I spent some time reflecting yesterday. I was waist deep in a renovation project and had plenty of time to think. I decided yesterday would be a good day to finish the new floor in my pantry, remove all the old shelves to make room for the new, and paint the walls. While sitting on the floor measuring and fitting tiles, I started to think about the progression my body has taken during my journey to walking on my own power. It's definitely not quite as simple as just getting some long-dormant muscles stronger. There is much more to it than that, and when I stop think about it, I am in awe at how amazing, and possible things are in relation to the human body and its recovery.
The years I spent sitting in a wheelchair, I didn't often use my legs for much. I had become so used to them being weak and unusable that I adapted to using my arms for everything. They basically did nothing more than get in my way. What a person doesn't realize is when this happens, it's not just the muscles that become dormant, but it's your brain, and the signals your brain sends, that suffer as well. It's like a blind person whose other senses are refined; the brain disconnects from whatever part of the body is not being used so that it may focus its energies on the parts of the body that need it most.
Thinking about this process reminds me of my days in ICU when I was connected to a ventilator. My diaphragm was paralyzed and I was unable to breathe on my own. I was on a ventilator for a total of 34 days, and in that short period of time, my brain forgot how to breathe. When I regained the use of that muscle, I had to consciously think to myself "OK, breathe" in order to take every single breath. Imagine that for a minute. On average, a healthy adult at rest will take 12 breaths per minute. So twelve times per minute, I had to tell myself to breathe. At night I had to be reconnected to the ventilator. It only took a few days before the involuntary response kicked back in and I no longer had to think about it, but those few days really taught me the meaning of "learning how to breathe all over again".
The same is true for every other part of my body that was affected by this illness. To this day, I have to consciously think about lifting up my foot when I walk. My right leg can pretty much do it on its own, but my left still drags if I don't say in my head "OK, pick up your foot". It's like disconnecting your car radio: it's not going to work unless you reconnect those wires. I have to think about almost everything I do until it becomes involuntary once again. My brain has to reconnect the wires. I always used to think that if I could move it and feel it, I should be using it. Shame on me for not, but now I am learning how to walk all over again.
It really puts into perspective the length of time it takes to recover from any injury, and especially one that completely shut my entire body down. I can remember when trying to lift a 1-pound dumbbell seemed like the hardest thing I ever had to do, now my arms are so strong grown men have arm-wrestled me -- and lost.
It renews my hope that one day I will be looking back and saying "I remember when I could barely walk 300 steps" as I'm running down the beach, and it reaffirms the mantra I play over and over in my head -- Never Give Up!
Step count today: 936
Steps I'm behind: 5,596