"Step by Step."
I’m sometimes asked why it’s my tagline.
Great question. Below is a condensed version. Yea. Condensed - yikes.
The History of Walking According to Kris
Since age seven when I was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, walking has been an issue for me. Over the decades, the ease of walking and the capabilities of my walking have waxed and waned.
Rheumatoid arthritis attacks the joints of the body. It inhibits movement, and in my early years of it, it made walking excruciatingly painful and almost impossible. Being the apparently hospitable host that I am, it decided to reside in every joint and bone in my body. And still does, 45 years later.
There weren’t many drugs available for arthritis in 1971, and none were designed for kids. So I took baby aspirin every four hours, around the clock, to lessen the pain. Um, yea. That worked.
And I ingested oral cortisone daily to free up my joints so they could move. Yea, not so much.
For all but the last decade, medications played a role in aiding my mobility. And, over the decades, eight hip and knee joint replacements and revisions have kept me walking. Sporadic physical therapy and at-home exercises came and went as needed.
All the while, during times when I’ve been stronger, and times when I haven’t, it’s been a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other existence - in the truest sense of ‘literally.’
Step by Step.
Equipped to Persevere
Sometimes it takes fresh eyes to see old circumstances anew.
A couple neighbor kids were in my garage yesterday. The 14-year old-boy, who has autism, spotted and began listing all the equipment stored in my garage that I’ve needed over the years to provide mobility, and that may be enlisted for possible future needs, as well: one wheelchair, two walkers, a handful of canes, a knee brace.
Until he spoke the words, it hadn’t dawned on me that my garage is a living museum to my past walking – or lack thereof – history.
All of the equipment has been with me for decades. Some, like the wheelchair, hasn’t been used in many years. But there it sits, waiting. Patiently. In case it’s needed again one day. My walking life has always been uncertain, without guarantees. I only know what is now.
Step by Step.
Patience of Patients and Professionals
Since I was a kid, I’ve looked to doctors to keep me moving. And they have, so far. And I trust that they always will.
I’ve had the privilege of repeatedly helping push orthopedic medical science along. I see it as one of my contributions to the world of walking. Yea, you can thank me later.
I unabashedly adore my present orthopedic surgeon. He’s seen me through the last 16 years of joint replacements; two hip revisions and two knee revisions. He is a bona fide, human miracle worker, a standout leader at the forefront in the world of orthopedic surgeons.
When I came to him in 2000, after examining me and my x-rays, he looked at me seriously, and said, “I don’t know how I’m going to fix you. But I have to, because no one else can.”
He wasn’t arrogant. He was realistic. His own research firm at the time led the way in devising fixes for one-of-a-kind, extreme cases.
My hips were in a worst-case deterioration scenario from the original hip replacements in 1982, which took place when I was a senior in high school.
My then-new surgeon surpassed his own expectations in figuring out a solution for me 16 years ago. As we headed into that surgery, he revealed that he’d spent more time on devising a solution for me than he had on any prior case in his years of practice.
The solution involved two surgeries, six months apart, and using a walker for six months after each surgery.
It was a year from hell, and took every ounce of patience I had. Independent people don’t suffer walkers well.
Step by Step.
Facing Unnamed Challenges
In the fall of 2014, I was walking really well, if I do say so myself. I felt like I was almost running up the ramp in my garage into my house. It felt good. It felt…fun.
A half a year later, it wasn’t.
I suddenly began having trouble walking. I thought it was because the lower half of my left leg was turning out, as happens sometimes with arthritis when ligaments are no longer a match for the strain put on them.
So my miracle-maker orthopedist and I scheduled knee revision surgery for Jan. 2016, delaying the surgery so I could get an insurance policy with better coverage in the new year. Over the months of waiting for surgery, while he explored options with other top colleagues on how to fix me, walking became an increasing challenge.
I was relieved when the day of surgery finally arrived.
Surgery went well. The knee recovered well.
Walking continued to not go well.
I put in months in the walker and knee brace during my official recovery period. When my knee was declared fabulous, the rest of me clearly was not.
