I watched the woman standing between the parallel bars, hanging on for dear life as she contemplated the low aerobic stepper in front of her. Her right heel rose a hair off the floor, then lowered, and again. Then in an abrupt motion, legs shaking, she lifted her right foot onto the step and quickly brought the other up to join it. Stepping down onto the other side of the step didn't seem as daunting to her. A brief pause on top of the step, starting with her right foot, she stepped down.
She was relearning to walk after a brain injury. She was relatively advanced, learning to tackle stairs—stepping onto the step, then stepping down. One foot at a time.
I watched the video twice, and flashed back to my own difficulties relearning how to step over obstacles. Keith, my physical therapist in inpatient rehab, placed a block of wood in front of me, no more than two inches high and three inches wide. I was to step over it sideways while he held onto my belt. I remembered having to focus all my attention on my feet, willing the one to lift up and over, then the other. I remembered that shaking, the swaying. But Keith held on, and I didn't fall.
A day later, on furlough from rehab, I was in a hotel room, needing a shower. I stood next the bathtub, trying to figure out how to get in.
Cindy held onto me as I shook and swayed. I was scared. This was much higher than the block of wood Keith had produced. And this was not Keith helping me. Keith was trained and knew my limitations.
Cindy tightened her grip. “Trust me. I won't let you fall.”
But what would happen once I got one foot up and over and into the tub? How would I bring in my other foot? If I continued holding onto Cindy I'd be leaning towards her and I'd lose my balance.
It was as though she read my mind. “I'll step in with you.”
I focused my all on my right foot, willing it to to rise. But all I managed to move was my heel. I tried again, and again only my heel rose above the floor.
Cindy tightened her grip. “You're okay. I've got you.”
And something in my brain clicked. I was okay. She did have me. And I stepped up and over. Once my one foot rested on the floor of the tub the other followed. And Cindy shadowed my movements, stepping in with me.
I remember standing in the tub, swaying in a nonexistent breeze, clinging to Cindy's hands, filled with a mixture of relief and confusion. Now what? Again it was as if she read my mind. “Now I'll turn the water on.” and somehow, she did.