My Right Foot: My New Wheels

I have been training for a marathon. No, not the road race. I have been prepping for the medical recovery marathon after surgery on my right foot. And now one week since the surgery, I am so glad I went through that rigorous program of exercises.

Back in February I was feeling a bit discouraged when I told Nikki, the trainer at my gym, the news that I was up for foot surgery sometime in the summer. I was surprised by her reaction: “Okay, we better not waste time. Let’s get started on your training!”

I pride myself on being disciplined about staying in shape. I go to the gym regularly, I do lots of cardio on my own plus playing sports like tennis, biking and ice skating. But Nikki amped up my normal regimen. The goal was to build more upper body strength so I could walk with crutches and also to increase core strength so I could balance all my weight on my healthy left foot.

For the past five months, I’ve gone through strenuous circuit training exercises: pull ups, pull downs, push ups, sit ups, single left lifts (on the good foot and the injured foot), arm raises, squats, weight lifting on a single leg, calf stretches, ab workouts, interval training on the stationary bike (the only cardio activity permitted by my surgeon), and a multitude of other maneuvers.

The payoff has been immediate. On the very day of my surgery, when I had to transfer myself from the operating room stretcher bed to the room bed, I was told to slowly glide across from one to the other. “Take your time,” the nurse cautioned. But I lifted up my body and in two quick swoops I did it. “Wow! Great upper body strength!” the nurse exclaimed. I felt triumphant, as if I had won the marathon.

I am now using crutches to get around, and I am glad I did all those arduous bicep and tricep exercises. I need those muscles to walk with crutches. It is hard using crutches and moving short distances takes a toll on just about every muscle. It doesn’t help that the temporary splint wrapped around my foot is so heavy (I think it weighs 10 pounds) is acting like a dead weight. Also, even simple things, like getting up from a chair, require strength—and more than you might think.

It amazes me that with so much innovation and new technology in orthopedic medicine—like knee replacements and hip replacements—the basic design of crutches has not changed for centuries. They are the same cumbersome, wobbly devices people have been using since pre-historic times. Egyptian tomb paintings going back to 2830 BC show people using wooden crutches with underarm padding. In 1917, French mechanical engineer, Emile Schlick, patented a walking stick that is considered the first commercially produced form of crutches, but it looked just like old-time crutches. Thirty years later A.R. Lofstrand patented the first design for crutches that could be adjusted to the height of the user. That’s about it—pretty basic stuff.

But there are some hi-tech gadgets that have come out that can help patients with foot and leg injuries. They don’t work going up and down stairs, but they do give you more mobility. Harrison Ford has been spotted recently using the “I-Walk.” This contraption is like a prosthetic leg that attaches to the thigh while the injured leg is propped up on a knee platform. This allows an individual to walk hands free. The actor apparently crushed his foot a few weeks ago while he was filming the latest Star Wars movie. Ford had been planning to do his own stunts for the movie, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen now. The I-Walk looked like a good option for me until I experimented with it. Even though I have good balance, the prosthetic peg looked unstable and I was very concerned about falling. And another problem: the harness that wraps around the thigh is so bulky that there is no way I would be able to wear skirts or dresses to work. And with that big cast on my foot, pants are not an option either.

So, besides crutches, I am getting around on a so-called “knee walker.”

Susie's knee walker

Susie’s knee walker

This scooter has a bench that props up my right foot and I push myself with the healthy left foot. It has a hand brake so I can control the speed and it has a little basket (decorated with a flower from my daughter) which lets me carry around small items, like my cell phone or a water bottle. It allows me to glide from place to place in my home and I have the freedom to use my hands. I did my first outdoors test drive today and even though New York’s bumpy, uneven sidewalks presented some challenges, it was a lot easier and quicker than struggling with crutches. I am the kind of person who loves multi-tasking, and thanks to my new knee walker I can still stay on the move.

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