Next Steps

Life on the fourth floor would be much slower and quieter. I didn’t have too many things to disturb me, because the geriatric residents kept to themselves. They generally sat in their rooms most of the day and only went out to go to the cafeteria or the patio. I often had the dayroom to myself. I could watch TV around the clock virtually uninterrupted, if I so desired. However I seldom watched TV, happy that there was no noise to interrupt my blogging.

Don’t get me wrong; the floor wasn’t completely silent. From before 6:00am until after 10:00pm, there was constant noise in the building. There were always machines chattering and conversations humming in the background. The difference was that they were generally not too loud to be ignored or drowned out by playing music with my earbuds in. On the second floor the noise had been so loud that it often didn’t matter if I were listening with the volume turned all the way up. I had constantly dreamed of moving out on my own. The peace would be so relaxing, and I’d be able to get so much more writing done.

I spent a week adjusting to life on the new floor. There were no massive changes, just a lot of little ones. One was that my room faced a different direction. This meant that sunlight streamed in from the opposite side of the room during the day. Before, I had needed to turn over onto my right side in order to sleep undisturbed during the summer. Now I had to turn on my left. Although this could be mildly disorienting, it did free my right arm. Now I could use my phone in bed. I was able to play videos or music so much more easily on the nights when I could not sleep.

One of the biggest changes was that I was much hotter on the fourth floor. It could have been that I was now on the top floor of the building, or the fact that my window now faced south. Whatever the case, whenever I was in my room or in the dayroom, I felt drained. While the lethargy didn’t cause me to miss workouts or meals, it did make motivation a lot more of a challenge.

The one big drawback was that this caused me to not want to shower. I had been scheduled to take showers three days a week. And though I didn’t always adhere strictly to the scheduled days, I generally had taken showers at least two days each week while I was living on the second floor. Now, in addition to often feeling drained, I spent a lot more time in bed. This meant that I would sweat more than normal. All of this was compounded by the fact that the temperature was regularly above eighty degrees. I routinely washed up with towels and a wash basin, but showering took a lot of extra effort. Even once I was dried and dressed, I would just end up sweaty again before too long.

After six days of just using the wash basin to bathe myself, I finally decided that I wanted an actual shower. Standing beneath a continuous stream of water would allow me to get much cleaner than merely scrubbing off would ever do. I had also been worried about tripping because my left foot could not wear a shower shoe properly. This had made walking to the shower on the second floor precarious. Although it had been located right next door to my bedroom, I had nearly fallen a few times on the way to the shower. On the fourth floor, I would have to walk halfway down the hall to get to the shower.. It didn’t seem possible that I could hold a flipflop on my left foot that long, let alone walk safely.

The CNA came in and helped me to change. Then I followed her down the hall. With each step I anticipated my foot scraping the floor or my shoe falling off. This probably had the effect of helping me to walk more carefully without concentrating on it. With each step I would actively bring my foot higher and step with more fluidity so my shoe wouldn’t slide off. Before long I was safely in the shower room. I marveled at how simple the journey had been. If walking to the shower could be this safe every time, I would no longer have any anxiety about it.

Getting into the shower, I first noticed how safe it seemed compared to the one on the second floor. It was covered in soft brown tiles that appeared newer and cleaner, making me feel as though I could lose my flip flops and not risk infection. The tile work gave the surface more grip. I didn’t have to be concerned that the shower bench would slide around. Instead I could concentrate on washing and drying myself as opposed to devoting effort to maintaining my balance. The CNA handed me my body wash and wash cloths, then I told her that I could be left alone.

I turned on the water and just let it hit me for a while. The water felt so heavenly that I didn’t want it to stop. I stood up when it was time to start soaping up. Instead of washing while seated then rinsing off, I was taking a real shower. I hadn’t felt so wonderful in a long, long time. It was one step closer to having a normal life.

