field trip

What struck me about walking was the concentration it took. It required not only physical strength, but all of my brain power as I placed one foot in front of the other. If someone accompanied me for a walk I often couldn’t hold up my end of the conversation. I needed to focus and talking was a distraction. Even listening proved to be difficult.

Sometimes Scott joined me for a walk and if I grew quiet he asked, “Are you tired?” I would nod. He’d respond, “Okay, I’ll shut up now.”

There was a grocery store not far from rehab and one of my goals on my to-do list for the disabled was to be able to walk there, buy something, anything and return home with it. One Friday night I had a craving for Haagen Daaz chocolate chocolate chip ice cream and, dammit, I was going to get some.

I was going on a field trip.

Legs secure? Well, as secure as two stilts could be. Check.

Walker complete with granny basket? Check.

Money in my purse? Check.

Fingers crossed that I wouldn’t do a face plant and humiliate myself? Check. Possibility of it happening anyway? Check.

I rolled and stepped my way through the center, rode the elevator down two floors and made my way out the front doors.

Ten minutes later I was standing in the freezer section searching for my beloved ice cream. There were small things that I took for granted when I wasn’t, well, crippled. I never gave a thought to opening a door, how you had to put some weight into pulling it. I wanted to get my ice cream off of the shelf and into my greedy hands, but how was I going to keep my balance while opening the door, free up one of my hands from my death grip on the walker to grab the ice cream, then drop it into the basket without having the door bang back into place? When I was in my wheelchair living from a sitting position I had similar issues, having to rethink everything. I fumbled my way through and by hanging onto anything that was within reach and stable I somehow managed not to fall over and get my ice cream.

I shuffled over to checkout and took my place in the line-up closest to me. As I stood in line and time ticked by I quickly figured out that this was the toughest task. Not taking my first steps, not making my way around a park, and not attempting to open a door with ease. Standing still, waiting my turn was going to be my greatest triumph. I remembered Linda, my physiotherapist, telling me how one must have stamina for this – to stand in one spot and rest all of your weight on these two legs made to hold you up, but aren’t a part of you. It was trying on your body. She said bilateral amputees use forty to fifty percent more energy than the average person. It hurt to stand there and I didn’t expect that. I heard Linda’s voice in the back of my mind. “Shift your weight from one foot to the other.” I did that. Back and forth, back and forth. I also leaned heavily on my walker. It helped, but my body was losing patience.

Two more people to go…

Finally, it was my turn. The cashier smiled at me as she scanned my ice cream and put it in a bag. She asked if I had a club card as I handed her my money.


“No, I don’t.”

“Would you like to have one? You can collect points and there are discounts. All you have to do is fill out your name and address.”

I was panicked. I couldn’t stand there a second longer.

“No, no. I’m good.” I smiled like I didn’t have a care in the world. Like standing there filling out a form, which may as well have been a ten page document, wouldn’t cause me to fall over from sheer exhaustion. My legs were tingling and prickling like they had woken up after falling asleep. I had to get out of there.

“Oh, okay. Maybe next time?”

The entire exchange took mere seconds, but to me she was setting up camp for the night. In a high voice going for enthusiasm, but bordering on shrill, I said, “Sure, okay!”

She handed me my bag and I threw it into my basket.

When I entered my room I put the ice cream down on the table next to my bed, beside the spoon I had kept from dinner in anticipation for this event. Because it was an event. I pressed the button to lower the bed and eased myself onto it, then collapsed starfish-style across the mattress. I stripped down, peeled off my legs which landed with a thud on the linoleum floor. I looked down at them and sighed. I’d get to those later. I got into pajamas and settled under the blankets. I picked up the remote to turn on the small TV in my room, flipped through channels until I found the X-Files, and savored the first spoonful of chocolate chocolate chip ice cream, cold and delicious on my tongue.

5 thoughts on “field trip

  1. Kate Coveny Hood

    It made me tired just to read this. We al take so much for granted… I often think that about having two hands. How hard it would be to do the little things I barely register like buttoning a shirt or tying laces on shoes.

    And now I want ice cream…

  2. Kim

    You bring back so many memories that have jumbled themseleves within my brain. I have no idea how you have remembered so much of your recovery, but reading it makes me really admire your strength.

    I remember the effort of just sitting on the edge of the bed, after not having sat up for months. Just trying to remain upright without toppling was such a task. And although it was nothing like the way you had to relearn to walk, just the whole concentrating to move thing. Lift leg, move it forwards, put it down. Transfer weight, lift leg, move it forwards, put it down. It was so tiring.

  3. Dawn Hanna

    what a triumph, heidi! so eloquently and poignantly written. i remember working with a patient who had COPD and was so compromised breathing even on 4 litres of continuous oxygen running into his nose that he looked at me one day and said, “dawn…i get out of breath just breathing”. your journey moves me. xoxo

  4. Intense Guy

    …I think I would have wolfed down the icecream right at the freezer in celebration – but you wait and get back to your room and bed and turn on the TV… to something as regular and ordinary as the X-Files. Your triumph was to be so “normal” (meaning ordinary) in the end.

  5. christy

    Hurrah for Heidi! I felt like I was right there in the room, and on the street, and in the store, with you. I know I sound repetitive, but you have such a gift for writing. I just soak it up like a sponge. More please!

Comments are closed.