Tuesday, November 9, 2010 arrived with a clear early morning that promised to become a chilly, sunny, and typically autumn day. I zipped my coat, buckled my helmet strap, unlocked my bike, and headed off to work. A few minutes later, a garbage truck crossed a bike lane to make a right turn. I was in that bike lane. The tires of the truck crushed my left leg and caused other internal injuries. An amazing team of trauma surgeons saved my life, but they had to amputate my leg to do so.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Confucius.

In July 2011, I set off to walk a thousand miles as an above-knee amputee in my new prosthesis. The journey has held more twists, turns, and detours than I ever imagined.

I reached Mile 1000 on March 30, 2013.

But of course, that wasn't the end.

I'll keep walking!

Friday, March 24, 2017

C'est La Vie!

Your sorrow will become smaller, like a star in the daylight that you can't even see.  It's there, shining, but there is also a vast expanse of blue sky.

--Alice Hoffman, Survival Lessons

Mile Marker 4946:

"You've been busy."

That's what my surgeons said when they walked into my hospital room the day my mom hung the article on the wall.

It was a travel story I had submitted to the Philadelphia Inquirer two months before, documenting a home exchange I'd done in France.  The article was accepted in October and published in the Sunday newspaper on December 5.

In between those dates... well, everything changed.

When the article came out, I was proud of it.  It was my first published piece.  But it came with a sense of loss too.  That was me, BEFORE.  It seemed like a lifetime ago.  When my mom taped the newspaper clipping to my wall, I felt so different from that person and so far from that place.   I couldn't imagine ever going back.  It hurt.

I've talked about France before, but you might not know this:  at the time of the accident, in November 2010, I had another trip planned -- to return to Provence to visit the family I'd exchanged homes with.  I was to leave the day before Thanksgiving, and return the Sunday after.

So in those early days as I lay in critical care, my sister scrambled to locate the family on Facebook and somehow communicate -- with her nonexistent French skills -- that we needed to cancel the trip.  Meanwhile, my dad argued with the airline to credit the flight.  I wasn't going anywhere anytime soon, except maybe to the OR.

Throughout my recovery, France continued to be my "happy place."  I sat outside to drink coffee and dreamed of the little town of Draguignan.   I bought a French cookbook and made Cheating-on-Winter Pea Soup.  I pratiqué mon francais with my friend Cécile.  I talked about going back.  I even got my passport renewed.

But underlying all that joy was something else.  What if it's hard?  I thought.  What if it doesn't feel the same??  

Every time I considered taking the leap, the sorrow broke through.

It's taken me more than 6 years to accept that.   It will be hard.  It won't feel exactly the same.  As I round the corner toward Mile 5,000, I'm ok with those answers.  Finally, I can say...

That's life.  C'est la vie.

In that spirit, my luggage, now packed in the living room, consists of one suitcase, one backpack, and one crutch bag.  Inside are at least 5 different leg lotions, an extra prosthetic liner, an Allen wrench, a water leg, a shower seat (a.k.a. foldable step-stool), a long raincoat, a few digestive aids, and an infinite number of toiletries.  Oh yeah, some clothes too...

That's almost like
bringing my docs along!
I've tried to plan for every possible mishap.  Prosthetist Tim even gave me the name of an Ottobock dealer in France.  (Think "doctor" for my Genium!)  I can't take my own doctors with me, but luckily one them has a sister whose novel just made the New York Times bestseller list!


I've bought new shoes and practiced walking in them.  I've found yoga pants wide enough to access my socket.  I've sought out travel advice from amputee friends.  Leave the leg on?  Take it off?  And then the clincher: What if I can't get it back on again??

There are a lot of unknowns.  But then again, they're always going to be there.

Here at home...

...or wherever I go!

Might as well take off into that vast expanse of blue sky!

Bon voyage!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Day After

Mile Marker 4917:

I love a good snow day.

I love making coffee, lingering over breakfast, simmering soup in the crockpot, and mixing up a recipe for maple chocolate chip cookies.

