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!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Act III

Mile Marker 4172:

Act III, Scene 1:  My friend Jen and I have just returned from dinner when my phone tings with a text from my sister Sam in Vermont.

"Heading to the hospital."

This is it.  Act III.

Sam is in labor with her third child.  When I visited them a few weeks ago for Independence Day, we decided I wouldn't come back when the baby was born.  Instead, I'd return later in the summer, once they were all settled in.

It made perfect sense at the time.  Now it makes no sense at all.

"I should be there,"  I tell Jen.  "I want to be there."  The urgency brings me close to tears.

"So buy an airline ticket,"  she says.

"It's not that simple."

It's hard to explain the burden of traveling as an amputee.  And tonight, that last minute idea seems beyond my capabilities.  Flying to Vermont is ridiculously expensive.  Plus, my leg is already throbbing with its usual evening ache.   I'm running out of energy.  How can I start packing now?  How can I go anywhere on such short notice?

"Call me if you need a ride to the airport," Jen says.

I stand in the hallway of my apartment.  Tired.  Powerless.  Too far away from where I need to be.

That's when I get an inexplicable surge of courage.

We're not in Act II anymore.

Act III, Scene 2:  Flashback.

Act I took place in March 2010 when my niece Riley was born.  Back then, I had two strong legs, no health problems, and no doubts about my own competence.  I fit comfortably into my role of big sister to Sam, bedside helper at the hospital, and of course, aunt to a brand new baby girl named Riley.

The intermission was not kind.  Eight months later, when I was hit by a truck, Sam got in her car and drove 400 miles from Vermont to Philadelphia with baby Riley in the backseat.  For the next 2 years, our lives centered around a very different hospital... and me.

When little Brennan showed up in Act II, it was a relief to celebrate such a happy occasion!  I still wasn't quite myself, but with the help of my parents and a wheelchair, I managed to make a cameo appearance.

(For the backstory on Acts I and II, click here.)

Now, Act III is unfolding -- fast!

Act III, Scene 3:  I hop around my bedroom on crutches.  It's nearly midnight, and I am grabbing t-shirts and shorts, a shrinker and pajamas, a couple of random socks.  I toss them all into my school backpack.

Balanced on one foot, I pull my "leg kit" from the closet.  It's already packed:  Albolene, AdaptSkin, Eucerin, Neosporin, Allen wrench, extra valve, extra socket padding, and alcohol spray.  Looks complete enough.  I'll add my Genium's charger in the morning.

My laptop screen illuminates the dim bedroom.  A plane ticket for the next morning hovers there, on the website for American Airlines.  It's waiting for me to click "continue."

I click it.

It's the most spontaneous thing I've done in 5 years.

Act III, Scene 4:  Four hours later in a Vermont delivery room, my tiny niece lets out a mighty wail.  She surprises everyone -- even the doctors!  It's 4:32 a.m.

Beautiful day for a new baby!
Meanwhile in Philly, I take a shower and push into my prosthesis.  Get dressed.  Fold up my crutches and grab my backpack.   At the airport, I join other sleepy travelers.

It is 7/17.  The baby weighs 7 lbs. 2 oz.  My flight leaves at 7:35 a.m. and I'm in seat 7D.  (That's a lot of sevens!)

Act III is a lucky place to be.

When the plane lands in Burlington, I hustle out and catch a taxi to the hospital.

Already, the improvements since Act II are palpable.  I walk confidently across the hospital lobby on my own two feet, not in a wheelchair pushed by my dad.  I'm back in my element, playing the role of independent, responsible big sister.  And, as an added bonus, it's a "good leg" day!

I ride the elevator to the 7th floor.  (Yes, another seven!)

"Hello?"  I stick my head into the doorway of Sam's room.

She's sitting up in bed, glasses on, hair pulled back, exhausted but so happy.  Her husband Gregg is in the chair next to her.  Both of them look up.  Surprise!  They weren't expecting me.

But there's an even better surprise...

In Gregg's arms is a precious package just 4 hours old.

Dylan Brooke

Her journey?
Much tougher than mine!
Gregg hands the baby to me -- all seven pounds of warmth, and fluttery eyelids, and chubby cheeks, and pouty pink lips.  I peek under her hat at the blonde peach fuzz, still damp and matted from birth.  She lets out a graceful, high-pitched sigh.

I've never felt prouder or more certain.  This moment -- and this little girl -- are worth every mile.

Act III, Scene 5:  Big sibs Riley and Brennan bounce in with my parents a short time later.  They're bubbling with curiosity.

"Today's the baby's birthday!"  Riley says.  "She's zero!"

In Act II, at age 2, Riley was as lost as I was.  Her whole world was shaken.  No one asked her if she was ready to play the part of "big sister."

