The Little Step
It has been one year since my calcaneal osteotomy and ankle tendon repair surgery. Not fully understanding the severity of my condition at the time, I anticipated a simple procedure with a rapid recovery. Since I never experienced a medical invasion of my body, I was more concerned with the anesthesia on the morning of the surgery and I really did not focus on the actual operation. I even took time to polish my toenails so that the operating room staff would have something colorful to look at.
After the event, the surgeon told me that it was “the worst ankle that he had ever seen” and that the severed tendons were clustered on the side of my foot like a serving of cooked spaghetti. As a result, the operating time was doubled to accommodate the implementation of two grafts resulting in a scar imitating a worn railroad track which traces four inches along the side of my left foot and up five inches from my ankle bone.
This was my first clue that “ the old gray mare just ain’t what she used to be”.
“Non-weight bearing” was the order for the first 8 weeks. The progression was humbling. I went from bed rest to the use of a walker and a wheel chair for doctor and therapy visits, and used a knee-scooter to navigate the kitchen at home. While not yet cleared to drive, I was pretty much housebound for this duration and I was reduced to scooting up and down the stairs on my butt with my leg in a heavy Cam walking boot for protection. Finally when I was allowed to go back to school, I reluctantly relied upon a cane while gingerly using my still booted foot.
And then there was “the little step”.
Our family room is divided from the rest of the first floor level by a 6-inch singular step. It is just one small division between the kitchen and this major living space. I never really paid much attention to this barrier before, except when my grandchildren were learning to walk. I would stand guard by this potential hazard as they figured out how to turn around and crawl down safely to the soft carpet.
But now for me as an adult, “the little step” was a physical barrier that prevented my access to the family room, the hub of evening activities. It was almost as if there was an invisible fence that kept me from entering. The first time I tried to navigate down “the little step” I was very nervous. I had to carefully place my walker out in front of me on the carpet below and lean forward to lift myself up, balancing on the metal support until I could hop down on my good foot. Still a bit wobbly, I had to be careful not to tip over with the weight of the heavy boot and of course I could not put any weight on my recovering ankle. Sounds easy, huh? Well, perhaps for the Flying Wallendas, but not for me. The short distance grew to the size of the Grand Canyon in my mind as my confidence shrunk and my anxiety multiplied.
Trying to maintain my sense of independence and personal dignity, I did not want to ask for help. I started to sweat as I placed the walker in front of me and finally after contemplating my next move for a few minutes, I launched myself off the kitchen floor with a death grip on my walker. Success! The cripple had landed.
I slowly hopped over to my spot on the couch as my husband calmly glanced at me while watching TV. He did not fully appreciate my accomplishment, but I was quite relieved .
But then came the return trip over “the little step”.
I had not factored in a retreat plan. A backwards hop did not seem possible so when I got to “the little step” I just sat down in despair with my leg out-stretched. Unable to turn around and pull myself up from this position I reluctantly summoned for help.
“Tom, I can’t get up” I whimpered.
Feeling like the old woman in the television advertisement for that electronic signaling device, I could hear my meek voice echo in the large room. My husband got off the couch with ease and stood over me wondering why I could not move. I explained that I had nothing to push up on and that I needed him to lift me. With a confused look and a grunt he reached down and grabbed me under the arms to hoist me back up. The first attempt did not go very well and I felt unsteady in his arms. Again we tried and he yelled out in pain when I was fully erect, “Oh, my back! I can’t do this again.” Now I am not a particularly large woman, but I guess dead weight and a useless leg coupled with his bad back is problematic.
After that debacle I felt defeated and I slowly retreated back upstairs. In my head I was starting to build up a greater barrier from my false pride and self-pity. I did not want to be a burden so I foolishly put off trying again for awhile thus making “the little step” even bigger. The rectangular piece of wood now represented my loss of independence and highlighted my temporary fragile physical state.
Isn’t it curious how sometimes we can build imaginary walls? In a weakened condition we can blow out of proportion a challenge and thus box ourselves out of life. I made my predicament much greater than it needed to be and it resulted in negative emotions and a feeling of isolation. I was vulnerable as a result of my physical being, but I did not need to be emotionally disabled too.
“Stand up to your obstacles and do something about them. You will find that they haven’t half the strength you think they have.” (Norman Vincent Peale)
My sister , who works with elderly patients, came to my rescue when I told her about my plight. She suggested that I place one of the kitchen chairs next to the top of “the little step”. I could easily lean onto the low seat from the carpet with my walker, sit, and swivel around to access my knee scooter. Wow! What a simple fix. I was so busy concerning myself with what I could NOT do that I did not see what I COULD do.
I learned a lot from that experience and I hope in the future when life gives me another challenge that I can pull the focus away from the negative and put it back on to the positive where it belongs.
We all will have difficulties in our lives and I hope we can see through the moments of disappointment or despair and mine deeper to find the treasures that we still have.
Each time that I go down “the little step” I smile and realize how far I have come. It looks so silly and insignificant to me now and I wonder how I let it become so big.
Don’t get caught building false barriers, construct bridges instead.