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Thursday, July 9, 2015

Crutches: Survival Tips

The word itself sounds painful.

Crutches.

It sounds like crunch got together with the word lunge and formed an appropriate onomatopoeia for what it feels like to walk with crutches. A little bit of a hobble, a lot of pressure in all the wrong muscle groups, and a complete lack of coordination. My hands are sore too.

Nobody warns you about the real setbacks of being on crutches. The nurse taught you how to "use" the crutches, but they really should have an obstacle course that must be passed before leaving the hospital. The change involves so much more than not being able to get up and walk wherever you want as quickly as you want. Using crutches is a full body activity that impairs your ability to carry things and pick things up and use stairs. It will require extreme balance from you in formerly simple tasks like brushing your teeth or opening doors.

I'm not very coordinated anyway. But on crutches, I'm a complete klutz. It's probably more treacherous for me to be walking with crutches than it would be for me just to put weight on the foot that just had surgery. Most dangerous of all is a nighttime bathroom trip. Being half asleep presents problems in getting down the hallway on a normal night. (I've actually run smack into walls before.) On crutches, it feels like I'm trying to walk while standing on a plate that's spinning on the top of a stick in a circus.

Doors are a problem too. If they open by pushing in, you can usually use your body to get through with little to no strain. But if it's a door that opens by pulling, it takes a bit more time and effort. You have to be close enough to the door to release a hand from your crutch, lean with your armpit on that crutch, and open that door while still leaving enough room to get through it and yet open it a distance that gives you enough time get your hand back on your crutch and swiftly crutch through the door before it closes on you and potentially knocks you to the ground from behind. It is no small feat.

My clumsiness notwithstanding, I've gotten really creative about navigating formerly simple and familiar tasks. For example, getting my morning cup of tea used to involve a dash into the kitchen to turn the stove on and a dash back to it when the kettle whistled. Picking out a mug was usually the most time-consuming part of the process, because I have so many favorites. These days, I have to wrestle with a bit more than whether to sip from the cherished Peter Pan mug or the witty "Keep Calm and Drink Tea" mug. The process now, though streamlined over the past two weeks, has a few more steps. The trick is to make as few trips across the kitchen as possible while carrying as much as possible without sacrificing stability. Making good use of every possible flat surface is important as well. Here I present to you some helpful instructions for fellow tea-lovers who will experience the obstacles of making tea on crutches. Take courage, friends! The odds need not be insurmountable with this handy guide.

Making Tea While on Crutches: A Guide
1. Crutch to the kitchen and hope the tea kettle is already filled with water.
2. If it is, turn on the stove and let it start heating up.
3. Crutch carefully to the cabinet.
4. Select a teacup.
5. Choose a tea.
6. Return to the stove carrying the teacup and teabag in your dominant hand clutched between your palm and the crutch handle. Usually, enough time has elapsed that the water is close to boiling. If not, just stand there and wait for it be done. It's not worth the trip back to the chair.
7. Pour the water into the cup. (Also turn the stove off.)
8. Slide the tea across the counter as far as possible, and as gently as possible, until you can't reach it anymore.
9. Crutch a few steps.
10. Repeat steps 8-9 until you reach the place you want to sit down or the end of the counter. Which ever comes first.
11. If the latter is the case, you'll need to artfully complete step 11. (Warning, this takes some practice. Don't give up if you spill scalding tea on yourself the first time around.) Spread your crutches as far apart as they will safely go and use the hand closest to your destination to reach over to the counter and gracefully grasp the handle of the teacup swinging it to the nearest flat surface as you also shift your weight to reach a chair with your good foot at the same time. Obviously, you need a good arrangement of chair and table to do this well. Having a friend situate this the night before will be helpful.
12. Enjoy your tea. If you aren't too exhausted or irritated to do so at this point. And Heaven forbid that you should sit down and then realize that you have to use the restroom.

Another word of advice for crutch-users is to prepare for attention from the public. Really, as you and I know, it's not all that interesting or uncommon to see a person on crutches. At least, I didn't think so. But since my foot surgery I feel the intense gazes of normal people everywhere I go. Some of them try to strike up a conversation. Their level of success engaging with an introvert on crutches varies. Some express sympathy, and I guess that's kind of nice. Others actually ask what happened, and that is not so nice. I find it a bit intrusive. But so far I've managed to handle these conversations with tact and humor. Prepare yourself, though, for those who don't share your appreciation for politeness. Like the guy carrying a bed frame through the store the other day. He held the metal bars vertically and smiled down at me.

"Would you like me pound this on your foot?"

I blinked and tried to step around my shock to mumble something expressing my lack of desire to have my surgically-booted foot thwacked by a stranger with a household item turned weapon.

He laughed. "Come here. I'll take care of that foot for you."

This had turned quickly from awkward to creepy. Still, I tried to smile and let the rudeness of a complete stranger roll off.

"Um...no, I'm good. Thanks." The response was lame, but it was all I could think of. I'm not quick witted off paper. Some shoppers stepped between us, and I tried to crutch away before having to think of anything else to say. I didn't escape in time.

"Well, how about the other one? I could make them match!" He called it after me as I passed.

The strange man thought this was wildly hilarious. While he laughed uproariously, I said a little more loudly, "NO! Really...I'm fine." and crutched away as fast as I could.

One more bit of advice is don't expect to get off your crutches early. I made the mistake of encouraging myself over a span of three days that I was "almost done" based on a passing comment from my doctor that "not everyone needs four weeks to heal." I used that statement, combined with her encouraging first post-op report, to convince myself that I'd be crutch free two weeks after surgery. I am a bit embarrassed to say that when the doctor told me that I was "normal," and that it would take the usual four weeks to get me back to weight bearing status, I burst into tears. Don't fool yourself. Make friends, or at least cooperating enemies, with your crutches and prepare for the long haul. Go to the library beforehand and find a friend who is willing to text you all day.

Lastly, though trials and pitfalls will most certainly arise, do not give up.
The day will come when you will toss aside those torturous aids and walk tall again.
Until then, just keep calm and crutch on.

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