Tuesday was a day of preparation. The physio came early with the surgeon’s orders. I will be moving to an inpatient rehabilitation program as soon as I am able. And that would be the next day. Before the big move, we needed to do a couple of things. An Ankle Foot Orthotic (AFO) had to be fitted so that I could begin relearning how to walk. Then a representative from the rehabilitation hospital would be coming to have a conversation about my rehab program and what I could expect.
The orthotic man came to fit my AFO about mid-morning. It was a shock to see what I would need to be wearing every day for the foreseeable future to be able to walk safely. The AFO was more like a brace than an orthotic. It was thick plastic that runs the length of the sole of the foot, bending past the heal, up the achilles tendon, and then widening out to fit the calf muscle at the back of the lower leg. Two straps then wrap around from the inner side of the AFO across the shin bone to velcro onto the outer side of the AFO. Knowing that this was now the reality, the shock of seeing the AFO quickly changed to a resigned acceptance. This was just the way life was going to be. If this is what it takes to get back on two feet, then this is what it takes. But it took a lot of mental adjustments to move towards this acceptance. I felt empty afterwards. But such a heavy orthotic now raises a very practical issue. What shoe can I possibly wear that will fit the orthotic into it? Part of the problem is that I have dancer’s feet. Years of pointe work have widened my once narrow feet into wide knobbly feet that are still quite small in length. So having an orthotic that adds to the width is a slight problem! My brother did quite a bit of running around. A week later he found a shoe that was a size ten, three sizes bigger than my normal shoes. Obviously, this was not going to do for the long term. However, for now, on that day preparing for rehab, the only ‘shoe’ that was accessible at the hospital was a post-op boot. Not exactly the most fashionable, not even the most practical. I didn’t have a hope of being able to put it on by myself due to post-op restrictions. I can’t bend down. Every time I wanted to walk somewhere, a nurse would have to fit the AFO for me. Once the AFO was fitted, the orthotic man and another visitor left, the physio took me for a walk. It was clunky. All that the AFO allowed me to do was to put my foot down flat. Without it, I would trip over my own foot; my foot was still lifeless. So at least the AFO was preventing me from falling. But that was it, this AFO was a safety measure, I soon realised it wasn’t going to help me gain use of lower leg again. It was a sobering reality. But at least it would get me walking again. So equipped with a walking stick and an AFO, I began walking very slowly without another person to help me. I was ready for rehab.
The rep from the rehab hospital came later that day. She was perfectly nice and amiable, but it was another sobering experience. The rehab hospital were willing to give me seven days to show signs of progress. If no progress was visible, then I would be discharged. A harsh reality. My program would be made up of daily physio, occupational therapy, and hydro sessions. I would have a new medical team that would still be overseen by the surgeon. While I knew the reality of my situation, it’s aways hard to hear spoken aloud by someone else that the function in my right leg may not return. In my mind though, I could have one of two responses to all of this. I could let it get me down and let it rob any motivation from me, or I could just keep trying to move forward and take it day by day. Unconsciously I chose the latter. If I am to have any hope of walking again, driving a car again, then trying my best to move forward is really the only way to go.