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Learning to walk: Back to the drawing board again

 Posted: 2:00 AM April 08, 2013

People say you never forget how to ride a bike. That's probably true. I haven't attempted to ride a bike in a long time, but I bet I could probably keep my balance and turn for at least a couple blocks at a time. But what if it turned out you had been riding your bike wrong since the beginning? What if you had to learn to ride a bike all over again?

There are a lot of things that we "learn" to do as babies. We learn to hold our head up, how to eat semi-solid food, how to stand and how to walk. Although these are achievements often celebrated in baby books and photographs, it's not something we spend much time thinking about as adults.

Well, it turns out I've been doing most of those things all wrong. Apparently the only skill I learned, and mastered, as a baby, was how to hold solid food in my mouth, chew it up, and have it go down into my stomach instead of my lungs. The whole standing, walking and holding my head up didn't actually go so well.

For the past month, I've had pain in my left leg, mostly around my ankle. My friends and family finally told me that I either had to stop complaining about it or go see the doctor. Since I didn't want anything to stand in the way of my complaining (whining is another skill I mastered before age 2), I went to see the doctor. After a half-hour of hip prodding, gait observing and ankle rotations, I came out with the diagnosis, "you walk funny." With that diagnosis under my belt I went off to physical therapy to re-learn the basic skills of walking and standing.

Another old saying is, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." I'm not particularly old, but in dog years I'm pushing 200 years old. For an hour every week, I stand in a room with a physical therapist desperately trying to teach me to stand up and walk across the room without looking funny. The physical therapists tell me the goal is to put less stress on my ligaments, but my real goal is to not look funny when I'm walking. No one but my doctor and my physical therapist have ever said this to me, but now I'm worried that maybe the rest of the world was just too polite.

I have cards around my house and my workplace reminding me what to do. "Unlock knees! Tuck pelvis! Head up!" I've even told my co-workers that they have permission to kick me if they see me standing wrong. So far I haven't been kicked, but I've gotten some very handy reminders from them.

Old dogs, even those pushing the two-century mark, probably can learn new tricks; they just need the right incentive. One of the physical therapists finally found my ultimate incentive. We stood in front of a mirror trying to get me to stand up straight.

"Pull your head higher! Higher!" until he finally said, proudly, "See how much taller you look now?" He had found my ultimate incentive — to be taller. At 5 foot 2, I have fantasies about being 5 foot 4, believing that those 2 inches will finally be the difference between having to hem my pants and fitting into clothing unaltered by my mother's sewing machine.

I've only just started and I know the road will be long (it took me many months to figure out how to ride a bike). My ankle still hurts, my knee is still swollen and I have to put ice on my back.

But inside, I already feel 2 inches taller.

Zoe Abel is unlocking her knees, tilting her pelvis and stretching her head to the sky. You can contact her at dailyzoe@gmail.com.


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