Have you ever had a personal learning experience where the skills acquired can be leveraged in business, or in your personal life?
One experience that comes to mind for me is when I had the opportunity to learn how to walk again.
When I came home from the hospital after a very long stay from a critical medical condition I had to adapt to my new life in many ways. I had become completely blind and become so weak I could not sit up in bed, among many other newly acquired challenges.
As I laid there in bed, or sat in my wheelchair I contemplated with apprehension over and over again how difficult it would be for me to get around as a person who was now blind in my wheelchair. At this point in my rehabilitation I knew nothing about blindness. I had never talked to a person who was blind and did not know any organizations existed to help the blind. The outdoors is a great love of mine and I wondered how I would ever get outside without eyesight in my wheelchair by myself ever again. Learning to walk again had become one of my passionate goals!
Opinions Are Just Others Observations
The neurologists at the hospital I was released from thought I had no hope of ever walking again. From lying in bed for so long and becoming diabetic I had serious neuropathy in both legs. The doctors performed many tests on me and concluded that I would never walk again. By the time I was released from the hospital I had lost my medical insurance. My lengthy stay, many surgeries, procedures, tests and the criticalness of my medical condition caused my bill to exceed the maximum amount that was covered in my plan. Lack of medical insurance slowed down my rehabilitation. Once I was able to get medical insurance again I went to another hospital that specialized in very critical neurological conditions. A group of neurologists did many tests with the latest technology and came up with the same conclusion as the group of doctors at the other hospital did. The doctors told me that because of the nerve damage in both legs I would not be able to walk again. They agreed to see me as an outpatient to give me some needed occupational therapy and to see how physical therapy might help my condition.
When I first met my physical therapist she asked, “What is your goal?” I said I want to walk again. I could not see the reaction on her face being completely blind, but I imagined a smirk of amusement on her face by the tone in her voice when she replied, can you be more specific?” I said, “I will be walking by Christmas”. Walking was to be one of my goals for the year and was to be my very special Christmas present to myself that year.
Why New Skills Are Needed
I had been lying in a hospital bed for seven months. Three of those months I was in a coma on life support. I was on intravenous (IV) food for one month after awakening from my coma. With this trauma to my body and lack of real food I had dropped from a 6 foot tall 205 pound person to 128 pounds by the time I got out of the hospital. One hand could almost fit around my upper thigh muscle it was so thin. I had a couple of surgeries in my abdomen area. When I felt my abdomen it was rock hard from the scar tissue from the surgeries and was extremely skinny and a bit concaved. I asked my wife if the surgeon cut off my fat while he was in their cutting around doing the necessary surgeries to save my life. She laughed and said no, you lost the weight the very hard way!
Creating a Stable Base to Build Success
When I was strong enough to pull myself into a standing position from my wheelchair I could not place my feet flat on the ground. I could only stand on my toes and part of the ball of my foot, like I was wearing high heels without shoes. This was because of lying in a hospital bed for so long my muscles had atrophied very badly and had developed contractures.
They had devices at the hospital where I was doing outpatient therapy called a standing frame. I would be pushed in my wheelchair up into this device. It had two handles at each side of my wheelchair within hand reach. With great difficulty and exertion I would pull myself up to the standing position. The therapist would then pull a strap very tight around my backside forcing my body to stand erect which forced my feet to sit flatter on the ground. Over time by gradually tightening the belt tighter and tighter, I would stand more upright and would gradually be able to put more of my foot flat on the ground. Standing in this device would help my spine straighten, strengthen my legs and allow my internal organs to uncompress and position naturally in my body to help with blood flow and digestion. I had to stand in this device for an hour or so at a time. The therapist wanted me to stand in a standing frame daily if possible. I could not go to the hospital each day to accomplish this. I was attending computer courses designed for the blind, learning assistive technology, going to counseling, attending meetings at local blind organizations and learning other essential blindness skills so I could return to work as quickly as possible. Plus my medical insurance would not have covered me going for daily therapy. Standing Frames are very expensive in my opinion for me to purchase my own. My dad looked over this device at the hospital where I was doing outpatient therapy, and got some plans and built me my own standing frame out of wood, and then put it in my backyard. Now that I had my own standing frame at home my wife Kathy put me into the standing frame each day. She called it my torture device, jokingly, because of the way it looked and the way she would strap me in. To also help with my rehabilitation I would lift small arm weights and use other types of weights to strengthen my arms, hands, wrists and legs.
Get The Support You Need
The hospital where I did my outpatient therapy had full leg braces custom made and fitted for me. When I received these braces I found them to be very large and cumbersome. My leg braces covered each foot and went all the way up to my inner thighs. They were fixed at both ankles to prevent my ankles from moving. Both knees were locked so I could not move them either. My wife Kathy had to learn how to put my leg braces on me since I could not do this myself at first. I had to purchase larger shoes that fit over the hard smooth plastic bottoms of my leg braces so I would not slip and fall. Once I had my leg braces and shoes I was given a walker to begin my journey of learning to walk all over again.
Achieving Higher Goals
After I had my leg braces on and knees locked I placed my walker directly in front of my wheelchair. Since I could not move my ankles or knees I felt like I was a statue made of cement as I tried to stand. I walked very, very slowly with my walker around the hospital as I practiced. To walk, I put one stiff leg out a bit placing my foot on the floor. Then I would slowly move my other stiff leg forward as I took a step. As I practiced walking, a person followed directly behind me with the wheelchair just in case I fell backward I would fall into the seat and not on the floor. The scariest part is when I had to walk off a standard height curb. It took me a few tries before I was brave enough to step off the curb. Not being able to move my knees or ankles made stepping off the curb very awkward. It was very frightening stepping off of something in which I could not feel or see the bottom. To accomplish this I anxiously dangled my leg very slowly off the curb waiting for my foot to hit something solid.
