Ah, my legs. Since my spinal cord injury they are like jellies wrapped around a pair of golf clubs. They feel nothing and do nothing but act as counterweights as I throw myself in and out of my wheelchair.
They are still a part of me, it’s just that they don’t really have a role any more. But Rosalie’s interaction with my legs is fascinating. She often likes to walk on them when I am lying down, and I have to tick her off, as she could easily break my ankle, and the first I would know about it would be when my foot turned blue.
Most of the time my legs are just the component parts of my lap that she sits on. But when I get on the floor with her, they become more obvious. Sometimes they will flop over as I get out of my wheelchair, and land on Rosalie’s lap. Then she tries to lift them up and we both marvel at how heavy they are.
Lifting someone else’s leg isn’t something that people do very often. It sounds a bit suspect — I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a “leglifters.com” website for a niche audience — but it is an interesting experience that can bring home the full implications of paralysis.
For Rosalie, the difference in our legs becomes clear when we play with her doctor’s bag. Once we’ve looked for mushrooms in the ears, listened to heartbeats with her stethoscope and administered injections and bandages, the reflex hammer comes out.
Trying to explain reflexes to a three year old, the first thing I did was cross my legs and hit my knee. Pointless, for no matter how hard or frequently I hit my knee, nothing was going to happen. So as far as she’s concerned, the hammer is just for random knee-striking.
And then the other day, when I was wheeling around the house with nothing on my feet, she grabbed one of my toes. “Your feet are cold, Daddy.” “Yes, sweetheart. That’s because I can’t wiggle my toes to keep them warm.” A look of concentration crossed her face, followed by a flash of understanding.
She sat on the floor and said: “I’ll wiggle them for you. One, wiggle wiggle, two, wiggle wiggle, three, wiggle wiggle.” And I sat there as she worked her way through both feet, unable to explain to her why this wouldn’t help, and marvelling at the way her mind works.
Tim Rushby-Smith www.timrushby-smith.com