Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Walking

A funny thing happened in the kitchen yesterday and I am still reeling from thinking about it. The kitchen in the apartment is long and narrow more like a boat galley than an open space in a house. Thus it is I can stand in the kitchen supported only by my hands on one counter or the other. Yesterday it happened I was boiling water for the teapot when I was overcome by an urgent need. Naturally I took off for the bathroom.
In my life as a barely ambulatory cripple messages from my body need to be heard on a  priority basis. Things like sleeping or pissing require a pretty rapid response as my body is spending inordinate amounts of time and energy still repairing broken things. Plus in the case of the bathroom I have an Inferior Vena Cava filter designed to catch blood clots which may develop in my barely functional legs and try to travel north to mess up my heart lungs or brain. The IVC filter is in my "groin" which seems to mean that area where I pee and these days when I need to pee I really do need to. I can't wait for the filter to come out in the Spring; one less lump under my skin. 
Anyway I abandoned sandwich and tea making plans and set off for the loo about 20 paces away. When my mind came out of the urinary fog I looked around for my walker to propel myself back to the kettle that was making sounds like the tea water was almost boiling. Decent tea, like Yorkshire Gold should be made with water on a rolling boil, as the water just reaches that perfect temperature and sets the whistle blowing. At home I have an old fashioned stainless steel electric kettle that switches itself off when the water is at the right temperature. In the apartment I use a stove top device that works fine but needs attention when it's ready.
Mystified by my lack of a walking device I did the only thing I could do: I walked unassisted, only to discover my rolling walker abandoned by the kitchen. The mystery was simply solved when I understood that I had answered the call of nature as they say by walking to the toilet without a second thought. I walked. Just like that, rolling quite a bit of course, but I strolled unassisted. I was so amazed I called my wife who I figured would understand how momentous the moment. She did.
I'm not walking properly yet so I'm not yet in the market for another Suzuki Burgman but the day surely can't be far off. These early morning pictures at the newly designed park at Truman Waterfront I took with my big camera while standing behind or sitting on my rolling walker. I'm not yet able to rely solely on my legs or even my cane but I am trying to expand my ability to walk without the walker. I take my walker to the gym so I can sit during some exercises that other people do on their feet. It's helpful too when I'm in line or waiting to be able to sit because my legs aren't that strong yet.  
It is an odd thing how leg muscles atrophy and I have written previously about the way muscles fail when they aren't used. Bringing them back takes months and I was flat on my back for weeks after the wreck. Some days the pain is worse than others and Percocet is my companion even though my prescription is being reduced a bit at a time. I like to say my addiction is riding and I'll be happy to trade Percocet and pain for a new motor scooter.
The other problem I have found is compensating for difficulties by putting weight and effort in the wrong parts of my body. My wrists and shoulders have helped support me excessively as I struggled to walk early n in the process. Lately a sciatic nerve in my left leg has been giving me more pain than my surgeries. Exercises, ice, a chiropractor and more exercise is helping and when the sciatica fades walking becomes relatively simple at least for while. Then I have to rest panting like I just completed a major feat of strength. 
Last night at work I went into the kitchen to heat the dinner I brought from home and then I took the food to my work station. When I was ready to take the remains of my homemade blue cheeseburger back to the kitchen I looked around for my cane because that was what I brought to work last night, in light of my recent walking success... And I'd done it again. 
I had left the cane behind in the kitchen and I found myself walking through the dispatch center unassisted. I could get used to this. Eventually. Sooner rather than later. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Across Town Night

I parked on Southard Street near White Street where I found a handicapped spot. Off we went.
Night pictures come out really easily and well with the iPhone 8. This is the Grace store at Frances Street I think.
Street art:
Then we moved on as my legs were tired and I wanted to let Rusty out in a place I could supervise him. So we went to Bill Butler Park. 
People often ask me if I get accosted or threatened in the middle of the night on the streets  and the answer is never. However there was some guy loitering around the corner in the park. I don't think he meant any harm as he was visible in a  white t-shirt watching me lift the walker out of the trunk and then set it up to sit in. He said nothing then flitted away. Probably just some nervous guy out peeing a  very small dog.
I liked the look of the park in black and white.
Then we went to Bahama Village where the world was starting to wake up up so I put Rusty on a leash and tottered after him for a few blocks on Emma Street. 
My legs were giving out so it didn't last long.