Being a veteran of a plethora (love that word) of surgeries, I pretty much know what to expect and what’s normal. I’ve always been a quick healer. So it took me awhile to understand that something else was wrong this time. But what?
I knew whatever it was, was beyond the realm of my surgeon’s hands.
I hit a point where I realized I was regressing and could hardly walk. Even for someone who has lived a lifetime with varying walking abilities, this episode was downright scary.
I began researching my issues online. I began exercising in earnest. I began worrying about how I’d manage my life, if this was my new normal, forevermore.
Step by Step.
Perseverance in Problem-Solving
I think highly of medical professionals. They’ve kept me walking and rolling for decades. Jeez, I wrote a book for and about them and the difference they make in patients’ lives.
But when it comes to nebulous health issues that are not so clearly defined as joints needing an overhaul, I’ve had mixed results when seeking medical care.
I didn’t care to spend untold thousands again on diagnostic tests that can’t identify what’s not measurable.
So I began googling like crazy and seeking care from alternative care providers.
I believe I came across what had been happening to me. Suffice it to say, a perfect storm had brewed itself up in me without any fanfare or notice. Or permission granted.
The good news was that it would be recoverable. It would take consistent effort and hard work and tons of exercise – my favorite – but I would be able to walk again.
And I am finally starting to make noticeable progress.
The tipping point came a week ago. Tired of leg lifts and other such drudgery multiple times every day, I began thinking about how do runners make good gains. One thing I remembered from a sibling who trained decades ago as I runner, was that she’d run up and down hills to gain strength and speed.
Hills? I could hardly manage getting myself up and down the ramp in my garage.
Ah ha! That’s it!
I would treat my ramp as my own personal hill. I would walk up and down it multiple times each day, 10 reps each time. I vowed I would get to a place where almost-running up it was fun again.
I’m getting there.
Step by Step.
Step by Step through Life and Work
Why does any of this matter to you?
It matters because we all face challenges in our lives. And if you haven’t yet, you will.
Comforting, I know.
What I’ve found by sharing my story on stage, on radio, in books, in journals, and in person is that people find encouragement from it. They tell me they can better deal with their own lives after hearing about mine.
They tell me they’ve gained a new perspective.
Despite what we might like to project to the world, especially professionally, none of us have it all figured out. None of us are living a worst-case scenario life, either. None of us know what’s yet ahead.
The best we can do is take it Step by Step.
When I talk with groups, especially entrepreneurs, I emphasize the need to tackle problems one by one. We don’t have to try to figure out this entire life and work thing from the get-go. As if we ever could.
And that it’s ok not to know. Not to have the answers. Not to know what’s coming.
I wrote an article this weekend for an online journal for healthcare professionals. I was asked to write why it’s important for kids with arthritis to participate in physical education.
My reaction at first was, “What? Me? I have nothing to offer on the subject because I was excused from every PE class ever thrown at me.”
Then I realized how my life might have maybe been different if I’d at least attended and maybe attempted some physical feats along the way, and adjusted them to my own abilities. As a child, I was much too self-conscious about how my body did – or didn’t move – and I gave up on movement all-together except for what was essential to function throughout each day.
As a middle-aged woman, I’m just now finding freedom and joy in movement in various capacities – like yoga. I don’t have to limit myself to viewing movement only in light of getting from a necessary point A to a necessary point B. Who knew?
I don’t know what my walking future will be. Maybe, and hopefully, I’ll be walking all the days of my life.
Maybe I won’t.
If not, I’ll be figuring out other ways to get life done.
Step by Step.
My tagline? Yea.
But more than that, a way of life.
For me. And for you.
About Kris Harty: Kris Harty is founder and CEO of shortCHICK, llc, She brings perspective and wisdom to the table, and helps smart people like you move from overwhelm and obstacles, to over it and moving on, in life and work, Step by Step. She's a speaker, author, podcaster, and creative, giving voice to hope, joy, encouragement, and wisdom.
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