter how short of a period I would stand for, how high I could lift my leg up by myself, or how much I shook and hesitated in her hands when I made my first steps - her smile stretched a mile long and I knew that if I could I would want to walk every centimeter of it. For that first time, after putting the leg braces on, she picked me up and stood me between two low metal railings. Instinctively I knew I was supposed to grab onto the two sides and as I did so she nudged my back straighter, and positioned my feet so my toes would always "point like a compass!" She dropped the locks on each side of my legs down and held my waist in her hands.
I don't remember if she told me how to pick up my leg, how to crook my ankle just so, and then bend my knee, and roll the bottom of my foot from heel to toe. Something tells me she didn't. Even though I couldn't walk on my own, I knew how to. I had watched my friends, my brothers, my parents, everyone around me was doing it - all I had to do was mimic the motions. It took me a few tries to understand the rhythm of which foot to move when, and then which hand on which rail that I held onto was supposed to move next. Sometimes I would alternate left foot first, and then left hand, followed by right foot and right hand. But that didn't seem natural to me so I alternated between foot and hand, left and right. Sandy the P.T., never criticized the way I walked, the weird shift in body weight that I would do with each step, or how my shoulders were so tense I looked like I was in a permanent shrug. She just let me go for it, and over time would correct my positioning, encourage me to try this or that.

Sandy taught me that physical therapy is more than just rehabbing your body. It's more than recovering from an injury or re-learning how to perform a certain task. The motions are slow, steady, and progressed according to each person and muscle. There's an aspect of exploration to P.T. that I looked forward to as a much younger child, it was during these sessions I knew Sandy would never hurt me - that she'd catch me every time I was afraid or uncertain whether or not my body could handle something. The curiosity that every 3-5 year old has for their physical boundaries was finally something I could delve into without fear or shock of any pain.

Physical Therapy/Early Walkers Suggestions:

  • I remember when my mom was instructed to practice the P.T. routines with me at home she became less my mother and more my physical therapist. It was always one of the few times when she would let herself allow me to try standing on my own or balancing on an exercise ball without resorting to "BE CAREFUL!!!!"
  • Sometimes saying "I know you can do better" can be interpreted as not fulfilling mom or dad's physical expectations. Instead, saying, "do you think you can try again?" Puts the expectations back on the child, letting him or her choose the bar to reach for the day.
  • When I reached elementary/middle school age I would do P.T. during school hours. Friends and teachers would see me practicing walking in the halls; for some kids this is okay and they don't mind the questions or the look of awe when classmates first see them walking, but for other kids it might be too startling or not the right environment.
  • It seemed like the moment I had figured out how to walk with my walker, I had suddenly launched into leaping, skipping, and jumping with my walker. Though I was always having a boat load of fun doing these antics, the adults in my life were frozen with fear. Expect the child to figure out how to do things other than plain old boring "walking" !
  • I remember in elementary school that some times friends would join me for P.T. sessions; this was a great way to inform other kids of what I was doing and also allow me to feel less isolated when I was pulled out of my regular routine in school.
  • After leg injuries sometimes walking just won't feel the same again, or it will take awhile before getting back into that groove. There have been several fractures I've sustained that make bending my knee all the way too painful or the weight I put on one leg more painful than the other. Understand that just because fractures are totally healed doesn't mean that every other function has returned to normal again as well. 

Posted in , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. RSS feed for this post.

2 Responses to First Step Flutters

  1. OK, this is long, sorry!

    One of my first memories I have was when I was about 4 years old. I had on those awful leg braces that looked exactly like the ones Forrest Gump wore in the movie. They were heavy, ugly, and restraining. I didn't like 'em but I wore 'em because I had to. I remember I went off by myself in our house to go exploring and ended up in the bathroom in the back of the house. It was dark so I used the door frame to pull myself up for the light switch. When I got up I couldn't reach it and tried to get myself back down to the floor. One problem, I couldn't bend my locked knees (I still do to this day have no idea why they put locks at the knees) to get back down to the floor. I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to get back down. I ended up losing my grip on the door frame and let's just say, my top part of my body went down while my legs stayed up. My legs ended up bending to the side, breaking my hips. I really don't remember a majority of my breaks but for some reason I never forgot that one. That was the last time I wore those particular braces again. Go into the future about 6-7 years and my doctor wanted me to have braces again. My mom put up many fights regarding them but unfortunately for me she relented. I cried. We went to have them made. I cried. Saw the finished product, cried some more. Instead of an ugly grey, they were now an ugly white. Still heavy, still had nasty velcro (I think that's why I have a disgust for velcro, hate velcro) and still had them dang locks at the knees. I wore them only when I HAD to. I took them to PT and I walked in them. I tried to wear them but I hated every second of it. They were just too heavy and they made my legs hurt. I remember having to sway my entire body to the left and right to get my legs in front of the other to walk. It was horrible! But it was pretty clear; I did MUCH better without them! Even my PT teacher called my doctor and told them how much better I did without them. They just weren't working for me. But he still believed that they were for the best. I just stopped wearing them altogether. Sometimes doctors don't know what's best for you. He finally realized that I was not going to wear them and just gave up. I don't know about anyone else, but if you don't feel comfortable doing something then no way should you be forced to do it. I hated those things with a passion! I threw the white ones away but for some reason I kept the old ones. Well, actually I only have one now. I have no idea where the other one went to but to this day I still have that one somewhere in a box in storage gathering dust.

  2. I have nothing but painful memories of walking with braces! I used them until I was 6 and never went back. I told my parents I wanted to stick to my wheelchair because I felt safer, could move faster and it was much less painful. They totally understood and never argued with me. I can stand and take a step or two but that is it. Plus, I wouldn't have the triceps and biceps I have today without my chair!


Copyright © 2011 Perfectly Imperfecta. Powered by Blogger.