Thursday, August 27, 2009

Walk Like You Inject Heroin into the Webbing Between Your Toes

For whatever reason, my body has still not figured out what to do with this new hip. Before the surgery, I had a limp that was usually pretty minor: the limp of a war hero with some shrapnel in his leg, or a firefighter whose knees got arthritis after years of carrying people out of burning buildings. I looked as if I earned my limp by sacrificing myself for some noble cause. Perhaps this is why, when people on the street used to ask me what was "wrong with me," I used to look away and murmur, "I don't want to talk about it. All that matters is that the orphans survived." (I also used to tell the "put a hand on your shoulder and say, fighting back tears, that I'm so brave to be out in public trying to live a normal life" types that I have leprosy, but that is another story).

Since the surgery, however, I walk like a crackhead. Those of you who have never driven down Hastings Street after dark may not be aware of the crackhead walk, which is found in people who inject drugs into their feet. It's a sort of half-stumbling, tip-toed, keep-the-head-down-in-case-you-see-a-crack-rock-on-the-sidewalk, swaying gait and it's exactly what I look like when I'm setting off for my daily stroll. (The rashes do not help matters).

Yesterday, however, my physiotherapist tried to change that. She tried to get me to remember how normal people walk so that I would not spend the rest of my days having passersby think I'm about to break into their car and steal their stereo (though, given that I'm unemployed....) There's something inherently strange about re-learning a skill that young children figure out on their own. When I walk past children in strollers, I can almost see them thinking, "Dude. It's not hard. Heel-toe. Heel-toe. Shove an animal cracker in your mouth, pick up your sippy cup of apple juice and get with the program, lady." Well, screw you, toddlers of America and Canada! I don't have the advantage of weighing, like, 15 pounds, being low to the ground, and being rewarded with Cheerios every time I take a step.

It was therefore a strange process to spend 30 minutes trying to figure out when to lift my heel and when to press down with my toe. Worse, no matter how often my physio said, "Heel TOE. No, heel THEN toe. Heel toe," I could not manage it. I felt like I was in the first 20 minutes of one of those movies about an impoverished but plucky dancer who gets accepted into a prestigious dance academy but almost cracks under the strain of the strict dance teacher and the overwhelming pressure to succeed until a handsome male dancer with a tragic past who rides a motorcycle in his spare time teaches her the meaning of love and renews her passion for dance. Except, instead of auditioning for a solo in the world's best ballet company, I was trying to learn how not to scare young children when I walk down the street. And there was no handsome, tragic, motorcycle-riding male dancer.

After a great deal of work, however, I am happy to debut a walk that, while incredibly unnatural-looking and slow, is closer to a normal gait pattern. I walk perfectly straightbacked, eyes ahead, my legs making an incredible exaggeration of the whole "heel-toe" business. Instead of looking like Amy Winehouse after a bad night, I look like someone's impeccably well-dressed but alcoholic Great Uncle Maxwell trying to convince everyone at Christmas Eve dinner that he's only had a few and he's fine to drive.

Hopefully, however, my walk will become more natural as the weeks go by and I'll be able to again walk in a way that makes people say, "Look at that girl with the cane. I wonder if she pulled kittens from a house fire with no thought to her own personal safety." Or, better yet, hopefully I will one day walk so smoothly that I will get rid of the cane and I will blend in with a crowd and pass by completely unnoticed. Stealth mode!

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