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, May 17, 2019

Trauma Survivors Day

Mile Marker 7395:

On the heels of Nurse Appreciation Week comes Trauma Survivors Day.

Coincidence?  I think not.

On May 15, I arrive at Jefferson just a few pedals short of Mile 7,400.  It's 7:15 AM, and the night-time hush of the hospital is lifting like an early morning mist.  A few tired nurses straggle toward the parking garage. Administrators in suits arrive.  A line forms at the Starbucks counter.

From the far end of the Atrium, I hear the hum of a spin bike.  Wheels are already turning.  There I meet Beth from the Cardiac Transplant Unit.

Turns out, she's our opener and closer!

Today, in collaboration with other hospitals around the world, Jefferson is holding a National Trauma Survivors Day Cycle-A-Thon.  It's not to raise money or set records.  It's to honor patients who've survived traumatic injuries and the many, many, MANY hospital staff -- across all departments -- who, every day, make that survival possible.

First up, trauma surgeons.  They stop by early, right after their morning meeting.

It's an honor to be surrounded by heroes,
but even more fun to bike with them!

Nearby tables are set with injury prevention swag.  There's info on bike safety and burn prevention, and nightlights to prevent falls in the dark.  There's a poster display about the Trauma Survivors Network, which provides resources for patients and families rebuilding after trauma.

There's also a plug for bike helmets... of course.  Hope you still wear yours!

 Can you believe 4,000 miles have passed
since the Bike Helmet Blitz?

I switch my knee into "biking mode," and jump on and off the bikes each time someone I know comes by.  We're not going anywhere really, but as we pedal and talk, it's like a ride down memory lane.

 (L to R)  That's Nora, who organized the event,
Jess, who took care of me thru many long nights,
and Deb, who's been with me every step of the way!

All over the hospital, teams take breaks from their busy schedules to come down and ride -- for as short as two minutes or as long as an hour.

Cheers to the OR team!

I recognize some people, but some recognize me.  For the first time ever, I meet Lisa, a nurse who took care of me during my first week in the Trauma ICU.  After more than 8 years, the story of my accident is still unfolding.  It's incredible that there are still people out there I haven't had a chance to thank!

At Mile 7,395, I finally get to thank Lisa!

Mid-afternoon, my friend Michelle drops by.  We met back in 2011, when we were both outpatients at Magee.  I was learning to walk on my prosthesis, and Michelle was learning to walk after a spinal cord injury.  With PTs holding tight to our gait belts, we'd lumber by each other on laps around the gym.  We even had matching canes!

Michelle returned to college and then, in 2016, swam for Team USA in the Paralympics!  She's now a 3rd year med student at Jefferson.

Which makes her both a survivor and a hero!!

It's a fun, energizing, and exhausting day.  This event reminds me how far I've traveled since November 9, 2010 -- and all the people who carried me along this journey.

Biking brought me here, and again, biking brings me back.

Being a survivor is a balancing act.  There's JOY and GRATITUDE in every day, but it's sprinkled with the residual effects of what happened.  Emotional overload once in a while.  Pain sometimes.  Fatigue often.

And -- today in particular -- a prosthetic knee that stubbornly refuses to switch out of "biking mode."

Oh well.  Guess I'll ride some more.

As a wise surgeon told me many miles ago, "It's just a bump in the road."

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Nurse Appreciation Week

Cure sometimes, treat often, comfort always.

Mile Marker 7377:  

I don't remember the first week after my accident.

It took place in a clear glass cubicle on the Critical Care Unit of Jefferson Hospital.  My body was puffy with fluid and hooked up to a web-like tangle of tubes.  Beyond the glass door sat a nurses' station where my vitals splashed across a digital screen.

I was on a ventilator.  My left leg was amputated.  My abdomen was left open for the swelling to go down. 

My family flocked in from around the country, taking over the 4th floor waiting area.  We were in full crisis mode.  It would've been easy for comfort to get lost in the shuffle.

But my mom tells this story -- about a nurse who washed my hair.  

"She didn't use one of those dry shampoos," my mom says.  "She brought a tub of water over to the bed."

