Not So Funny

During the ’60s, if someone thought a joke wasn’t funny, they might say it was “as funny as a crutch.”

IMG_4812It was thought to be a clever put-down remark because, of course, crutches aren’t funny and always seem to be a symbol of some kind of misfortune.  I thought the rejoinder was in bad taste, too, for that same reason. But it was the heyday of insult humor and Don Rickles, and people laughed anyway.

I thought of the rejoinder tonight, as I walked home from work in bitterly cold temperatures and saw a crutch lying in the snow next to the street.  Why would someone discard a perfectly good crutch?  Probably not for some positive reason.

It made me wonder about the back story of the sad crutch on the snow, and it made me feel bad, besides.


Yesterday I got the pins removed from the three middle toes on my left foot. It was a curious, almost mechanical exercise. The doctor grabbed a toe, worked the pins back and forth while pulling, like he was freeing a cork from a bottle, and ultimately the pins popped out of their respective, former hammertoe bones.

It smarted a little, but I was happy to endure the discomfort to reach the ultimate result. Because I don’t have to worry about bending the pins any more, I can actually put weight on my left foot again. That means I don’t need to use crutches any longer.

IMG_1886I’m still supposed to avoid putting weight on my toes, so for now I’m a heelwalker. My gait looks something like Walter Brennan’s hitch step in The Real McCoys, or the dragging undead shamble you see in Shaun of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead, or just about any zombie flick. I don’t care. After three weeks of hobbling around on crutches, being able to stand steadily on two feet is just about the most liberating feeling you can possibly imagine.

Today, for the first time in three weeks, I was able to make and pour my own cup of coffee and glass of orange juice. It’s just not possible to tote a cup of liquid when you are on crutches. I did the dishes and helped to straighten up around the house. I can easily carry and move things once more. I finally feel like I’m pulling my weight again, rather than being a dead load around the house.

I’ll be heelwalking for a few weeks, wearing a special shoe that will keep my toes straight. It will beat crutches any day.

Falling Nightmares

Normally I don’t remember my dreams. Since I’ve started using crutches, however, I’ve started to have vivid nightmares about falling.

If you accept the standard explanation of dreams — that they are a kind of post-day brain dump, when the conscious brain is out of it and the subconscious brain riffles through the images of the day just ended — my falling dreams shouldn’t come as a surprise. I know that I can’t put weight on my left foot, because it would painfully bend the steel pins in my toes and make them harder to extract. So, even something routine, like a short trip to the bathroom, becomes a cause for careful attention and concern about a slip and fall.

But there’s more to it. I scrabble up the stairs on hands and knees, dragging the crutches up the stairs with me, then use a chair at the top of the stairs to rise, balance, and get the crutches under my arms so I can move along. The transfer from chair to crutches is inherently unsteady, and I’m doing it balanced on one foot at the top of the stairs, wondering if a loss of balance will send me tumbling down the steps. The same process occurs when I go down the stairs, of course. And then there’s the silly worry about somehow falling out of bed and landing on my bad foot. I’ve never had that happen before, but now the possibility nags at me.

I don’t ever remember having falling dreams before, but they aren’t very pleasant. They’re not limited to the bed or stair scenarios; just about any falling context will do. I awaken with a lurch, arms flailing and grasping for a hold, heart pounding, hoping that the startling experience doesn’t itself cause me to tumble to the floor.

I hate these dreams. For years after I finished any form of schooling, I still had the occasional “failure to study for an exam that’s happening today” dream, and they never failed to get my pulse pounding. Now I wonder: long after these pins are removed and I’m walking normally again, will I continue to have these scary falling nightmares?

Stitches Out

Today I went to the doctor. He took a look at the toes on my left foot, saw that there wasn’t unseemly swelling, and declared that I could get my stitches out. The removal of the stitches made it a red-letter day.

IMG_1080It’s only the first step (pun intended) in the process, but it made me feel good nevertheless. Next week, barring some complication, I’ll get the pins taken out of my toes, and that will be a real cause for celebration. When I’m finally pin-free, I’ll be able to toss my crutches aside and also take a shower again — which I haven’t been able to do for two weeks because I can’t get my left foot wet. I’m not sure which development I’ll welcome more, because both are very eagerly anticipated.

I’m perfectly comfortable with my decision to have the operation, because my hammertoed condition really left me no alternative. However, I have missed my morning walks, and the sense of structure and order that they brought to my days, more than I would have imagined. I dream of once more being able to take my pre-dawn strolls along the Yantis Loop, following the white fencing, listening to music of my choice on my iPod, letting my mind wander to wherever it chooses to go.

Unpin me, I say!

