The Disability Experience - Book of Short Works and Poetry related to Disability,   Author Debbie Johnson

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The Aftermath
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The Aftermath Part 15: The First Steps

The Aftermath Part 15:

                                      The First Steps

The next six months I look at as rehabilitation hell. The physical therapist had treated me prior to my amputation. At that time I had been resistant to doing the exercises he prescribed as they were too painful. Based on this history, he assumed that I was unmotivated.

 He quickly became frustrated with me and made it well known during each visit. I felt that he was pushing me much too hard, so I was frustrated too. My leg was amputated above the knee leaving about half of my thigh left to lift the heavy prosthesis. Learning to use the knee and ankle joints was very difficult. The ankle joint was in a fixed position making it impossible to walk heel to toe as we normally do. The knee joint had two positions locked/straight and unlocked/bent. Putting any weight on it when not locked would precipitate a fall. There are newer and more user-friendly prosthesis available today.

The Department of Defense spent millions on improving prosthetics due the large number of veterans returning with missing limbs. The Department of Health has limited funds for such research.

Computer assisted knees were just being developed at that time, and certainly weren’t something Medicaid would pay for. Research into healthcare was, and still is seriously underfunded. I worked as hard as I could, but progress was very slow. I finally learned how to apply the prosthesis and to stand while holding onto the parallel bars. Eventually, I could take a few steps between the bars. Next, I advanced to taking a few steps with a walker, but after a few steps, I would fall. My balance was very poor and remains so today.

Although I continued to have problem walking with the walker, the therapist insisted I try a cane. That wasn’t successful at all. With a cane in each hand, I did master a few steps, but continued to fall at least once a day. We tried stairs which were much easier as the handrails are firmly attached. I went to therapy three days a week and it tired me so that I spent most of time in bed, trying to rest up for the next appointment. One afternoon I fell walking with the canes. One of them hit the therapy assistant and made a small bruise on her ankle. The next time I saw the therapist, he was angry and said they wouldn’t see me if I injured anyone else.

After four months, he made a goal for me to obtain my driver’s license. This was entirely his goal, not mine. I had no intention of getting my license. I didn’t have a car and was too afraid to drive. He argued about this for a couple of weeks, and at the same time, he kept telling me I wasn’t making sufficient progress to warrant continuing therapy. In the progress note he sent to my doctor he made these same suggestions.

At my December checkup, the surgeon and I discussed these goals. He strongly encouraged me to change to a new physical therapist and to not give up. It was Christmas week, and my Christmas gift was telling the therapist that I would not be returning.

To be continued...

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