By 11 a.m. I've made a mess so big it'll take the rest of the day to clean up.  But hey, it's a snow day.  I've got time!

The clouds linger all day long.  Fluttering white flakes turn into sleet pellets on the windows.  Cars slurp slowly down the street.  It's a March snowstorm, and I'm happy to be inside where it's cozy and warm.

The problem isn't the snow day.  It's the day after.

The day when the world starts up again.   Just a normal day, but now snow covered.

Like everyone else, I've got a full day of work and appointments.  So it sounds crazy when I say a haircut presents a dilemma.  Sure, I could postpone it.  But people are out.  Businesses are open.  I want to go.  I need to go.  I'm just not sure how to get there -- which is ironic because it's only 2 blocks away!

I'm not a risk-taker.  I cherish my independence and want to keep it that way.  Walking in the snow and ice can be treacherous for anyone, but especially for amputees.  My prosthetic side doesn't feel the ground, and my knee only bends if I can push against it.  It's a bad combination when the ground is slick.

But how bad is it out there?  I can't see much from my window.

I decide to do a recon mission by car.  A drive-by.

Here's the situation...

The first thing I notice is that the parking spaces are snow-filled and the parked cars have been plowed in.  Even if I wanted to drive to the salon -- which is silly because it's around the corner -- I wouldn't find a place to park.  And even if I did, I wouldn't be able to plod through the piles of snow onto the sidewalk.

So, Plan B.  The sidewalk.  It's mostly shoveled and salted with two questionable intersections.  I think it's doable.  I park my car back at home, re-tie my boots, and head out before I change my mind.

It all goes well for the first 50 yards or so.  The salt makes a pleasant grinding sound beneath my feet.  The block has been shoveled all the way to the corner, and the sidewalk is angled in my favor.  Ok, breathe...

Halfway down Arch Street, I come upon a cobblestone alley.  I stop.  Stand on the curb.  Study it.  It's maybe 10 feet wide with a patch of icy slush at the center.  It looks like a frozen pond, grayish-white, polished to a shine by car tires.   (You'll have to imagine.  I was afraid to reach for my camera!)

I try to calculate how to slide over it.  Then -- wait -- I'm not alone!  A young man approaches in black pants and dress shoes.

"Are you crossing here?" I ask him, looking for a bit of camaraderie, if not a hand.

He glances my way.  No response.  Then he leaps casually over the ice, hurrying on his way.

Well.  If he can do it those shoes...

Gingerly, I test the waters.  Lower my Genium off the curb onto the wet stones, step my right foot onto the frozen patch, and bring my Genium up to match it.  Two more tiny, tentative, shuffling steps and I'm on the other side.  Whew.

I gobble up the next stretch of sidewalk.  Piece of cake.

Next obstacle: crossing Arch.  It's bigger and wider, but mostly snow-free.  I watch the traffic light, waiting through the end of a green, and then a red, so I can start fresh on the next green.  When the time is right, I start across.  The first curb-cut is surprisingly easy.  Just damp and salty.  No problem at all.

But as I reach the other side, I freeze.  The uphill slope to the sidewalk is coated with 5 inches of mushy, oily, slushy snow.  I'd seen it on my drive-by, but it's uglier in person.

Watch your step!

Another guy, walking behind me, stops too.   We stand there for a second, examining the deep footprints and smeared gravel.  I lift my chin out of my down jacket to look up at him.  He looks down at me, eyes peering out from his scarf.

"Need help?" he says.

"Maybe," I say.  Then I grab his wrist without even asking.  Actually, I don't grab.  I don't even pull.  I simply wrap my glove lightly around the edge of his sleeve and use it for balance.  Just in case.

"It's pretty bad," he says.  "Last year, I fell on the ice and cracked a rib."

"Really?" I say.  "I have a prosthetic leg.  It makes things little dicey."

We make our way up the incline and onto the sidewalk, talking the whole time till we reach the salon.  I pause at the door.  We're here.

"Thanks so much," I say. "This is my stop."

He looks a little disappointed, and truthfully, so am I.  I feel bad for making him go on alone.  A new friend kind of melts the ice.  I probably should have kept walking!

