Kayaking With(out) Crutches


Something about being in a kayak on a crystal clear Colorado lake or on a river through a canyon in Utah just makes me smile the smile of a goofball. I love it. I love the splashy-gurgly sound of a paddle through water, the aroma of clean, cool air, and the reflection of land and sky on ripples.

Mike is now a pro at getting me in and out of kayaks safely as I’ve been banned from weight-bearing on my right foot for most of the summer. I’m expecting to be told I can resume life as a bipod in eleven days. It will be a glorious day, but until then, I’m being a good girl and doing what I’m told. Fortunately, the way I kayak, foot pressure isn’t necessary.

We decided to paddle upstream yesterday on the Colorado River from a launch site not far from our campground in Moab. The idea was that we’d paddle as long and hard as we wanted, and then enjoy a more leisurely trip with the river doing most of the work on the way back. The not-yet-sweltering morning temperatures and the cool water, moving downstream steadily, made for perfect conditions.

Beautiful day on the Colorado River in Moab
Beautiful day on the Colorado River in Moab

As soon as Mike pushed me away from shore, the reality of paddling against the flow hit me, but I was going to be a good sport. Forty-five minutes into our adventure my arm muscles burned and my palms, already callused from over a month of crutching, showed me where there were still some soft spots. I headed for some branches by the shore.

“What are you doing?” Mike paddled over to where I clung to a clump of dead twigs and spun his kayak around easily, paddling backwards for a while to hold his ground (because holding his water just sounds wrong) while we chatted.

“Oh, you know, just checking out the local flora.” The water threatened to pull me from the thicket, but I hung tight. Mike knew the truth, though.

“I think I’ll recon up a little further and check out the conditions, okay?” He was very gracious.

“Okay. I’ll join you in a bit,” I tried to convince him. And myself.

Mike leaves me in my safety thicket...if I let go, I'll be whisked back to shore in no time!
Mike leaves me in my safety thicket…if I let go, I’ll be whisked back to the dock in no time!

After Mike disappeared up river, it was time to get back out there myself. With renewed energy I continued my struggle against the current, making fairly good progress until Mike returned.

“It gets a little trickier up near that narrow place, but it’s doable.” His words did little to encourage me, but I had already told Mike how much I loved being on the water and we had barely been out an hour. So I followed him.

I followed him until I reached a place where my paddling turnover could not compensate for the volume of water working against me. I felt like I was in one of those Endless pools, working and working and getting nowhere.

“I think I’m done!” I called to my endless-energy husband, and despite the fact that he could have paddled all the way back to Colorado, backwards, he agreed it was time to head back for lunch. We had the kayaks for the whole day. We could bring them out again in the afternoon. Oh joy! I thought.

And back out we went after lunch for another up-river assault.

This time, although I did not get as far as I had in the morning, I knew where I could sneak out of the big flow areas and “study flora” in several places I had missed earlier.

“You go on ahead and I’ll hang here,” I told Mike when I knew I was spent, and while he completed another awesome workout, I watched with amusement some mating rituals along shallow shoreline. And no, I’m not talking about the trailer people.

A pairs of dragonflies did it right on the edge of my kayak before taking flight, stuck together in what seemed an endless dance. For well over 10 minutes they clung and danced and I never saw them part. And juxtaposed to their ceaseless airborne ritual, dozens of water striders darted over the flowing surface in a seemingly random pattern. They occasional bumped into one another before dashing away, all the while maintaining their position relative to shore atop the moving water. It looked like some Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom video game. I could not imagine the brusque bump was procreative, but I also had no idea what the purpose of this bizarre, confused dance could be. I also wondered how long it would be before their legs, like my arms, would say “Enough!”

Mike WAY up river from me!
Mike WAY up river from me!

I paddled upstream a bit more after marveling at how much I do not know about the world, and saw that Mike was on his way back. He pulled his boat alongside mine and the two of us floated together with the current back to our launch site where our truck, and my crutches, awaited.



Showering with Laurel: A Tell-All

Although I could have had a friend sleep over for the two nights Mike was away for training, I was happy to discover I could do everything by myself. After having another dagnabbit moment when I figured out how to balance on one foot long enough to pick up Ranger’s poop out back, I knew anything was possible.

