Look Ma, no legs!

August 4, 2010: Reflections on being tragically un-hip (original post)
Nine days ago I had arthroscopic surgery on my right hip. The doc who read my MRI diagnosed a torn labrum, but it wasn't quite torn, just worn very, very thin in places by my years as a professional modern and aerial dancer and leading to dysplasia and chondromalacia of my naturally shallow hip sockets. In other words, nature and nurture combined over the years so that I was painfully out of joint. Recovery means three weeks of not walking, as I can't put my full weight on my right leg. I have but one leg to stand on. I can put my foot down, but without any real weight to it. (Metaphor Woman strikes again!)

It is interesting, to say the least, to be mobility impaired for the first time in my 47 years. I've long been sympathetic to those with disabilities, back to when it was still OK to use the adjective "handicapped" for people and not just parking. Years before I became a movement therapist working with people whose damaged neurological systems robbed them of some measure of mobility, I found myself in a group of mixed-ability folks, experimenting with an improvisational dance style that allowed us all to dance while sharing weight with each other and that continues to serve as an effective technique in improving my clients' efficiency and expressivity of movement.

I went in to that experimental atmosphere thinking I was "able-bodied," only to learn that was a term we majority folks called ourselves with the idea we were being fair and sensitive to all. I quickly found out I was a "stand-up" according to the "sit-downs" and a "two-legged" according to those on braces and/or crutches. One woman with little in the way of limbs dubbed me "Legs." Each term was employed with a friendly yet almost disparaging delivery, as if I were to be pitied for my mobility. (I also received some ribbing and at least one utterance of actual disgust at being "skinny" - a stark contrast to how I was judged in the professional dance world.)

It was in that environment that I tried life for the first but not last time as a non-stand-up. I test-drove various wheelchairs, crutches, scooters, braces, etc. Of course, I walked away from each device. (I also then and there ended my utilization of "accessible" stalls in all public restrooms that offered a "regular" choice.) But it is a different matter now that I really can't walk away. Now that the post-surgery pain is manageable, it's the lack of independence that gets to me far more than the chafing from the crutches. (Hadn't considered wardrobe-crutch compatibility.) How strange to not be able to get in and out of the shower by myself or to dry myself afterward. I'm not yet able to fully flex my hip, so I also can't dress myself in pants or shorts after that. The list goes on and on. And no, it is not nearly as fun as it sounds to have one's husband be one's near-constant servant.

As I will return to stand-up status fairly soon, I can't truly empathize with those who have to realign their lives because of permanent or progressive disability. But it's an interesting chapter in my life. Lack of ability due to taking advantage of too much ability. Did get this great quote from my surgeon, the highly recommended Dr. John Franco, "You're really shallow ... you must be a great dancer."


August 6, 2010: Wheeling around:
Well, new experiences last couple days. Actually, old experiences, but from a new perspective. For getting around to places where it's asking too much of myself to go on crutches, have transferred to the wheelchair. And there it was, the OMG reactions from the stand-ups. There is the "just back away slowly and don't look" reaction, the "eek! a mouse" jump/scramble out of the way (or sometimes in the way), and the classic "trying to be helpful, even though I don't know what I'm doing, so I do it with so much caution that I'm actually not being very helpful at all" series. And then there's the pariah reaction, especially in elevators or when perceived as blocking traffic. Yup, even here in good old Burque, which, as we know, does NOT rhyme with Querque!

One of my fave cartoonists is Keith Knight, who regularly features in "Life's Little Victories" in his strip The K Chronicles. LLV's are those tiny, unexpected wonderful happenings that one should take a moment to celebrate (in Keef's opinion with a fist in the air and a hearty "YES!"), such as when the lint comes off the dryer sieve effortlessly in one unbroken fabric. Today I went to Motor Vehicle Division downtown to get temporary handicapped parking placard. Just as I was about to give the facility a thumbs down for not having an automatic door nor a suitable waiting area, a very kind, seemingly able-bodied man pointed out that there was a window designated for the disabled and elderly. No waiting! On a Friday afternoon! YES!


August 16, 2010: I Shall Be Released
Officially three weeks from surgery and my physical therapist gave me the green light to walk around the house crutch-free. One crutch for small jaunts outside the house and two for the long hauls. So, I am now a part-time stand-up. After only three weeks as a non-stand-up, I am pretty amazed at how much strength, stamina, and confidence I have lost. "Long walk" has a whole different meaning at present than it did a month ago. Feels weird to use a handicapped parking spot, especially now that I don't need the wheelchair. Don't need a ramp and don't feel the need arriving, but glad the car is close for departing. Should be entirely crutch-free in another two weeks. Well, with the exception of Häagen-Dazs "5" coffee ice cream!


