Life with MS

Adapting to Adaptive Equipment

By Matt Cavallo
Many of us living with MS need adaptive equipment to accomplish the tasks of everyday living. After my 2016 relapse, my knee was buckling, and I was experiencing dropfoot when I tried to walk. To compensate, I began limping and dragging my right leg unsteadily behind me. I struggled walking my dog while trying to safely manage curbs.I also gave up trying to walk up stairs to put the kids to bed. Being unsteady on my feet was scary, so I began to wonder if maybe Icould find some shoes that would help me balance better?

I made an appointment with a podiatrist, which is a doctor who specializes in footproblems. I talked to him about my balance issues and weakness in my leg and ankle.While I was there for special shoes to help me balance, my podiatrist recommended an AFO. An AFO, or ankle-foot orthosis, is a support brace for your ankle that helps position and control the motion of the foot and ankle.While it is an ankle brace, it also supports the limbs, so, in theory, it would help keep my knee from buckling.
I am a little ashamed that my thoughts went straight to how the braces would look versus the functionality. I live in Arizona and wear shorts and flip-flops the majority of time and now I was being fitted for braces thatl ooked to be the size of cowboy boots. There was no way to wear flip-flops and they would be completely visible with shorts on. All I could think of was the scene from Forest Gump where he was being picked on for his leg braces. I wish that I didn’t think this way, but I was concerned that other kids would say hurtful things to my boys if they saw me in these braces. I also didn’t want to wear them around friends or family. I was sad that this was becoming my life.
Prior to my 2016 relapse, I was known for overcoming these relapses and bouncing back to normal. Post my 2016 relapse, I found that I was experiencing a new normal. My quality of life was deteriorating and now I was going to have to wear balance braces to walk normally again. I was also going to have to overcome some of the mental stigma tha tcomes with being different. Mostly, I felt like MS was starting to win the battle.
I was also realizing that my days of shopping for regular shoes was over. When I first attended patient advocacy events, some of the women living with MS that I met would talk about their sadness of no longer being able to wear heels. I never understood what they meant until now. Even though I was going to have to overcome my mental hang-ups, I decided to move forward with an AFO. Even though the right side was the problem, I was required to have both legs in the braces for safety, stability, and so one side didn’t become stronger than the other.
With the braces, the change was instant. I was able to walk and manage curbs safely. I could even do the stairs. While they are not discreet, they are functional and allow me to be independent with walking. In the end, independence means more to me than what people may think. This 2016 relapse has taught me that the key to living with MS is being able to adapt, even if that means learningto use adaptive equipment.