I was thrilled about my recent balance scores. This recharged my enthusiasm for rehabilitation, since I could now foresee needing my cane on a much more limited basis by the end of the year. Therapy was also about to become much more challenging in ways I had not anticipated, but I would find ways to compliment what my therapists initiated to reactivate dormant muscle groups.
We began our first exercises on the therapy mat. The therapist asked me to move to the center of the mat and try to bring myself upright on my knees. Moving across the mat wasn’t terribly difficult, but kneeling proved to be a real strain. I could bring my knees beneath me; I could rest my upper body weight on my right arm; but when I tried to sit upright, I repeatedly fell over. Finally, after several minutes, I was finally able to sit up.
Once I was comfortably balanced, the therapist had me go up on my knees then sit back. She wanted me to do this for ten reps. As I performed the exercise I could feel it in my glutes and my calves, but I mostly felt it in my quadriceps. It wasn’t too hard, but the exercise was new to me. So I fell forward a couple of times. But while it had initially taken a lot of effort to sit up, it was a lot easier to regather myself each time.
This kneeling exercise was laborious enough, but the therapist next announced that we were going to add a separate wrinkle to it. She had me lie down and rest while she went and retrieved a stool. She sat the stool next to me then had me get up on my knees. Now she instructed me to support my weight with the stool while bringing my left foot forward. I needed assistance dragging my left foot from beneath me, but once it was in front of me, balancing became simple. After all, this was the same stance I used whenever I needed to climb onto a bed or couch.
After a minute she had me switch feet. Now my right foot was planted and left knee was down. This immediately became a chore. I would try to stabilize myself then remove my arm from the stool. I couldn’t keep my arm off the stool for two or three seconds before I would feel myself losing balance. Each time I would feel the trembles shoot through my body, then I would slam my hand back down on the stool. Throughout the minute I was attempting this, I was never able to let go of the stool for five seconds. When the therapist told me I could stop, I was quivering and drenched in sweat. It was frustrating that I was unable to complete the task. I vowed that I would continue trying each day at home. If I could master a balancing activity this difficult, walking without a cane wouldn’t seem so daunting.
Next, we moved on to standing exercises. We walked over to a long bar in the middle of the room where the therapist instructed me to start doing sidesteps. I bent down, grasped the bar with my left hand, took a large step out to my left, and followed by bringing my right leg next to it. I made it all the way to the end of the bar and started to step with my right.
Now she said, “This time try doing it without using your hands.”
Without the support of the bar, it was hard to maintain stability. Each time I stepped, I crouched down into a squatting position, because that was how I had been building strength in my glutes and quadriceps. So I had come to believe that this was a necessary movement.
The therapist said, try not to go down so far, and don’t step so wide.”
These two modifications allowed me to remain more vertical. Since my center of gravity didn’t change, my core movement was more stable. Now I was able to remove my hand from the bar without fear of falling. I sidestepped along the bar and back twice without grabbing the bar in panic.
During our therapy session the following week, we tried kneeling again. This went a little better, because my body had grown accustomed to the pose. I was not able to keep my hand off the stool for significantly longer, but I was able to maintain my form each time I slammed my hand back down in order to stop myself from falling. It was progress, but I wanted to see more.
To ramp up the intensity of kneeling activity, the therapist now asked me to let go of the stool and crawl on my knees in a circle. This was much harder than it sounded. I could barely advance my left leg. I nearly keeled over each time I tried. The therapist compromised by allowing me to keep one hand on the stool. I made a single circuit around the stool, then I collapsed. I could not believe how thoroughly this tired me out. I just had to keep telling myself that if I was exhausting myself, I was getting the maximum out of every session. It had taken over three years to get to this point, so the most important thing was to keep moving forward, no matter how miniscule the steps.
When I got home from therapy, Mary greeted me as usual. She jumped on me leaving her fur all over my clothing. I was wearing my sweatpants so it didn’t bother me. However I hated when she got fur all over my khaki’s. Mary sheds quite a bit, so I had been brushing her as often as possible. But when I did this, strands of her fur still wafted across the apartment, even as I tried to collect it and throw it away. So her fur was all over my apartment.