August 18, 2010: Whoa, Nelly!
Possibly my last update to this blog for the few of you checking in. So, did Dancer Deb totally overdo it on her first day as a part-time stand-up? Heilige Scheiße, ya! ¡Si, mierda santa! Holy sheeeeeiit, yup indeedy! The pain and fatigue were not immediate. But The Humbling followed tout suite. (Just saw Inglourious Basterds and feeling multilingual-ish.) OK, OK, might need the wheelchair just a little longer. My underarms are not happy, especially the left one. We feel the one-crutch thing makes me look like a character out of Dickens - think Oliver Twist. On the other hand I can now officially shower and dress on my own (so I have that over my fave little toddler cousin) and today I did the dishes! YES!

Views: 52

Tags: able-bodied, accessibility, disability, handicapped, mobility, surgery

Comment by Jeff Hartzer on August 4, 2010 at 6:33pm
You rock and mostly roll, Gal...Healthy enough for bloggin' agin'---eggsellentay!
Comment by Barelas Babe on August 4, 2010 at 8:39pm
Great post! I do empathize with you - having broken a few bones this Memorial Day weekend and waiting ever-so-patiently for permission for PT and more than 20% weight-bearing. Like you, I've worked in and around disability, but this experience has taught me more.

Best wishes for a speedy recovery!
Comment by lisa gill on August 4, 2010 at 8:57pm
Thanks Debra. I'm glad you're headed towards recovery... and gathering insights while you heal.
Comment by anthony b miller on August 5, 2010 at 7:29am
Hey Deb, You wrote that too well for a "stand-up." S.J. Perelman would be proud.
Comment by Debra Landau on August 6, 2010 at 12:37pm
@BB - Great post back at ya! You had told me about your injury, but I hadn't read your excellent blog until today. Did doc and/or PT tell you exactly how to judge 20% weight-bearing? I got the OK this week for 30 lbs. weight-bearing, which means ... ? That's slightly less than a quarter my weight, so ... ? Taking a lesson from dog who had MAJOR knee surgery Christmas Eve 2007 and after getting out of an amazing brace started to "toe-touch."
Comment by Debra Landau on August 6, 2010 at 9:11pm
A friend points out that "toe-touch" is misleading, considering I'm a dancer. So, um, just "touching down" a little, not balancing my weight on the balls of my feet. And definitely no pointe shoes involved!

Thanks for the get well wishes, from DCF and elsewhere.
Comment by Barelas Babe on August 6, 2010 at 10:02pm
Re: weight-bearing. It is all a guesstimate at this point... I'm just bearing weight until I start to feel discomfort, which is (I'm guessing) about 20-25%. We did the temporary handicapped parking permit thing at MVD in the South Valley, but they told us that the disability window was closed! So we went to a regular window (I was in my wheelchair) where I could not see the clerk and consequently could not answer any of her questions because I rely on lip reading for communication. Had we been at the lower window for people with disabilities, this would not have been an issue. Interesting experience.

In addition to the experiences you've described as reactions to being in a wheelchair, I've also had the experience of being completely ignored. As in, the medical person charged with assessing me talks to whoever is with me about me. "How is she doing today?" "What is her insurance information?" I got pretty annoyed the first time it happened, and my crankiness escalated each time it happened. I think part of the issue for me is that it is compounding disabilities - I've spent my life trying to establish that having a hearing loss does not equal having a cognitive disability, and so I am probably much more sensitive to any slights on my autonomy that others might just shrug off.

I hope you are continuing to have LLVs!
Comment by Debra Landau on August 7, 2010 at 3:05pm
I'm pretty much doing the same thing re: weight-bearing. I just love that the doc gives a specific number, but when asked how to judge that number, he says it's "by feel," as in not remotely as exact as "30 lbs." indicates.

Ah yes, invisibility via wheelchair - I've witnessed that one. Considering the noise levels in MVD, lip-reading might be the way for all of us to go. (ha, ha) Seriously, how is it that ANY governmental facility can not be in 100% ADA compliance? The once-accessible south-facing doors of the main post office on Broadway haven't worked for quite some time, but there is no sign directing people to not waste their time and energy and use the main doors. (Yes, it would be better to fix them, but supposedly the post office is broke and can't afford more than a sign in the window.)

I also have a "hidden disability" with which people feel free to make erroneous associations. I've been asthmatic all my life and in the past would get comments about my lack of aerobic fitness and/or it's all just allergies, etc., even from people who saw me dance professionally. Nowadays, people assume I was a smoker. (Nope, no cigs in utero.) I don't expect everyone to know the basics of various physical and mental challenges, but the lack of hesitation to flaunt one's ignorance gets to me. OK, getting grumpy. Time for food and meds!

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