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!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Way Life Should Be

Mile Marker 21:

I love road trips.  I love zipping along the interstate to the tune of my favorite CDs.  I love having a destination without a schedule.  I even love the ebb and flow of traffic.  

Well, 10 hours from Philly to Rhode Island is a little more ebbing than I like.  But Jen, Polly, and I are on a vacation. We pass the time singing to old school dance music.  We swing our GPS back and forth to see if it'll display a faster speed.  (It won't.)  We figure out how to make it speak with an Australian accent.  (It will.)  We realize that our only road map is the one from Cracker Barrel.  (But this actually comes in handy when we get a hankering for biscuits in the middle of Connecticut!)

In Providence, we discover a great Italian market on Federal Hill.  We taste zucchini flowers, in season only for a few weeks each year.  We meet deli guys who smile and say the price depends on the customer.  I smile back and get a heaping plate of hot food for $4.31.  We love this place.  Their slogan is Everyday Is Sunday.   It’s fitting.  Sunday is a day to enjoy while it lasts.   We’re taking a break from life’s busy schedule, enjoying good food and each other’s company. 

It’s the way life should be.

Mile Marker 22:

We hit the road again, determined to make better time from Rhode Island to Maine.  But I-95 has other plans.  

Two hours later, we’ve only made it to Massachusetts.  I wiggle and shift in the seat, uncomfortable in my prosthesis.  Our GPS is taking us through the center of Boston to avoid traffic.  We realize this is an oxymoron. 

As we snake through Bean Town, I feel pinching inside my socket.  I know it’s probably not real.  So often, I feel pain and then remove my prosthesis to find that everything’s fine.  

I remember the day my surgeon Dr. M took off my bandages for good. The skin graft and incisions had been wrapped securely for almost 10 weeks. My leg and I understood everything from gauze to Tegaderm, but “open to air” wasn’t in our vocabulary.   With his warm, gentle smile, Dr. M assured me it would be okay.  Indeed, my leg had healed well on the surface, but inside I felt pins, needles, and reverberating razor blades where my ankle should have been.  With so much sensory input, my little leg didn’t know what to do with itself. 

That’s how I feel as we crawl through Boston.  There’s the pinching and the phantom pain I now call “ankle blades.”  But more than the physical pain, I feel unwrapped -- suddenly exposed to the world.  I have new routines for showering, dressing, and even walking.  I tire easily.  I regiment my diet to keep my digestive system in order.  I sleep plugged into a mini-DVD player to keep my mind still.   I’m not sure what to do with this new me, especially far from home.

Finally, we stretch our legs at a Dunkin Donuts and gas station.  A friendly Bostonian offers vague but hopeful directions, “Go through the first set of lights, then the road bends to the left, go through another set of lights, then at the next set of lights, take a right, then take another right on Main St. and you’ll see 128 North.”   

“Be patient,” he says.   

As I get back in the car, I wonder exactly what consitutes ‘a set of lights.'  I tell Jen and Polly it’ll be a miracle if we ever find our way back to the highway.

We are patient, and amazingly, we do.


Mile Marker 23:

Three hours later, we cross the state line into Maine.  The road is lined with lush greenery.  MAINE.  THE WAY LIFE SHOULD BE.  You gotta love a state that chooses such a lofty motto. 

I secretly challenge Maine to SHOW ME THE MONEY.

This trip has brought The Way Life Should Be  face-to-face with The Way Life Really Is.  

True, I’m on vacation, but there are pieces of this picture I’d like to erase.  Or rather, go back and change.  I want things to be the same but at every turn I see how much they’re different now.  I AM having fun.  I’m enjoying time with my friends, but I can’t shake a thin mist of sadness.  I miss my leg.

For dinner in Portland, we meet up with an old friend, Karen, and eat lobster rolls and steamers on a dock with live music.  Afterward, Polly and I hike up the steep hill back to our hotel.  I’m sweating like crazy and want nothing better than to pull out of my socket and leave my prosthesis behind.  After all, isn’t Maine The Way Life Should Be?  

The next night, we take a boat trip around the islands and lighthouses.  My C-Leg is at sea!   

I lean over the railing and let the wind and seaspray hit my face.  I breathe in the salty air, feel the rocking waves, taste the splashing water.  Suddenly, I feel free!   Wooded islands float by, and for the first time in 8 months –  I am completely at peace.  For just a moment, The Way Life Should Be and The Way Life Really Is merge together amidst the sailboats and sunset and lighthouses of Casco Bay.

On this trip, I’ve joked about how lucky I am.  I brag about getting first dibs on riding shotgun in the car and having first choice of bed in the hotel.   My handicapped permit doubles our parking karma.   This morning, I guessed lucky on a trivia question at Starbucks and got 10 cents off my coffee.  But when I got back in the car I spilled it in my lap.  “You just lost the 10 cents you saved!” said Jen.  Oh well.  Luck is fickle.  Easy come, easy go.

But really, my luck stretches much farther than that.  This road trip has given me a glimpse of peace.  It’s helped me realize how lucky I was before the accident, and -- although it’s hard to remember sometimes -- how lucky I still am.

Hello, The Way Life Should Be.   I’d like to introduce you to The Way Life Really Is.  Maybe you two aren’t so far apart, after all.  If I just keep moving, keep finding pleasure in new experiences, keep challenging myself.  Keep trusting my friends to steer me in the right direction.  

Keep on the open road.  

8 comments:

  1. Ricki, you're amazing! I am awed by your insights, your honesty, and your capacity to say the range of what you're feeling. Thank you thank you thank you for sharing this journey!

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  2. I agree with Kaii....Thank you for sharing this journey with us. As your friends and family, we are in this together. I know your life changed on November 9th, but so did all of ours.
    We love you.

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  3. Rebecca you are an inspiration to us all. Thank you for sharing your story with us. We love you.

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  4. So glad you decided to go! I'm looking forward to further reports on your next adventure. xo

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  5. I agree with everyone above - thank you for sharing your insights on this new journey. Your writing is so honest and true! I am so glad that you got to go on this trip - a real inspiration!

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  6. Let us know if you find a moose! We are always watching for one when we are up north! But moose or not, just have a great time with your friends! Aunt P and Uncle S

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  7. I did get a sweatshirt with a moose on it :)

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