Now, at 6 years old, she embraces that role with gusto.

"I want to hold the baby!" she proclaims.  We sit her in a chair with a pillow on her lap.  Four-year-old Brennan climbs up next to her, scuffling out a space for himself.  He's not quite sure what's going on, but he thinks he wants a piece of it too.

In Act III, a threesome is born!

Watch out world!

Nurses and doctors come and go.  My mom changes diapers.  My dad brings lunch and dinner.  Sam's friend Paula gives us a swaddling demo.

In the rocking chair, I cuddle "Baby Dyl" as long as I can.

I'm in LOVE -- all over again!

Finally, Gregg drives me back to the airport.  There's a 2 hour flight delay, so I sit in the gate area thinking about all the miles that led me here.  Although it feels kind of full-circle, Act III is really another new beginning.

When I finally line up for boarding, my phone tings again.  It's a photo and message from Sam:

"Heading home!"

Me too.  But I'll be back before you know it.

Turns out, I take the biggest steps for the smallest reasons of all.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Independence Day

Mile Marker 4145:

Happy Belated Independence Day!

Remember that first walk to the mailbox?   It was only 2 blocks, but at the time, I'd been wearing my new prosthetic leg for only 2 months.

It happened exactly 5 years ago today!
Mile 7 was HUGE.

For most of us, independence grows naturally.   At age 12, I started babysitting.  At 13, I went to the mall with my friends.  At 16, I learned to drive.  I'm sure you've got your own mile markers.  We cruise forward, more and more independently, as the years fly by.

Until we don't.

You know how it happened for me.  At 41 years old, on an unexpected Tuesday morning, I became DEPENDENT all over again.  On everyone.  For everything.  I literally could not stand alone.

And I'm still rebuilding.

It's July 4th weekend, and I am barreling toward my sister's house in Vermont.  Mile 7 was big.  Mile 4145 is bigger.  It's the first time I've done this drive solo since my accident.

It's a trip I used to take at the drop of a hat.  My sister Sam would call -- "What are you doing this weekend?" she'd say -- and I'd throw clothes into a duffel bag.  Stick in some CDs.  Hop on the NJ Turnpike.  Head for Vermont.  Smooth as maple syrup.

Now, disaster lurks around every corner.  I worry about my car breaking down and being alone.  I worry about suffering a medical emergency.  (Of course, it would happen while my car breaks down and I'm alone!)  I've lost my independence before, and I know it could happen again, and again, and again.  Sometimes doubt gets the best of me.

Not this time.

As I'm driving north on the NJ Turnpike, an enormous wave of anxiety hits.  It feels like I'm hurling myself into outer space.

I knew this would happen, so I planned ahead.  One of my first lessons as a new amputee was how to break down large goals into smaller ones.  (Thank you, PTs!)

If you're in Danbury,
check out Rumors Café.
I did!
So I divided the trip into sections:
(1) To Danbury, Connecticut -- about 2 1/2 hours
(2)  To Brattleboro, Vermont -- about 3 more hours
(3) And finally to Barre, Vermont -- just 2 more hours!

I searched online to find comfortable places to take a break in each town.

That's it, I tell myself.  Just 3 short drives.  You can do that.

I put on an audiobook.  It absorbs my thoughts.  I hit all 3 destinations on schedule.

The plan works.  I'm in Vermont!

It's great to see my faraway family:  brother Steve, sister Sam, and brother-in-law Gregg.  Niece Riley and nephew Brennan are ecstatic.   They chatter over each other.  They want to tell me everything!  They pretend to tickle my "robot leg."  (I laugh once in a while just to throw them off.)   And they love selfies!

This one pretty much says it all!

The fireworks have come and gone, but that's ok.  Sam and I run out for last-minute groceries, and Gregg grills up a feast.

When we get ready to go in the pool, four-year-old Brennan offers up my swim leg, as if I might forget it.

Cutest assistant ever!

The next day Sam has several doctor's appointments so it's my turn to take care of the kids.  Yes, babysitting.  This is BIG.

Never mind that I've been watching kids since I was 12, and have been teaching more than 20 years.  What if I can't keep up with these two?  What if I sweat out of my socket?  What if someone gets hurt?  What if I have to carry somebody?

If independence had a membership fee, it would be paid for in What-Ifs.

Makeovers too!
I plan a thousand activities for Riley and Brennan: Go Fish, watercolor painting, cookie decorating, and lots more.


Gregg leaves 4 bottles of bubbles for us.




The pool and "swim leg" are ready too.

There's something you should know about Riley and Brennan. They don't slow down!

We do it all!

The day is a success.  So successful, in fact, that I don't think twice about the drive home.

