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!

Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Food Train

Mile Marker 7070:

Buttered pretzels.  Roasting chickens.  Freshly glazed donuts.  Gooey cinnamon rolls.  It's Philly's tastiest traffic jam.

We shuffle along in the crowd, heel-to-toe, winter coats brushing against each other in the narrow aisles.

If you've been a tourist in Philly, you know it's all about the food.  Cheesesteaks.  Water Ice.  Chinatown.  The Italian Market.  Regular stops on the Philly food train.

But if you want it ALL, follow our footsteps at Mile 7,070.

Reading Terminal Market is like a bustling city where the roads are gridlocked with shoppers, and every turn makes your stomach growl.


Mile 7,070 -- a.k.a. The Food Mile -- is my friend Natalie's idea.  Reading Terminal Market lies just 10 blocks from my apartment.  I've stopped in for fruit, and cheese, and even lunch once in a while, yet I've never traveled behind the scenes.

And guess what?  It a step toward #4 on my 19 for 2019 list...

Being a tourist in my own neighborhood!

Listen, being a tourist isn't always as easy as it sounds.

If you have mobility issues, you realize that touristy things -- museums and walking tours -- require long stretches of time on your feet.  Our Taste of Philly Food Tour promises to be 80 minutes long.  And while I'm definitely excited, that's A LOT of standing time.

So I take a few precautions:

Step 1:  Don't waste walking.  Although the market's close by, I choose to take the bus to get there.  No sense wasting precious energy and comfort on my feet.  I can always walk home if I've got "leg time" to spare!

Step 2:  Don't mess with success.  On the bus, I sit down carefully.  The plastic seats are awkward.  They aggravate my prosthetic socket.  It's a good leg day so far, so I try to keep it that way!

Step 3:  Never let them see you sweat.  Temperature transitions are tough.  When we enter the steamy market, I strip off my winter coat faster than you can say What's for lunch?   Can't risk sweating out of my socket with the tour just minutes away!

Ok.  All aboard...

As the tour starts, I rock from foot to foot, shifting my weight every few seconds.  A man rolls by with a walker -- a fancy one with a cushioned bench -- and I wonder, just for a second, if there's some kind of foldable chair I could have brought along.

But eventually, I get swept up in the sights, smells, and flow of traffic...

...which has its own rules!

I learn a few things too.  For 91 years, the market and the train station operated hand in hand.  The Reading Railroad (that's "red-ding" for you out-of-towners!) transported both coal and passengers from Central PA to industrial-age Philly.  The coal powered the city; the passengers powered the market.  And, as legend goes, black soot covered everything!

Ellen ponders that a bit.

Our tour guide, Greg, carries a bottomless tote-bag.  He yanks out old photos of the market and station, then paper napkins and plastic spoons, and finally, chocolate -- Wilbur Buds and Goldenberg's Peanut Chews.  Philly classics.

If Greg is the engine, we're the train cars trailing behind.  As we weave among food stalls, Greg schmoozes with the vendors, scoring samples for us to taste:  snapper soup, Jewish apple cake, caramel vanilla ice cream, and of course, scrapple.

No thanks.
It's my first food tour, but not my first rodeo!

The scenery gets better and better.  Delis, soups, crepes, produce, pickles, candy.  Even spare femur bones!

As a "transfemoral" amputee,
I find this "humerus."
 Hee hee  :)

After the tour, Natalie, Ellen, Jen, and I design a route of our own:

First stop:  Pearl's Oyster Bar

The trip goes on...
Clam chowder
Oyster stew
Salmon with Thai curry
Vegan blackbean plantain burger
Soft pretzel stuffed with sausage
Balsamic vinegar in maple, espresso, and dark chocolate

And the stop with the best samples?

Downtown Cheese!

Starring this beauty!

The last station on our route is Philly's own Bassett's Ice Cream.

Scooping since 1861!


Mmmm...
Salted Caramel Pretzel is the perfect caboose!

It's been a few thousand miles, but some things haven't changed.

I'll always Walk for Ice Cream.  (Remember Mile 380?)

The route of the Food Train is more than a mile.  It's actually 3 miles.  And more than 3 hours on our feet!  It connects friends and food and fun, with a bit of history sprinkled on top.

When the trip ends, we've got more than enough fuel to walk home.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

19 for 2019


Mile Marker 7000:

It's New Year's Eve and I can't sleep.

