Friday, March 14, 2014

Dependence and Independence

To have a fractured foot is to experience what it's like to be dependent. Told that I can't bear any weight on my injured foot for 4-6 weeks, I'm not supposed to take even a single step. Not one!

At the urgent care place, they sent me away with crutches. This was my first time in my long life trying them. I promptly tripped, landing on my broken foot much harder than I would have if I had just cheated and walked on it normally instead. I have such poor upper-body strength that it's extremely difficult for me to propel my bulky mass around using my arms for support.

I decided that crutches weren't for me.

So I ordered a knee scooter, where you prop your disabled leg on the scooter and zoom around using your good foot to push you off. It took five days for it to come and then required significant assembly. My son Christopher can zoom around on it like the coolest skateboarder on campus. But when I tried to turn it in my very small, furniture-crammed house, I fell. Hard. On my injured foot, of course.

I also ordered this "fake foot" kind of thing, which you strap on to your thigh - sort of a prosthetic leg, with a little shelf on the back of it where you can tuck your real leg, if you happen not to be an amputee. Despite a rave or two on the Internet reviews, even Christopher found it extremely awkward. After watching his failed efforts, I have yet to try it myself.

So how am I getting around? At home I roll along on my desk chair, quite hard to do over carpet, but safe and comfortable otherwise. I go up and down stairs on my bottom. I hop if there is something I can hold on to while hopping. I borrowed the church wheelchair to come to the university. Christopher has been driving me to and from work, loading and unloading the heavy, bulky chair, a luxury I will not have for much longer, as he starts a new job next week. One of my classes meets mere steps away from my office (well, mere rolls away); I managed to move the other two classes into my building, at least temporarily.

A person in a wheelchair looks and feels dependent. At least that is the report from this person in a wheelchair. I find myself asking my family to wait on me because it's so hard for me to get things myself; my house is really too small for ease of maneuvering the wheelchair just as it's too small for ease in maneuvering the scooter. I find myself feeling impatient when they're busy with other things, such as with my two-week-old granddaughter, who of course is their top priority. I feel guilty for not even trying to be more self-sufficient. Did I give the crutches a fair try? No. Other people use them. Surely I could do so, as well. Am I really ready to start pleading age as an excuse for opting for the wheelchair instead of taking on the challenge of the scooter, the darling device of all the students at CU recovering from their weekend ski injuries?

And yet. . . .

The best way to learn any new skill is to be willing to make mistakes. That's why Christopher is a better skier than the rest of us: he doesn't mind falling, and we do. That's why Gregory is better at computers than the rest of us; he just goes ahead and experiments, without that terror that your computer will crash. When baby Kataleya starts to walk, in a year or so, she is going to fall down. There will be tumbles. There will be tears. That is an inescapable part of learning.

But right now I desperately don't want to fall. Another fall could be so costly. And because I'm afraid to fall, I stay dependent, rather than moving toward independence.

I do think it matters that my dependence is short term rather than long term. If all goes well, in another three weeks I'll be up and about as in days of yore. In my view it's not worth significant investment of time and effort - and significant risk - to master crutches. But - here is my pledge to myself - when I'm up and about again, I'm going to invest time and effort, and whatever risk is required, in building upper-body strength and improving my balance. I'm going to walk faster and farther than I've ever walked before. I'll climb mountains, tall ones, I will!

I'm going to do everything possible to maximize my chances for continuing independence over what I'm calling Act III of my life.

But for now, I think I'm going to let myself be dependent for just a few more weeks.


  1. Yes letting yourself be dependent will help your foot heal more completely.

    I'm thrilled to hear Chris has a job.

    I'm available to give you rides. I have experience with helping my mother-in-law with her walker. Please let me help we can talk on email or phone about when you need help.

    I enjoy your blogs. -

  2. Hi Claudia! I'd like to send baby Kataleya a small package from Texas. Shall I just send it to CU?