But the day must go on.

My parking space
in South Philly
I survive a trip (by car) to the prosthetist's office, the post office and work.  For each leg of the journey, I plan ahead, leave early, and allow plenty of time.

I take every step with the utmost care.  And while it's not exactly fun, when I get through it, it does feel like an achievement.

Driving home that night, I see a FedEx truck trying to turn into a slush-covered alley.  I see a man chipping away at his icy sidewalk with a tool that looks like a garden hoe.  And I see more snowflakes swirling in the headlights.

I think of that man who helped me today.  He had no idea how much it meant to me -- on this hazardous, worrisome "day after."

Things could be worse, I think.  Much worse. 

It could be February.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Growing Up Flyers

Mile Marker 4735:

Let's Go Flyers! (Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap!)

When I was 6, I practiced that cheer while my mom dressed me in clothes warm enough for the nosebleed seats.  I'd smile a toothless smile, black and orange ribbons in my hair, as Dad and I drove downtown toward the Philadelphia Spectrum.

We talked hockey the whole way to the game.  He taught me the numbers, names, and nicknames of the entire team:  Number 8, Dave Schultz, The Hammer; Number 9, Bob Kelly, Hound; Number 11, Don Saleski, Big Bird... (I liked that one. I was a loyal Sesame Street fan!)

We grew up Flyers!

Not anymore!
The Philadelphia Flyers (a.k.a "Broad Street Bullies") ruled the 1970's, and we were loyal fans.  Back then, if you could carry your kids in, they could sit on your lap for free.  For a long time that rule worked in our favor!


See Andy??
In 1976, when the Flyers were skating toward their third Stanley Cup, my little brother Andy was born.   My parents designed his birth announcement to look like a Flyers roster.  I was probably wearing these Flyers pajamas when they brought him home from the hospital!

The following year, Flyers' #4, Barry Ashbee, died of leukemia.  As a child, it was the first deep loss I can remember.  A few years later, I did a book report on my favorite, Bobby Clarke, #16, who fought juvenile diabetes to play in the NHL against all odds.  It was one of my earliest lessons on determination and overcoming obstacles.

And it'll always stick with me!

At age 13, I got my sweatshirt signed by #26 Brian Propp.  Who would have guessed that we'd someday skate together at Magee? (See Mile 3974 for that story!)


Growing up happens, for better or worse.  It's like a face-off.  You never know which direction the puck will go.

Guess who I'm rooting for!
This year, the Flyers celebrate their 50th Anniversary!  At Mile 4735, Dad takes us to watch our long-retired heroes return to the ice in the "Alumni Game."

They aren't as fast as they used to be.  (Except maybe Propp.  He's been practicing!)

It's magical and nostalgic all at once.  The players check each other into the boards, and then help each other back to their skates again. They take rest breaks halfway though each period.  And brighter than the ice itself are their smiles -- many toothless, of course!

The crowd is a sea of orange and black jerseys from the last 5 decades.  It feels like a family reunion.

Just like old times.  Maybe even better.




Mile Marker 4873:   

More than 100 miles later, Dad and I are at another game together, our third one this season!

Let's Go Flyers! (Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap!) 

The Spectrum is long gone, but the Wells Fargo Center echoes with the old chant.  Of course, times have changed.  We need 2 tickets to get in now.  Dad no longer carries me. Also, I'm not sporting missing teeth or pigtails. Thank goodness.

Then there's our seats.  We've been upgraded from the nosebleed seats to a Club Box where -- SURPRISE -- Brian Propp stops by!

Now we're old friends!!!

After all these years, it's hard to believe there could be anymore "firsts."  Yet between periods, that's exactly what happens.  We're escorted down a flight of stairs past piles of zamboni-swept snow.  We walk by the Flyers locker room, a row of extra goal nets, and a rack of hockey sticks taller than I am.  Finally we end up in a tunnel we've only seen on TV.  Above us, tower 19,000 roaring fans. 

"Watch your step," Dad says. 

Of course, I take a selfie.

WE ARE ON THE FLYERS BENCH!