The last thing I normally wash is my feet. In order to avoid infection to other areas of my body, I wash them before I wash my feet; I also use a separate towel. There is also the issue of trying not to fall over. I usually had the CNA to wash them for me, or waited until I left the shower. Then I would sit on the side of my bed and wash them in the plastic basin. This time I felt bold enough to wash them in the shower. The bench was low and did not slide around. I was able to reach down and scrub each individual toe. When I emerged from the shower, I felt sublime.

For most of my months on the second floor I had been in some form of therapy. My next destination would be living elsewhere. Fourth floor seemed like a transition between the two. So I decided to spend my days here working on learning to walk better. While in physical therapy in Mississippi and in Minnesota, I had been advised to wear training shoes with thicker soles. Since then I had begun using a brace on my left foot, and walking had become much more natural. Now I had time to practice walking in other shoes.

The first pair I wanted to try was my business casual shoes. Both my black and brown leather shoes were loafers. I wouldn’t require help putting these on and walking out the door. I had my pair of black loafers at Chateau, so I could practice wearing them.

On days when I didn’t have to go out, I began wearing them around the building. My left foot would droop forward because I still had no control of my lower leg. Walking up and down the hall in my shoes would allow me to practice compensating for this altered gait until I could regain more control. I was surprised at how easy it was to lift my foot each time. My toes did not drag nearly as much as I had expected, either. I lifted my leg high and tried to lift my toes with every step. I repeated this process over and over. It took a lot of mental energy, but I had to keep practicing the movements until the steps became natural.

The other pair of shoes I needed to start walking in again were my Nike running shoes. These had paper-thin soles. They were very flexible and could stretch. In fact, they were the first pair of shoes I had taught myself to put on. Now that I had learned the proper technique to put on my left shoe, it was extremely simple to put it on.

Once I placed the shoe on over the brace and stood in it, I could feel the hardness of the floor. I took my first step. As my left foot came down, the outer edge made contact first. The sensation felt weird, as though my foot rocked slightly. I walked up and down the hallway several times. Since I still felt unstable in them, I wore the shoes to lunch and dinner. I wore them the next few days, even working out in them. By the end of the week, I had grown accustomed to wearing them. I could now wear every pair of shoes I owned safely and comfortably.

The next time I wore my regular shoes was an unbelievable experience. My posture seemed greatly improved. Just as with the first time I went ice skating, it felt like my legs were fully under me once I was back in regular shoes. I felt six inches taller. When I walked, I didn’t have the same problems I’d had before with toe drag. I could clear my foot with each stride because I had practiced so hard in my loafers. It felt so great that I began to think about walking outdoors.

On the following Sunday, I asked one of the CNAs to walk with me to the end of the block. “Can you get a wheelchair to follow behind me, in case I need to rest?”

“Meet me downstairs in about fifteen minutes.”

When I went down to the front door, the CNA had still not arrived. She came down about ten minutes later. I told her, “I thought you forgot.”

“It just took me longer than I thought it would. I had to search all three floors to find a chair.”

“Well it doesn’t matter now. I’m ready to walk now.”

“That’s what I’m talkin’ about. Let’s get it!”

I started walking down the sidewalk. I had to go about one block to get to the corner. If I could make it halfway there, I would stop and take a rest in the chair. It seemed like a long journey, but I ignored how far away my goal was and just concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other.

At first I was very self-conscious of my steps. They were very slow. The sky was overcast; the evening air was still a little warm and humid. I could hear my feet scraping along the pavement. In order to ignore how slow my progress was, I started chatting with the CNA. I talked about movies; I talked about rap videos; anything to keep my mind off of the task. I was a little sweaty, but I was not feeling winded at all. I resolved to keep pushing toward the intersection.

Before long, I had made it all the way to the corner. The CNA asked me if I wanted to sit down and rest. I told her that I just wanted to lean on the wheelchair for a moment rather than sit down. After a few minutes, I stood up straight and started walking again. Resting was fine for a little while, but I refused to compromise the strength and momentum I was establishing.

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