I used to fall all the time when I was a little girl. I had poor balance and stiffness in my legs and this often led to falls. I learned quite quickly as a child to avoid activities during which I could possibly fall because – in addition to tripping and falling forwards – I also fell off of things. The embarrassment it caused me was worse than the physical pain of falling, so I did everything I could to get out of things that held any risk of me falling or publicly embarrassing myself. I grew very frustrated and angry with myself when I did fall, and if people were around me, they often helped me up without me asking. This was kind but also irritating; a lot of the time, I wanted to keep my dignity intact and get on my feet by myself.
When I was about ten years old, my occupational therapist presented a surgical option to my family that would help reduce the number of falls I suffered. The operation would involve breaking my left femur bone and rotating it twenty degrees outward. I don’t have a medical explanation as to why my femur bone was inwardly rotated, but I made the decision myself to have the surgery because I knew it would help with my walk. The operation is common for children who have cerebral palsy. I had a gait assessment in Saint Paul Minnesota and then underwent surgery in Minneapolis over the Christmas holiday when I was eleven. My femur bone was broken and reset and a metal plate was put in the bone to hold the pieces together as they healed.
I recuperated at home in a wheelchair for a month and then returned to the clinic to begin walking again. We’d booked a four-day stay, figuring that it would take a few days to get me on my feet. My father and I arrived in Minneapolis late at night after our flight and I could not have physiotherapy in the evening, so we agreed to start physiotherapy in the morning. The next day, I walked with forearm crutches immediately after getting out of the wheelchair and was discharged early. My dad and I decided not to tell my mother and we surprised her by getting home the next evening. She was so happy when she saw me walking toward her on crutches.
I cannot recall how long I used crutches for post-op, but I eventually walked without them. I did not see or feel a difference in my body or walk, but other people saw a change. The surgery delivered on its promise and I didn’t fall as often. I still lived in fear of falling and I was still a cautious walker, but I didn’t fall as often. The surgery did not address other problems like the weakness in my feet or the tightness in my muscles – because it was a bone-based procedure – but it helped with my mobility.
My younger brother was born when I was five years old and he can still recall what my walk was like before and after I had my surgery. He also notices when I make improvements now and always tells me when he sees a change in my body and the way I move. If he can remember the difference in my gait from when he was that little, it definitely made a huge change. I don’t think the surgery reduced the visibility of my disability, but it improved the quality of my life. At that time in my life, I was focused on the management of my disability rather than overcoming it, and the operation helped with the management.
I just wrote a post about how surgery doesn’t solve everything and I can’t expect it to. I knew – even when I was that little – that surgery wouldn’t make me entirely better but that it would make things better than they’d been before. Even though my occupational therapist and family facilitated the operation, I had a say in the final decision to undergo the surgery. I’m so glad that I did. Even though I never felt a difference either way with regards to my walk – because my ‘off’ walk feels normal to me – I didn’t fall as often and that made my life better.