Every morning I sit in my office for a minute or two, sip my coffee and think about the day’s blog and what I will write I keep a few back-up topics hanging around in a dusty wee corner of my mind in case the well dries up and I simply can’t think of anything that interests me or you to write about.
I’m not sure what I’ll write but I would like to talk about assistive aids and devices that I’ve found helpful (or not) so far.
Let’s start at the bottom first — with legs, feet and shoes. While in hospital I learned that I had hemiparesis, a weakness in the entire left side of my body. I also had a subluxated shoulder and drop foot/rollover issues with my left foot. I was using a wheelchair to get around but I needed quite a bit of help to take me to the next level of mobility. If you think about the evolution of man picture, my evolution was expected to follow an established path of bed — wheelchair — walker– cane— hiking pole– unassisted walk — with variations on a case by case basis.
It started with a custom made AFO to just stand and balance
First I would need an AFO or Ankle Foot Orthotic to keep my foot solidly planted flat and my ankle immobile so my front foot and toes wouldn’t drag when I walk and my ankle couldn’t roll over to one side or another.My AFO was custom made for me and encased in a hard plastic cover with velcro closures at the top and bottom. This is a very expensive option. With 75% of the cost of the device covered by healthcare, my share was still $500. I’m happy to report it worked very well.
But here’s some advice. Your heath provider’s goal may be to just get you back on your feet. If your longer term goal is to walk without aid with a “normal gait”, be very careful not to develop any bad walking patterns – you will just have to un-learn them. Which is what I am doing trying to re-learn a proper walking gait after training myself to walk in a certain pattern with my rigid plastic AFO.
When I asked about long term – my PT and OT’d were keen for me to embrace the fact that I might always need an AFO brace on my leg. That’s when I began to think about rehab goals – mine and theirs didn’t seem fully aligned – which didn’t really change anything in the short term for me but just put a little check in the “keep this in mind” column.
Walking Assist – Quad Cane and Walking Poles
While the AFO allowed me to stand and balance, I was also learning to use a quad cane -The AFO helped me stand, I needed to learn to find my mid-point and balance with good posture and then I could try walking. If learning to walk was this hard when we were kids I know lots of folks who would have bailed early and never learned.There are so many thinking , moving and coordinating commands required to execute a single step or series of steps.
I started with the quad cane like this one which gives tons of support and it was coming along OK but I was leaning into the cane heavily as I walked using it to hold me up and not just for balance as is intended. I watched various seniors stroll casually by me when out shopping – their walk smooth and aided by a cane into natural-looking gait, whereas I looked like I was holding on to mine for dear life (and I was), dragging myself behind it.That’s when I was introduced to the hiking pole. It helps me maintain good upright posture while walking. I bought this one from Amazon.
I only use the right one. Donate your un-used single pole to your local hospital rehab facility. You can get attachments for the pole ends like spikes for snow and icy winter navigation. I’ve used mine all winter and I love it. This helps with balance and posture. After trying it I abandoned the cane entirely – for the moment – I may pick it up again when I can use it as well as the other “kids” for now I’m sticking with my urban pole.
With the AFO and my pole I was ready to walk and so I began with “living room laps” at my condo (see previous post on this). At that point it becomes about determination and endurance. Every day set a minimum and if you feel like it surpass your goal a little and a little more every day. When you are ready you can try a lap or two without your pole. One day I said to myself – I’m going to walk anywhere I need to go today , and then the next day, and so on.
I wear a size 6.5 or 7 generally, depending on the make of the shoe. To fit the AFO encasing my right foot,properly I needed a larger shoe. I started with a pair of New Balance running shoes in size 7.5 on both feet. I wore these every day for about three months. Then we went shopping for some new shoes. I found Sketchers reasonable cost-wise and comfortable and easy to get on and off on my own. I didnt try the slip ons as this shoe worked nicely to pull on with the laces pre-tied. We puchased the shoes in 7.5 and used an old 6.5 asics on my left foot. My walking improved with shoes that fit.
Time for a New AFO
My husband has watched my daily and weekly progress and improvements and around the same time we came to the same conclusion. My custom AFO had taken me as far as it could and to continue improving I needed something different. My husband found me an off-the-shelf AFO called Step Smart that looked really promising, my Doctor confirmed that I could move to a carbon fibre AFO. The smart step was ordered and I’ve been using it for about 2 months and its fantastic!. Shopping trip for size 6.5 shoes as this AFO and my foot slides into a normal size shoe – looks great – you can’t even tell I’m wearing it. Come Spring I will purchase several changes of shoe to mix things up a bit more. A little bit of awesome sneaking back into my wardrobe.
Part Two continues tomorrow with ‘The Top Half” and will discuss aids to assist with subluxated shoulder and finger and arm mobility.
(As an Aside: I am trying to become an Amazon Affiliate which means I will get a small commission everytime you click through to Amazon using one of my links and purchase something – anything – not just products I recommend. I will only link to products I have used myself during my recovery and recommend to you. –As another aside: no one has done this yet – so I decided to tell you what the point is – in case anyone is unclear. )