Gimpin’ ain’t easy…

January 23, 2008

For the last two weeks, I’ve been adjusting to one-legged life. Not the easiest life, let me tell you. I had never truly appreciated having mobility until I was given a cast and directions to stay off my right foot altogether. Even simple things like brushing my teeth and changing underwear are no longer so simple… to say nothing about the complexities and nuances involved in showering, with one leg bearing all my weight and the other wrapped in a trashbag.

Transitioning from fully mobile one day to hobbling along the next was far more painful than I had let anyone realize. My first week on crutches knotted up my back and damn near destroyed my wrists. At first, I told myself “Eh, crutches can’t be that bad, right?” The first day, that proved true. Granted, I kept trying to defiantly walk on my freshly-splinted foot and throw down the crutches in protest, but to get any sort of distance, the crutches were sort of necessary. Thank God I had spent the last year building upper body strength – walking on crutches would have been a nightmare for my arms and shoulders otherwise. Contrary to common knowledge, when using crutches, you’re supposed to put all of your weight on your hands during strides, instead of simply resting your armpits on top of the crutches. Many aren’t strong enough to follow those directions, but not wanting to risk underarm nerve damage, I always put full weight on the handles while crutching. “Great upper body workout,” I figured. Just one problem: my wrists weren’t accustomed to supporting the full weight of a 6’6″ guy with such frequency. So, instead of feeling the usual armpit soreness that first-time crutchgoers tend to feel, I woke up the next day with awful wrist pains that nearly kept me from going back to work.

Yup, you read that right. “Nearly” kept me from going to work. Instead of having the good sense to stay home, rest, and wait until my foot could be put in a permanent cast, I picked up that pair of crutches and headed out. The first stop was the Rite Aid on the way to the Metro. The clinic doctor had given me a Percocet prescription the day before… who am I to argue with doctor’s orders? Besides, even having hobbled the mere 600 feet from my apartment door to the pharmacy, my aching wrists were already signaling that my crutches would need some padding. I still find it absurd that I needed pain meds less for the underlying injury (broken foot) than for the fresh pain that the treatment (crutches) had prompted. Why the crutch designers couldn’t make those handles comfortable enough for a single painless day of crutching is beyond me, but as it stood, those handles needed some serious padding. I waited for the prescription to be filled and, seeing no specialized “crutch padding,” took the advice of a friend. With dishrags hanging from my belt and a roll of duct tape around my left forearm, I awkwardly crutched to the counter, paid for the crutch “upgrades,” and sat down on a nearby bench to wrap the rags around the handles and use the tape to secure them. Once my prescription was ready, it was off to the office.

Walking with crutches was agonizing at first, and not just because of the wrist pangs. Stairs were a mortal enemy, slowing me down at best and threatening slippage/tumbling/death at worst. I would have to stop every hundred feet or so to catch my breath, and sweating through my wool coat was far from sexy. Having misplaced my only backpack, I could carry only what could be easily hooked onto a finger or two. And all the while, my constantly searing wrists, arms, shoulders, and back made me constantly contemplate hiding in bed for six weeks straight. Even now, several weeks later, discomfort follows me day and night. The pain of sore upper body muscles and joints has given way to purple, throbbing toes from poor circulation in the cast and midnight calf cramps from leg underuse.

The biggest surprise of the few days after the accident was my bitter attitude toward people around me. To be sure, the aches and pains of initial crutch-wielding would be enough to turn anyone a little sour, but my bad mood bled into my default perceptions of others. Rathern than simply treating others’ random acts of kindness (holding doors, giving up seats, etc.) as blessings, I constantly looked for signs of discourtesy and grew angrier at the sight of any act that could be construed as willful ignorance toward my hardship. It was the strangest damn feeling… and from from a person who believes in the universal, genuine good of people and normally lacks any sense of entitlement. In that sense, being injured was bad for my ego in opposite senses that somehow made for a brutal one-two punch: being in pain and partially immobilized brought on feelings of helplessness and dependence while spurring narcissism and cynicism.

Fortunately, the internal melodrama of those first few days subsided, and my typically good-humored self reemerged from behind the smiling face that I had previously painted on. Despite my differently-abledness and the occasional urge to toss my crutches out the nearest window, I’ve spent the last few weeks being productive by day and social by night. Whoda thunkit? More on the upside of gimpiness later.

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