Sunday, April 21, 2019

My sporty new rollator walker is safe at any speed

I own a  Drive Nitro Euro-Style Tall Aluminum Four Wheel Rollator. It's one of the new breed of assistive devices that allow people like me to get from one place to another. Commonly known as a walker. A device to help this injured biped walker walk.

On the last snowy day in May 2018, I fell on my rear end in a Fort Collins parking lot. I got up and brushed the wet snow off of my butt and continued the day's routine, which included moving my daughter into an apartment. My wife noticed my wet jeans. "Your butt's wet," she said. "And so is yours," I said in a playful retort. We laughed, our daughter looking on in bemusement and a little bit of love, although impatient to get on with the task.

You think that there are days that don't matter, They all matter.

Four days later, I awoke with a terrible backache. I don't believe in backaches. I've had them after long backpacks up steep slopes, many miles on my racing bike, a series of pickup b-ball games on the asphalt. But this was a raging backache, one beyond my ken. A few days later, I began to limp. A few days later still, I had trouble walking and I dug out my knee-replacement cane for balance. I grew worried. I consulted my knee guy. He x-rayed my knees and hips and said all was well with those parts. I was relieved as I didn't want to revisit the pain of another knee replacement. The doc prescribed PT. Ten days later, the PT guys saw me limping into the center using a walker, me dragging my left foot. They grew alarmed.

"We sent you out of here two years ago and you were walking just fine," they asked. "What happened?"

"Fell on my keister."

They conducted a few exercises and pronounced that something was wrong that they couldn't address. "We have to talk to the doc," they said.

The doc called me at home the next day. He had made an appointment with a neurologist and urged me to go. I went. The neurologist conducted some tests. She thought my brain was fine but my spine may be injured. She sent me to a spinal surgeon in Fort Collins who operated on Aug. 1. A few days later, I felt more mobile, especially mu upper body. That was the part I was most worried about. I had nightmares about lifeless arms with fingers that couldn't type. That was not to be the case. Read my post about the surgery at

Eight and one half months later, I still use a walker. I started with a standard aluminum walker with four rubber-tipped legs. You could always hear me coming. I lifted the walker, smacked the floor a couple feet ahead, and then moved to catch up with the device. You could hear me coming from one end of the house to the other. I stooped over because we borrowed the walker from a short person. My arms and shoulders hurt. I looked like one of those old guys slouching across the retirement home cafeteria. I located a taller walker at a retirement center, this one with two wheels on the front axles. I could stand tall and move faster. I thought I had reached the pinnacle, walker-wise.

I had seen four-wheeled walkers and thought this was the next step. I wanted my next step to be on two feet with any assist coming from my cane. That wasn't to be. I tried the cane for a few days and abandoned it when I fell getting into my car. I tried to get up but couldn't. A young couple driving by saw me sprawled in the street and guessed I was having a problem. They rescued me, guided me into the car, probably wondering "this old guy drives?" If asked, I would have told them that my right leg is fine but it's just the left leg and back and upper spine that torment me.

The world looks a little different when looking at it from a walker. Back when I was fully abled, I remember resting my eye upon someone in a walker as they passed. I walked, my legs perfectly fine. I barely noticed people using assistive devices. Now that I've joined the club, I see them everywhere. They were there all along but I looked through them or over them, barely giving them a thought. As a bleeding heart liberal, I feel empathy. But the dirty truth is this: you don't know the pain of disabilities until you're disabled. We don't want to admit that it can happen to us. And then it does, and you get a glimpse of what some people face their entire lives.

War, disease, accidents all leave damaged bodies in their wake. I read recently that 5 percent of adults in the U.S. use helper devices such as canes, walkers, and wheelchairs. Our town has an older population. We also are home to a major military base and a V.A. Hospital. Back when I swam laps at the YMCA, I would encounter the disabled vets from the V.A. doing their water exercises. Some of them had to be plucked from their wheelchairs and lowered into the water using a crane bolted to the side of the pool. I would watch without really watching, as I was sure these men got their share of stares when they were out in public. The other day as I rode one of the Y's stationery bikes, the swimming pool director told me that I could use the crane in the pool if I wanted to get back in the water. I thanked her but cringed inwardly. Is that why I had been avoiding the pool? I didn't want to be one of those disabled guys who needed the crane?

People do stop me to admire my colorful ride. I was putting Nitro in my trunk at Olive Garden the other day when a middle-aged woman stopped and admired it. She said she wanted to upgrade her mother's walker. I told her how to order and she left. The humor in my situation is pretty obvious. My Nitro walker is fire-engine red and vampire black. People admire it as they would a cherry '57 Chevy or bucket-T roadster. In some future place, old people will stage races that pits Nitro against Lightning. These are short-track races, sprints. A Daytona 500-style race would go on for months. We could fill in gaps in NASCAR's off-season schedule.

This reminds me of a story from my first collection, "Safe at Any Speed." In it, Florida retirees soup up their golf carts and stage races at an abandoned airstrip near Ormond Beach. Lest you think this complete fantasy, golf carts are now called golf cars. And for good reasons. You can spend $9,500 on one designed like a sky-blue 1957 Chevy Bel Air. This is a couple steps up from my Nitro, I can see myself tooling around in something similar when I retreat to a retirement village.

My disability is short-term, or so I tell myself. It has taught me one thing: people go out of their way to offer me assistance. This is especially true as I haul groceries to the car. One woman, possibly older than me, didn't ask as she edged me aside to load groceries in my trunk. I thanked her as she buzzed off. I got the impression that she is not a person who waits around for permission. Airmen, elderly, mothers with kids -- all have offered help. I usually refuse as I stubbornly avoid accepting assistance.  Humility is at risk. Humility can be dangerous. It  can lead to empathy and, God knows, we could use more of that in these cruel times.


RobertP said...

So does it have WiFi? Mike, hang in there. My daughter Tyler fell on the last day of January, broke her ankle, badly, and has been living with us since. She bought a scooter and used that for a bit. Her boss had ankle surgery the same day so for awhile they had dueling scooters.

She is finally now off of her crutches and being weaned off of her boot. She drove again for the first time yesterday. Probably ready to move back to her apartment in a week or two. Her dog Charlie has also been staying with us and other than a digging problem, has been a lot of fun.

I am glad we were close enough to help her and very fortunate that she works at the same company so I am able to drive her to work each day. But it does make me wonder what happens to folks that go through this and don't have someone there to take care of them.

Take care and try to get off the walker before I find some time to come visit Cheyenne again. I am retiring at end of July and will have more time to travel.


Michael Shay said...

No WiFi. But it does have a cup holder to hold my beer. I'm glad Tyler is recovering. The ankle is a complicated piece of machinery. I do wonder what happens to those who don't have family and friends to oversee their recoveries. My old boss had a bad case of low blood sugar, fainted, and then couldn't get to a phone and was trapped for two days. Ended up in ICU and he recovered but it was scary. He finally moved to Albuquerque to be near his sister and family.

Retiring in July? Whoopee! Stay upright -- this falling thing is no fun.