It'll take time to walk the walk again

I really miss walking.

Granted, my pedestrian locomotion never has been the envy of the walking world.

It was more of a lunging lurch while dragging my right leg. Graceful it was not. More than one little kid has run shrieking at the sight of my Frankensteinian shuffle.

But I was content with my distinct style of walking, one I acquired after snapping my neck in a car wreck upon completing a hitch in the Marine Corps in 1971. The crash left me paralyzed from the neck down, an instant quadriplegic.

My odd gait came from the fact that when I left the VA hospital nearly a year later I had little dexterity on my right side. I dragged my right leg. Yet I was stepping out into the world. My walking may have been a trifle goofy-looking, but I found it very moving, pun intended.

It also taught me my one true expertise: falling down.

For 37 years I have perfected the fine art of sprawling on my face without getting hurt. I've fallen on stairs, down rocky mountainsides and tripped over curbs, all without a scratch.

Sometimes, for no apparent reason, I've tripped on a perfectly smooth floor, bruising only my pride.

Indeed, if falling down with no injuries were an Olympic sport, I would be a gold medalist. But even gold medalists have bad days. Mine came on Aug. 31.

After spending the day climbing up and down ladders at my wife's shop in Medford, all without a tumble, I went home to barbecue dinner on our deck.

While carrying our dinner across the kitchen floor, I tripped. My right foot touched down on something slick on the floor and shot out from under me. I tried to turn in mid-kitchen pirouette to save our dinner.

Bad move. My right foot was pointing forward while my left foot found traction and twisted around to point the opposite direction. Something had to give. My ankle snapped like a carrot stick.

Our pooch Waldo, who had been resting with his golden muzzle on his white paws in the living room, was the sole witness. He no doubt found the dumb human trick amusing.

But he managed to stifle a canine chortle and checked me out before going after the far-flung barbecue.

I remember looking up at his concerned, furry face as I felt a powerful pain in my ankle.

Fortunately, daughter Derra, who works at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, was visiting. She and Maureen found me writhing on the floor. They carried me to the couch, wrapped my already swollen ankle, applied ice and elevated it. They ordered me to stay put.

Hopes that it was only badly sprained were dashed when an X-ray the next day revealed the lower fibula was broken. I literally didn't have a leg to stand on.

Two days later I was in a Medford hospital undergoing surgery to have a steel plate installed with eight metal screws. The new X-rays reveal a Franken ankle that, coupled with the metal already in my neck, threatens to scramble Homeland Security folks each time I arrive at an airport.

The talented surgeon, a bright fellow with a dry sense of humor, says I can't walk for six weeks. Even then I will be wearing a protective boot allowing only limited movement, he stressed.

When I asked him whether a refrigerator magnet would stick to my ankle, he looked at me the same way Waldo did when I crashed in the kitchen. Better to try the refrigerator magnet experiment in the privacy of my own home before the doctor orders meds that would further weaken my already tenuous grip on reality.

Now I sit in a wheelchair. Despite what more than a few people think I've been doing for years, sitting on my posterior is not something I do well. It seems counterintuitive, but sitting is extremely exhausting.

I've spent a lot of time gazing at my navel and wondering about my self-worth. Does Dr. Kevorkian still make house calls?

Friends are doing their best to keep things rolling along. One has taken to calling me "Wheelie." One refers to me as "The Gimp." Another asked whether I had a nice trip. And yet another offered to bring a screwdriver to tighten my obviously loose screws.

The black humor helps. Trust me.

But I'm anxious to get back to lurching my way forward in life. I should be back on my feet just in time for Halloween.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at

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