After the surgery to partially correct my weak, paralyzed polio ankle when I was thirteen, it was back to school, on crutches. Slippery floors, scary moments, and a good angora sweater pilling under the arms. Aching hands, shoulders and armpit muscles. Armpit rash on my sensitive skin, newly de-fuzzed with Nair depilatory – Mother was nearly hairless and shaved nothing, and didn’t think I should either. On the plus side, no PE classes, which were always either humiliating or tiring for me anyway. Social life impaired a bit, but I could concentrate on my studies and make good grades.
The first cast removal was a hopeful event but also proved disgusting; I had not expected the stench and look of soft dead skin resulting from enclosing a limb for three months. I was no longer in pain, though I had not put weight on the foot yet, and I’d thought this was it, moving on to walking again. However, we weren’t done. The doctor said it was healing well, but, slowly, due to the poor circulation typical of a polio limb, so, I’d need to wear a cast again for another couple of months. I was disheartened by the unexpected extension of cast-wearing time.
When the second cast came off, I still needed to use the crutches for at least another month, gradually beginning to put weight on it again. Stepping on it at first was excruciating, and extremely discouraging; I felt as if I’d never walk again without crutches or pain, and thus would never walk independently again at all. I had lost body memory of how it felt to walk! I sobbed deeply and frequently at first. Daily practice was painful but necessary. I also lost my balance easily because the foot, ankle and my gimpy little leg had weakened even further from lack of use.
But in a month or so I was off the crutches entirely. Six months on crutches, one summer lost, no swimming in the over-100-degree weather, not much fun, school events missed. I did continue to sing in the chorus and was even able to attend the vocal competitions in Chico, far enough north that we travelled in buses. I participated in those regionals for two or three years with my school, even when on crutches. Ginger Rogers had nothing on me, dancing backward in high heels. And now I had a stable ankle, even though I still had a drop foot.
I continued to limp badly due to the two inch length difference in my legs and my deformed hip, and would forever, but I no longer rolled my ankle toward the floor (until the fusion began to weaken a little fifty years later). It was, from the perspective of a foot, at least, somewhat easier to walk. This allowed me to walk perhaps a half mile to a mile — with fatigue, of course. But, better than staying home while the other kids went wherever it was that we just had to go as young teenagers.
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