Actually, it's 3 A.M.  The fireworks are finished, my friends have gone home, and the streets below my windows are eerily silent.  Yet I'm wide awake, restless, pacing around the apartment with my leg still on.

Why?

I'm not ready for the year to end.

2018 was just TOO GOOD.  It defined me in new ways and took me in new directions.  Robot MomTeam USA ParaclimberPeer Mentor Coordinator.  The entire year was like walking a glorious tightrope between adrenaline and exhaustion.

2018 is a tough act to follow.

Grumpy Pumpkin, I feel your pain.

In other news... I've just hit Mile 7,000.  Or at least I think I have.  My faithful old Fitbit is down for the count.

Not the best sign for a new start. 

Most years, I can't wait for January 1st.  I love any excuse for a do-over!  But here -- at Mile 7,000 (give or take a few) -- I don't want to build a new year from scratch.  I liked the old year just fine, thanks.

So to get into the New Year spirit -- and kick off the next thousand miles or so -- I'm swiping an idea from one of my favorite podcasts, Happier.

It's called "19 for 2019."

19 things you plan to do in 2019.  Big steps, small steps, and the many steps in between.

More exciting than a To-Do List.
More practical than a Bucket List.
Easier to keep than a New Year's Resolution.

It's like a pep-rally of possibilities for the new year.

I feel better already.  Yay, 2019!

OK, here's mine --

19 for 2019:

1.   Fix the Fitbit or get a new one.  (Bonus: I can check something off the list right away!)

2.  Make time for friends I haven't seen in a while.  You know how we always say we'll get together?

This year we will!

3.  Keep taking early morning walks.

That's when the magic happens.

4.  Be a tourist in my own neighborhood.  Visit every museum within walking distance.  And then go farther.

5.   And even farther.  Go far enough to get a new stamp in my passport!

6.   Do more for the causes I care about - like helmet safety and healing gardens, adaptive sports...

...and future first responders.

7.   Host more parties.  Bring friends together to eat in and eat out.  Celebrate for big reasons (50th birthdays!) and small ones.


8.  Do something new to help the earth.   Join urban composting.  (I hear it's easy, even in an apartment!)

And continue the effort from 2018 -
using less paper!

9.   Curate (and clean) my closet.  Find homes for all the shoes I can't walk in.  Anyone out there a size 6?

10.  Get out of the city.  Camp in a tent.  Be in nature.  Walk, hike, and climb.  Go with friends who know what they're doing.

In case it's as treacherous as Mile 1,414!

11.  Conquer my fear and learn to DYNO, like this...

…except with a robot leg  :)

12.  Also... spend more time on the couch.

13.  Write.  A lot.  Just do it.

14.  Figure out the features of my new Surface Pro.  (Hello, Geek Squad??)

15.  Create in new ways.  Maybe even take an art class!

I mean, beyond paint & pottery! 

16.  Bring back Cookie Apocalypse -- and other (non-angry) reasons to bake.

Share recipes too --
like Almond Flour Snickerdoodles!

17.  Stay connected through social media.  Maybe even launch a Twitter account.  (I hear it's good for writers??)

18.  Read outside my comfort zone.  Start a "new genre" book club.  (Next up -- Mysteries!)  I'll post a link so you can read along!

Inspo from Inkwood Books!

19.  Be grateful for each step, and stay true to my inner compass.  (That's a 2-in-1, but it's gotten me this far!)

As always, appreciate every HEALTHY day.


In case you're wondering, on New Year's Eve, I did fall asleep eventually.

And, as my friend Donna so thoughtfully reminded me the next day, "It was already 2019 at midnight."

So much for 3 A.M.

Welcome January 1st!

Up and at 'em, Baby New Year.  Stay on your toes.

You've got big shoes to fill.

Happy New Year!  What's in your '19??

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Peace and Podcasts


Mile Marker 6995:

Flashback... to a flash drive.
Christmas 2010.

A present arrives in my room, Room 343, at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital.

Actually, it's a huge bag -- so large and loaded it looks more like Santa's sack than an actual present.  I'm sitting in bed, and when I open that bag and peer inside, I can't even see the bottom.

It's stuffed with gifts from my entire school staff: notecards, candles, tea, cocoa, even a hot pot!  It turns out, each gift is someone's idea of COMFORT or PEACE -- themes for the holidays, but also for recovery.  At this point, it's been 7 weeks since my accident.

