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, October 14, 2017

What Happened to You?

Mile Marker 5575:  

On a Saturday afternoon, my mom and I are running errands at the Montgomery Mall.  As I'm strolling through Macy's housewares department, a saleswoman turns to me unexpectedly.

"What happened to you?"  she says.

For a split-second, I have no idea what she's talking about.  What happened to me?  When?  Today?  

Well, this morning I was at my niece's birthday party.  Oh wait!  Do I have ice cream on my face?  Did I get some of it on my shirt?? 

Then I realize what she's looking at.  Of course.  I'm wearing shorts.

"Oh?  You mean what happened to my leg," I say.

Obviously.

So I tell her the story of what happened to me.  (The short version, anyway.)

I guess it should have been the first thing that came to mind.  But the crazy thing is, it wasn't!  In this tiny random interaction, I realize how far I've come.  It's taken nearly 7 years, and finally...

WHAT HAPPENED TO ME IS NOT WHO I AM. 

The accident, the trauma, the recovery -- who I was before, and every step I take after -- they're all parts of me.  But I'm more than the sum of those parts.

And the story is still unfolding!

At Mile Marker 5,575, I'm invited to speak at the New Waves in Trauma Conference at Jefferson Hospital.  I spend weeks planning my presentation, thinking about not just what happened to me, but where I am now, and all the forces that carried me there.

That last part is nearly impossible to put into words.   How the trauma team supported me through surgeries, bandage changes, and sleepless nights.  How they cared for me over and over again, as we made 6 return trips to the ER, each one reopening those traumatic wounds.  How they somehow made sure I came out the other side.

When Nurse Deb introduces me at the conference, she asks for a show of hands from the audience.  "How many of you know Rebecca?"  she asks.  "How many of you took care of her while she was a patient?"

In a room of 200, maybe 20 hands go up.  I feel like they all took care of me, but in reality, Jefferson is a large city trauma center.  Shifts change. Staff shuffles.  Seven years is a long time.

What happened to you?

For the first 10 minutes, I recount my story from November 9, 2010, the morning I landed in bed 32T of the trauma bay.

A lot has happened since that day!

After that, I describe what it FEELS like to be a trauma patient, and things my team said and did that helped "heal" those emotions.  I even replay the video from Mile 160, our first anniversary walk on November 9, 2011.

When I finish, a nurse from the audience seeks me out.  It's Aileen, one of the trauma nurses who took care of me when I was first delivered to the trauma bay.  Our conversation wavers between recalling the day we met and catching up on all that's happened since!

"I remember how we brought your mom in to see you before we intubated you," Aileen says.

It's amazing what she remembers.  Hearing the story from her perspective is like watching my own movie from a different camera angle.

After the conference, we gather with the Jefferson community for the Excellence in Trauma Awards.  My family and I attend every year, along with other trauma patients and families who return to celebrate with the people who saved their lives.

My last hospitalization was at Mile 700, almost exactly 5 years ago, but those memories run deep...

...deep enough to get a selfie with your surgeon!

At this year's event, I run into Tommy, a new amputee I've been visiting the past few months as a peer mentor.

We shared some of the same doctors and nurses!

I also meet Calvin, a trauma survivor who nearly lost his life in a car accident 18 years ago.  Now he's THRIVING, beaming proudly with his wife and children by his side.  We've only just met, but we embrace in a group hug.  Even as strangers, we feel like old friends.

"You're part of our family," Calvin's wife says to us.  "Our trauma family."

What happened to you?

I've worked hard to move beyond the trauma of the accident, but it has lingering effects on my life.  It's left me with scars:  a little leg, a prosthetic leg, crutches, a rocky digestive system, and emotions that flare up when I least expect them.  Yet it's also filled my world with opportunities and projects I could never have imagined.

Like being a hospital volunteer!

Most of all, it's connected me with people who've helped transform this tragedy into a tale that's cherished and hopeful.

These are a few of them!


So... What happened to you?

It's an interesting question, especially today.

I'm gonna wrap up this post because I've gotta run. (Figuratively anyway!)  In a few short hours I'll be attending my 30-year high school reunion.  Yep, it's been quite the week for looking back!

Class of '87... I'm in there somewhere!

Tonight, as I crowd into a party with some of those 300 classmates, I'm pretty sure "What happened to you?" will be a question on everyone's mind.  Not what happened to me, but what happened to all of us over the last 3 decades.

I'm excited to hear the answers.

And no worries on my end.

I've got a pretty good story of my own.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Bee You

Mile Marker 5479:

"That's not a SKIN leg!"

From across a cobblestone alley, I hear the most creative (and cutest) take on my prosthetic leg.

It comes from a 4-year-old girl with a shiny bob haircut.  She's pointing.  At me.

It may be September, but it's still shorts season.

My friend Jasmine and I have just stepped out of Fezziwig's Sweet Shoppe.  I'm holding a drippy, green cup of mint chip ice cream.  Jasmine, next to me, holds salted caramel.

I walk cautiously over the cobbles, even more so now that the girl's whole family is watching.  The little girl follows us with her gaze.  Jaw dropped.  Eyes locked on my Genium.

