Just shy of 10 years ago, I fell off a 6-ft ladder helping my then husband finish a remodeling job. It was supposed to be relatively simple: I was to climb the ladder perched in a closet, and check on how evenly the insulation was being sprayed in. When I headed back down, the ladder collapsed and I fell with all my weight on my right foot.
Over time, I noticed increasing pain and weakness in that ankle. Dancing wasn’t as fun anymore. Hiking and then simple walking became painful. I started favoring the edge of my right foot, instead of employing the heel-middle-toe flow of a normal gait.
I tried numerous therapies for my ankle, and eventually a physical therapist recommended an MRI to see just what was going on. The MRI showed that the cartilage between my subtalar joint and main heel bone had all but disappeared. No wonder I was in pain: it was literally a bone-on-bone situation under my foot! I finally had surgery at the end of January this year to insert two large screws that would help fuse the bones together. After eight weeks in a cast, flat on my back following surgery, I started the long process of re-learning how to walk.
I felt similar to my friend Jan, who told me years ago that she felt “old” because she had to use a cane to walk. My physical therapist took one look at my limping and my evident pain right after my cast came off and said, “Use one crutch. You have to take off the pressure on your heel and retrain your foot how to move from heel, to middle, to toe again.” This felt like a setback to me, until I realized that by using one crutch, I was able to concentrate and be deliberate about how I was using my foot. After all, due to the pain, I’d been walking incorrectly for over 10 years. Retraining takes time…and a whole lot of patience.
A single crutch became my “companion” for several weeks. At the same time, I felt older, as if I had suddenly aged several years overnight. Was it because I was moving slower than usual? Or was it the darn crutch? Even though I knew that without the one crutch, I would not have been able to focus on re-learning how to walk properly once again.
The combination of slowing down and using an assistive device certainly served to remind me I was not getting any younger—and I don’t see this as a negative, but a fact; we’re all aging, Using that one crutch was crucial to my recovery.
I hope that some day soon, we will view slowing down or using assistive devices as positive, rather than negative. Just because we may need to rely on canes or crutches to help us does not mean we’re “old” in the traditional, stereotypical manner that accompanies aging. Sometimes growing older just means we may need a little help. After an accident we may also need help. Neither are negative, but simply facts of life.