When I get home a week or two later, I dig deeper and discover -- at the bottom of that giant bag -- a tiny flash drive.*

*Not this actual flash drive,
but you get the idea :)

It's from my colleague, 6th grade teacher John-Carlos.

And on that flash drive is a gift that keeps on giving.

Podcasts.

I'd never heard of a podcast before -- remember this was 2010 -- but apparently John-Carlos was already a loyal listener.  When asked to contribute a "comforting" gift, he thought of his podcast collection:  This American Life, and The Moth, and Radiolab, and more.  In fact, he uploaded his entire podcast library onto a flash drive, and tossed that flash drive into the Santa bag.  For me.

Thanks John-Carlos!

Here they are on my vintage first-gen iPad
(also a gift that year!)

Maybe he knew back then what I've learned now:  how refreshing it is to simply listen.  How entertaining it is to let your mind wander.  How peaceful it can be, when your brain is cluttered with worry and noise.

In 8 years, my library has grown.  I still listen all the time.  Podcasts provide just the right mix of indulgence and escape.

I listen to By the Book while sitting in traffic.  I listen to Happier while baking in the kitchen.  I listen to Read it Forward while brushing my teeth.

A few miles ago, I was even interviewed for a podcast!

Stay tuned for the premiere of
Round the Campfire -- airing in 2019!

This month with the hustle of work, travel, shows, parties, and holiday cheer, I find myself too exhausted for shopping.  So I come up with a unique idea.

The Gift of Podcast.

(Really, I didn't come up with the idea.  I heard it on a podcast!)

It's a cross between a gift card and an experience.  There's even a website where you can print out a certificate.  Shop around.  There's truly a podcast for everyone.  And maybe -- as in my case -- what starts out as a gift, could become a gateway to more.

In case you don't know how to find podcasts,
it comes with handy instructions too!

Fast forward to Mile 6,995.
Christmas 2018.

In my little apartment, friends and family gather for brunch.  It's so much fun, I forget to take photos...

...but here's a pic of our gift pile!

Nope, we don't have a thousand gifts under the tree.  (We don't even have a tree!)  But within those little scrolls are specially-chosen podcasts for each person on my list -- hours of songs, movies, stories, music, food, interviews, quizzes, fun facts, and lots of laughs.  Plus, I'm pretty sure Santa's happy because they're much lighter than toys!

Want to know what's inside?
Here's a sneak peek at my gift list...

Mom -- StoryCorps
Dad -- Only A Game
Mark -- A Very Fatal Murder
Rocco -- Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me!
Susan -- Happier with Gretchen Rubin
Jen -- By the Book
Ellen -- Southern Lady Code
Jake -- The Dinner Party Download


...and a sample!

I know.  I'm a little late.  I should have published this post before the holidays.

But here's the thing -- this deal never expires.  Podcasts are always on sale.  Actually, they're free!!

So in the midst of the holiday hustle, find PEACE -- and podcasts -- this year.  Don't forget to pick up one for yourself too!

Happy Holidays!  Happy Listening!

(And hey, got any recommendations for me?)

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Note to Self

Mile Marker 6975:

Everything will be all right in the end.  
If it's not all right, it is not yet the end.

--Simit Patel, Hotel Manager,
 The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel



I'd like to write a letter to that girl in the wheelchair.

I would tell her this isn't how it ends.

That this isn't an end at all -- it just feels like one.

Look around, I'd write.  Breathe.  Right here.  Right now.  On this balcony.  In this wheelchair.  Inhale this 20-degree December air.

It's the taste of freedom.  Remember it.

Remember this day -- December 17, 2010 -- the day you arrived at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital.

Remember how hard this day was.  When Dad and Andy peeled all the get-well cards off the walls of your room at Jefferson.  When the EMTs came to the door and told you it was time to go.  When you pulled that yellow sock onto your right foot and gingerly placed it on the tile floor.  When you pivoted from your bed to their gurney.


Remember how you tried to smile through the panic.  How your nurses lined the hallway to cheer you on your way.  And how you felt SO LOST because that trauma unit was the safest place you knew.

Remember how you grabbed Mark's hand and wouldn't let go, and how the EMTs let him climb into the back of the ambulance with you.