"Do you want to see it?" I ask as we get closer.

Suddenly she looks down at her sandals.  Embarrassed.  Or maybe just shy.

"It's ok," I say.  "You're right.  It isn't a skin leg.  It's a robot leg.  It's called a prosthesis."  She nods.  I ask her if she likes my painted toe nails, and her eyes shift to the purple polish.

We chat with her family for a few seconds more.  Then Jasmine and I continue on our way.

Not all legs are skin legs.

Although my back is to her, I'm pretty sure that little girl is still watching.  And digesting all she's learned.


Mile Marker 5480:

The next mile is at Philly Honeyfest where friends Davey and Carol are demonstrating how to extract honey.

Davey and Carol are old friends of mine.  They're also local beekeepers.  Really local.  They live in South Philly, my old stomping grounds, just blocks from the Italian Market.  My house had a garden, but theirs has a roof deck -- where they've installed 4 beehives. 

My friend Jen and I watch as they insert a hive frame into a huge urn called an extractor.   Davey turns the crank, and a syrupy stream of gold oozes from the spout.


Carol hands out popsicle sticks.  We use them to catch the honey.

It's as sweet -- and as raw -- as it gets!  Fresh from the hive, there are chunks of honeycomb floating in it, along with a few scattered bee legs.  I get the feeling there are a few "ampu-bees" back at the hive :)

Davey scoops up a pea-sized wad of the mixture and places it on the edge of my finger.  Part honeycomb, part honey, and thankfully, no part bee.  "It has a consistency like chewing gum," he says.

Just then, a wide-eyed little boy looks up at me with a huge toothless smile.   I'm expecting a comment about my robot leg, but that's not what impresses him.  It's that I know the beekeepers!

I offer him the honey in my hand.  "Wanna try?"

Without missing a beat, he sticks out his tongue and laps it right off the end of my finger.  Yep, we're "bee-ing" friendly.

In case you're wondering what roof bees make, well, here's the final product.  100% Pure.  100% Raw.

100% Made on a roof!


Mile Marker 5515:

A few miles later, Mom and I grab breakfast with two of our good friends, Zita and Mattie.

For my birthday, Zita brings me a copy of Pantsuit Nation, a book filled with essays and photos from the Facebook group of the same name.  (Maybe you've heard of it?)  While the Facebook page originated to support Hillary Clinton, the need to celebrate our differences is even stronger now.

Pantsuit Nation is beautiful book.  I highly recommend it.

Especially pages 190-191.  Go Zita!

Being ourselves is about more than explaining prosthetics to kids or raising bees on a city roof.  It's about being who we are, however it might look and wherever it might take us.

I'm not afraid to show my prosthetic leg, or talk about it, or answer the many questions that come my way.  But I'm self-conscious too.  I haven't walked well in months.  When people look at me, I hope they see more than my gait.  I hope they see that I'm living my life.  A good life.  Challenging and complex, yet rich and rewarding.

Kind of like harvesting Roof Honey.

So BEE YOU.  There's strength in diversity.

And you never know the sweetness it might bring.


Thanks Jen & Zita for the photos.  For more beekeeping adventures, check out Davey and Carol's blog here!

Friday, September 1, 2017

Mountain Time

Mile Marker 5400:

Halfway between Woodstock and Thornton is a place that runs on mountain time.

When the sun rises, I'm awakened by real birds, not the artificial "birdsong" of my iPhone alarm.  And instead of walking to get coffee, I drive 9 miles.

It's worth it!

In the White Mountains of New Hampshire, I'm sharing a house with my parents, my sister Sam, her husband Gregg, and nieces and nephew Riley, Brennan, and Dylan.  In case you lost count, that makes 8 of us.  So while it's quiet and serene outside the house, there's a constant hum inside.  The TV surfs between Sprout and CNN.  The washer and dryer tumble with endless loads of towels.

And Dilly wakes up long before the birds!

She's cute, so we let her slide!

I'm used to living on my own and doing what I want, but on this trip the kids set the pace.  We're on mountain time.

We befriend bears.

Climb rock walls.

Bungee jump.  (Safely!)

Get lost in life-size mazes.

And ride a gondola high above the world!

At Lost River Gorge, we hike a one-mile boardwalk.  It has a thousand stairs, cascading waterfalls, and a suspension bridge that makes Mom nervous.

The trail is lined with boulder caves carved by glaciers long ago.  Determined to follow the kids, I cover my Genium with plastic.  While my parents hang onto Dylan, the rest of us squeeze between stone walls, belly through passageways, and snake over puddles.

More than once,
I get stuck between
a rock and a hard place!

Each cave comes with unique challenges.  How will I tunnel under that low-hanging rock?  Hoist over that boulder?  Slip through that tight spot without releasing my socket? 

And of course, where's the best place for a selfie?

By the time I emerge there's an audience.  When I crawl bear-style up a wooden ladder, I accidentally knock my hip against the edge of a boulder.  Luckily we have a 7-year-old commentator to capture the moment.  Turn up the volume.  Here's a replay...

video


In the mountains, there's time for everything.  I even catch up with my old friend Bob, whom I haven't seen since long before the accident.  He and his family live about 50 miles from here, which by mountain standards is pretty much next door!