And so back to the car, and as the sun came fully up back home to rest my legs and my pelvis and my dog. 

Monday, January 14, 2019

Stumbling Along

After months of pretty much nothing but the state of my parlous health I realize I haven't mentioned much about me and my wretched legs. If like me you are tired of seeing me as a cripple skip this page. 
I have a fairly rigorous regimen of working my legs and the rest of my body with physical therapy three days a week and on three other days I am at the gym in a class called rather nicely, "Aging Boldly"  with a bunch of people, sometimes  two dozen, my age or a good bit older. The classes last 90 minutes and they may be designed for old people but Dean our fearless leader does not spare us. I sweat copiously which is an image you probably didn't need to see in your mind's eye. On top of all the exercise I also see a chiropractor twice a week.  
I doubt much of what I am writing about here comes as a surprise to people more experienced than me but all this broken bone activity has given me dreadful posture. I walk like Frankenstein's monster, lurching relatively long distances behind my walker or far shorter distances on my cane or even just for a few steps at a time on my feet alone. The chiropractor sees me twice a week and is helping to straighten me out. I am consciously trying to walk better with a  straight back and less weight on my callused palms. The doctor has started the slow process of cutting back my Percocet prescription. People keep freaking out about Oxycodone addiction but please don't bother me with that stuff. First go through what I went through then talk to me about pain management and no: hemp oil is not going to hack it right now. It's a paradox but if I work out to get my legs functioning I create lots of pain. 
This phase of my excessively protracted recovery is highlighted for me by what I cannot do in the gym. Where before the accident last August I was strong in ways I myself did not understand now I find myself stymied by a seven pound weight, or a walk longer than a few blocks. On a good day I can walk an hour propelling my rolling walker but on a bad day, and I have a few, getting out of bed is an exercise in willpower. In the gym I used to be able to squat fifty or even a hundred times in a Broga class, all the way to the ground, now a squat for me is a gentle dip, more of a curtsy really.  
Everything takes longer than it takes. My wife coined the phrase when we were out cruising on our sailboat years ago and we still use the term. With my inability to move fast she teases me now by saying: "I'll do it, it'll take you hours..." To get out of the car which I am now allowed to drive, I have to swing my legs out of the car, balance my bottom on the edge of the seat and propel myself forward and UP "nose over toes" as my physical therapist puts it. Then I walk to the back of the car one hand at least gripping the rain gutter on the roof as I swing my legs along. At the trunk I pull out the walker with my residual core strength and set it up. Then I go back and release the hell hound and leash him up which is easy because he is super cooperative. Then I'm ready to go. An operation that you do in 30 seconds takes me five minutes.   
My wife said when I can walk normally she'll agree to my getting another Burgman 200 scooter which seems a reasonable enough condition. But it is also strong motivation. That's another thing that bugs me, aside from unsolicited medical advice is the suggestion I should give up riding. Why? My wife says if I get into a serious accident once every 48  years riding that'll be okay by her. For myself I would as soon die on a motorcycle as from cancer or a roof tile falling to the ground by way of my head. Riding a motorcycle obsessively as I do in the benign South Florida climate seems a harmless addiction on the whole and yet people who post memes on Facebook about living life to the fullest encourage me to exist without my greatest joy. I could be like the angry man in rehab with a broken back who nagged at me about motorcycles and when I asked him how he broke himself he said he fell out of a tree with a chainsaw. At least I was having fun was my comment and ended that conversation. 
I was coming out of the dermatologist's office on yet another visit to yet another medical professional, a consistent theme in my life these  days and I was fairly buoyant as he told me I have no skin cancer - for now...First decent medical news I've had in months I told the man as I stumbled out of his office chasing my walker. The elevator opened and inside was an older man clutching a rolling  walker just like mine...
...except his was red. I asked him how he was doing and he was about as gloomy as gloomy could be without actually saying anything relevant about himself. "Have fun!" I said brightly as we parted ways and he stopped and looked at me: "How can you have fun pushing a walker?" He sounded genuinely puzzled. I was glad to see the last of him. But Key West is a small town and sure enough at my next Aging Boldly exercise class there he was looking like thunder as I took my place nearby. He stuck it out for 90 full minutes acting like a petulant child refusing to participate.  I really hope that is the actual last time I see him as his gloom spread across the ceiling all around him, poor man. I just don't feel that way. I know I'm lucky as I have no nerve damage and all I have to do is wait for my bones and muscles to heal but getting out of sorts over this stuff helps no one. 
Sometimes I take my cane and go for a walk relying on that. Walking unassisted is a matter of a dozen steps but with the came I have walked  a measured hundred yards before I was overtaken by exhaustion. Balance and concentration suck the life out of me, as weird as that sounds. And balance is involved in turning too. Another trick my physical therapist taught me was when turning to treat the turn as a pizza cut into slices. I can't just swivel like a normal person would, as I will lose my balance and fall without doubt. So instead I have to shuffle my slippered feet a little slice at a time, one foot at a time while adjusting my grip on whatever I am holding.  And my feet are in slippers as that is all I can wear as the swelling in my feet has yet to go down appreciably. Quite normal they tell me breezily so in bed I rotate my feet in the approved manner to reduce inflammation. One more exercise. 
That's me then, four and a half months since I got knocked off my scooter. Later this month I will increase my shifts at work from four hours five nights a week to six hours at a time. I hope by March I'll be up to eight. The support I have received at work continues with hundreds of donated sick leave hours in my account to make sure I get a full paycheck every two weeks, which is very generous help from my co-workers and another reason I feel fortunate to live and work here.
Self pity in these circumstances is an easy trap to fall into and I have done my best to avoid it. I have tried to avoid thinking too much about what might have been had I not got knocked to the ground. I would still have four months worth of sick leave- I'd have got to see the Dali exhibit I was planning on that weekend- my wife would have had a week's vacation in California with friends- and so forth. In all this she is the one who has had to work hardest and least noticed. Everyone feels sorry for the guy in the hospital bed but his valiant helper not so much where she is in fact the hero of the story. All I did was recover, she cleaned did the paperwork and communicated with the insurance company, cajoled argued and pleaded. For me the whole experience was one giant classroom. I'd never been seriously sick, never broken a bone or spent a night in the hospital. Well, I broke all those records with bows on. My list of meds is so impressive and unintelligible I keep it in the Notes page on my phone and point it at anyone that asks. Pantoprazole?  Never heard of him. Prazosin? Or him...
That's life in recovery. It drags on and on and I'm ready to throw away the parking permit and get up and walk. Sometimes when I'm daydreaming I get the feeling, the memory perhaps, of what  it's like to get up and just go for a stroll, one foot in front of the other and I imagine that day when it will happen. I know now that the world is changed for me permanently and in ways I'd never suspected. I view every building every sidewalk every doorway as an obstacle to a wheel chair. I greet people actually in chairs as though they are normal because I know behind the wheels and machinery they are. I remember all too well what it's like to live and roll at waist level and get treated as a freak or an object of compassion or embarrassment. My goal is to treat other cripples normally, for the rest of my life whether I can walk or not. And now I know that even if I lose the use of my legs I have what it takes to make it. I don't fear death after coming face to face with that impostor, but also I don't fear being a cripple because there is a life there as well, as worth living as any, as full of compromises as any life, but no less valid.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Staples Avenue Footbridge

