Get me up on my feet? Surely not. I look around me for some sort of machine that will slowly lift me one degree at a time until I am upright, but can’t seem to find one.
“I’d also like to introduce you to this”, Allison holds up a menacing black plastic boot covered in straps. “I’d like you to wear it at night to stop your foot-drop and retrain your ankle back into a normal position. This will be very important for walking”.
She teaches me how to strap it into place, where it keeps my foot at a strict 90-degree angle. It makes my sensitive foot throb unbearably, the plastic sides digging into my flesh like shards of glass.
“Can we take it off now?” I beg.
“OK,” she says, unstrapping the torture devise far too slowly for my liking. She puts it to the side, stands up and puts her hands on her hips.
“Now,” she says, nodding assertively. “First things first; let’s start working on your transfer”.
Pushing the footrests of my wheelchair to the side, she motions for me to wriggle to the edge of my chair and put my feet on the floor. As if it’s that easy. It quickly becomes apparent that I can’t hold my own body weight, so she uses an arm to prop me from behind and support my wriggle. Once there, she leans me forward and pulls me up onto my feet, swivelling my hips until I am in a seated position on the edge of a raised mat next to me.
Woah. I take a moment to orientate myself, clinging to the edge of the mat with the strength of my good hand.
“Good!” she says enthusiastically.
I look back at her and try to muster a smile, my body shaking with the effort of holding myself up. Loosing grip with my sweaty hand, my whole body buckles onto the mat behind me and I surrender myself to it, ending up in a heap on my side. I take a deep breath.
“That’s OK”, Allison says. “Take a moment to catch your breath, then we’ll work on your transfer the other way around; from the bed, into the chair. It’s going to make your life easier if you always aim to get up on the right-hand side, so you can use your good arm and shoulder to prop yourself up”.
I begin by rolling onto my right hand side to face my wheelchair, then I push my feet away from me and let them slowly hang off the side of the bed, using that momentum to push myself up and swing my upper body into a sitting position on the side of the mat.
“Wow Luce!” Mat says, beaming. “You don’t need me to carry you anymore. I’m fired!”
He starts to laugh, then mum laughs, and this makes me laugh, breaking my concentration, as my shoulders shake and I lose my grip. I fall crumble back down onto my side, a joy radiating from my head to my toes like a light shining inside of my body.
“Oh crap”, I say, when the laughing finally subsides, “it happened again”.
“No problem”, says Allison. “Lift your feet back up and we’ll try the same thing”.
After repeating the exercise of lying down and sitting up a few times, each turn ever so slightly less cumbersome than the last, Allison looks me square in the eyes and smiles.
“OK Lucy,” she says. “It’s time to move on to walking.”
Arranging my ankles to precisely 90 degrees, she wraps them in stretchy beige bandages to lock them in place and stop them from rolling. Next, she fastens a sturdy belt around my waist, wheels me to the parallel bars, tells me to grab onto them and heaves me into a standing position.
I stand there, confused about this new view of the world, and about the weight of my body on my feet. It feels so odd. So alien. As if I have no memory of this position whatsoever, despite my thirty years of experience.
Allison holds me in a reassuring, ‘you’ve got this stare’, “Let’s try putting one foot in front of the other,” she says. I blank out the rest of the room and focus all of my attention on her.
“Ooo Luce!” mum says, her excitement building as Mat stands at my side, videoing me on his phone.
My hands begin to sweat and hurt from how tightly I am holding the bars and I realise I will have to try something soon. I look down at my bandaged feet and concentrate on remembering what it feels like to move my legs, to propel myself forward using these seemingly dead limbs that hang from my waist.
Picking my right leg up very slowly, I drag it along the floor and put it in front of the other, my core burning with the unfamiliar strain.
“You’re doing it Luce, you’re doing it!” mum squeals.
I repeat the same thing with the left leg, which is harder again to move, and feel myself slowly moving forward.
My arms shake, my hands slip, and I look like a fucking mummy dragging my bandaged feet along the floor…. But I’m doing it. I’m really doing it.
After a few more laboured steps, Alison helps me to turn around and walk back to my wheelchair, where I collapse in a pile of exhaustion.
“I did it”, I say out loud to myself. “I really did it!”
“You did” Mat says, walking over with his hand raised for a high five. “You really did!”
“How did it feel?” Mum asks.
“Good, I think” I say, my emotions all over the place; the joy of realising I can do this hampered by an acute awareness of the effort and concentration it took to achieve just a few small steps. The heaviness in my limbs, the strained communication of my muscles, the weakness of my body. I wonder how on earth I ever did this so easily before.
Later that night I strap on the boot for the first time and manage an hour of sleep before waking up in agony. For the next few minutes I drift in and out of sleep, waking every time to the throbbing pain of my left foot on fire.
At 1 am I finally crack, ripping the whole thing off and throwing it at the wall in a rage.
“Fuck you” I yell. Fuck NLP. Fuck ‘positive pain’ and fuck this boot.
I’ll try again tomorrow, I lie.
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