On three legs in the evening.

May 3, 2012 § 22 Comments

Riddle: What walks on four legs in morning, two in the afternoon, and three in the evening?

Answer: Man. Four legs in the morning (a crawling baby). Two legs in the afternoon (an adult). Three legs in the evening (an old person on a cane).

I am paying an early visit to the evening of life during which unsteady humanity walks three-legged. Actually, having broken my pelvis in a car accident, I’m not steady enough to manage a cane and so the doctor prescribed a walker.

With three breaks on my right side, I’ve been instructed to put no more than 20% of my weight on my right leg. That means that with each right step 80% of my weight is carried by my shoulders and arms (I see a foxy strapless dress in my future).

My triceps are looking good, but what is lost is the ability to carry almost anything. For a short distance a book can be clenched under my arm. lightweight objects can be carried in my teeth. A shirt or towel can be hung over the front of the walker. But carrying a cup of coffee or a frying pan? Only in my dreams.

Our evolutionary edge in becoming bipedal is that it freed our hands. It is those freed hands that make us human. Mine are still available if I’m sitting, but like any quadruped on the move, I need all four limbs to get around–not that I’m good at it.

Like an inexperienced house painter I paint myself into corners. If I let the refrigerator door swing open all the way I have to jump down a step to retrieve and close it. In the tight quarters of the bathroom I have to lift the walker over my head and pivot on my left foot. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to walk into the bathroom and turn on the faucet without bracing my elbows on the cool enamel edge of the bowl.

I’m getting better at this new way of moving. My logistical dances are becoming stylized, but with one sloppy move I am suddenly teetering. Balance regained, I stand, heart pounding, imagining the fall I almost took.

After a near-topple I settle into my wheelchair, which is safer, but unwieldy and tank-like. In preparation for a safe sit I hop around on the walker, or on one foot, gathering the things I’ll need: a cup of coffee, a piece of toast, eyeglasses, book. I stage them carefully in wheelchair-accessible spots.

Everything balanced on my knees, I grab the rings of the wheels and propel myself to wherever I need to go.

Just when I think I’ve mastered wheelchair maneuvers in the limited space in my living room  I run over the dog or am brought to a jarring halt by a shoe.

The chair clears our door frames with an inch to spare. Backing out of the kitchen I don’t always gauge it correctly. Wheelchair travel is fraught with sudden banging stops.

When whole, I am a determined walker. At the moment I’m a walker on a walker. I have mastered the forward leap to get down two small front steps. And the lift-stride-lift, to traverse the pine straw path to the road. Then begins the long push to the corner, a walk I never thought about at all when it was a tiny segment of a route walked three or four times a day.

I still sing as I push along. Being odd and anomalous was a comfortable state for me even before the walker and the external bar that holds me together and stands three inches proud of my hips.

Pushing along I tire quickly. I stop and stare into the sky. A Mississippi kite is being chased by a Mockingbird. The mockingbird is tiny but swift as a dart and so full of chutzpah!

My mother once spent a day doing everything blindfolded. She was writing a book with a character who had become blind. She said that socks gave her the most trouble–a broken pelvis makes socks hard too.

Every writer leans on imagination and empathy, and brief visits to other lives like my mother’s experiment in blindness. But lived experience is the best teacher. I know, in minute detail, how to get around when I have to think about every move in the dance. The highs and lows I must engineer into a plot as a writer come to this story without effort.

Waking up tired and sore from lying in the same position all night I sometimes feel sorry for myself. Struggling through a day, my exhaustion growing, can threaten to overwhelm my native optimism. When I can’t resist it anymore I allow defeat to wash over me—sometimes being plucky is just too big a dose of fooling myself, even for me.

But most of the time I ride the air, albeit carefully and deliberately.

Most of the time I am the mockingbird.

Note: The riddle cited is “the riddle of the sphinx” from Greek mythology. The sphinx sat outside of Thebes asking this riddle of travelers. If they got it wrong they were killed–the universal outcome until Oedipus solved the riddle and the sphinx destroyed herself.

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§ 22 Responses to On three legs in the evening.

