There’s a man I used to see around town who walked with a very strange gait. Instead of the usual left-right-left-right sort of thing, with alternate feet moving in turn, he walked with almost a side to side shuffle, like a penguin.
His body rocked side to side with each step, making his gait look awkward. I never knew why he walked that way, maybe he had a hip injury.
I used to have a nice and easy walk, the kind where you never had to hesitate at curbs, be afraid of steps, or worry you’d drag your foot and fall flat on your face. When I injured my knee, almost twenty years ago, I would sometimes walk with a limp, depending on how much pain I was in.
Pain in the knee, dragging my foot, I could still manage fairly well, unless I was tired, or the ground was rough and uneven or I didn’t watch every step. It’s been years now since I started using the cane, more for balance than anything else. I had to have my hand on something, and there wasn’t always a wall or some furniture handy.
Last year I gave in and got the walker, as the cane just wasn’t enough anymore. I walk much better with the walker, as it gives me more confidence, makes me feel more secure. But it’s cumbersome when taking it in confined spaces, like a restaurant, so I go back to the cane.
Lately, I notice that my walk is much more awkward, especially at home when I don’t use the cane or the walker. My place is small so I depend on the walls and furniture. But I notice I’m walking with a definite side-to-side sway. I’ve lost more feeling in my feet and wonder if the side-to-side motion helps me move my leg through the step without tripping, instead of lifting my leg to avoid dragging my foot.
All I know is it must look awful. I watch other people walk without any conscious thought and wonder how many years has it been since I walked with ease. Last time I was out I came upon a curb and stood still for a few moments, trying to coordinate in my mind, what foot will I step with, where will I place the cane?
As much as I applaud the kindness of strangers who, on seeing the cane/walker, give me space and hold the doors, I hate that you have to do it. Sometimes, most times in winter, it’s easier to stay home than to constantly struggle to get around.
I hate that I might have become, like the penguin man, that woman others see and recognize by her ungainly gait.