You Walk Funny, Or: Is Walking Better Really Better
I've had a lot of surgeries on my legs, and I spent my childhood going back and forth between wearing casts from my toes to my hips and then progressing from crutches to canes to a single quad cane and then back down again as I recovered from the next surgery.
I now have a steel rod and pin in my left leg. They were put in when I was around 15. The procedure involved breaking my leg, turning the hip 30 degrees, then installing the rod and two pins to hold everything in place. That break in my femur never healed correctly. There was a subsequent surgery to remove one of the pins in hopes that the bones would then be closer together and knit more easily. When that didn't work, there was a bone graft. Then I wore a bone stimulator strapped to my thigh at night for several months. Back then, they were heavy, cumbersome contraptions that weighed about as much as a plaster cast.
Eventually, the break in my femur did knit, but I have constant pain there and in my hip. It sometimes shoots all the way up and down my leg, from the hip to my toes, especially during wet or humid weather. The leg gives out without any warning, and I have to be really careful about falling even when I'm doing something as simple as getting out of bed. I was told that it would improve as I used it, that I would have less pain if I continued my physical therapy, and then, when that didn't happen, I was essentially told it was all in my head. Whatever the case, my life after that operation was never the same.
The rod and pin were put in to correct a largely cosmetic problem. My foot turned inward when I walked. I never tripped over it, it didn't hurt me, and before the surgery I was walking more, more comfortably than I could remember doing in my life.
Several people on my rehab team advised against the surgery, including my physical therapist. She was mad when she found out about it because she thought it was unnecessary and that my orthopedist was more interested in having me be some kind of patient success story than he was in my welfare. My mom left the decision up to me. I credit her for that, because I know a lot of parents who would have made the choice for their child.
I wanted the surgery for two reasons. First, I trusted my doctor. I believed him when he said that the recovery would be quick and that the operation would improve my walking gait. That was the second reason. I had bought into this idea that "walking better" should be more important to me than feeling good, enjoying myself, or doing things that other kids my age did.
I don't know why. It was never explicitly said to me. My parents rarely ever said anything at all, except periodic lectures about doing my therapy more or wearing my leg braces even though it was a million degrees out and the things caused painful, itchy sweat rashes all over my legs. (Professionals will tell you a brace that's fitted right shouldn't cause this problem, especially if you wear long socks. I defy any of these people to spend a summer wearing hard plastic braces and long socks on their legs.) Mostly I just rolled my eyes at my parents and did what I wanted, so I don't think they are responsible for how I thought about walking. I just remember feeling like everyone around me thought how I walked was a bigger deal than anything else, and that my goal should be to walk as much like "everyone else" as possible.
It wasn't until after the rod-and-pin debacle that I started to re-examine how I felt and ask myself why the hell it had ever been so important to begin with. There are health benefits associated with walking. Sedentary people have a higher incidence of heart disease, diabetes, etc. It's harder to exercise when you can't walk. So I'm not at all trying to imply that it's bad to encourage a kid to walk.
Still, isn't there a point at which we ought to ask ourselves if we're really concerned about the person's health or if what we're after is something cosmetic? Why is it so important if I walk funny? Why should someone be labeled a success or a failure based on whether their foot turns in or how much their hand curls up?
Almost every girl I know who has a physical disability also struggles with body-image problems. I'm one of the fortunate few who don't. I wish I weighed a little less, but I know I'm pretty, and I don't give a crap what anyone thinks about my legs or my scars or my lazy-eye.
My closet friend is knock-kneed and she has to "borrow people's balance" a lot. She's one of the most beautiful, sexy women I know, but she doesn't always see that when she looks in the mirror. She sees somebody who "walks funny." WHY?
A lot has been said about the visual culture of America and the so-called "pretty people." I won't go into that. Kids have enough to contend with while they're trying to develop a healthy self-image. Do they really need to grow up feeling like the way they walk defines them?
That surgery remains one of the biggest regrets in my life. I'm glad I came away from it with a better sense of myself and what's important to me. I wish I could've gained that without getting a bum leg in the process.
Polite discussion is welcome, flaming is not, and please realize I'm not interested in assigning blame for what happened to my leg. It was my choice.