My mom describes how this nurse wet my hair, lathered it with shampoo, and rinsed it clean.  How -- with bandages taped everywhere and tubes poking out in all directions -- this nurse gently scrubbed the dust and gravel of Washington Avenue out of my long hair.

"She made it seem like she had nothing more important to do," my mom says, still incredulous.  "But she works in Critical Care!"

That's Cathy and her team!

Eight and a half years later, my mom is still telling this story.  We're still talking about this one gesture.  It meant THAT MUCH.

It's Nurse Appreciation Week.  

But if you've ever been a hospital patient, you know that EVERY week should be Nurse Appreciation Week!

Nurses played a major role in my journey.  Although I didn't realize it at the time, it started with these two when I arrived in the Trauma Bay...

Margaret and Aileen
(We met again 1,747 miles later!)

And it went on from there.  Through 15 trips to the operating room, nurses reassured me and reminded me to breathe.  My biggest fear was waking up alone, and they made sure I never did.

And afterward, through every bandage change, they hung an IV bag to counteract the pain.  I clenched my eyes tight as the gauze was tugged from my skin, but the nurses squeezed my hand and joked with the doctors to try to make me smile.

Hand-holding is the language of comfort.  It means YOU MATTER.

Even in the ER!

On one of my toughest days, a calm, organized nurse made all the difference.  "Give me 20 minutes," she said.  "I'll have the answers you need."  And she did.  I exhaled chaos and inhaled comfort and safety.

Thank goodness for Lucy!

The nights were long and lonely, but the nurses knew I couldn't sleep.  When they saw the glow of my DVD screen, they'd stop in to talk about the latest episode of Glee.  They left my door open so the hallway light could seep into my room.  It protected me from the flashbacks I saw whenever I closed my eyes.  

At midnight, when Mark got off from work, they didn't lecture him about visiting hours or turn him away.  They simply stuck their head in my doorway and whispered... 

"Rebecca, your brother's on his way up!"

One day they even let my niece Riley sneak in.  She was slightly under-age.

She couldn't quite pass for 13 :)

As fall became winter, the nurses hung jingle bells on my door.  When all I could see from my window was the hazy hospital atrium, they described the snow outside.

They gave Dad endless cups of ice for my Gatorade, and they pretended not to see the unopened cans of Boost lined up along the windowsill. 

An army of antibiotics made my food taste like rusty metal, but nurses taught me the secrets of the hospital menu.  Did you know that PB & J and pizza are always available?  (Shhh... Don't tell!)

When bowel obstructions were resolved,
we celebrated with "clears."

When I finally learned to hop with a walker, it took 3 nurses to make it happen.  One carried the Wound Vac machine, one pushed the IV pole, and one trailed behind me with the huge armchair from my room -- just in case I needed to sit down.

After that, they raced to the pediatric unit to get me child-sized gowns.  They didn't want me tripping over the long ones!  

I was hospitalized 7 times over the course of 2 years, but each time I returned, my team of nurses welcomed me with empathy and compassion.  They made it feel, as much as they could, like coming home.

For a long time, 7 Center WAS my home!

By the 15th surgery, an abdominal one, my prosthetic leg stood next to the bed.  I'd been walking for a year already, but now, with a stomach full of staples, I couldn't bend over to put it on.  

"Just tell me what to do," my nurse said.  She listened patiently while I explained how the socket worked.  Then she got down on her knees and helped me put on my leg.

That was Mile 632!

That evening, I peered into the hallway as she got me a pack of hospital-issue socks.  "Yellow or gray?" she asked.

"There's gray??"  I said.  In all my time as a patient, I'd never been offered gray socks before!  I always got yellow.

"Yellow is for fall risks," she said.  "But the way you've been rockin' that leg, I think you've graduated from those!"

My heart soared.  Sometimes the littlest comforts make the biggest difference.

I could write a thousand blog posts, and it wouldn't be enough to thank my nurses.  They treated me like a person, not just a problem.  They supported my family.  They helped me through fear.  They gave me my independence, even when it caused more work for them.  And in the end, they walked with me too.  (In fact, they led the way for Mile 160!)

