Sarah Garrecht Gassen: To adapt, put your best toe forward

2013-12-19T00:00:00Z 2014-02-07T13:16:25Z Sarah Garrecht Gassen: To adapt, put your best toe forwardSarah Garrecht Gassen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Life is all about the big toe.

Big toes push you into the next step. They stop when momentum is propelling you forward into dangerous territory.

Big toes find balance.

Glorious things, really, yet underappreciated. Decorated, maybe, but still gangly.

The leader of the piggies who is in the right place at hopefully the right time.

Big toes loom larger when you don’t have one — or the one you came into the world with.

As a point of reference, I use a prosthesis — the short (no pun intended) version is my organic left leg was underdeveloped when I was born, and amputated when I was 3 so I could use a fake leg to walk.

It’s amazing what the brain can adopt as its own. My prosthetic leg doesn’t feel like a mechanical forgery unless the organic leg that goes inside what’s called the socket, the bucket part where your organic limb goes, gets really cold or hurts. Then I notice that I am two separate entities perambulating as one.

All this is by way of introduction to my new foot. It uses movement technology from snowboards to create the flexibility and anchoring motion of an ankle. It’s high-tech and fancy and I have no shame saying that I don’t understand the physics of how it works.

I took my first steps with it Tuesday afternoon. My brain sent out an urgent message:

WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON DOWN THERE?

This break in transmission is normal, at least for me. Use something for long enough and it becomes you — or you become it. A constant in the equation of self.

In those initial steps I feel, for the first time, like I have two feet — that I am walking on two feet. I can feel not only the big toe of the prosthetic foot, but all of its toes. The sensation of stepping with my left foot registers the same as stepping with my right.

Dinner at Sweet Tomatoes (want to tempt fate? Get a new foot and go to a buffet restaurant) and the rest of me begins to realize that something is very different. Muscles get used to certain movements and don’t take kindly to change.

I know they are different. I know this. You can’t take one leg off before bed every night for 39 years and not recognize that one of these legs is not like the other. But for a short time I experienced them as the same. The human brain is a curious place.

The unavoidable aches and pains that accompany a change in body parts chip away at any illusion that I have miraculously grown a foot. The euphoria ebbs.

My body doesn’t believe my brain.

It’s happened before. They’ll work it out.

At home, looking at the new foot, I wonder, as I have before and will again, whose foot is this I am wearing – the pale, rubber lifelike covering with the curve of toenail indentations, the wrinkles of the fourth piggy, the don’t-forget-me-just-because-I’m-small sense of the baby toe.

This foot will become mine. It will come at a cost, in dollars and discomfort, but it is worth the price. I am grateful for my good fortune.

I’ll fall down and I’ll get up — just as we all do in our own ways, and for our own reasons, as we prove each day that existence requires adjustment.

Sarah Garrecht Gassen writes opinion for the Arizona Daily Star. Follow her on Facebook and email her at sgassen@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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