Attitude is Ability’s strongest supporter.
I’ve always taken my health for granted. I’ve been blessed with sound bones, fairly well functioning internal organs, and muscles that do what I ask them to do, not that I ask very often. But I do enjoy a good walk, which is what I was doing when I found my foot flopping at the end of my leg.
My wife and I were visiting her family to enjoy the Carnival on Terceira Island. It was the middle of February and the weather was so much better than our usual Minnesota we walked a lot. We were strolling on the way into town to eat dinner when I tripped over my own feet a couple of times but didn’t think of it as we’d just spent two days traveling and I was still tired. On our way back after dinner, I noticed my gait was different. I usually glide along, my head barely rising and falling with each step, but that night my right foot slapped down jarringly.
I became careful, slowing my speed and experimenting with my foot. It wasn’t rising with each step and when I stood still and tried to flex it, nothing happened.
I searched my mind, wondering what I might have done to make my foot behave this way. Then I remembered a silly thing that happened during a visit to a friend’s store earlier in the day. We were chatting on a steep loading dock, facing uphill at an angle of 20-25 degrees. Since I speak limited Portuguese and family and friends were catching up with shotgun fire rapidity, I let my mind wander.
I’ve recently lost a lot of weight (nearing ninety pounds), which has made me more body conscious than I’ve ever been before. One part of me that is not nearly so rounded as it once was, is my tush. I used to have a round butt but after losing so much weight (not to mention the hours and hours of sitting required of authors) it has flattened considerably. I wondered if I could encourage a nice muscular flex of the booty by (get this) rising up on my toes on the incline. I know it makes no sense but I was still tired from traveling. So up on my toes, I went. My legs immediately cramped and I dropped back to my feet, massaged away a charlie horse, and continued on with my day until that walk down to dinner when I first noticed the foot drop.
The next day when things hadn’t improved, I phoned my sister the doctor. Nothing hurt, if anything my leg was numb from the knee down, but the toes and ball of the foot would not rise. She advised massage, ankle flexing exercises and to continue walking everywhere.
Foot drop, that’s what it’s called because that’s what it is. I could flex my toes forward, but not raise them back up, so my foot hung loosely at the end of my leg whenever I took a step. To do the exercises prescribed by Dr. Sis I had to lift my right leg, position it over the ledge I was using to brace and let the foot drop from there.
It was a nightmare and I wasn’t pleased that there was no improvement. To make matters worse, the left leg also developed foot drop a day later. Both feet dragged now unless I marched like a marionette. My wife was solicitous and we both noticed I was also having difficulty with balance. Even standing still I could lose my equilibrium.
I didn’t get home to America for another three weeks, so I stretched every day, massaged numb legs like crazy and walked as much as I could, even though very tiring compared to how easy it was before this happened. To avoid stumbling over toes that dragged the ground I had to either step high (a kind of prancing move) or swing my leg in a half circle before setting down (think Festus from Gunsmoke). I walked slowly to minimize either movement.
Which was fine in a place that’s much slower paced than America. After landing at La Guardia and clearing Customs, I found myself jostled and hurried down long corridors to catch another flight. I have a suitcase with four wheels that always seems hard to push along and I stumbled over my feet and took a header on the carpet. Not fun. I learned to hug the wall, the apparent internationally agreed upon space for handicapped folks who dare to walk, and that people stared as I walked with my crazy, toe-pointed ballerina-type mincing step so I could hurry.
For reasons too personal to go into, I was away from my own medical care for another month. Dr. Sis suggested it might be neurological, sending me immediately to the internet. I found tale after tale of people who live with drop foot continuously, with no expectation of improvement or regaining full function of their feet. Most of these cases were neurological and several were pulmonary, symptoms following a stroke or heart-attack. I grew despondent. But then I found a single comment from someone who said yes, it was reversible. He did the same stretching exercises I did and commented about massage and orthopedic devices.
And there were signs of improvement. My right foot began to flex slightly again, sending me into a frenzy of renewed massage and stretching exercises. I used an adjustable boot I’d worn for a severe case of plantar fasciitis a few years back and tightened it so my toes flexed upward while I slept, alternating night and feet. I rigged my walking shoes with elastic around the farthest lace and an ankle strap to improve my gait. And I walked, slowly, it’s true, and not far. Nevertheless, I persevered.
That was almost three months ago. I haven’t mentioned it online because why would it matter? Either I’d continue to walk with a noticeable limp, or I would heal. Either way, I had nothing to say until now. But along the way, I learned something important I’m sharing today.
Don’t take the act of walking for granted.
If you walk without a limp, bless your lucky stars. The ability to ambulate easily is an underappreciated miracle, pure and simple.
Appreciate your feet today. Walk around the block, varying your speed every time you turn a corner. Run a few steps, stop, twirl on your toes, and run back. Watch other people’s feet as they walk, flexing their feet with every step. Hop up on a curb and descend stairs quickly. Tiptoe somewhere, and dance. Dance like there’s no tomorrow because you never know when you’ll suddenly face a different reality. Enjoy the blessing of healthy feet and legs every minute that you have them.
And if your lower extremities are struggling to regain function or health, hang in there. Do the work, trust in change, and believe in yourself. Pat yourself on the back for every incremental improvement. Know that whatever you’re struggling with will get better, either because you change it or because you learn effective methods of adjustment. You can reach your goals, one stretch/massage/step/walk/run at a time.
I’m happy to report that my right foot is now almost back to normal, and my left foot is improving steadily. Although I’m not there yet, I expect to be able to forget my feet as I walk around the GCLS 2017 conference in Chicago come July 6th. If you see me, stop and say “Hi!”