Click to see the video!

Small steps add up to miles.  Small comforts build resilience.

Where would we be without nurses?

This week and every week, 
to my nurses and nurses everywhere... 
Thank you for making a difference!

Thursday, March 21, 2019

I'm So Excited

Mile 7200:

As spring hits, the gentle balance of life takes a nosedive.

We turn the clocks ahead.  The rain is torrential.  And the more I press the elevator button, the less happens.

Yep, the elevator is down.

I live on the 3rd floor of a loft apartment building.  The ceilings are high.  The stairways are long.

My thoughts spiral downward as I take one step at a time toward the lobby.  I've got errands to run.  Work to get to.  Gear to carry.  Groceries to buy.  Stairs are fine once in a while, but what if this goes on and on?  What toll will it take on my body?  What if I sweat out of my prosthesis?  What if I get a socket rub?  What if I get another stress fracture in my right foot?  What if the elevator never gets fixed?!

I am a climber but also an amputee.

Stairs make me nervous.

Finally I exit onto the sidewalk and into the pouring rain.  I put up my umbrella.

Which reminds me of a different umbrella, in a different country, where I hear a different message:

"Don't say you're nervous.  Say you're excited!"

The voice rises up at the end, like a kid who can barely wait to go on a roller coaster ride.  It's the voice of Emily -- my friend and fellow Team USA Paraclimber.

We're gathered with teammates under the umbrella of an outdoor restaurant in Innsbruck, Austria.  It's the eve of qualifiers for the World Championships, so of course, we are all nervous.  Or, as Emily tells us to say, EXCITED.

We all laugh at first, but then we try it.   We're so excited!  Could changing one word really change our minds?

Surprisingly, yes.

It sends my brain down a different path, one that's moving forward instead of backing away.  One that can't wait for the challenge to begin!

The next day in the warm-up area, I repeat it over and over again.  I'm so excited!  I'm so excited!  By the time they call my name, I'm practically leaping onto the rock wall!

Now, on the rainy sidewalk, I put it to the test again, finding new rhythm with each step...

I'm so excited to take the stairs!
I can't wait to prioritize!  And strategize!
I'll work on my balance for climbing!
I'll strengthen my right leg like crazy!
It's a free gym workout!
I'm grateful to be able to do stairs at all!
Plus, taking the stairs will make a great blog post!

It works!  Here I am, returning from the supermarket later in the day...

Good thing, because at Mile 7,200, there's a lot going on.  A broken elevator is the smallest challenge on my path.  And taking the stairs gives me plenty of time to consider the bigger ones.

First, I'm getting involved in a new project, and I'm nervous about how it might impact my energy and schedule.  But -- here we go -- I'M SO EXCITED about the opportunity!  I get to follow my passion, support new amputees, and help them live a healthier lifestyle!

It's called Walk With Us
 and this little step-counter is key!
(Join in!)

Next challenge:  Would I be willing to be a team captain for my neighborhood in Battle of the Blocks this weekend?  As a very beginning boulderer, I'm flattered by the invite, but also kind of nervous.  What knowledge could I possibly bring to the team?  What skills do I have?

My first day of bouldering was just a few months ago!

Wait a minute -- scratch that -- I'M SO EXCITED!  This is a friendly competition!  I love meeting new climbers!  And I've got team spirit to spare!!

And the final challenge (so far):  The 2019 USA Climbing Adaptive National Championships.  In 7 days, I'll be traveling to Columbus, Ohio to compete with other adaptive climbers from around the country.  I'm not nervous for the competition; that's pure fun!!  But traveling puts me on edge: plane flights, hotel rooms, changes to the routine....

So let's just say, I'M SO EXCITED!  I get to spend the weekend scaling walls with some of my favorite people -- including Emily, who can remind me how excited I am!

That's Em in the middle!
(And Jess, who coaches me along too!)

In the end, it's all good stuff, but even good challenges can be stressful at times.

Finding my balance amidst the chaos is as easy as descending the stairs on a prosthetic knee.  Which is to say, not so easy at all.

But... it's always exciting :)

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!

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.


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??