This injury has made me contemplate the Wounded Warriors who compete in ultra-races, a friend who’s lived with one leg and crutches for over 20 years, and another friend who bow hunts with his teeth because he had an arm amputated after a horrible ski accident. I am humbled by these amazing people and realize I cannot utter a single complaint about my silly little 6-week recovery.

I remember deciding the first marathon I’d run would be the Bataan Memorial Death March Marathon for the same reason (read about my experience here: Surviving the Death March). I would not be able to snivel around survivors of that brutal march in the Philippines in 1942 and the Wounded Warriors who participated in the race with me in 2011.

So today I took my first shower since surgery last week. Big effing deal, I know, but it felt like a huge step in reclaiming my mobility. And my social acceptability.

I’ve taken a “hummingbird flutter” each day of course (my Mum’s expression for a sink bath), but there’s nothing quite like the deluge of steamy, soaking water from a shower head. It was calling me from the sink.

Faux duct tape. Don't use it on anything you want to stay stuck.
Faux duct tape. Don’t use it on anything you want to stay stuck.

My sister Charlene shared her experience with cast wrapping and warned against using tape that would rip my skin off, so I tossed the lawn bag and a roll of faux duct tape into my backpack and performed my expert crabwalk backwards up the stairs. The deck steps out back and the ones at the front door are wide and I have no fear of crutching up and down them, but the ones that twist to the upstairs inside our 120-year-old Victorian are another story. No amount of confidence will get me to ascend/descend those any other way than crustacean-like.

I know I’d eventually gather the courage if this were a rest-of-my-life setback, but it’s not, so I’ve allowed my tip-over fear to dictate my actions.

Faux duct tape wrap
Faux duct tape wrap

Perched on the toilet (and yes, it’s a leopard print seat…to go with all the other animals in the bathroom), I wrapped my leg and secured it with the duct tape. I knew the faux product did not adhere like the legit kind, so I figured it would last at least long enough to keep out water for a quick shower and would not be like a wax treatment on my hairy knee when I removed it.

Fortunately, our shower has a shelf to hold onto and a hand-held shower nozzle attachment (need I explain why this little item is such a gem?), so with one crutch positioned outside the curtain, I was in and out in no time. I briefly considered shaving my left leg, but it was already tiring from my extra-vigilant soapy balancing act, and hey, we live in Leadville. Even I don’t see my legs 10 months out of the year, and snow is already falling in the mountains behind our house. I’ll soon be happy for the extra insulation.

A "new woman"!
A “new woman”!

I felt like a new woman—although I don’t really know what that means—when I finally hopped out, and was happy that my tape job neither ripped my skin off nor allowed water in. The little padded stool I’d positioned by the sink was a perfect place for post-shower activities like drying off and combing out and even washing my exposed toes. I’m glad to say my progress with exercises in the book

STRETCH for those toes. And think about where you leave your crutches because their goal is to fall to the floor.
STRETCH for those toes. And think about where you leave your crutches because their goal is to fall to the floor.

“Real Men Do Yoga” is paying off. Stay flexible, America!

And vain though it may sound, I even went so far as to apply a bit of face paint. Mum always says, “Don’t leave home without putting on

Putting on my "eyebrowns"
Putting on my “eyebrowns”

your eyebrowns (sic),” so my secret is out. L’Oréal or Feria or Clairol help me deceive the world about my true hair color, and a bit of brown eye shadow helps cover up the spikey-grey-Einsteinesque eyebrows that started sprouting several years ago. I swear, I can pluck at night and wake up with twirled, inch-long hairs sticking straight out from my eyebrows in the morning.

So there you have it, some real first-world struggles and small successes of a woman with one flat tire. I am reminded of how much I take for granted every day, and I know how insignificant this setback is.

Hope you enjoyed showering with me today. Maybe you’ll join me fishing this weekend. Look along the shoreline for a crazy lady talking to the face on her foot!

hat to cover toes sticking out of cast
Meet Hattie Le’Green!

Laurel McHargue / Laurel’s email / Leadville Laurel Facebook page / Laurel’s Twitter


Meet Roscoe

medical aid, walking aid
Roscoe, my knee scooter

“You need one of those scoot around things for après foot/ankle surgery,” my friend Stacy posted on my Facebook page. Shortly thereafter, my friend Kristi attached a photo, suggesting it might be way more fun than crutching around the house. And it did look fun. The next day, our local medical supply service delivered my new getabout from Roscoe Medical, a burgundy beauty complete with adjustable everything, a lockable hand brake, and a sizeable basket. My sister Christine suggested insurance might pay for it. We’ll see. In any case, I already feel like I’ve been released from a cage!

