Ramblings on healthcare, medical education, and life with a spinal cord injury
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A picture’s worth a thousand words

Well, it’s been a while since I posted something.  I’ve been pretty busy lately both with therapy and some other things I’m keeping my mind occupied with.  I’ve ramped up to four days per week of physical therapy, and I’m hoping to add a fifth before too long.  I feel like I’m at the point where my core and my legs are starting to get strong enough that more work is actually beneficial to them, as opposed to resulting in stiffness for days after. It’s a good feeling, and although I’m occasionally frustrated at having to deal with all of this, the continued progress really helps me to stay positive.

In addition to being more busy lately, and thus more tired, there hasn’t been anything remarkable to talk about in my progress.  Things continue to move forward, albeit slowly.  I suppose that’s the real story at this point – no news is good news.

As I mentioned last time, I’ve started to take steps on the parallel bars. Since the last post, those steps have gotten a lot better.  The left knee extensor spasm/tightness that made it hard for me to bend and advance my left leg has gotten a lot better, and I’m able to take steps that look more like normal steps.  A big part of this has come because of the consistently increasing strength in the right quadriceps.  What I was once very worried would never come back is now making continued, marked progress.  It’s still not as strong as the left leg, but I no longer need Melissa to block it off from collapsing.  As a result, I can put more of my body weight through the right leg when trying to step with the left leg.  This means I can take the weight off my left leg, thus making it easier to bend at the knee and advance normally.  Funny how that works.

So without further ado, a photo from a recent session on the bars:

Walking on the bars

You can see the left leg is locked straight at the knee (Melissa’s knee is in front of it, although not touching it, just in case I am unable to keep my leg straight), and the right leg is bent at the knee and advancing from the hip.  Note the foot off the ground.  :)  Ritche, one of the guys there, is holding on to my belt just in case I were to fall backwards – he’s not providing any assistance.

At the suggestion of one of my other therapists, we’ve tried something new lately in addition to the bars – braces.  And no, not the dental kind.  One on each leg, they begin just below the pelvis and continue down to the feet where they force the foot to stay in neutral (at a ninety degree angle with the leg).  They inherently keep the knee from bending by providing rigidity and stability, and serve to help me focus on working on movement from the hips and pelvis.  Reciprocal movement in the region, which should help overall walking form.

I worked with the braces during three separate sessions on the parallel bars, increasingly getting better movement from the hips.  Then we tried on a walker.  I managed to get about ten to fifteen feet before having to rest, but that was with no assistance at all.  Unfortunately, being 6′ 4″ means they don’t have a walker tall enough for me, and the result is that more force goes through my arms than is supposed to.  And they get tired as a result.  One would think a top-notch place like Mount Sinai would have all of that on hand, but apparently not.  They’ve already got one on the way for me to use, though.

After five sessions with the braces, I returned to the bars without them last Thursday.  Although my hips were stronger, unfortunately it seemed to lead to a bit of a setback.  Melissa was out for two weeks, so I only worked with my other therapist with the braces.  Since my legs hadn’t been forced to support my bodyweight on the bars for those weeks, when I got back on the bars they were not up to par with where they’d been. The spasms have been worse in the hamstrings, causing my leg to bend back quickly at the knee.  Several times, I’ve wound up with both legs spasming and my body being held up entirely by my arms – both legs completely off the ground.

It’s been frustrating, but in the two sessions since then, things are getting back towards normal.  So while my legs are still slightly spastic when I stand and try to straighten them completely, they’re getting closer to where they were before.  And my hip and knee movements are more fluid as a result of the braces and the walker.  I’m confident that in the end, the braces will help.  Going forward, it looks like I’ll be walking on the bars twice a week without the braces, and once a week on a walker with the braces.  As soon as they get a walker tall enough for me, that is.  I think the balance of the two activities, coupled with continued walking and exercises in the pool, will prove highly beneficial in the end.

So here’s another picture, see if you can guess what it is:

Can you tell?

Can you tell?

It’s the official practice/training facility of the New York Rangers, in Tarrytown, NY.  A photo I took recently with my phone.  Awesome.  I’ve been a Rangers fan since my dad first took me to a game at MSG when I was a kid, and that winter I started playing hockey myself.  I played through high school, and continued to be a big fan of the team and the sport.

So why am I posting this now?  Well, being such a fan, it was incredible to spend time where they practice, a place that is typically off-limits to the public.  But why was I there?  Well, I decided to start playing hockey again.  Sled hockey (they call it sledge hockey elsewhere).  It’s a version of the sport that allows players with any type of disability that prevents them from playing regular hockey.  Same rules as regular hockey, and it’s full contact.  You sit on a sled that has a skate blade underneath it (two blades for a little more stability until you’re comfortable enough to go down to one), and have one short stick in each hand.  At the end of each stick is a small pick that you use to propel yourself forward on the ice.

The team I joined happens to be called the Rangers, and we practice… at the official Rangers facility in Tarrytown.  :) Awesome.

Check out a video of the US paralympic team:

Pretty cool, huh?  We had our first practice of the season last week, and I had a BLAST.  Just like the guy says in the video, as soon as I went into the rink and smelled that ice rink smell, I was hooked all over again.  It’s somewhat like learning to skate all over again, because the balance is a bit different than on regular skates.  And it was only my first time out, so by the time I was done my shoulders were EXHAUSTED and my core was weak for days afterward.  Some of these guys have been playing for more than ten years and are pretty amazing on these sleds, so I’m not sure how much I’ll catch up to them anytime soon.  But it was so much fun.  I think I did pretty well for my first time on a sled, and I’m definitely going to be back for a lot more.  I’m hooked, and hopefully I’ll find a place to keep playing when I’m in Cleveland next year.

So yeah.  Let’s go Rangers!

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