Exactly 2 years ago, I wrote a post called Small Happiness.  More than 2000 miles have passed since then, and that happiness has grown exponentially.

Riley, who took her first steps when I did, back at Mile 15, is now entering 2nd grade.

Brennan (born at Mile 436) is our newest kindergartner.

And prosthetist in training!


As for Baby Dyl?

On our last night in the house, she disappears.  While Dad's outside at the grill, and we're hustling to get dinner on the table, Dylan is suddenly no where to be found!  We can hear her little voice, those soft baby babbles, but we don't see her anywhere.  That's when she peeks her nose over the second floor landing.  Mom and Sam race up the winding stairway to find Dylan sitting at the top with a proud smile, pleased as punch with her newest accomplishment.  Her first time climbing stairs alone!

It's summer here, but autumn is on the way.  Already the night air smells like Halloween.

Time flies.  Seasons pass.
Things change.  It's good to take a break and enjoy them for a while.

That's the beauty of mountain time.

Friday, August 25, 2017

How to Climb Anything

Mile Marker 5373:

I stand on the floor, fingers curled around the start holds.  Carabiners locked.  Leg locked.  

"Climbing!" I call.

And whoever's belaying me -- Sarah, or Sara, or Marian, or Jacki, or Peet, or Julia, or Carly, or Alyson, or Jake  -- calls back.

"Climb on!"

Those two small words launch me up the rock wall.

My goal this summer had nothing to do with climbing -- and everything to do with writing.  I had planned to write a new blog post each week, submit a few articles, keep up with social media, schedule some presentations, and hey, remember that BOOK??

So how did I get from here...

...to here?


In case you missed it on Facebook, I did my first EVER climbing competition in June at USA Adaptive Climbing Nationals, where (spoiler alert!) I placed 2nd in my category, surprising everyone -- most of all, me!

But the biggest prize, by far, was making friends with so many amazing athletes.  On paper, they all have "disabilities" -- amputations, visual impairments, neurological or orthopedic challenges -- yet they're the most able-bodied group I've ever met!

They're UNSTOPPABLE-- on and off the rock wall!

If I wasn't addicted before, I am now.  Climbing is a concrete and all-consuming challenge.  When I'm on the wall, there's no space to think about anything else.  The only way to go is up.

It's not like sitting down to write -- where instead of a route to follow, I'm faced with a blank page and no clue where to go.  How do authors ever finish anything?  How do they even start?

At Mile 5,373, I hit a wall.  Not the climbing kind.  The blank page kind.

The more I climb, the better I climb.  But how can I channel that momentum toward other goals -- like writing my first blog post in two months?

Come on.  We all have walls to climb.  Maybe my struggle can give you a boost too.

Call it self-help.
Call it a pep-talk.
Call it notes from a novice climber.

Here's what I'm calling it...

How to Climb Anything (even a blank page)

1.  Get the start.  The start of a climbing route is the first move on the wall.  I grapple with starts a lot, especially if they require a tricky left foot.  I stall.  I hesitate.  I overthink.  (Prosthetist Tim calls it "analysis paralysis," and it extends to my writing too.)  Yet here's the thing:  getting the start can be a real confidence booster.   It works for any goal.  There's always a first step.  And once we take it, we're on our way.  Kinda like writing this blog post...

2.  Ask for beta.   Hang out in a rock gym, and you're likely to hear, "Can I get some beta on that one?"  For climbers, beta means information.  It's how we share suggestions and strategies with each other.  How we problem-solve on the wall.  And beta's good for any goal, even writing.  (Think blog comments -- hint, hint!)   If we ask the right people, beta can help us reach new heights!

Sharing bionic beta with a bi-ped :)

3.  Cheat past it.  When I get stuck on a climb, I CHEAT.  Yep.  I grab hold of a neighboring route and "cheat past" the problem area.  Why?  It lets me see what's next.  With any goal there's bound to be stumbling blocks (or writer's block!), but those barriers don't have to stop us.  It gets me thinking:  if a story is too hard to start, could I jump right into the middle?  I guess it's better than standing still!

Of course, you can't cheat in competition!
(Although for this move, I wished I could!) 

4.  See the finish.  No matter how high the rock wall, I know there's a finish hold waiting at the top.   (Maybe that's why I favor climbing over writing!)   Far away goals are tough to reach.  I get it.  I should visualize a complete book, cover to cover.  300 pages?  I can work with that.  Break it down.  Endpoints and endorphins -- they're not that far apart!

And finally... my favorite.

5.  Climb on.  The magic words of rock climbing.  Climb on means you're safely tied in, you're on belay, and you can start your journey.

Climb on
is a launch pad.
A kick in the pants.
Permission (and pressure) to GO FOR IT.

Gotta admit, it's a pretty good send-off.

I am not an expert climber.  My foot slips easily.  My reach lacks distance.  And my leg comes loose without warning.  I've got a lot to work on.

But when I hear the words climb on, I'm ready to face it all.

Yes, even that blank page.


A shout-out to this fabulous group, who gives me a "leg up" and keeps me climbing on!