“Why did the chicken cross the road?”
I said it quietly to myself, making sure no one was around to hear me. It was noon and almost everyone was inside eating in the cafeteria. The few patients outside were near the entrance smoking or waiting to get picked up for appointments within the city.
I was at the sidewalk on the corner across from a small park, shoulders squared, hands wrapped around the walker in front of me, pep-talking a twenty-three year old into crossing the street, using six year old language.
I had many setbacks during my time at rehab. There was a deep wound the size of a dime on my knee, skin refusing to knit together. I could rarely wear my prosthetic legs and no amount of wishing and hoping was going to get me on my feet. I often watched from the sidelines envious of other amputees as they got up and moved around the physiotherapy room, seemingly with ease. I knew that wasn’t truly the case, but it felt that way to me. I had to make do with stretching exercises and feeble leg bends, nowhere near the goals I longed to achieve.
My physiotherapist, Linda, (a formidable woman I was in awe of. I respected and liked her tremendously) told me learning to walk would take time, especially for me. My skin was severely compromised. Compromised meaning shitty. Learning to walk well would take more time. I asked about stairs. When could I do those? I was told it takes strength and skill to do stairs properly, all of which would take time. I’d heard it all before. I was beginning to take it personally like time was out to get me, wearing me down with its close friend, apathy. I was afraid of apathy seeing firsthand what it did to people, how they gave up and grew listless, despondent. I couldn’t let that be me.
There was a long sloped driveway around the back of the rehab center which Linda wheeled me to one quiet afternoon, sensing my growing desperation. She said, “One day you’ll be ready to do this.” I wanted to be a believer, to borrow her vision to breathe life into my own. My Everest.
When I was allowed I walked indoors on shiny flat surfaces, free of obstacles. Up and down, up and down, between parallel bars. I was always within reach of something or someone if I needed help. When I felt able I walked around the center through corridors, to the elevators, to meals with a walker. Roll, step, roll, step. I felt so tall, all 5’6″ and 90 pounds of me. The majority of people there were in wheelchairs and I was a giant among them.
I had my eye on conquering a square piece of land just outside GF Strong (rehabilitation center) with a sidewalk that ran around it. Established beautiful Vancouver homes lined either side of the park. It was accessible, friendly for the walking impaired. I wanted to build up my endurance and in order to do that I needed to be able to get around this park. There were obstacles beyond the walls I was determined to learn to navigate. Weather permitting, my plan was to be out there every day, and walk.
I looked both ways.
Broken glass winked at me as I crossed the street.
A crack in the pavement loomed large to my right.
The small wheels of my walker hit some loose gravel which forced me to stop, gather my wits that threatened to spill out and over, and try again. Slow and steady wins the race.
The sidewalk was just ahead.
I was going to have to avoid the grass that lay next to it, nowhere near ready for that yet. Grass hid uneven ground. I relied heavily on my eyesight for balance and if I couldn’t see the shape of the ground there was no way I could risk walking on it. I really didn’t feel like having my face smashed into the ground, powerless to get up.
The sidewalk dipped down slightly, so I could push the walker along it and move my way up onto the sidewalk. My heart was pounding. One misstep and I would tip over…
I breathed a sigh of relief. Both feet were firmly on the sidewalk. I did it. I concentrated, looking down at my feet. Roll, step, roll, step down the sidewalk. I smiled. “Why did the chicken cross the road?”
I was outside. No one was around me. And it felt good.
“To get to the other side.”