Guest Post

(Guest Post by Abby E.) Disjointed: My Attempt To Be a Happy, Healthy Cripple

I’m a former philosophy major and a current editor. I’m an all-time geek, a sometime writer, and a long-time cripple.

Yup. You heard me. I said “cripple.”

This is the word I have appropriated for myself, and if you talk to a sample semi-ambulatory people, you’ll find others who have done the same. We think it’s funny.

Mind you, I wouldn’t use the word “invalid” because the word bears the connotation that the non-ambulatory are helpless and pathetic. And thanks to Gattaca, I still see “IN-valid” and hear “in-VA-lid,” the albatross that hung around the necks of the imperfect. Invalid. Not valid. Like a poorly developed argument: structurally unsound. (Actually, that analogy sort of fits. Dammit. Starting over.)

So … fifteen years ago, I was diagnosed at the age of nineteen with avascular necrosis in my right hip. At that time, symptoms only appeared after prolonged periods of weight bearing activities. I didn’t play sports, so this wasn’t a problem until I got a job that occasionally required me to be on my feet all day. I’d come home after a seven-hour shift and I’d be achy and angry.

I couldn’t ignore the problem anymore, and when two orthopaedic surgeons independently gave me the same diagnosis within seconds of seeing my x-rays, there was no denying it: the bone was dying and would eventually have to be replaced. The really weird part was that no one even knew why. I’ve never used steroids or fractured the bone, and I’ve never had a drinking problem. There was no family history of this sort of thing either, and with a family the size of mine, something like this should have appeared somewhere. And I was decades younger than most people who develop the disease. Apparently, I was a freak.

One surgeon presented me with a plethora of medieval treatments for my condition, but the only option I trusted was total replacement. However, surgeons don’t like replacing young joints because they will just need to be replaced again, which creates complications. So, while finishing my OAC (grade 13) year in high school, I started walking with a cane as a matter of habit.

But this disease has created fitness issues. Weight bearing activities aren’t exactly my best bet, although the stick allowed me to do a lot of walking. I still walk because I have to – I don’t have a car and I’m not going to pretend I can afford one in Toronto – but the pain flares up so fast now that the eight-minute walk to the nearest subway station can sometimes be excruciating. Just this year, I started to experience rare incidents where I’m stuck in my little apartment, barely able to walk a few metres from my desk to my kitchen and back.

While hobbling isn’t exactly great exercise, I don’t have many options. Swimming is ideal, but doing this year-round costs money and may still require me to walk just to get to the gym and back, and submersing myself in heavily chlorinated water between taking two or three showers per day will cause my eczema to erupt like Mount Vesuvius. After a few weeks of swimming in public pools, I’ll be able to strip naked and pretend I’m Smaug. (No, no, I don’t want to see that, either.)

I suppose I could head to the beach in the summer, but the water quality of Lake Ontario will probably mutate me to an early grave. On the bright side, I wouldn’t have to worry about not being able to save enough for my retirement. The pros and cons must be weighed carefully.

For me, biking is the best option … just not on the street. In Toronto, I would have as much to fear from aggressive cyclists as I would from all the motorized vehicle operators who are either road-raging uncontrollably or turning into drooling zombies while waiting for the chance to turn left. Sorry, but I don’t think that getting exercise should be a death-defying act.

Nope, ‘tis the stationary bike for me. And I love it. No traffic to contend with on the street, and no unruly children or off-leash dogs to run over in the park. Just me and a bike, my iPod, and Netflix.

I am starting to see results after the last few months of biking and modest weight training, and this makes me very happy. My goal is not to lose weight per se, but to drop fat and build muscle; I have even gained a couple of pounds since I started, which I believe/hope is due to increased muscle mass. You have no idea how excited I get when I flex my arm and a dimple appears that wasn’t there before – and it’s not cellulite! I can even see that the hamstring on my right leg is slowly recovering after years of limping have left it withered.

I expect to go under the knife this winter, but having my hip replaced won’t make everything perfect, because, despite the sound life lessons that Hollywood is so fond of passing on, bionic body parts are not better than the real thing – in fact, they’re nowhere near as good. I will always have some restrictions on my mobility, so my workouts now and forever will have to account for that. Still, I’m getting closer to my goal. And when I get there, I’m going to give those snotty little garden snails a run for their money.


Abby E. is a Toronto-based freelance editor who loves science, philosophy, and speculative fiction. She is not a crazy cat lady, just a crazy lady who has cats.

2 thoughts on “(Guest Post by Abby E.) Disjointed: My Attempt To Be a Happy, Healthy Cripple

Comments are closed.