I’ve been doing really well with the crutches

Stretching my hammy
Stretching my hammy

and the muscles in my arms and left leg appreciate the workout. Scooting up and down stairs on my butt also exercises my “dip” muscles and my right thigh muscles (holding my leg up the whole way), and the maneuver I have to do once I reached the top of the stairs to stand up again works my left butt cheek squat muscles. Stretching my right hammy on the back deck railing while Ranger does his business feels great, and I am perfectly in control.

But my decision to get this walking aid was finalized after I nearly tipped over two nights ago crutching to the bathroom for a 2 a.m. pee. Fortunately, I tipped against the wall and was able to finish my business without further calamity, but I knew right then it was time for a safer mode of travel around our house.

With Roscoe I can do almost as much as I can do on two legs, but it has taken some practice and everything still requires more time. Although Ranger’s water bowl splashed all over the floor while transporting it on the basket, my plant watering container worked just great. Lesson? Leave Ranger’s bowl on the floor and refill with the watering can.

Also, Roscoe doesn’t have such a great turning radius. This was probably a conscious decision on the part of the medical community so speed demons like me won’t launch ourselves over the handlebars taking corners on two wheels. As a result of this limited turning capability, I often have to lift the back wheels off the floor—remembering to keep my hand on the brake—and position them to make it through a turn. With all the twisting and turning and lifting I’m doing, I’m getting a great core workout on top of everything else. I don’t know that I’d recommend this scooter for anyone not physically capable of manhandling it to varying degrees.

Roscoe Medical knee scooter
Backing Roscoe into small places! Mike preps his pack to take Ranger on an elk scouting hike.

And I’m really happy I spent 9 years in the Army Transportation Corps because my experience with 3-5-7-point turns and maneuvering big trucks into tight spots comes in handy when I have to visit this tiny room several times throughout the day.

The bottom line is, Roscoe has freed my hands so I can cook and clean and do laundry and …

Dagnabbit! What have I done? When I had crutches, Mike was doing those things for me. Now he knows the truth. Oh well. He still has to hoist Roscoe upstairs at night and down in the morning. And walk the dog. And pick up his poop out back. I haven’t figured out how to manage that balancing act yet and don’t plan to.

My friend Nadine told me she was going to suggest getting a knee scooter, but could visualize me flying down the street into town on it. The burden of responsibility would have been just too much for her. She knows me too well. There’s a community market off Main Street today. I wonder how many peaches I could fit in this basket . . .


Crutches–and Uniforms

“Looks like last night’s lentil soup didn’t agree with you,” Mike states the obvious as he takes away the bucket I prudently placed by my side for that just-in-case moment.

The moment was inevitable though I did my best rapid, shallow breathing to fend it off. I could feel my inner reptile taking over as my jaw unhinged and I performed my best impression of Linda Blair in The Exorcist, stopping just short of a 360 degree head spin. And then I felt much better.

crutches, casts, surgery
Following doctor’s orders

That was yesterday, and I was quite pleased I nailed the scene in only one take. I was prone for most of the remainder of the day as I will be today, being the good girl I am and following doctor’s orders to keep my foot higher than my heart for the first 72 hours other than some rather obvious times when it would be impractical.

I’ve constructed the perfect uniform for my convalescence. My Melanzana hoodie has both a front pocket and a hood in which I can transport things, and the string backpack carries my water bottle and other stuff.

I have numerous skirts which when worn commando offer another wonderful convenience, though I still need to figure out how to keep them under me when navigating

crutches and roller stool
Melanzana hoodie with front pocket, string backpack worn in the front, skirt and roller stool.

down our cold wooden stairs butt-style in the morning. Brrr. The surgical stocking is a must, and the practical, sturdy slide-in shoe for my left foot is perfect. I’ll probably need to rubber band a hat over my toes when it gets cold. Like now.

It’s been 48 hours since my surgery (read my post about that here: surgery) and my tummy still isn’t feeling spectacular, but that’s probably because my fiber therapy hasn’t kicked in yet, if you know what I mean. Hey, I’m trying to be honest here. Anesthesia, while it takes you to wonderland during surgery, can really mess you up for days after.