The second period hasn't started yet, so the bench is still empty.  We squeeze past water bottles and Gatorade, towels and medic kits, stepping over a live TV screen installed in the wooden floor.  It's a balancing act, but hey, that's what PT was for!

When the second period buzzer sounds, the two of us are encased in a glass booth, just inches away from the players.  I catch them chewing on their mouthguards and re-tying their skates.  I see the flash of metal as they leap over the boards.  I hear the coaches yell, "Stay on it!" and "Good job!"

As benchwarmers we witness rookie Jordan Weal's first NHL goal!

We even get rained on with sweat.  (At least I think it's sweat!)

I've been a Flyers fan my whole life, but you only get this perspective if you're part of the team.

So I guess I am :)

There's a lesson here: about never giving up, or about following your passion, or maybe even about aging well.  Growing up is tricky.  Just when you've got the hang of it, something happens to make you feel small again.  At least that's the way it worked for me.

I've known the Flyers since way back when.  And growing up alongside them?  It's been reassuring somehow.

Driving home from the game, I spy a dad and daughter crossing Pattison Avenue.  The dad is tall, and the little girl, maybe 6 years old, stands barely to his waist.   He's leading her by the hand, and she's skipping along beside him.  Under her pink fleece jacket, there's probably a Flyers jersey.  And under her hood, pigtails with black and orange ribbons.

"Look Dad!"  I say. "They're just like us!"

Dad glances over at them.  Then raises his eyebrows at me.

"But a lot younger," I add quickly.

We talk hockey the whole way home.  Just like old times.  Maybe even better.



Thanks to Magee for my latest Flyers "first," and to Dad, philly.com, and (yep!) Brian Propp for the photos!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Next to Normal

Mile Marker 4847:

Hard to believe, but it's been nearly 100 miles since my last post!

During that time, not much has happened.  But don't get me wrong.  I LIKE BORING.

When people ask what's up, I say, "Just normal stuff."  And I'm happy with normal!

At Mile Marker 4847, it's Presidents' Day, and my neighbors and I are planning a president-themed "Game Night."  I guess normal can be pretty exciting if you hang out with the right people!

Can you guess which presidents are represented?!

It's T-minus 7 hours till Game Night, and I'm strolling the aisles of Party City in search of red-white-and-blue swag, which is basically nonexistent in February.  (Doesn't anyone celebrate Presidents' Day??)  Finally, I settle for some 99-cent flags and patriotic Mardi Gras beads.  I carry them up to the cash register.  Simple enough.

Or is it?

We're having an early spring here in Philly, so it's sunny outside, maybe 55 degrees,  But inside the store, the heat is BLASTING.  By the time I walk from one end to the other, sweat beads up under my jacket.  It feels like summertime.  Uh-oh.  My leg begins to slip.

As the cashier rings me up, I peel off my coat.

I picture cold things...
Ice cubes.
Snow drifts.
A winter wind.
Plus a few penguins.

Finally, bag in hand, I start out to the parking lot.  My prosthetic liner is already slick with sweat, so each step feels exaggerated.  Hip hike.  Pendulum kick.  The socket's loose, but I know it won't come off.  Every day I wear a Velcro waist harness, just in case.  I'm prepared.  This is not my first rodeo.

However, it is my last errand.

It's also just a normal day.  As normal as days get, anyway.  I had wanted to go to Target too, but now I need to re-fit my leg.  As an above-knee amputee, the socket comes up to my hip.  Fixing my leg in a public restroom is at best unpleasant; at worst, dicey.  I've done it many times, but I'd rather go home.

A while back, I wrote a post called The New Normal.  Now it's two years later, and The New Normal feels, well... normal.  Still, it's not most people's normal.  Instead, it's like standing next to it.  The normal world is a spinning jump rope.  I watch.  I wait.  And I jump in when I can.

Sometimes you need a break!

On the drive home from Party City, my little leg is chattery.  When sweat pools at the bottom of the liner, the vacuum tugs on my skin.  It makes my nerves noisy, prickly, like Christmas lights flashing at all the wrong times.