A Temporary Invalid’s Perspective

As our readers know, I’ve been stumping around on crutches for a few weeks now as my foot heals. And yesterday Kish and I had to go visit someone in Riverside Methodist Hospital and realized that crutches just wouldn’t work, so I plopped myself down into a wheelchair for the visit. Both experiences have given me a new perspective.

With crutches, my main concern is stairs, ramps, and floor surfaces. Even a single step, such as from from one room to another, can pose a significant risk. If there’s no handrail, your only choice is to teeter on your crutches and hop up or down on your good foot, hoping you don’t fall in the process. If you’re talking three or four steps, forget it. The chance that you are going to be able to repeatedly balance and land successfully is miniscule — which means you are risking a crash. When I go up and down the stairs at home, I do it on my knees or on my butt, one step at a time. That’s OK for home, but it’s obviously not a very dignified approach when you are in a public place.

IMG_1866Ramps are better, obviously, because no hopping is required. But if the surface is not flat and clear, ramps also pose a risk. I don’t achieve enormous ground clearance when I balance on my good foot and swing my crutches forward, so if there’s any change in the surface it might snag the rubber tip on the end of the crutches and cause the finely calibrated crutching process to come to a screeching halt. That can happen even on a flat surface, if it has carpeting with some kind of raised pattern.

As for the wheelchair, it apparently changes the perspective not only of the seated person but also of everyone else. When I was seated in a wheelchair, I felt reduced and shrunken and somewhat helpless. Curiously, the hallway scenery seems to move by much more swiftly when you are wheelchair-bound, perhaps because you aren’t the person who is in control of speed or direction.

The most fascinating aspect of my brief wheelchair adventure, however, was the reaction of other people. When we went to the hospital Kish initially put me in a wheelchair by the door, then went to park the car. As I waited, several people walked by without so much as a nod in my direction or an acknowledgement of my presence. This is unusual behavior in the friendly Midwest, where it’s rare to not look passersby in the eye. For those people, apparently, I might as well have been a piece of furniture. I wonder if other people in wheelchairs have had similar experiences?

My experience suggests that building designers and architects would be well served by spending a few days on crutches and in a wheelchair, to appreciate the challenges involved and consider first-hand how their designs might affect people using those devices. It has definitely opened my eyes.

Using Crutches As Tools

At one time, scientists theorized that humans are distinguished from other animals by their ability to use objects as tools. Then they discovered that chimpanzees use sticks to get tasty ants out of anthills, and that theory went by the wayside.

Still, there’s something about using tools that is innately appealing to humans. We are instinctively drawn to labor-saving devices. If an invention makes our lives easier — and, particularly, if it allows us to remain prone and otherwise immobile while we are using it — we are going to go for it every time.

I’ve been exercising this inherent human characteristic by experimenting with new uses for my crutches. Sure, they’re perfectly useful for their intended purpose of allowing people with leg injuries to hobble unsteadily to and fro, but it turns out they’re plenty useful for other things, too — particularly for those people who have dogs around the house. For example, I’ve used my crutch tools for a number of other actions:

* Crutches are light enough and long enough to allow you to push a door shut when dogs inexplicably start barking during the middle of a conference call

* The rubber tip on the end of a crutch is well-suited to lifting and tossing dog blankets and shoving aside other obstacles that might entangle the crutch-user, to gently prodding and awakening snoring dogs, to retrieving towels from a faraway towel rack, and to pulling within reach of the invalid footstools, satchels, and other needed items

* Crutches allow you to successfully scratch the small of your back

I’m still working on other ways to use the handy crutch, but right now I’m wondering — is there anything crutches can’t do?

Crutches And Couches

Since my surgery yesterday, I’ve kept my left foot elevated above my heart, to try to minimize swelling, and avoided putting any weight on my left foot, to avoid bending the pins that are straightening my toes. That means I’ve made two new friends — our family room couch and my crutches.

1394631752489In our house, the couch is the province of Kish, Penny, and Kasey; I’m a chair guy. I’m also happy to report that in nearly 32 years of marriage I’ve never slept on the couch before. Last night I broke that record. It’s just easier to stay on the first floor right now, and couches are well-suited to constructing teetering towers of pillows to serve as a platforms for my bandaged hoof. With the aid of some pain medication, I slept pretty well last night, and my main concern is keeping the dogs from jumping up on me.

I’ve also been fortunate to never have used crutches before. They’a bit awkward, and I’ve got to watch slipping on the rugs on our hardwood floors, but I’m starting to get the hang of them. I can hobble around, after a fashion.

Some time in the distant past, some now anonymous person invented the first crutch. Like the splint, the crutch is one of the basic medical care devices that has been used for millennia; it apparently dates back to ancient Egypt. On behalf of all modern users of this ancient device, I’d like to thank it’s true inventor — whoever you were.