  • KM Huber says:

    As bad as I am at math, I would never know how much weight is 20% yet I suspect your entire body guides you. Math seemed to dominate my days in a wheelchair, although all doorways had been carefully measured, and like you, I had about an inch to maneuver, which seemed so adequate and so it was for those not passing through in a wheelchair. It was quite hard on the knuckles, I found. Bathrooms required enormous creativity in maneuvering and sometimes, reassessing of one’s privacy. Ultimately, I was able to use a single crutch, which was a significant improvement.

    It is so amazing how tiring a wheelchair can be or even with a single crutch, how much energy it takes to move across a room or down a driveway. Over twenty years later, I have not forgotten. Mostly, I remember how easy it is to be overwhelmed just by maneuvering moment to moment yet at the same time, I am struck by the wonder of living at all.

    And yes, you as a mockingbird soaring, I do see, even at rest.



  • This moves me to tears Adrian. It’s written so without pity, so full of grace, so like spunky you & yet so much it is making my eyes water. You are a writer of eloquence when the story is about your neat characters & also when you are the character.

    Thanks for sharing the photos too. You look great in the cute dress & breezy hat.

    Keep healing girlfriend!


  • Such an arduous journey, but like most of life, it’s the tough things that teach us the most and help us appreciate what we have. You certainly will need that foxy strapless dress at the end of this journey.


  • Richard D. says:

    Foxy is good, too. Richard D.


  • Chris Fogelin says:

    Your description of getting through the doorway in a wheelchair reminded me of something that happened when I was a kid. I guess I was about 8 and there had been one of those multi-day snow/ice storms. It snowed, sleeted, and then snowed again. Made the area miserable for drivers, but an amazing playground for kids.

    I was sledding over at my best friend’s house when we spied a small opening in the hedge separating his lawn from his neighbors. If you sledded towards that opening, you had about an inch clearance to shoot on through onto another wide-open expanse. If you clipped the hedge you were flung off into it. We probably made it about 25% of the time, the faster the better and since we were so bundled, no one got hurt. It was funny, it was fun and it was challenging. Now, to do that with a doorway… eh, doesn’t sound as enticing does it?


  • craig reeder says:

    stay plucky!! we’re all with you!


  • judyransom says:

    Adrian, only you would think of a foxy, strapless dress at a time like this! Laughter is always the best medicine, isn’t it? Dang, I feel for you. My best thoughts are with you, my friend. And hey, why don’t they figure out some fancy suspension doo-dads on walkers like they do for baby strollers! Can you see it now? A coffee holder on the walker that won’t let your coffee spill. A cool basket to hold all your stuff. And what about a rearview mirror on a wheelchair? Who knows, Adrian? Maybe your expressed plight will change the entire walker/wheelchair industry! Please excuse my fantasies … just thinking about what you made me think about. I wish you strength and stamina … and patience during your healing. I know you’ll somehow find tons to learn and share from this experience. I do hope the pain lessens with each day. Even through this … your smile and resolve … are an inspiration. You are brave … but you have permission to feel, experience, and let every gamut of emotion go through you! I wish you a speedy healing with all my heart, Adrian!


  • You can accessorize a walker – my mother-in-law had side- pockets that velcro’d over the lower bars on each side, and a basket on the front. A guy in our writer’s group (has Parkinsons) even has a seat on his! Go for it!


  • Linda Goff says:

    Love to you and support for your continued “naive optimism”. Your body may need healing time, but your writing is still top notch. If excellent authors such as you were paid what they are really worth, you’d have been sitting in the back seat with a chauffeur driving the car instead of making that “ill advised right turn”.


  • Debbie Moore says:

    Your “sorta sisters” in St. Augustine think you have the spirit to soar with every experience in your life and make us re-examine our daily trialsand achievements to allow us to soar even higher and stronger. You are a lady with class!


  • I feel silly now for letting the relatively minor problems of my life get me down. This work is filled with so many connections to Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It’s a engaging piece with a valuable lesson for me anyway.


  • Nathan, you always make me feel great.

    And the difficulties in your life–at least the ones related to teaching under circumstances that make defeat almost inevitable fill me with admiration for your courage.


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