On November 13th, a week ago, I had surgery on my right Achille’s tendon to lengthen it. For the past 40 years I haven’t been able to put my right heel on the ground except by forcing it. It’s part of my Spastic Parapelegia which has made my right leg significantly weaker than my left leg (although my left leg isn’t very strong either.)
I have done exercises, physical therapy, worn a boot at night to stretch it out (the torture boot), taken botox shots to take the spasticity out of my calf, and taken drugs for the same reason. Over the years, while was still walking, I was essentially walking on the ball of my foot. It’s caused intense pain there and on my toes.
A few months ago, I started seeing a podiatrist for toenail problems. He suggested the tendon surgery. I asked him how long the surgery had been available, was it a new technique. He said he had been doing it for 20 years.
I talked to my neurologist to find out if it would damage the little movement I had there. He said it wouldn’t. I asked him why I had never been offered this option before. He said quite frankly he’d never heard of it.
I thought about how my walking and my pain levels would have been lessened over the years. Maybe I’d not have the pain in my hips and knees. I would have been walking more correctly. I don’t imagine it would have stopped the weakness. I might still use a wheelchair, but maybe it would have postponed it.
And then I just had to stop thinking that way. The medical profession is compartmentalized. It just is. My life has taken a certain path. When I started using the wheelchair full time, my pain levels didn’t go down as much as I’d thought, especially on the right leg.
So, I had the surgery, and am now waiting for the tendon to heal, hoping that I will have less pain in my foot.
I’ve always resented that right leg. I feel like I’ve just been dragging it along for most of my life.
I figured my recovery would be easy. I already have the wheelchair. The apartment has lots of grab bars. I can stand long enough to make transfers from the bed to the chair, from the chair to the toilet.
When they did the surgery they did a nerve block on the whole right leg. It usually wears off in 12 to 24 hours. But because I’m so weak anyway, for 4 days I couldn’t feel or move my right leg at all.
What that meant was that I was completely paraplegic. I had to learn how to maneuver and transfer in a totally different way. I had to learn to wriggle in and out of my clothes without standing. The grab bar no longer helped — the right leg just collapsed and the left leg didn’t have enough strength to hold me up.
I was made aware of how strong that weak leg is. I hadn’t considered how much it contributed to my balance and stability. As weak as it is, it gave me enough strength to do a lot.
Immediately after the surgery, they had me in a splint wrapped in gauze and an ace bandage. It had very little traction. My leg would slide away when I tried to transfer in my usual way. I depended a lot more on my arms. I learned what it is going to be like if I do lose all motion in my leg.
Fortunately, the nerve block wore off and now I have more control over my weak leg. I also have a big boot to hold my ankle in place and to provide stability and traction. I can stand for long enough to pull up my pants. Hallelujah!
The experience has taught me to be grateful for that weak leg. It’s still doing the best it can despite being weakened over the years by my thinning spinal cord. All those years I felt like I was dragging it along, it was actually keeping me upright, doing all it could to keep me walking.
We tend to get angry about our weaknesses, the parts of ourselves that don’t work the way we think they should. But I am spending this time while I recuperate trying to purge that negative way of thinking, to appreciate whatever weak function my body has. Strength manifests itself in ways we don’t understand or fully appreciate.
But I’ve learned so much from being weak, from living with long term disability — the weakest parts of my life have given me the most strength.
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