Remember these things, I'd tell her.  Remember all of them.  Because it will make a future day, in 8 years, even sweeter.

That day will be December 17, 2018.

On that day, you'll see the sunrise in layers of mauve and gray.  Again, you will inhale.  And although winter is coming, the air will taste like spring.

You won't believe me now, I'd write.  But on that day, you will have walked almost 7,000 MILES -- on a prosthetic leg!

And on that particular mile, you will be wearing your black boots, the ones you carried in your backpack on the day of the accident.

They recovered too.

You're right, I'd tell her.  Life will never be the same.

It will get worse, but also better.  There will be lower lows and higher highs than you could ever imagine.  It will be challenging and painful, but also rich and real.  You'll learn to hang on tight and appreciate all you have.

And then -- on December 17, 2018 -- you will walk (YES WALK!) through the double doors of Magee Rehabilitation Hospital.  Again.

This time, there won't be tears or fear.  Just true smiles, and amazement, that somehow you've reached this place, and it's exactly where you belong.

You'll be there to help other patients.  You'll be part of the team.  Don't forget to swipe your time card.

And, I'd tell her, one more thing...

This isn't how it ends either.  It's just another beginning.

So go ahead.  Get started.  There's work to do.  I'll be watching.

See you in 8 years.

BELIEVE.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Being the Change

Mile Marker 6825:

Really November?  It's been 8 years.  How about cutting me a break?

Um, that's a "No."

As in NOvember.

No matter how ready I am, November rattles me just by showing up.

I realize it's 2018, not 2010.  But in November, each day reminds me of another one.  BEFORE.  It's like struggling to stay balanced in a jolting time machine.

This is the month when everything changed:  too much, too fast, and too out of control.

Eight years later, there are traces left behind.  I'm distracted.  Anxious.  Frustrated.  Overwhelmed.  Impatient with myself.  It's been 8 years.  Shouldn't I be over this by now?

I wake up angry.  Can't decide what to wear.  Spill my coffee, twice.  Lose my SeptaKey card in the rain.

I keep walking, but I trip on the sidewalk more than usual.  My leg aches.  I re-fit my prosthesis again and again, but it doesn't fix anything.  This pain -- it comes from INSIDE.

It comes from digging in my heels, bracing for the anniversary ahead.

You'd think 8 years would change things, but trauma still sneaks up on me.

Mile Marker 6835:

When the going gets tough, the tough bake cookies.

Remember Angry Cookies way back at Mile 89?   6,000 miles later, cookies are still my go-to.  But at this point, they're not angry.  They're ANGSTY.

Fortunately, I have an angsty (teenage) baking partner this year!

It's become a ritual, kicking off November with a bake-a-thon.  On this year's cookie menu:  Dark Chocolate Chip Coconut, Oatmeal Heath Bar, and Chocolate Chip Nutella.  My feet grow tired from standing so long, but when my hands are busy, my mind stays out of dark places (except for dark chocolate chips!).

Baking keeps me grounded, and it's a process of change too.  At 375 degrees, chaos transforms into something delicious.

Treats for the Trauma Team!


Mile Marker 6848:

It's the eve of November 9.  Finally.

As I drive up Washington Avenue, the sun sinks below the horizon of rowhomes, leaving a trail of clouds scattered across the sky.

Nothing like a South Philly sunset
to settle my nerves.

In the fading light, I take in the golds and greens of Jefferson Square Park, the basketball court where two teens play one-on-one, and the taco truck, parked in the same spot for more than 8 years.

As I walk past the box-shaped houses, I notice unexpected flowers, still in bloom, on their tiny lawns.


Like always, I stop at the corner of 5th Street.  My gaze lands between the two manhole covers, on the scarred stretch of blacktop I consider my own.


You'd think this would rattle me more, but it doesn't.

The air on my face.  The cars, and bikes, and traffic lights.  The sound of trucks and sirens in the distance.  The glow of the sky.

In this place that changed everything, I feel centered.  My pieces come back together.

From the pocket of my jacket, I pull out 8 seashells -- delicate and whole -- one for each year.  I set them down gently in a row under the lamppost.  Another ritual to mark another November.

Like always, I wonder who will find them,
and if they will remember.

When I straighten up, something else on the lamppost catches my eye.  A white flyer set against an unlikely backdrop -- a mural of the Ben Franklin Bridge.  Election Day has passed, but someone has scrawled a message across the bottom of the flyer.