I was able to fix a decent breakfast using a wheeled stool in the kitchen to kneel on. It’s not perfect, but it freed my hands to scoot around the kitchen and prep something easy. The stool then worked as foot rest while I sat on the foot locker under the kitchen window to eat. The foot locker was meant to be a temporary piece of furniture in the kitchen when we moved here 8 years ago, but somehow, the West Point issued trunk has managed to be a favorite permanent fixture in every home we’ve owned since 1983.

Ranger is helpless and confused by my new routine.
Ranger is helpless and confused by my new routine.

Poor Ranger doesn’t know what to do with himself, so he settles within sight until I move. He is leery of the crutches, as I have used them to nudge him out of my way several times already. In Mike’s words, he is a “furry road block.”

Time to lie down again. It’s pouring buckets and my head is fuzzy again. A Search and Rescue mission just came in for an injured hiker, so who knows when I’ll see Mike again. Maybe it’s just a little fracture.



I fractured my right ankle just a little while hiking in Moab three months ago on day two of a two-week vacation with Mike. Although I knew it was probably fractured, just a little, I refused a trip to the doctor until we got home. I bought hiking poles and walked gingerly at each of the magnificent national parks we visited, something a doctor would have told me not to do.

With an x-ray confirming the “stable” fracture upon our return home, I earned my first knee-high walking boot for two weeks, graduating to a short boot for another two before starting physical therapy. A couple of weeks into therapy, things got worse, and an MRI showed what the x-ray didn’t: torn cartilage. It would need to be removed, and a few little holes drilled in the talus bone to release new bone ooze (pretty sure that’s what it’s called) to repair the damage.

“No weight bearing for six weeks.” The verdict was made less heinous only because it was delivered by a cute doctor. The reason had something to do with ensuring the new bone ooze had time to reach the right consistency.

Mike’s crutches mock me.

When I got home, I stared at the crutches Mike used for a couple of weeks last year after his hip replacement. I adjusted them to my armpits and took a few practice strolls around the house. It’s easy when you know you can put your foot down. After practicing up and down the stairs, I decided I’d be using the butt method instead.

pre-surgery prep
Doing my roots before surgery. Gotta look good while I’m drooling on the operating table.

The day before surgery I cleaned the house from top to bottom, removed all the throw rugs and things from the stairs, colored and trimmed my hair, did a bit more food shopping (marveling all the while at how easy these tasks were with two functional legs and free hands) and scrubbed myself with Hibiclens before jumping into my freshly washed sheets. For those who have not experienced pre-surgical prep lately, this 3-day special scrub-down is a new infection control measure against pesky things like MRSA.

As Mike was away for training, our good friend John ushered me to the hospital. I chatted his ear off for the 40-minute drive over the mountain, filling him in on all the prep I’d done including another Hibiclens that morning. After ensuring I was in good hands, he took his leave when my anesthesiologist entered, an Air Force man. We talked about the military and he told me he’d buy my novel. His unhurried visit with me was completed unexpected and took my mind off of the impending surgery. I knew he’d take good care of me.

After handing my “I used Hibiclens for 3 days” checklist to the nurse, the cute doctor came by to reassure me.

“I’m so clean you could eat off me,” I almost dared to tell him. But I didn’t. I didn’t want him to be distracted by that thought while he was fishing around in my ankle.

I wish I could remember what I was blabbing while they pushed me down the hall into surgery because I think it was profound. All I remember was a feeling of absolute bliss, and then a gentle voice asking how I felt.

It was over so very quickly, and the cute doctor told me he was happy with the procedure.

John drove me home, and although I remember being quite chatty for about 5 minutes, the after effects of the anesthesia hit me and I dozed until we got home. I’m pretty sure he was relieved when I finally shut up. He helped me into the house as I fumbled with the crutches, and I was happy to hit the couch until Mike returned a couple of hours later.

crutches day 1, cast on my leg
At least I can wiggle my toes!

I didn’t have much of an appetite, but the lentil soup tasted good, and soon it was time to butt my way up the stairs and into bed. That was yesterday, September 1st, Day One of 42-no-weight-bearing days. What a way to start a new month.