My inability to move quickly is annoying from time to time, like on those occasions when a perfectly composed dog rolls rapidly by on a specially built trailer towed behind a bicycle. There he goes..!
And the bicycle was heading toward the Staples Avenue foot bridge which was where Rusty and I were heading from where I parked the car a few blocks away. The housing in New Town is very different from the cute wooden housing blocks in Old Town.
This is where Conchs came to build modern homes when they dumped their downtown homes on hopeful businessmen from the mainland.  Who ultimately got the best deal is open to interpretation of course. I have added here a screen shot of Google maps  from the neighborhood which shows the footbridge as the narrow neck joining two streets across the Salt Run canal which runs north and south at that point. The canal enters Key West from open water near Winn Dixie at Overseas market as shown. The footbridge connects 8th Avenue to 10th Avenue allowing bicycles and pedestrians to avoid the traffic of four lane Flagler Avenue. The Salt Run Canal isn't clearly shown but it goes all the way and makes a right angled turn into the Salt Ponds. 
The Staples Bridge has been around a long time probably more than a decade though I have lost track exactly. It was a much desired addition to New Town to allow safer travel across town.
It was an early introduction to the irritation that the anonymous Citizen's Voice can cause. There was an eager cyclist who kept nagging the city commission to get the promised bridge built. Finally it happened and the outraged author faded away. As I recall her never did post  a vote of thanks or anything gracious like that. 
The bridge is now, in my mind, a monument to that angry cyclist's persistence.
Do not ride your rental scooter over the bridge! It's not okay. The NIMBY neighbors got all bent out of shape by the construction of the bridge as the idea of encouraging bicycles to parade through here was going to ruin life as they knew it in this cul de sac
In the end of course the sky failed to fall in and this bridge has become a helpful highway to cyclists crossing town. They come they go silently and without visibly ruining the approaches... 
The canal is deep enough for boats, at least for boats low enough to pass under the road bridges which are only a few feet off the water. I saw a dinghy and a small center console while walking here though photography is inhibited by the thick mangrove bushes either side. 
Rusty and I looped round the canal across the footbridge then across Flagler next to the traffic then back up the other bank of the canal.
It is a pleasant enough neighborhood and you can see why residents weren't keen to get squadrons of bicycles through here.
Modern single story homes with air conditioning, yards garages and off stree parking for boatsd and trailers and stuff.
Not picturesque but very practical. 
I always hope it snows somewhere else. So far I have not been disappointed.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Not Cold Enough