To distract myself, I turn on TED Radio Hour, an episode that happens to be called Getting Better.  The speaker, Jennifer Brea, suffers from myalgic encephalomyelitis, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome.  She talks about how her mysterious symptoms came on, and how she had to adjust to a new normal -- one that's unpredictable, uncomfortable, and also uncertain.

She captures it exactly.  "On the one hand," she says, "every day I try to live the life that I have as well as I possibly can.  I'm also fighting for a better life at the same time."

That's it.  That's Next to Normal.  

It doesn't mean giving in to the struggle, but it does mean embracing it while you work toward something better.

It's a strange place to be.  The slightest skin irritation can knock me down.  There are days when I cover 4 miles, and other days when I cover no ground at all.  And while I've learned to carry a towel, and wear a harness, and take to the couch when necessary, I still imagine a time when life might be different.

And where did I put all those "no-sweat"
products from last summer
?
Could a new socket protect my femur, my skin graft, and all my other problem areas?  Will isometric exercises keep my leg volume from fluctuating?  Is it possible to put Velcro inside my pants seam for easier leg adjustments? 

My mind is a busy but optimistic place.  The jump rope keeps spinning, and I'm determined to jump as long as I can.

Finally, I arrive home.

In the comfort of my own bedroom, I get out a towel, Adaptskin lotion, and a spray bottle of alcohol.  I press the valve on my socket and slide my leg out.  Peel back the liner.  Dry off everything.

Phew.

Then I put it all back on again -- with some modifications.  I powder my leg with climbing chalk to combat the sweat.  I fill my water bottle with ice.  I change into a sleeveless shirt, even though it's February.

Then I jump back in.

The normal world awaits.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Why I March

Mile 4760:

I almost didn't march today.

Here's why:  It had been a busy work week.  On top of that, I rock climbed on Wednesday night, celebrated Deb's birthday on Thursday night, and went to a housewarming party on Friday night.  I expected this weekend to be jam-packed as well.

It was too much leg time.  I was exhausted.  Just thinking about the Women's March pushed me over the edge.

"I can't do it all," I told my mom last night.  "I need to skip something, and that's the one event where I won't be missed."

The Women's March would be happening in all 50 states.  I am just one person.  Mathematically, I wouldn't matter a whole lot.

But when morning arrives, I can't explain it.  I just KNOW I should be there.

So I hop on the bus.  Meet Mom at the train.  And then we walk for the next 3 hours!

We stroll down Market Street, through City Hall, and toward the Ben Franklin Parkway.  Stop at Sister Cities Park and then join the crowd at Logan Circle.

It's a cloudy gray day, but Swann Fountain is transformed into a rainbow-colored playground.

This is what HOPE looks like!

And that's just the beginning.  From there, we join the marchers -- a solid MILE of people!

How could you NOT follow this family?!


Thanks for the hats,
Aunt Robin!
We bob along in a sea of Pussyhats.

Chants surround us:
Women's rights are human rights! 
Black lives matter!
This is what democracy looks like! 
...and so many more.


Signs bounce like buoys above our heads!


I don't like crowds, yet I feel safe in this one.  Reinforced.  Protected.  Like everyone might be a friend.

There are some things we all agree on!

Another sign up ahead (too far for a photo) catches my eye.  It says:  If this ship is going down, we might as well have a parade.

Yesterday I watched the inauguration from the rehab gym, and that's exactly what I thought. This ship is going down.  As the Obamas said goodbye, and Trump was sworn in, I turned up the treadmill.  I rowed faster on the rowing machine.  I did abs, and arms, and pull-ups, and push-ups.  A few people asked why I was so intense.  (Usually, I just hang out and chat with everyone!)

"I have to get ready," I said.  "Life as we know it is over."  I was only half-joking.  I felt this urgent need to get stronger, to be able to survive when things go awry.

I imagined the restricted world in The Handmaid's Tale, and the lonely wilderness in Station Eleven, and the insidious suppression in The Nightingale, and the post-apocalyptic darkness in The Bone Clocks.  Ok, maybe I read too much.  Or maybe I catastrophize too much.  But in that hour of TV coverage, I pictured all the things that could go terribly WRONG in the next four years and beyond.

