My Experience with Re Walk

We arrived at the sports centre after more than a three hour drive but despite the crappy traffic we did have around twenty minutes before the appointment. I was directed along a short corridor to a room on my right which is where Cyclone have a “treatment room” for want of a better term and after entering the room I met with Matt, the physiotherapist who would be introducing me to and helping me use the ReWalk exoskeleton. The first thing was for Matt to talk to me about my injuries followed by getting me to sit on the edge of the treatment plynth so as he could measure my legs and hips. This was necessary to get the exoskeleton adjusted to fit me. From here he conducted some stretching of my legs, this took quite some time as my spasms were quite lively which makes my legs solid. With the patience and know how though, Matt got my legs to a point that they were as relaxed as they were going to be and after helping me back in to my wheelchair, he took me to the exoskeleton to show me how it worked.

The ReWalk was in the sitting position on a chair which was quite amusing to be honest, and rather than me transfer on to the seat to have the ReWalk fitted to me, Matt gave me a demonstration of how the system worked and what I would have to do for it to walk for me. He showed me the “Watch” that controls the ReWalk and what each of the buttons did. Then he told me that he would make the unit stand, sit and after standing again, would make it walk which is also when he would show what I would have to do to make the unit work. Seeing a pair of robotic legs standing and sitting was a little weird but also very clever and when Matt took hold of the back of the “legs” he told me what I would do and the effect it would have and also the movement it would allow. He then proceeded to “walk” the “legs” the length of the room before sitting them back down on to the chair ready for me to transfer on the the chair and be fitted to the unit. The transfer was not something that I could manage on my own but with some assistance from Matt I plonked my arse on to the chair and Matt set about strapping me in. With all of the “pre flight checks” complete he gave me some instruction on what action I would have to take to assist the ReWalk in standing me up, so with my hands on the parallel bars in front of me, we had a go at my first standing in an exoskeleton.

I have a standing frame which I use when I can so this was not the first time I had stood up since my collision four years ago but when I am in the standing frame there is a tray in front of me and a strap around my arse. To that end I know that there is no way that I could fall forward or backward, but with the ReWalk there was no strap to stop me from falling backwards and no tray in front of me. The parallel bars were there of course so I was comfortable with the standing but these “legs” stood me so much straighter than the standing frame. I could actually feel my hamstrings stretching. There were so many different things that I was feeling and thinking and noticing, which you may well be able to see on my face in the video. Having done the standing it was time for me to sit back down.

The next thing for me to do was to get up using the crutches that you have to use with the ReWalk exoskeleton and so the crutches were set at the height that Matt thought would suit me and after he had explained what I would have to do and what to expect when I was upright, we gave it a go.

I could actually feel the shift in my balance when I was standing but as my core muscles don’t work I had to move the crutches around which as you will have seen in the video (and heard with the tapping), I was almost dancing the crutches until finally I got to a point that I felt was balanced. It was strange because the point that I was upright was when I felt like I was tipping forward, this would be something that I would have to really keep in my mind. If I thought I was tipping forward then I would obviously try to counteract the forward tipping but because I would actually be upright, I would end up tipping backward. As I was just learning about the system obviously Matt would not let me fall but I didn’t need to be getting in to an automatic bad habit. The next stage, after a sit down and stand up again, was to try to step. How hard could this be. I knew how to walk before my collision four years ago so it should be like riding a bike right? Well, not quite so.

This was not going to be easy. As soon as I took a step and the second in my head I was saying “Left, Right, Left, Right”, and because I was associating this with marching in the Army my arms would try to go faster than my legs. This of course didn’t work and the ReWalk stopped. This was really frustrating but I was determined to accomplish at least two steps before my appointment came to an end. I had used a “walking frame” in Stoke Mandeville spinal unit last year which was as close as I could get to walking but it was a very different kind of equipment, for those who haven’t seen this or can’t remember….

So I had struggled to walk more than the one step on so many occasions whilst learning to use the ReWalk, and in my head I was asking myself over and over why I couldn’t manage to do it. It did cause a little frustration because how hard can it be to walk? That is something that I kept saying to myself but I did not get angry with it and instead found it almost amusing. Anyway, with Matt’s help, patience and determination we did accomplish a few steps.

I cannot begin to explain the feelings and thoughts that were going on in my head and body, I know that Matt was telling me when to move and was offering me support but for the first time in over four years I WAS WALKING!

After getting me out of the exoskeleton Matt suggested that I use a piece of exercise equipment that uses electrical stimulation and motors to make me effectively pedal the bike. Matt stuck the pads that would be plugged in to the machine on my legs and arse cheeks and then explained how the equipment would work, what my body would be doing when stimulated by the electrical impulses and the benefits to me personally.

After a period of time the motors stop and the electrical impulses to the legs take over as the sole method of keeping the pedals turning.  When the motors stopped my legs took over but after only a few rotations my legs tired and seemingly were struggling to run in sync which meant that the crank would not turn. I did find though that if I twisted so that my hip was effectively pushing my legs forward, I did indeed pedal the “bike”.

The day with Matt from Cyclone at the sports centre where I used the ReWalk and the FES bike was brilliant. I will be using the ReWalk again in the not too distant future, and while I am there I would love to use the FES equipment again. The ReWalk and the FES exercise equipment are two things that are definitely now on my wish list.

Please don’t forget to visit my fundraising page and help me raise money for some of the military charities that have helped me to buy my Overlander that allows me to do things I could never do in my standard wheelchairs. Thanks in advance.   www.virginmoneygiving.com/Giving-Back

Goodnight all.

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