Transitioning from Walker to Crutches

Maybe it was around the time I started jumping, skipping, and running in my walker that my physical therapist decided to switch to crutches. Mind you it wasn't the kind of crutches that dig a deeper pit beneath your arms but the kind you slip your wrists through, and then grip. I'd had my red walker since I was in Kindergarten till the fifth grade, and very rarely did the arm rests need adjusting (maybe once every 3-4 years?). My red walker was like my own mini-fort of safety, confidence, and independence. There were four prongs, the front two were wheels and the rear prongs had rubber stoppers. There was a front piece to it that served to connect everything together, and in my mind also served to stop me from falling over or from otherwise getting hurt. I used to turn around and sit on that front piece (even though it wasn't really a seat, and even though my P.T. said it wasn't safe). I could put my entire weight on that walker! I was able to lift it just enough off the ground to be able to turn corners, or even do a full 360 turn-around. Suffice to say I felt safe in that walker, it was with that piece of equipment that I learned to take my first independent steps in.
So when all of the safety, comfort, and security was stripped away from me I got nervous. Immediately the first thing I noticed while wobbling in my crutches was: there is nothing in front of me. My face could see the immediate floor in front of me. I then noticed how much of my weight I had distributed throughout my forearms with the walker. In crutches all of my weight seemed to be leaning on to two metal extensions, resting on rubber stoppers that were never completely flat on the ground - but instead always at an odd tilt, this made me nervous. What if it slipped? All I could see in my head was the replay of me face planting onto the pavement, crutches flying with arms and legs pointed in every which direction - kind of like a cartoon dog slipping about on ice skates.What if I forgot which I was supposed to move first - my leg or my arm? With the walker everything seemed so basic, so intuitive, it seemed like I had to relearn and reteach my body how to walk again. Had I really taken steps towards my independence? Or was I now just re-inventing the wheel?

"Okay, so which do you want to use today?" My middle school physical therapist had both my red walker and my new silver crutches in front of me. Without hesitation I pointed at my red walker.
"Well let's do some walking with your crutches first okay? And then we can play soccer in your walker, does that sound good?" 
"Fiiiine-uhhh" I grumbled.
Slowly and with a lot of patience from my physical therapist my body became used to the crutches. I found that I was able to stand with a lot more ease, move quicker, and suddenly my movement seemed to flow a lot more naturally. I was no longer pushing and jerking myself forward. Everything seemed so intuitive after a few weeks: I knew just how much to put my crutch forward without over-extending myself, I could match where my foot stepped to with where my crutch was, I understood the cross-rotating pattern of left-right-left-right-crutch-foot-crutch-foot. The weight on the palm of my hands where I gripped loosened over time, I was no longer as nervous, I was no longer scared of my new boundary-less independence.

It became clear to me that I became comfortable in my crutches when I used them on my own, at home. I knew that I preferred my crutches when I chose them over my walker when my physical therapist asked. And most of all my crutches soon became a natural part of my school day when I felt comfortable enough to walk with them around my friends at school. I was no longer limiting my use of the crutches when everyone else was in study hall and the pathways were safe for me to exercise in. I'd use them to go to lunch, I used them during P.E. class, and sometimes during the day when I was tired of sitting in my wheelchair.

The decision to switch from a walker to crutches reminded me of how resilient my body is despite its genetic fragility. It still shocks me how adaptable we are and how with practice even the most challenging and daunting experiences can become second nature to all of us.

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One Response to Transitioning from Walker to Crutches

  1. Good post. I have had my walker and crutches since I was about 6. I actually got my wheelchair first (if I am remembering correctly). I still have both my original walker and crutches and they have only been adjusted about twice lol. Off topic but me and my brother used to turn the crutches upside down and turn up the arm slip and pretend they were rifles. haha! So we got more use out them than just walking. I still use my crutches daily but I just don't care for walking. I'm slow at it and it hurts! Lol


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