Independence breeds more independence, I guess.

Eight hours stretches into 9 1/2.  Finally I reach the NJ Turnpike.  Southbound this time.

For some reason, I start thinking about our country's first Independence Day.  I imagine those colonists and Founding Fathers, and how they must have felt back in the 1770's when they made that decision.  Not the decision to form a democracy, but that crucial choice to go out on their own.  To cut ties with everything they knew.  The courage it took to put distance between their old lives and their new ones.  And the idea that it would somehow set them FREE.

It's a leap to compare that to my little trip, I know.

Still, when I finally pull into the parking lot of my building and drag all my luggage inside, it feels like an accomplishment.

Independence comes in many forms.

It's never too late to celebrate!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Amputee Coalition Conference 2016

Mile Marker 4070:

After an 8 hour drive, my mom and I pull into a hotel driveway in Greensboro, North Carolina.

The doorman comes out to help us with our bags.  He opens the hatchback while I reach into the backseat.

"I have to get my other legs,"  I tell him.  Then I laugh.  "Bet you don't hear that too often!"

"Nope."  He smiles.  "Except this week!"


A THOUSAND AMPUTEES...

Think about it.  When you're used to standing out in a crowd, and then suddenly you're surrounded by people who look like you...  Well, it's NORMALIZING.  That's what happens at the Amputee Coalition Conference.

The hotel is filled with amputees.   We're in the lobby, the restaurant, the meeting rooms.  In the "outside" world, we seem uncommon, but here we blend right in -- more or less anyway!

We're different, yet we share that uniqueness.  The opening speaker sums it up like this:  We're living with a body that's different from the one we were issued. 

Conversations spark everywhere.  We know what it's like to be us.  We get it.  In a mere 3 days, I meet friends I know I'll be in touch with for a very long time!

A spontaneous dinner turns into a storytelling extravaganza.  Every devastating mishap -- every leg or arm malfunction -- becomes fodder for laughs.  Each story is funnier than the last.

And you should see the AmpuTeez!


There are clinics on walking, running, swimming, rock climbing, resistance bands, yoga, dance, cross fit, and hula hooping.  Maybe even more.

It's been a year since I've tried my running blade, but at the running clinic I give it a whirl.  Miraculously, the socket fits!  Picture a huge ballroom with more than 100 amputee runners.  We leap.  We land.  We high-five.  We somehow get from one side of the room to the other.  Confidence builds.  Gait belts come off.  There's safety -- and empowerment -- in numbers!

It spreads.  In the hotel lobby one evening, I discover a group of hula hoopers.  "Try it!" my friend Kelly says.  Before I can refuse, she thrusts a hoop in my direction.

Go Kelly!

I hesitate.  "I don't try new things in front of an audience,"  I say.  But Kelly insists.  So I step into the circle, position my feet as she shows me, and start hooping.  It works!  (Turns out, foot placement is key!)

One uncomfortable morning, I limp down to the café.  The man in front of me uses two prosthetic arms to pay for his coffee.   He puts his money back in his wallet.  Carries his breakfast to the table.  He does it all matter-of-factly, like it's no big deal.  But it is a big deal.  All at once I realize... my "bad leg day" is really just another day.

I discover my avatar too!
I learn a lot at this conference.  I learn about osseointegration and new technology.  I participate in research studies on balance, eye movement, and step counters.  I even shop for a new foot to put on my wish list!

But the most memorable lessons are the ones I learn, by example, from other amputees.  Each one of us has a story.  Something happened.  Something went wrong.  That's how we ended up here.

That story -- and its losses -- will always be part of who we are.  But it doesn't have to define us.


It can't.  We've got too much living to do.




See for yourself!  Click here for a video.


Photos "stolen" from Kelly, Angela, Kristan, Carin, Sandra, Molly, Danika, Doug, Robin, Mabio, OPAF, AC, Ottobock, Ossur, and College Park.   Thanks everybody!!

Hope to see you all next year in Louisville!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Wish Wall


Mile Marker 4030:

I wish I could tell you I swim for exercise in the morning.

But really it's for the coffee.

I park along 9th Street.  My hair's still damp as the sun rises over the Italian Market.  In tiny Gleaner's Cafe, wedged between market stalls, I order a "small hot."  The coffee is rich, like dark cocoa.  At this time of day, it's pretty much all I could wish for.

I head back to the car to go home and start my day.   But as I start up the engine, colors catch the corner of my eye.

It's a collage of flyers, overlapped like a paper mosaic.

If I squint, I can read the title:

WISH WALL

It's still early.  I have a minute or two.  I hop back out, coffee in hand.

Step closer.

Some have been smeared with rain, but most are legible.  They're people's wishes, penned on pastel index cards for posterity.

