As a child, I was able to buy two Chappies bubble gum for one cent!
I remember walking into our sweet shop, with my birthday money clutched in my hand. I was going to spend ten cents and get myself twenty Chappies. I loved Chappies. I had learned how to blow enormous bubbles. As I reached into the Chappies jar, my eyes were caught by the most amazingly beautiful piece of rock candy. It had green, red and blue swirls that lovingly embraced it. I had never seen such a wonder of enchantment. It was expensive but ohhhhh, I imagined taking a lick of that magic! I paid my thirty cents and walked out of the shop like a wizard brandishing my enchanted wand. I envisaged taking off the paper at home and smelling the sweetness. My steps quickened.
Fifty years later, I have just had a similar experience.
My walking has been getting worse and worse. I learnt, however, that by keeping my right leg slightly bent, this helped me walk in a far less jarring manner. Recently this manoeuvre no longer seemed to be working. It was a case of step-draaaaaag, step-draaaaaag, step-draaaaag. Not the most elegant manner in which to walk into a room and look sophisticated! Mums said to me:
“Try this prosthesis of mine that fits in my shoe. See if it improves your walking at all.”
Mums is size 8 and I am size 5! I was unable to see if this was the solution to my problem. I needed to find out about these prostheses.
“I will make an appointment for you to see Franette Botha. She is a Medical Orthotist Prosthetist and may be able to help you.”
“Glory be, Mums, what is a Medical Orthodontist Prosthetist?” I exclaimed. “It’s my leg not my teeth that need attention!”
“I said Orthotist Prosthetist,” my mother very patiently corrected. And before you ask, look it up on Google.”
Medical Orthotist Prosthetists design and make artificial limbs (prosthetics) and surgical appliances such as splints, braces and surgical shoes (orthotics). I have written a blog about Caleb Swanepoel who was attacked by a shark. His leg was replaced by a prosthetic one. The orthotics would deal with me, I thought, making special surgical inserts for my shoes.
Mums and I went to see Franette Botha. We sat down in her room and I explained what I needed.
“I used to wear these inserts in my shoes. In fact, I have two old, very worn ones here with me in my bag,” I said.
“I would like to see you walk first, Gaynor,” Fran replied.
“Sure”, I said and began my step-draaaaags around the room. I knew my legs were not performing to the best of their ability, so I planted this very assured, dazzling smile on my face.
“Okay, Gaynor, here is what you need”, Franette announced turning away.
She turned back to me not holding two little shoe inserts as I was expecting, but instead this enormous black brace.
“You can’t be serious,” I gasped.
“If you carry on walking as you are walking now, in about a years time you will need surgery on your leg and your lower back will be in tatters.”
That quietened me down.
“I only have a brace for a left leg in stock. I will order one for your right leg and see you in a few days.”
I walked out of her rooms in total despair. Before I could say a thing, Mums wisely said:
“Don’t get into a state about this now. Let’s wait and see what the brace feels like.”
Naturally I told my best friend, B, about this sudden turn of events. She was incredibly interested and joined Mums and I, when four days later, Fran fitted me with the brace. It was black and reached from mid-thigh to mid-calf. It had six straps which Fran did up for me.
“Now, Gaynor, let me see you walk,” she said.
I duly walked across the room. There was a gasp from Mums.
“Oh, you are walking beautifully!”
Then Fran showed me how to do up the six straps. The order in which they had to be done up, was not easy for me to grasp. And, it was incredibly difficult to physically do the straps up with only one hand that works. I was so relieved that Mums and B were both watching intensely. They would help if I needed it.
“I’m going to give you this on trial for five days. Just see how you get on.”
Two days later, I stopped in to see her.
“Could you tell me if I’ve got it on correctly?”
Fran took me to a mirror and showed me where I had gone wrong. The brace was not high enough on my thigh.
“Make an appointment to see me tomorrow. There are some adjustments that I would like to make.”
The following day, Fran took the brace from me and said: “I am going to remove the sixth strap going over your thigh. I don’t think it’s necessary. I am also going to make all the straps wider so that they are more comfortable and do some adjustments so they are easier to do up. Come back in three quarters of an hour.”
Three quarters of an hour later, the brace felt great! And I was walking beautifully. This brace wouldn’t allow me to overextend. My days of overextension were over.
But, I am a very vain person!
Since my fall, I have always tried to hide my disabilities. Before I received my Cochlear Implants, very rarely did I admit I couldn’t hear a person who was talking to me. “Really” became my stock phrase.
“Tell me, Gaynor, what do you think of where you’re living in Durban?”
Hopeless!!! Now that I have Cochlear Implants, one is hidden under my hair and the other tucked neatly behind my ear. I try to hide the spasticity in my arm by keeping it in a pocket, resting on a hip or else clasped behind my back.
Suddenly I am wearing a black brace from thigh to calf on my right leg. Most of the time I wear jeans and the brace doesn’t fit underneath. So there is my disability for all to see. Mums and B were amazed at how distraught I was about wearing this brace.
“In all the years since your fall, very rarely have I seen you crying over your disabilities. The last time was when you were told that you wouldn’t be allowed to drive. And here you are weeping over a brace. I don’t understand why,” Mums said.
“It’s because I can’t hide it unless I’m wearing a long-ish dress.”
“No, you can’t hide it,” interrupted B, “But, before you wore your brace, everybody noticed you because of the terrible way you walked. Now, they might see the brace but you are walking practically normally.”
“Yes,” Mums and B both cried out in exasperation.
I know that you should never judge people from the outside. So why do I do this to myself? Franette has provided me with this incredible brace that enables me to walk without that terrible jerking leg extension. As a result, I have been walking in a far more normal manner. I also have a lot less back pain.
So, I have devised a plan.
When people, look at my brace, and say in consternation: “Gaynor , what have you done to yourself?”
With a sigh, I’ll answer: “My damn skateboard! I’ve been doing double flips going downhill really fast for the past year. Recently I tried doing a triple flip backwards. And, well, need I say more?”
Recently, all braced up, I was walking with a close friend of mine, Ingrid. Suddenly she stopped and faced me. “You have got no idea the pleasure I get walking with you now,” she said, “ you don’t actually walk. You glide!”
When I was seven years old, I went into a shop intending to buy Chappies bubble gum. I walked out with something more expensive but infinitely better. The most beautiful stick of rock candy I had ever seen. I didn’t eat it all at once. No, this rock candy was selfishly cherished with a few licks a day. In the same way, I went to see Franette Botha intending to buy shoe inserts to improve my walking. I ended up with a far more expensive but incredible leg brace that has improved my walking dramatically.
Yes, you might now see me with a black brace on my right leg, but I hope you will barely notice it. You will be struck by this elegant, gliding woman with a smile on her face!