Waiting for the days to go by until the MRI, I was still tasked by the surgeon to keep going. And part of doing life in my present normal is lecturing and finishing my outpatient rehabilitation sessions. Getting through lectures became harder as the week progressed, especially with smaller classes. I tend to sit for longer during seminar style lectures and sitting was becoming a game of endurance, wondering how much discomfort is too much and how much longer I could push myself to sit for. With lectures over for the Thursday morning, I went to my Physio and Hydro sessions; I went reticently, I didn’t know how much I would be able to do. As usual, I went to the Stepper to do my three minutes warm up. I used my hands to lift my feet onto the step and I tried to push down through my feet. A couple of steps into the three minutes and the muscles in both my legs began to spasm. I could no longer push down through either leg. The expression on my Physio’s face said it all. Something was not right. I rested my legs for a few minutes. Then we tried again. I placed my feet on the steps and I tried to push down. I didn’t manage one step before my muscles began to spasm again. We gave up with any weight-bearing exercises and went to the Physio bed to try the basic exercises again. I really was back at the beginning. The worry etched on my Physio’s face; that look must have been on my face as well. But what I saw was more than worry, it was disappointment, as well. Seeing weeks of work suddenly vanish was devastating. Not just for me, but for my whole rehab team. I still went to the pool to see how much of my program I could get through. We ended up scaling back my program to the most basic exercises; I was back at week one in the hydro pool as well. I could barely step sideways. I struggled to step forwards. Walking unassisted in water was now a problem. And to make matters even more disheartening, the small step that was celebrated in my second week of inpatient rehab, when the reflexes in my feet started to return, had also gone. My feet stayed flat on the floor as I fell back against the side of the pool. I hadn’t just experienced a setback of six weeks; I was back at the beginning, ten weeks of rehab work gone within 48 hours. I walked out almost defeated.
After seeing how rapidly my leg strength was deteriorating, I started to worry. What happened if my left foot dropped as well? I was seeing the same pattern recur from before the surgery. Unwisely, I attended a dinner function on the Friday evening. While I knew that I should have stayed home to rest on my back, going to the dinner was part of getting on with life. So I still went. Walking into the function centre, I felt my right hip give out from under me and I doubled over, still managing to stand though. Friends walking in front of me not noticing. Steadying myself, friends now to my right and to my left, I managed to walk into the building. There was a big staircase in front of us and I was thankful for the sight of a lift. Seeing the lift was a reminder though of just how much life had changed despite the setback. I was now that person who had to go in the lift, no longer being able to walk up the stairs with everyone else.
Walking into the function room, being among a crowd of people, I wasn’t anxious about the brief glances being cast in my direction by those who hadn’t yet seen me in my present normal. All I wanted to do was sit. My hip was too unstable to stand for much longer. But no one else was sitting, so I continued standing. Finally, an acceptable time came to sit and I sank into my chair with relief. But what I hadn’t factored into my planning was the long time sitting. In a short break, after the key speaker had just finished, I knew I only had a few minutes to get myself to the bathroom. I tried to push my chair out by applying pressure through my feet, but the chair didn’t move anywhere. I couldn’t push. Then a friend came over from another table to talk, positioning herself behind me, I couldn’t turn around to talk. I was trying my hardest to keep smiling, not to panic. When she passed to the next table, I asked the friend sitting next to me if he could pull my chair out for me. One of those humiliating moments where the reality of not being able to do the most basic things hits hard. Leaning on my walking stick more than normal, I managed to stand and I managed to put one foot in front of the other. My muscles and the discomfort in my back screaming at me that I had been sitting for too long. By the end of the evening, I wasn’t in any kind of shape, physically or mentally, to remain chatting. We headed towards the exit at the first opportunity; walking head down, just hoping that no one would stop me to make polite conversation and to ask how my recovery was going. That last question would have been too much. The sudden loss of function in my legs just too raw and too recent. And not enough emotional energy to respond with class. I just didn’t have the words to tell people that all the progress from rehab had changed, once again, overnight.