Learning to Walk…..Again

Losing one’s mobility is no small issue. For me, it came out of the blue, out of nowhere, blindsided me. Namely, it bit me, and I’ll let you guess where.

It occurred getting up out of bed. Looking back, I knew it happened, and in my imagination, I can hear it tear. I am talking about my quad tendon, that thing that connects my quad muscle to the patella. It is the fiber that connects the muscle to bone. In a strange, unintended way, my twist of my knee tore this “fibrous collagen tissue”, detaching my quad muscle from my knee.

The orthopedic surgeon knew quickly what needed to be done. A re-connection  of the tendon to the knee. This would require drilling some holes into the knee cap, fishing the tendon out from its retraction, and reattaching it with strong space-age thread. Sounds fun, huh?

The surgical procedure is actually pretty quick, an hour and a half at most. And that’s when the fun begins. The leg that has been repaired must be immobilized for three weeks, with no weight on the leg itself.

After that one begins physical therapy that seems to go on forever, and in the words of Texas balladeer, Joe Ely, “and the party never ends!” Friends and new acquaintances came out of the woodwork, relating their particular and peculiar experiences with torn tendons. Having never heard of a quad tear before, I was all ears as they told their amazing stories of how they tore the tendon, but then, the hard road back through therapy.

Now, my particular journey has been a tough one. First, the initial surgery was not successful, so I had to have what is known in the trade as a redo. Not fun. And on top of that, the second surgery by a noted surgeon to NFL stars also was not successful, leaving me without the natural tendon that make the connection work. It has meant doubling up on my physical therapy to strengthen my leg to not buckle when I walk. It has meant using a walker to get around, which has heightened my awareness of accessibility issues. I am just now beginning to use a cane to give me some security in my walking. Fortunately, I have had some amazing physical therapists who are not only technically savvy but have kept my spirit high with their encouragement.

I literally am learning to walk again. I am using the cane to support me as I relearn the normal moves that we make when we walk. I am slowly losing my fear, my self-consciousness as I move one leg and then the other.  Slowly, slowly, as my old Buddhist teacher used to urge me in learning to meditate, I am walking.

It has brought me an awareness of my body that is new. It has raised my level of gratitude for each level and moment of freedom that I am recovering. And, it has pressed me to wake up in some new ways that I did not expect.

One new moment actually was recalling an old memory. When my son, Thomas, was learning to walk, I remember, as first-time parents, how nervous we were. I remember being in our Candler Park home, with our Black Lab, Judson, sitting, patiently watching as Thomas would crawl about on the living room floor. I remember wondering what Jud thought about his human brother’s awkward efforts on his all-fours.

I remember the day when Thomas pushed himself up to stand for the first time. I was so nervous that he might fall flat on his proverbial face. He stood up, holding onto the coffee table, holding on with one hand, as he balanced precariously. He seemed to be frozen in time as he surveyed his prospects. Did I catch a smile breaking onto his face as I thought about that one small step for man…..no, that must have been gas.

After pausing for what seemed like a century, he released, he let go of his hold on the home base of the table. He stood independent, a person unto himself, free of the bonds of the table but still entrapped by the force of gravity that threatened to pull him down to the floor, back to ground zero, literally.

Suddenly, he took his first step, leaning forward putting his right leg out, allowing his foot to catch his movement. And then he swung his left leg out, joining his left foot parallel to his first step. And he paused. There was  not doubt as to the source of this grin. Sheer joy.

I watched Thomas as he slowly, slowly mastered the art of walking, of moving independently across the room. And as I trained my observation of his movement, a breakthrough thought came to me. When he leaned forward to move, his foot and leg caught him so that he did not fall to the floor.

The reality broke in upon me, new father and fresh observer: Walking is, in fact, a controlled fall. One leans into the space in front, trusting gravity to advance one’s position, but trusting that one’s foot and leg will stop the fall. In a miraculous combination of movement, one’s legs choreograph this falling forward into a stride. Through time., it becomes second nature, and the simple act of walking becomes automatic.

Now, I am learning that lesson again. Observing and participatory. I am the one who is very much aware of gravity and its effects, even its threat to dash me below in a pile. As I move with Sean, Abby, and Stephen, my physical therapist-dance partners, I am relearning to walk, to lean into the future, to fall with the trust I will find a way to control the fall. I’ve been doing it, taking laps around the clinic, and I swear to God, a smile breaks out on my old face. And, I promise, it’s not gas.

5 thoughts on “Learning to Walk…..Again

  1. David, today’s column was providential for me. I fell on the ice a few weeks ago and landed on my knee. When it didn’t get better, I went to the doctor. After x-rays and an MRI, I learned that I have severe arthritis in that knee, which had never bothered me until my fall irritated it. I returned to the doctor today to hear that I am now a candidate for knee replacement surgery. As painful as it was, hearing your story brought some comfort to me. So thank you, and prayers for your continued healing.


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