I was pretty sure there was someone in the elevator when I was waiting to go to work because I could hear the hydraulics huffing and puffing and the elevator just wouldn't show up. Naturally by the time I felt I could stand no longer and I deployed the walker to sit in, the box arrived and the silver doors opened.
Sure enough there was a man inside. What was weird was he was dressed in a t shirt and a swimsuit and carrying a pile of towels. Because I have no filters I blurted:' Are you going to the pool?" With horror in my voice. Yup he said smiling broadly. I've lived here fifteen years but I grew up in New England. 
It's 65 degrees out there I said, and the temperatures are dropping as the sun goes down. I work night shift so I was getting into the elevator around 5:30 to be ready at work by six. He looked cheerful as he strode out into the parking lot.
I work for the National Weather Service he said as though that qualified him to underestimate the frigid temperatures associated with this cold front. Besides he said I'm a Federal employee so I have thick hide not getting paid and all. 
I told him how glad I was to be a municipal employee, which in retrospect may not have been the most empathetic approach to the conversation. He said this wasn't his first shut down, which is grotesque when you think about it, but it was the first time no one is sure they are going to get back pay. That gave me pause as I stumped across the parking lot behind my rolling walker. 
He was very diplomatic about laying the blame. But madness his easily identified even this far from Washington. Madness is failing to operate things you have promised to run them. I can't imagine working like that and the extent of the shut down is horrifying. Law enforcement isn't exempt.  
The Coastguard  is  not getting paid. That made the headlines locally. Everyone loves the Coasties but at the moment their paychecks suck.
A colleague is taking a plane in a couple of weeks and is wondering out loud how that's going to work out. The security people are falling by the wayside as they aren't getting paid either. There is an air of Alice in Wonderland in this shut down, daily life carries on but some among us are being picked off. 
The weather guy's parting thought was wondering if Canada was open for refugees. We both knew we aren't going anywhere but the Conch Republic state of mind isn't strong enough to stand up to no paychecks from the Feds. 
I'm so glad I work for the city. Pity the Federal workers in our midst, even if they are tough enough to go swimming on a 65 degree afternoon. You still need a paycheck to hold out here.