The Women's March pushes those thoughts away.

At Mile 4,760, I don't think this ship is going down at all.  Not here.  Not with all these caring, kind, intelligent, open-minded, and resourceful passengers aboard!

Yes, I'm still worried.  Yes, I still feel the need to be on guard.

And yes, I can see many more marches in my future.  Because along with all the messages today, I can never forget this one:


And I thought my voice wouldn't matter?

One voice matters.  Every voice matters.


And that's why I marched.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

On A Good Leg Day

Mile Marker 4709:

On a good leg day, I walk through a metal detector at the Flyers Game.

It beeps, of course.  Dad glances at me; I glance at him.  No one else around seems to notice.  We keep going, and no one stops us.

We show our tickets to the next attendant, step onto an escalator, and finally ascend a flight of stairs.  I suspect there's an elevator nearby, but today it doesn't matter.

It's a good leg day.

For those of you who aren't ruled by the comfort of your extremities, let me clarify.  My friend Ian once said to me, "Some people have good hair days.  You have good leg days!"

That's exactly how it works.  (And when they both fall on the same day, well, watch out world!)

On a good leg day, I walk better.  I feel coordinated.  I have more energy.  It's like someone hit the mute button on the static -- all that nerve noise -- that usually runs through my body.  Of course, there's still sweating, and rubbing, and poking to worry about.  But on the rarest-of-rare days, even these fade to the background.  My Genium and I move in tandem.  We are one.

Our first time in a Club Box
At Mile 4,709, it gets even better.  A good leg day turns into a good leg night!

Dad and I find Club Box 81 at center ice.  The players are already on the rink warming up, but I don't even make it to our seats.  I'm pulled in by the buffet of snacks from Chickie & Pete's.  The counter tops are filled with food.

"Wait," the server tells us, "a huge Lorenzo's pizza will be here soon!"

Yep, it's worth waiting for!

Our seatmates are athletes from Magee's wheelchair basketball and rugby teams.  They're a friendly, welcoming bunch!  I marvel at their ability to maneuver around the tiny space, dodging bar stools and high tables.  As the clock counts down to face-off, they lift themselves out of their wheelchairs -- over armrests and stairs -- into what some would think are "inaccessible" stadium seats.  These guys make it work.  They're strong!!!

I'm in AWE before the game even starts!

Dad and I descend the stairs to the front row.  We cross in front of two other amputees, Jim and Jimmy, to reach the inside seats.

Getting my prosthesis into a stadium row is usually a dizzy, wobbly, precarious adventure.  But tonight, I'm carrying snacks and stepping over people's legs without hesitation.  It all seems like kids' stuff!

On a good leg day, anything's possible...

...which leaves plenty of room for fun!

Let's Go Flyers!
Unfortunately the Flyers are not having a good leg day.  Goalie Steve Mason's legs (and arms, and body) cannot seem to protect the goal.  And right winger Jakub Voracek's legs (and arms, and stick) are working overtime to compensate.

We cheer like crazy, but it's not quite enough.  The Flyers trail the Rangers the entire game.  End score 5-2.

Our seatmate Keith has a huge smile on his face.  He's the Wheelchair Sports Coordinator at Magee, and the one who invited me to the game. "Sorry about your team," he says.  (Spoken like a true Rangers fan!)

That's OK, Keith!  I had an AWESOME time!

As we make our way out, it's nearing 11 p.m.  On a typical night, my leg would be screaming to get out of its socket, and I'd be counting the minutes until I could take it off.  But tonight all is quiet and comfortable.  If everyday were like this, life would be so... normal.

"This is the best leg day I've had in a long time," I say to Dad.  "Maybe EVER!"

Good leg days, like most good things, don't last forever.  I know tomorrow will probably be different.  And when it is, I'll remind myself that walking -- for better or for worse -- is always a privilege.

Any day on my feet is a pretty good day.

Metal and all.