Click any photo
to enlarge and read...
I stand.  I sip.  I read.  I've never been much for meditation, but on this quiet morning, that's what it feels like.  I breathe in the wishes.  My eyes wander the board.

There are wishes for health, for family, and for forgiveness.  For small things like toys, and for big things like cures for cancer.

A handful are written in Spanish.  A few are crayoned by kids.

There are milestones celebrated.  Goals to be achieved.

And in many different words and ways, an overarching wish for PEACE.


It's like a thousand voices from this neighborhood mingled together under a sheet of Plexiglas.

Fascinating.  Especially to a wisher like me.

Is this real?  And how long has it been here?

I look around.  The lot is mostly deserted.  A few people walk by on their way to work -- earbuds in, eyes on their phones -- some sipping coffee like me.  I'm the only one looking at the Wish Wall.

I wonder if these neighbors realize how much they have in common?

Hope.  Intention.  Strength.  Life.  Community.  So much meaning in so little square footage.

Then I start thinking... maybe a wish is just the beginning.

What if we all had the courage to put our dreams out there?  If instead of building walls to keep people out, we built more walls like this one?

What if EVERY neighborhood had a Wish Wall? 

The ideas flow quickly, one into the next, spurred on by caffeine.  My coffee cup is half-empty.  Or wait -- maybe it's half-full!

Go ahead.  Make a wish.

Get it out there.

You never know who might find it.


Where'd this wall come from?  I did a bit of research! Click here for the story behind it.   For more information about the WISHWALL Foundation, click here.  

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Farm to Table

Mile Marker 4007:

If you're going to cook a mushroom, take my advice.  Don't name it.  No matter how cute it is.

It's opening day at the Old City Farmer's Market!

I run into Donna on my way.  She already stopped there, but she does an about-face to walk back with me.  She texts Mike to come along too.  What great walking buddies I have!

The market is small today -- only 6 stands -- but it's bustling.  The whole neighborhood is excited it's back in town.  If the Farmer's Market is here, summer can't be far behind.

Our first stop is a table full of mushrooms.  That's where I find this beauty...

(...along with Mike, the Photobomber!)

It's a mushroom as big as a cauliflower.  And it sits in my hand like a furry white hedgehog.  The farmer at the table calls it a Pom-Pom.

I'm in love.  How have I never seen these before?

"We're not here in the summer," the farmer says.  "The mushrooms don't like the heat."

Ah, I get it.  Mushroom weather and prosthetic weather are one and the same.  Today's cloudy and cool, ideal for both of us.  I knew we were kindred spirits!

I run my finger along the mushroom's ridged surface.  What looks like fur doesn't feel furry at all.  It feels like a mushroom -- but a mushroom that's been sculpted into Donald Trump's hairstyle.  (Only much, much cuter!)

I ask how to cook it.

"Pull it apart gently," the farmer says.  "Sauté it in oil."  He says it'll take on the flavor of whatever I add.

"I'm getting a pet mushroom!"  I tell Donna and Mike.

"Don't name it," Mike says.

We walk home with my treasure in a paper bag.  Unnamed.

I wasn't planning to cook a real dinner tonight.  It's already 6:15, and my socket is rubbing.  But now I've got this mushroom.  And I'm curious.

Plus, I'm energized by the Farmer's Market.  I head out to the balcony, where baby greens are ready to be picked!

I used to have a big garden at my house in South Philly, but after my accident, it became too much to handle.  I've downsized to a tiny balcony.  It has more potential than you'd think.

In just two flower boxes, this year's crops are growing strong:  rosemary, lavender, baby greens, sweet basil, and (hopefully) tomatoes!


Back in the kitchen, the greens go into a salad.  Frozen pesto goes into the microwave.  And that very cute mushroom goes into a cast iron sauté pan.

When I tug it gently, it pulls apart like the cottony tufts of a Dr. Seuss tree.

I stir in coconut oil, lemon verbena, and lemon thyme.  The mushroom gets toasty.  In minutes, it turns a color somewhere between pan-seared scallops and breakfast potatoes.

Now that's Farm to Table!

By now, you're probably wondering what the point of this cooking lesson is.

Usually I learn something new with each mile marker.  Come out with some greater understanding of the world, or myself, or life in general.

Mushroom Shwag!!
So what's the takeaway from Mile 4,007?   I'm not sure...

Try new things?
Appreciate the small?
Find beauty in nature?
Shop local?

Go ahead.  Help yourself.  Take whatever appeals to you.

That cute (and very delicious!) mushroom appealed to me.


Love mushrooms?  Mycopolitan Mushroom Company is a mushroom farm located in a Philadelphia basement!  Check out their website for more info!