I coped by using using lint brushes and doing things like carefully sitting on the bed or couch so as not to disturb too much fur. On days that I had to dress nice, I often would not put on my clothes until a few minutes before it was time to leave. I went through scores of dryer sheets at a time and often nearly missed rides, but I still wasn’t adequately mitigating the problem. Then one day it occurred to me to just start brushing Mary outdoors.
I took her out to the backyard on the next breezy day. After she was finished going to the restroom and exploring, I called her over to me and began combing out the excess fur. It didn’t take long before the comb was full. I pulled it out and released it to the wind. Mary seemed to be enjoying it, so I continued combing then discarding the fur. When I was satisfied that we had removed enough, I took Mary back inside. The first thing she did was start jumping up onto all of the furniture.
One day I was bringing Mary in from her afternoon walk when a stranger was waiting at the door. He introduced himself as “Rob” and asked if he could pet my dog. I told him that Mary was friendly and adored humans. He put his hand at. As usual, she was so effusive with her affection that he just laughed.
“You have a great dog here.”
“Thank you. If you aren’t careful, you’ll be down there petting her all night.”
“She’s okay. Aren’t ya?” he said, addressing Mary. He rubbed her for a few more minutes before he addressed me again. “Say, if you never need someone to walk her, I’d love to. I used to own sled dogs.”
“Thanks. I might have to take you up on that.”
“Oh you don’t have to thank me; you’d be doing me a favor.”
“Alright. Here’s my number. Just shoot me a text with your name.”
A couple of days later, I invited Rob to help me take Mary walking in the backward. I let him hold the leash. Then I asked him to walk up a hill, so I could practice walking on a steeper incline. It was also a chance to let Mary walk across different parts of the yard. After we came back down the hill, I sat down to rest at one of the patio tables while Rob walked Mary up the hill on the opposite side of the yard without me. Mary always wanted to run up there to chase the rabbits she could see scurrying up the hill.
They disappeared up the hill for several minutes. Eventually they came back down by way of the steps. Mary was noticeably excited. Rob told me that she had pooped twice. He held the bags up like they were prizes. He handed Mary’s leash to me, then he went to throw away the waste. We walked Mary back inside and I invited him to go out with us again when I took her out again for the night. He said that he would be delighted to help me walk her again.
One day I was not feeling well. I asked Rob if he would take Mary out for me. He said that of course he would. He even offered to take her to the park a few blocks away. I told him that it wasn’t necessary. The truth was that I still remembered the night when someone from the transitional care had walked off with her without my permission. I had felt so worried and helpless. I didn’t know Rob well enough to let him take her off-site.
I allowed Rob to walk Mary a few more times that week. Each time he asked me whether I wanted him to take her to the park. Each time I said no. About I started thinking about the fact that I wanted to make sure that she stayed healthy. I was planning to get her out to dog parks and to the Stone Arch Bridge starting in December. However I was going to physical therapy and the gym several times a week. Mary was confined to the building and the backyard. She needed more. Finally I decided that if I had come to know someone comfortably enough to let him take her out, I could trust him to take her one street over.
The next time Rob came down to take Mary out, I said, “Why don’t you take her over to the park?”
“Are you sure?”
“It’s only a couple of streets away. She should get some exercise.
“Okay. We’ll be back in a few minutes.”
Rob put Mary’s leash on. It took every bit of effort not to announce that I had changed my mind. But over the past few weeks, I had learned Rob’s apartment number, surname, politics, and work habits. I knew as much about him as I needed to in order to let him walk my dog.
I expected them to be gone about thirty minutes. To keep myself from worrying endlessly, I opened up my laptop and made edits to my blog The “What if” questions kept dancing through my mind, but I kept reminding myself that I had purchased an ID and had Mary microchipped to give me peace of mind. I had checked her leash. It wasn’t frayed or rusted. I could worry myself to death, but it wasn’t going to affect anything.
Rob and Mary walked in around fifteen minutes later. Mary was prancing around and grinning. That was how I began the process of trusting Mary with someone new.