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Walking is a Blessing

I learned to walk again this year. Like a new baby, I had to learn to use my legs and build muscle, which took 10 months of my year. I was told by the surgeon that I was on the lowest end of the spectrum for healing length needed for my bones to grow back together. It sucked, I had a PAO (Peri Acetabular Osteotomy) surgery because I was born with my hip bones in the wrong place causing me to constantly lose feeling and ability in my leg.

Seeing Temple Square Christmas lights from my Wheelchair.

It was one of the hardest things my partner at the time and I have yet to go through and we were long distance the first 2 years of our relationship.

“Through sickness, or health,”

You don’t realize how hard that promise will be until it one partner is stuck doing all the dishes, making all the food, doing all the cleaning, and taking care of the dog, because the other partner can’t walk, bend, or move very far without intense pain. I learned the depth of love my partner has for me when he did not allow me to stand and do dishes, because as he said, “Why waste your standing time behind the sink.”

Anyway, enough about me, I am going to tell you what I learned about the world from learning to walking again.

It was always interesting to watch others as Kenyan and I get out of the car to go into the grocery store. He would unfold out of our car and rising to his 6’6” height with his 12-year-old dreads flailing in the wind. He is familiar with being somewhat unique in Salt Lake City, Utah as half African-American; he receives stares daily. As I stay in the car, he would go to the back of our little green Subaru Forester and lift out the old rusty, blue wheelchair my dad sent me in the mail—it was my step-grandmother’s before she passed. He would then come open my door help me lift my right leg out. I did not have feeling in my thigh muscle for several months. Kenyan would help place me in the wheelchair. The constant looks people gave us were of curiosity, fear, and odd judgments. I say fear, because I think people saw me and realized tragedy could surprise anyone. But, my favorite is the children, babies often innocently stare at Kenyan here in Salt Lake. His dreads are not a common thing for babies to be seeing around Utah. Now in my wheelchair I was at the same level as many babies in strollers I felt like we had a new connection—I always gave them a knowing nod. As for adults, I felt like people were just staring us down trying to figure out what the heck was going on. How could such a normal looking couple be going through such a tragedy or sickness, they would ask themselves, not able to hide the questioning on their face. Before this experience together people often stared at us just for being an interracial couple, but add an injury and suddenly strangers feel they have permission to stare at us with length.

It seems based on my observations that people take for granted the ability to walk and to have hands free to carry things. I can now use a cell phone in one hand while carrying groceries. Crutches or a cane do not allow this sort of basic multitasking. I can finally carry two things at once without extreme focus on balance. I can carry a snack and a drink at one time, imagine that! I often go to Trader Joe's and now I can keep shopping while also enjoying the sample they always have out. I can now be considerate of others by carrying a drink for a friend along with my own. Now being able to walk feels like a secret, people don’t look at me and know I am thinking intently about my core, about my leg muscles, and about keeping my shoulder blades down. It makes me feel like a secret superhero for others not looking at me with sympathy anymore. The nice thing about walking devices is that conversations with strangers become daily as others always want to know why this healthy looking twenty-five year old seems to be disabled.

One annoying thing I have noticed from being in a wheelchair for three months and on crutches for six that people do not look up from their phones very often. I can’t be too judgmental about this fact, because my partner was an avid Pokemon Go player and this does require people to stare at their phones. But, let’s at least be aware of the few feet in front of us so we don’t trip over a wheelchair. In Salt Lake, people always felt awful about being oblivious to anything, but their phone when they ran straight into me, as I was unable to hobble fast enough out of their way. I traveled to a few big cities during my recovery: San Francisco, Boston, and New York—people were not as worried about looking up from their phone and apologizing for running into me when they mauled me over.

When learning to walk again each muscle is important. Learning to walk incorrectly can have life long consequences. This process has felt like starting over—a rebirth if you will—in many different aspects. The opportunity to learn to walk again presents an opportunity to learn to walk correctly this time around. This is something valuable that my patience is having to learn to appreciate.

If ever I am feeling sad, which this year has been full of tears, I look down and realize I am walking and smile. It is an amazing sensation that can be hard to explain. During this process I used to watch television and look at people walking with jealousy. One doesn’t realize how emotional walking is until you can’t walk. The the inability to do two things with my hands at once while walking or walking across the room to grab your glass of water, seems like the emotional weight of the world. I became somewhat of a lucid dreamer this year, just because if I was walking in my dream I would realize that it was a dream, because I couldn’t walk in real life. This was an empowering skill to acquire.

Posing with my crutch in Salem, MA.

Naturally, I have had to learn balance all over again. As I was previously pursing yoga, this feels embarrassing, but as many yogis will tell you, doing the basics over and over again is never a bad thing. You learn something each time you do the same move, even if you have done that move 1,000 times. If I wanted to have more than one beverage, I had to recall my serving days and remember how to carry two waters in one hand. Some days my forearm muscles would hurt more than my leg muscles.

Recovering in Salt Lake City has been wonderful because people here are unnecessarily nice. Many people will hold the door for a cripple even if you are a several minute walk away. A big thing I had to learn was allowing people to help me. Often, even with my partner, I would be annoyed that he wasn’t helping me, but he informed me that I had to ask. Oh, he can’t read my mind? Being injured allowed me the ability to give people the opportunity to help me.

When we think about karma we usually think about ourselves explicitly. But can we create good karma for someone by asking them to help us out? Asking people to carry things for me or retrieve things across the room for me caused me to feel helpless, but am I creating good karma for a stranger by asking them for help?

Learning to stand without a crutch like babies learning to walk!
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