About six years ago, I was sitting across from my then orthopedic surgeon when he uttered the legendary words, "Your ankle surgery has indeed not gone quite right." Bam. Suddenly a whole new normal. All at once, the hellish and constant pains were secondary to this wheelchair reality check. Quite honestly? It felt like life had just played me out. But little did I know That para-climbing would become my helpline.
Non-flexion is sexy
Since my failed triple arthrodesis, my ankle and foot have been stuck - motionless - under my lower leg. And in a severe tilted position. The ankle stands the way it does and cannot move in any direction (for those in the know: no dorsiflexion, no plantarflexion, no inversion and no eversion). But this lack of movement also makes walking very painful for me, because my foot cannot unwind.
The situation slowly became untenable. But after five years of dozens of doctors, endless disappointments, insane amounts of stress and two, three, many opinions and ditto opinions further, the high word was out: my lower leg is, finally, going to come off. On the one hand, living with chronic pain is incredibly exhausting, and on the other, the wear and tear on my knees, hips, back, neck and the rest of my body is also irreversible.
When I am ready for surgery, I get to call. Everything has been arranged: a fine prosthetist, a fantastic rehabilitation center, the most skilled sports prosthetist in the country and even a crematorium willing to process my leg. Because I find the idea of my leg ending up in a container between the inflamed appendix, throat tonsils and other corporeal debris quite sinister. My leg is and remains mine and will simply go home with me. Or yes, in a jar.
If I had not found (para)climbing in early 2021, I would have the chop had already taken place. Everything was already settled, as I said, until I indicated that I wanted a postponement. Mentally I found distraction in para-climbing and Neolite soon became my home away from home. Physically, I found strength and self-confidence and learned that my body could do much more than I thought. I learned to focus on the three limbs that do work functionally and also on what my right leg can still contribute. Socially, I found a fantastic community: a climbing crew that did not shy away from lugging my wheelchair, filling my water bottle or inquiring about my current pain levels. In addition, I was warmly welcomed into the para-climbing world. That balance is wonderful! The sport of climbing became my helpline. My therapy, actually. Bah, what an emotional buzzword huh? But it's true.
After all, in the wall, my disability does not exist for a while. Climbing is less painful for me than walking. In the wall I can focus on the next steps while beasting, flaming, sweating, plodding, cursing and enjoying - and that's it. I feel my body, but not my ankle pain for a while. The pain, worries and impossibilities disappear into the background for a moment and make way for popping, rethinking and a touch of pride. And that is worth mentioning, because in my now 31-year existence I can't remember many moments when I was proud of my body. And when it's time for the chop, I am ready. And then, with one less limb and/or one more prosthesis, I will simply pick up where I left off.