Do you see it?

This street corner is from my life BEFORE, but that bridge is from my life AFTER.  If I'm searching for a sign of remembrance, some link, some signal to help me move forward, I think I've found it:

BE THE CHANGE.

I can do that.

I take a deep breath.  Change direction.  Put the sunset behind me.

And take my first steps toward Year 8.


For more about the long-term effects of trauma and trauma-based anxiety, check out this article.  Thanks to my friend Esha for sharing it.  It really hit home this week!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Over, Under, and the Invisible Man

Mile Marker 6790:

When my alarm goes off, I'm knee-deep in a bookstore.

It's called Barnes and Noble, but it looks more like Head House Books.  I'm standing by the door, glancing back at the long checkout line, feeling hurried, and debating about whether to buy a rust-colored Asian tea set for my friend Jen.

Just then, I notice a man by the door.  He's got only one leg, and it's wearing a white wingtip dress shoe.  He's on crutches, the metal kind.  And one more thing.  He's invisible.

When I see him standing at the door, I know he needs help opening it.  It's hard to open a door on crutches, and I imagine being invisible makes it even more difficult.

I push the door open for him.  He walks through, out into the parking lot.

Now that guy has it tough, I think.  He has one leg AND he's invisible!

That idea lingers in my mind as I wake up.

Did you get all that?  It was a dream.

Dreams, for me, are usually a mash-up of real-life events sprinkled with a bit of random wisdom.  This one definitely fits the mold.

I get out of bed.  I ponder each part of the dream as I'm brushing my teeth.

The Asian tea set is easy.  Blame it on my bedtime reading, a story of a girl growing up in the tea-farming mountains of China.

It's really good!

And Jen's role in the dream?  I get that too.  This weekend, we went to see a movie together.

  First Man.  Go see it!  It's epic!
(And written by my childhood next-door neighbor,
the SUPER TALENTED, Josh Singer!)

Anyway, both of those parts of the dream make sense.

But what about the invisible man?  Where did he come from?

Well...

Yesterday, at Mile 6,790, I spoke with a class of 3rd year medical students at Jefferson.

Here are a few of them,
along with Dr. A, and my co-presenters, Alan and Barbara!

The Patients with Disabilities as Teachers (PDAT) program is part of their orientation for Family Medicine.  It focuses on the role of a primary care physician for patients with disability or chronic illness.

During the Q&A, a student raised his hand.  "Do people tend to overestimate or underestimate your ability?"  he asked.

Wow.  In all the presentations I've done, I'd never heard that question before!  And it's a great one.  The answer came to me instantly.

"They overestimate," I said.  "I do a lot every day, and I appear ABLE most of the time, but they don't realize how much energy it takes and how challenging it all is."

That's the short answer.  But there's more.

I've worked hard to develop a natural gait and to be independent in every way.  I scale supermarket shelves.  I carry grocery bags.  I bake cookies.  I drive.  I work.  I travel.  I rock climb.

If people underestimate me -- and they do sometimes -- it makes me doubt myself.  So I'd rather hold the expectations high and rise to meet them.  Maybe that's why I love climbing.

In the past 8 years, I've created an illusion of ability.  (Some days it feels real, even to me!)   But along with that illusion comes a paradox:

If we look proficient enough, people forget how much effort it takes.  Our disabilities become almost... invisible.

It's a truth I learned way back in the beginning, at Mile 200, which coincidentally also involved a dream.

That mile STILL resonates.

In class, we didn't go there.  But it gets me thinking about the last few miles and the direction I'm trying to go now.

The more I do, the happier I am, and the more able-bodied I appear -- to myself and to others.  Yet it's tough to fit everything in.  The day isn't as long as it used to be.  Remember the New Normal?  It's not new anymore, but those rules still apply.

Each step brings new challenges.  And while those challenges are more rewarding than ever, they're also exhausting.
 
In my time as a trauma survivor, patient, and amputee, I've been amazed by resilience -- by our own potential to heal, and persist, and battle adversity over and over again.  No matter how narrow the doorway, or heavy the door, we fight hard to push through and come out the other side.

I admire those med students, not only for their perceptive questions, but for all they aspire to be.

So go ahead and overestimate us.  Anything's possible.

I just saw an invisible man drive himself home.