Learning to walk for the umpteenth time with multiple sclerosis

How a columnist finds independence and freedom when MS knocks her down

Ahna Crum avatar

by Ahna Crum |

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I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to relearn how to walk.

Learning to walk is a milestone accomplishment. But as you age, life finds ways to knock you down. Injuries, sprains, or broken bones may keep you immobile while you’re waiting for your body to recover. But multiple sclerosis (MS) has an even greater ability to knock you off your feet long-term.

My first mobility scare came as a freshman in college. I still vividly remember my leg giving way one afternoon while I was walking to the kitchen. I was physically fit and exercising frequently, but suddenly, my leg felt too weak to carry me.

Thankfully, I remained on my feet with some dependency on my first cane. After significant muscle training through exercise combined with diet adaptations, I returned to running miles daily in only a matter of months.

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A couple of years later, my foot decided to have a mind of its own. It became heavy, uncooperative, and would often drag behind me. With foot drop, I no longer felt secure on my legs, and any other imbalance like fatigue or temperature (especially in the Florida sun) made falls even more of a possibility. As my leg weakness returned, I skipped over orthotics and started using a rollator.

With both the cane and the walker, I felt grief about needing the added assistance. I was reluctant to accept the aid the mobility devices offered. They became a physical reminder of how my body was failing me.

So when I left my mobility devices in Russia after undergoing hematopoietic stem cell transplantation there, I felt a resurgence of independence and freedom. Once home, I dove hard into physical therapy. My physical therapy team had become an excellent support system for me, and they, too, were thrilled to see me back on my own two feet. Within a few months, I graduated from physical therapy altogether. My milestone accomplishment for graduating from physical therapy? Running a mile on a treadmill! It felt like a world of possibilities had opened for me again.

A reality check provides clarity

But seven months after the transplantation, my feet were once again kicked out from under me, and I received a major reality check. Following an MRI and X-rays, I received a diagnosis of bilateral avascular necrosis in my hips. I didn’t have a strong enough immune system at the time, so surgery had to wait. Once again, I found myself struggling with mobility and staring down the wheelchair that had been prescribed.

Despite the physical pain of the situation, emotionally, I felt more of a blow. I felt defeated. When my orthopedic surgeon told me that my hips had collapsed and I needed hip replacements, I couldn’t swallow the pill of acceptance of a life with different mobility. So, while waiting for my hip replacement surgeries, I spent six months in defiance, walking on collapsed hips instead of relying on mobility support.

After each hip replacement, I returned to physical therapy to learn how to walk again. But this time, I had to learn to navigate life with permanent walking assistance. Rehabbing my hips brought a different form of clarity. I realized that I’d funneled all of my energy into running away from physical assistance for years, but I was tripping over my pride in the process. I’d fallen into the trap of measuring success and independence through physical capability. My self-worth had become tied to extrinsic factors and performance outcomes.

But if I stop to count my steps, I’ve realized, thanks to my hips, that success doesn’t exist solely in external expectations. Instead, when intrinsically motivated, we can stop to find joy in the journey instead of racing to a destination. Placing vanity and fear aside and embracing assistive devices is one way to regain independence and freedom and find enjoyment in life with multiple sclerosis. I now believe success is found in adaptability. Life with MS certainly isn’t a cakewalk, but it does open a lot of doors to teach us resilience if we’re willing to adjust our expectations and accept support.

Several months ago, I underwent hip revision surgery due to aseptic loosening, a common complication of hip joint replacements. This rehab process took significantly longer than the initial replacements. My latest appointment was two Fridays ago, and as I was leaving the surgeon’s office, I found myself thankful for the cane, walker, and rollator that helped me strengthen this new hip and put me back on my feet for the time being — and perhaps even for the long run.


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.

Comments

ANASTASIA S PAPADOPOULOS avatar

ANASTASIA S PAPADOPOULOS

after all you have been through, I believe using a powerchair is the most valuable thing!

Reply
Carole Trainer avatar

Carole Trainer

Ahna, thank you for sharing your story and your positive attitude. Having MS is a journey with many lessons to be learned. Sometimes we need a reminder of what's really important in life. Thank you.

Reply
Carol Anselmo avatar

Carol Anselmo

Very inspirational story . Very relatable , thank you for sharing your journey .

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