It was late May 2014, and my wife and I were on our first trip to the Cleveland Clinic. We’d been to Cleveland for a wedding a few years earlier but had been too busy to explore. We booked a room at the Tudor Arms, a cool, old hotel near the clinic’s Mellen Center for Multiple Sclerosis, hoping for a chance to look around.
I had only recently received my ankle-foot orthosis (AFO) to compensate for my ever-worsening foot drop. Appropriately named “the BlueRocker,” the carbon composite AFO that was Velcro-strapped around my right calf had a support “rod” curling around my leg and a “springboard” fitting in below my right foot, under the sole insert in my shoe. The demo unit I tried was pretty remarkable. Very light, and at the time, very effective at reciprocating the energy I was expending with each step. It reliably “rocked” my body weight through my stride, pushing my toes and foot upward into the correct position as I walked.
But I had barely used the AFO before our trip, for a few reasons. First, I hadn’t thought through how the brace might actually integrate into my life — how and when to use it. Devil, say hello to details. Over time, I learned that it worked well for me when I had straight, flat terrain. Steps, bumps, any sort of nuance or flexibility, not so much.
(AFO Pro Tip #1: Don’t try and drive a car with a fixed-position AFO. Unless you want to accelerate very quickly and then brake in the same manner. I also found it challenging on stairs.)
Second, I struggled to find shoes that comfortably accommodated the stiff, intrusive device. I asked the orthotist who fitted me for a suggestion and she said to try larger shoes. Which I did. But the added weight and length made it harder to lift my foot, and I cheated by “swinging” my leg through as a result.
(AFO Pro Tip #2: Running shoe companies often sell models designed to accommodate clunky, thick inserts that are similarly intrusive. Though sometimes expensive at $100 or more, they are light, durable, and occasionally cool looking.)
By the time we got to Cleveland, we’d worked our way through those wrinkles. We spent the morning at the clinic and, with extra time on our hands and sunny, late spring weather, we decided to go for a walk.
Like a dog unleashed, I wanted to walk everywhere. We walked downtown and took in its architecture. We walked by the lake and by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. My guess is that we maybe walked 2 or 3 miles before my right leg simply wouldn’t lift any longer.
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