It was a few weeks before I saw my prosthetic legs. Man-made legs that were to join the rest of me and enable me to walk. They looked enormous. They were enormous. I was a mere 90 pounds while in the burn unit. It took a lot of energy to be a burn survivor so keeping weight on proved to be difficult. I swear these legs looked like they weighed as much as I did. I was hoping I wouldn’t tip over in them.
Their bigness was to accommodate the thick liners I had to wear over my legs. I needed as much cushion as possible to protect my skin. My legs, especially my right, were in bad shape. I had skin that had adhered to the bone and open spots ran along both my legs. There was one on my right knee the size of a quarter. To cover my legs with silicone and acrylic, non-porous materials that wouldn’t let my skin breathe, wasn’t exactly ideal.
I was told I could put my legs on for short periods and get a feel for them. I had to stay in bed though. I wasn’t ready to make contact with the floor yet. Gail, my physiotherapist, made it a priority to visit me each day and tip the bed slightly so I was slanted, not quite vertical yet, but getting my body adjusted to having my legs beneath me supporting me rather than straight out in front of me. I had not stood in five months.
I would do these exercises for just minutes at a time. We had to be so careful to not damage my skin further. We were trying to get that quarter sized wound on my knee down to the size of a dime which sounded silly…why not aim for the wound to be eliminated altogether? But the goals we strived for around there were painstakingly realistic and dime-sized was something attainable, although it would take months. My legs would then be removed and left to rest against the foot of my bed.
One evening I was finally given permission to stand. Gail brought in an aluminum walker. A nurse came in and together they put on my legs for me and helped me to a sitting position in my bed. I scooted over to the edge of the bed and dangled my legs over the side. They placed the walker in front of me, each holding an arm and moved me to a standing position. My mom was ready with a camera.
My feet met the floor. I was upright.
I took a breath. I gripped the walker tightly in front of me. Gail and the nurse stood protectively on either side of me, letting go of my arms. I was standing.
After months of surgery and recovery and enduring I could feel the floor beneath me. My mom snapped a photo of my first step like I would one day take photos marking my children’s first steps. I smiled for her. It was new, but there was a sameness to it. I knew what it was to walk, how to put one foot in front of the other. Like a toddler though, I wasn’t strong enough yet to hold myself up. And I had to learn in cumbersome legs that felt utterly foreign to me.
I moved the walker slowly and as I did I took a small step. Then, another step. The walker was supporting a lot of my weight, so taking these tentative steps wasn’t as strenuous as I thought it would be. I looked at my feet as I was walking. I relied on my eyes for balance. I walked out of my room and just past the doorway. I was on the other side of my room and I had walked there. Of my own will, my own strength. I took maybe five steps, but I did it. I wasn’t wheeled or lifted out.
I should have felt victorious or elated. But, what I felt was determined. I knew I had a long way to go. The race had only begun and it was going to be a slow, measured one – one I would not be setting the pace for. My skin and time would dictate to me what I could and couldn’t do. I walked and I would do it again.