Three years ago, I had surgery to remove an ecoli growth that had lodged in my upper spine.
As a result of the surgery, I was informed that the nerve that connected my brain to my legs had been severed in order to put a pair of pins in my spine and that it would be unlikely that I would ever walk again without some sort of walker or other assisted device.
This, of course, depressed the hell out of me. But when I returned to the hospital where I would spend two months doing rehab, I had a conversation with one of the nurses there. She looked at my chart and then told me my ability to walk had indeed been impaired. But, she said, your ability to believe that you can do anything you set your mind to has not.
That one single thought stuck with me. I repeated it to myself until it was branded on my brain and I incorporated it as a destination point during my therapy.
The two months I spent at Shaver, where I did my rehab, were the most difficult of my life. The amount of sheer determination I needed to muster, first to learn to stand on my legs and then to learn how to use them again, was enormous.
I came home from the hospital, after four long months with a list of exercises and a pretty hefty rehab schedule. But I was determined and pretty sure that I had the kind of brain that could master whatever needed to be mastered to get me back on my feet.
Slowly, steadily, and surely I improved, I walked around the house and up and down my wheelchair ramp with my walker each day until I was exhausted. In the summers I walked back and forth across the shallow end of my pool and slowly started swimming working my way back to the 60 lengths I used to swim every day.
After a while, I started to use canes for walking. That was scary as hell but it had to be done. Over time I went from two canes to one. Around this time I bought a three-wheeled bike and started to ride it, just around the block at first and then progressively farther and farther each day as my stamina improved.
At this point, my wife said that it was time for me to retire the wheelchair. So we parked it in a corner of my room and went to Staples and bought me an office chair, (which I’m sitting in now).
Since I was no longer using the wheelchair, we had no need for the wheelchair van we owned, so we traded it for a Toyota Cross, and for the first time in three years, I got to sit in the front seat. It was a whole new world up there.
Then one day, about a month ago. I was sitting in my office and the thought occurred to me that maybe I had come to the point where I should try walking without any assistance. If I could pull that off, it would be a real game changer, especially if we decided to sell our house and move into something smaller.
So up I got. I was a little shaky at first, but I was determined to do this. As the old saying goes, practice makes perfect, so I started practising. It didn’t take long, mainly because my body was ready and the more I did the easier it got.
Today, I am at the point where I consider myself as fully recovered as I am going to get. I hardly ever use the walker for anything but a seat outside, and I still use the cane from time to time.
My world is back to normal. I go shopping on my bike. My stamina for riding is steadily increasing. I take care of the pool and most of the stuff I used to do around the house. It feels pretty normal.
The point of this piece is that the human brain is a very powerful thing. I keep my balance through persistent awareness. Call it a backup system. But for almost anyone who had been told they can’t do something because of a condition or some kind of surgery, you have a backup system and it’s right there between your ears.
All you really need to make it work is the determination.