The major objective of therapy continues to be mobility, and that means that this 78-year-old man who stands 6’ tall had to learn how to walk on a right leg that had been nearly paralyzed by the stroke.
Christoph was my assigned physical therapist tasked with the chore of getting me walking and on his first visit he asked, “Can you stand?”
“Sure!” I said, “Just let me go to my bathroom where there are grab bars I can use to pull myself up.”
He just laughed and said, “That’s not how you stand!”
Christoph had to teach me how to stand as the first step in learning how to walk. Fortunately, this wiry, very fit German therapist is good natured and taught me a very standard exercise called “sit-to-stand.”
I have by now done so many variations of sit-to-stand (do 10 quickly, how many can you do in 10 minutes . . . and so on) that I probably do them in my sleep. But they are great for building strength . . . and for walking, which remained the grand objective.
There were many stages between. Balance had to be achieved as well as side-stepping, just standing, of course, and more. Many of the exercises Christoph had me do were a mystery to me because they seemed to have no relationship to walking – until they did. Mostly they were designed to strengthen the right leg and give it flexibility and for me to achieve balance.
When the day finally came to walk, it was a bit frightening. I had to stand within the confines of a walker and hold on to it as I moved it across the floor. A walker is a clumsy device that provides safety and security more than walking support. But I was walking!
Safety and security were of primary concern as I stood my 6’ frame up – remember I’d been spending my time in a wheelchair – and when Christoph felt I was steady enough, he graduated me to a cane. The cane I have has a platform with four “feet” about four inches square that provides better support than a traditional cane.
There is a whole technique to walking with a cane that is straightforward enough. It must be used the same way to be safe – and it is easy to forget. I had to have a companion holding on me at first, be it Christoph, Nancy, or Christina. But safety and security had to come first, and I will prefer a companion until I feel very safe.
First, we did laps, back and forth in the 30’ aisleway in our living room. Then we added turns around the kitchen island, clockwise and anticlockwise, then came routes through the living room furniture, and then to my bedroom.
Oh, and then getting into and out of my favorite chairs. And dining chairs, and into and out of my car, and into the garage, and finally outside to our lovely patio and garden and then outside and around the house. There was more, but there is no end to the variety of circumstances you may encounter when walking. And I had to be ready for all of them – and more.
Christoph always set challenges for me to meet and made it all challenging fun, but there is no making learning to walk easy. It is a lot of work, but thanks to Christoph’s good humor, mixed with his insistence that I can do whatever he says I can do has meant that I am now walking – a little scared at times but I am walking.