Building Skills and Strengths
With my recent connections I had made with a local organization to help the blind and visually impaired I got an Orientation and Mobility (O & M) instructor. Orientation and mobility instructors are trained to help the blind and visually impaired travel safely. My instructor taught me techniques so I could walk with my walker and full leg braces without eyesight. When I first started walking with my walker and I would occasionally come across a crack or an uneven spot on the sidewalk my walker would get caught on that uneven spot and I would tumble to the ground. If this occurred my O & M instructor would try to ease me down to the ground in a direction that might minimize injuries. As much as I had time and endurance I practiced with my walker in my neighborhood. The furthest I could go at this point in my rehabilitation was about 5 houses away from my home.
Enhancing Skills and Strengths
After a few months of practicing with my walker I was given Canadian crutches to replace my walker. Canadian crutches are forearm crutches that are used by slipping the arm into a cuff and holding the grip. At first I felt very unstable since I now only had two points of contact on the ground to stabilize me, instead of the four I had with my walker.
Just after getting my new crutches my medical insurance reached the limit of physical rehabilitation and ended my physical therapy as an outpatient in the hospital. My O & M instructor continued to work with me with my new crutches. To speed up my transition to my crutches I practiced walking a lot by myself. During my many hours of practicing I fell a lot more times. Luckily I never got really hurt. I just tore some jeans, skinned my knees, arms, and knuckles, had sore joints and was a bit startled falling to the ground in darkness.
Accept New Ways of Accomplishing Tasks for Success
One day my O & M instructor showed up with a present for me. She had two canes for me. One long white cane and one short white support cane with red tips on each. It was time for me to advance to my next stage of mobility and give up my crutches. It was very slow going at first. I thought going from a walker to crutches was hard. This transition to canes was far more difficult and precarious. It was very hard to coordinate the smooth movement of a cane in each hand while I walked. Learning the timing of moving my support cane and swinging my long cane back and forth in front of me to find and get around obstacles in my path as I walked took a lot of practice. Because of my weak and nerve damaged legs I had to use a support cane. I took up practicing using my new aids with gratitude and eagerness.
At night when I was in the house I walked without my leg braces and canes back and forth at the end of my bed while my hand gently slid across the foot board for orientation. I did this to help strengthen my legs and help improve my balance while I listened to books on tapes.
One day for fun I went out the back door of my house without my wife seeing me and without any canes or leg braces. I do not recommend this! With the palms of my hands up against the house for support and orientation I slowly walked around the outside of the house. Eventually I made my way to the front door after going around some obstacles, like bushes and trees. When I got up on the front porch I rang the door bell and stood there in silence. My wife answered the door in shock when she saw me and wondered how I got there.
Each time I went out walking I would venture out further and further. I felt like I was exploring new unknown territories like the early pioneers. Eventually I was walking all the way around my block with the aid of my two canes and my leg braces. On these walks I talked to neighbors I had not talked to since I went into the hospital and lost my eyesight. Everyone was so excited and very happy to see me walking again. As they greeted me I could hear the excitement and joy in their voices. Through my darkness I could see a great big smile on their faces.
Do Not Fear Giving Up Old Ways to Achieve Your Goals
One day to my surprise I found my leg braces no longer fit me. My leg muscles had grown to the point I could not close the braces around my legs. Since my leg braces no longer fit I started practicing walking with my two canes only. My legs buckled and I fell to the ground every now and then since my legs no longer had the support of the braces.
Without my leg braces I was much more fearful and unsure of myself at first. At every transition to new aids I had to endure fear and uncertainty all over again as I learned to use and trust my new aids. Soon I was walking down many blocks and crossing streets.
My first Christmas after coming home from the hospital was a blessing. With the help of my walker, leg braces, crutches, canes, rehabilitation therapy and O & M training I was walking by Christmas! My Christmas present was just what I had asked for from myself!
I continued to exercise and enhance my orientation and mobility skills to get to the point I am today, walking only with the support of two canes. I am very happy and grateful to have received the gift of being able to walk again. My early fears of never being able to get outside without assistance is now gone.
A Few of My Key Lessons Learned
• Only you know what’s best for you so follow your own intuition.
• Believe in yourself and have an attitude of faith, willingness and acceptance
• Do not give up on your dreams or get discouraged by your opposition.
• Character, perseverance and creativity is built during difficult times.
• To overcome difficult challenges requires a lot of hard work and some pain at times (falling as I learned to walk)
• Create a network of people for mutual sharing of experience and associations
• At each transition in your life you might encounter new found fears and challenges to overcome
• Each time you move to the next level or make a change in your professional career you might have to re-learn how to accomplish the things you used to do differently than in the past.
•Learn from your fears and challenges to deliver innovative work and be a better person.
• Not all medical or other conditions can be overcome by hard work. If this is the case, do not be discouraged. As long as you are giving your best effort within your ability; that is all anyone can ask of us.
Has anyone else had the opportunity to learn something valuable out of an unforeseen challenge in your life? If so, how have these new skills helped you in your personal or professional life? We would love to hear your thoughts and comments to help us all.
Global Dialogue Center