Learning to walk

Kate is doing great; also, say hello to Tom. And, 7 other things worth your time.

Readers have been asking me: HOW IS KATE?!!

In case you’ve signed up very recently, Kate Sullivan is basically my right-hand woman. She joined Understandably earlier this year, and over the course of a few months she became a very valued addition to this whole operation. I also like to say she’s the head of our European office (since she lives and works in Edinburgh).

As Kate explained in an edition of Understandably in October, she’s had to take some time off for medical reasons. I’m happy to report that she’s doing well and recovering on schedule. It will still be a bit of time before she’s back, but as much as I’m looking forward to her return, I am also glad she’s taking the time she needs to get back to 100 percent (or more).

In true Kate fashion, before she went on leave, she helped me recruit someone to fill in while she’s gone. This turned out to be Thomas Acquin, a writer and editor in Maine, who had worked with Kate on other projects in the past. He’s been a great addition to the team, and I wanted to take the chance to introduce him—or even better, let him introduce himself.

Like everyone involved in this enterprise, he’s a bit of a character, and there are a lot of things he could have talked about in his intro. We discussed a bunch of angles, but I laughed the hardest when he said he could write about something like, “why I hate little kids,” even though I didn’t know the story yet.

With that, I’ll step aside and let him speak/write. Here’s Thomas and his intro:


Learning to walk

Hello. My name is Tom Acquin (pronounced "ACK-win"). I've been helping Bill while Kate recovers from Brad Pituitary's eviction.

There's always an elephant in the room whenever I meet people for the first time—something I have to explain. After we get to know each other a bit it becomes a non-issue, but in fairness I'll address it now:

It’s that I hate little kids.

Why would someone say they hate little kids? Well, it's not because they’re loud, or messy, or because they ask so many questions.

It's because they're short and little—low to the ground. That gives them a big advantage when they’re learning to walk.

Well, after 22 years, learning to walk again is my task. And it’s not an easy one.

Let me start at the beginning.

I was born August 16, 1981 at 10:02 p.m., two months premature. Unfortunately, the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck and deprived my brain of oxygen long enough to leave me with cerebral palsy.

If you’re not familiar, cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that affects a person's ability to maintain balance and posture. Every case of CP is unique to the person it affects.

In my case, my CP makes me have stiff spastic muscle movements. I also have poor fine motor control.

As you can imagine, I’ve had a lifetime filled with surgeries and other medical treatments to try to mitigate the effects cerebral palsy was having on my body. Among them:

  • First, I had surgery to lengthen my heel cords and hamstrings.

  • Then, I had my legs intentionally broken and reinforced with titanium plates on my shins.

  • Finally, I had silicone blocks implanted to support my ankle joints and prevent me from walking on the sides of my feet.

Along with regular physical therapy until age 18, those surgeries got me to the point where I could walk a quarter of a mile (using a walker) without getting winded.

But, things fell a part while I was a student at the University of Maine flagship campus in Orono, when I was hit by a car, breaking my ankle.

Since then, I've relied exclusively on my wheelchair for my mobility. It wasn’t just the accident, but a series of setbacks that happened over the years that followed—more surgeries, infections, all kinds of fun stuff.

Finally, a little less than a year ago, I had another couple of surgeries, and realized this was about as good as things were going to get, physically.

I told myself: "It's time to get up and walk now."

So that's what I've been working on for the past year, with the help of my occupational therapist. I’m at the point where I can balance on my feet and transfer into and out of cars using my upper body strength, but traversing any distance still requires me to use my wheelchair.

Because really, learning to stand and walk again at 40 in a spastic body isn't child's play.

There are great days—like the day I finally stood on my own without any support from the therapist. There are frustrating days, when my body simply won't do what I want it to.

I know I’ve just introduced myself by talking completely about my CP—but the truth is that if we were to meet in person, it’s probably the first thing you’d wonder about. So I thought we’d start with that.

I mean, there’s a lot more to me—but we have to start somewhere.

On the whole, I'm an incredibly lucky guy. I have friends and family who care about me. I have no student debt (ironically, thanks to the car accident in which I broke my ankle), and I have health insurance supporting me while I work towards getting back on my feet, literally.

I just wish there were a bit more of an even playing field on things like learning to walk, and if it could be a little easier for those of us going through the course a second time.

So that’s why I say I hate little kids. It’s a humor thing, really. It’s how we break the ice to talk about something that not everybody is comfortable talking about.

But not your kids. I’m sure your kids are awesome.

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Thanks for reading. Photo credit: Tom Acquin. Want to see all my mistakes? Click here.