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Figuring it out

Updated: Sep 27, 2023

As far back as childhood, I’ve had a fascination with figuring things out. Whether it was hitting a pitched baseball, sinking a 15-foot jumper, or executing a play-action pass after carrying out a convincing fake to a running back, there were things I wanted to be able to do flawlessly despite my lack of natural prowess.

So I worked and practiced, mostly by myself in my childhood driveway at the basketball goal, or in the floodlight illuminated back yard at the pitch-back. And yes, I even spent hours delivering fake handoffs to a ghost back before rolling out and firing my deeply worn youth-sized football at a homemade target.

Even then, I was sophisticated enough to know the hours I invested would lead me nowhere beyond high school sports. It wasn’t how I was built or put together. But I wanted more than anything to be on that high school field or court, and yeah, I made it.

Maybe that’s where this determination I have to not allow the amputation of my right foot to change me originated.

I am still me, even in my temporarily wheelchair-bound condition. And possibly, that is why some readers have been almost insistent that I continue to chronicle my “recovery” as it happens. I have been reluctant to do so, in light of the fact that so many are stricken with life-threatening illnesses or conditions they can’t possibly recover from. Am I overanalyzing my situation, which isn’t going to kill me (though it might have, had it not been spotted and treated so effectively at our local hospital)?

So, after rightfully acknowledging the plethora of advantages I’ve been given by my wife, Laurie, our family and friends without which I wouldn’t even be able to write this column or produce this newspaper we’ve nurtured for more than 11 years, let’s look at where I am a week after leaving the hospital for our converted new (ground floor) home.

Yes, I acknowledge I can’t hop in my truck (probably my favorite past activity) and head for the store, to check out a potential news story, run to a council meeting or to the Justice Center.

That’s hard for me, I’ll admit.

But here’s what I can now do on my own: starting with going to the bathroom.

Anyone who has ever been in the position I find myself in is sure to understand the incredible frustration that comes with not being able to do the most basic of human activities without using a commode that must be dumped, often by your caregiver. It’s devastating to the psyche, and many people suffer conditions that make that a permanent situation.

I’ve learned to stand on my good leg after lifting myself from the wheelchair I’ve been so graciously loaned by Chris Beal. The wheelchair was most recently used by Chris’ mother, Margo Beal, whom I worked with at the Star-Herald back in the late 1980s. She was part of my life for nearly 40 years, and now continues to be despite her death a little over a year ago. I say a word of thanks to Margo every time I sit down. And I can absolutely imagine the witty comeback she responds with. She was like that.

Learning the simple process of standing, without which I could perform very little on my own, required repetition, strength-building and muscle memory training. Things I did in the backyard as a kid every night.

So many things have been trained into us over our lifetime that it can be overwhelming. I still try to use both legs to stand, nearly every time, despite the fact that my right leg only reaches halfway from my seat to the floor and is lacking a foot.

I almost verbally remind myself every time, left leg only, left leg only. And that’s only after remembering to engage the brakes on the wheelchair and to use my right hand to latch on to a grab bar or other stable and permanent holding tool.

It’s a lot, but I’m getting there, and I’m grateful. I’m still me!


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