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, September 10, 2011

Robot Girl?

Mile Marker 65:

 “It would be cooler if you had TWO robot legs.” 

That was my niece Brianna's first and only reaction to my prosthesis.

I expected her to have probing questions.  I expected to be fumbling for answers I barely understood myself.   It was a relief when, in typical 7-year-old fashion, she declared that my new leg was cool, but not TOO cool!

For all those months I was away in the hospital, Brianna wrote me letters and drew me pictures.  She drew us happily together in our triangle dresses, often surrounded by hearts.   I always had two legs.


Now it’s September.  I passed Mile Marker 65 hiking the school hallways.

My new leg is ON TOUR.

In each classroom, I teach the word prosthesis as the kids ooh and ahh over a machine that comes right out of their favorite movies – Transformers and I Robot. 

Can I see the computer?  They ask.  What happens if the battery runs out?   Can you get electrocuted?  Does it have voice control?  

They’re interested in the cool technology. 

Can you kick?  Jump?  Sit “pretzel-legs?"  (That’s Indian-style for us old-timers.) 

They’re amazed by the way it moves.

Is your foot real?  Is your shoe real?  How do you take a shower?  When you take it off, is there blood?

They're constructing meaning out of something so unusual – so outside the natural order of things – that in their minds it must be fiction.  

My new nickname echoes in the first grade hallway -- ROBOT GIRL!



Mile Marker 70:

It makes me smile.  They're accepting my prosthesis as a part of me, as a part of our school.

But somewhere around Mile Marker 70, I realize that even the youngest children sense the seriousness of what has occurred. 

I keep the conversation light, but I see the kids struggling through the incomprehensible, dark parts of this journey right along with me.  

Were you scared?  They ask.  Did it hurt?  Who saved you?   Their foreheads crease with concern.

How did the doctors cut off your leg?  (Their word choice.)

And my own personal demon....Where’s your leg now?   

They don’t know that these same questions keep me awake late at night.  That I continually ponder and mourn over them in search of answers.  Or maybe they do.

In one class, a little girl weeps quietly at her desk while her classmates launch their questions. I watch the teacher kneel beside her and whisper to her.  As I leave, I ask the teacher if she’s ok.  “She's just sad about what happened to you,” he tells me.

Last weekend, I watched a documentary called September’s Children.  It focused on the students at the school closest to the World Trade Center on 9/11.  But what struck me was not the journey of those students.  It was the strength of the teachers.  How, in the days, weeks, and months following the disaster, they put their own trauma aside.  How, at school, they remained strong, secure, and stable – even when shaken themselves.

On my "tour," I try to strike a gentle balance between honesty and protection.  

To their toughest questions, I answer, “I don’t remember,”   But I really mean I don’t WANT to remember, and I don’t want YOU to remember either.  

Many parts of my journey are too private to share; many are not meant for children's imaginations.

But kids learn by asking questions, so I stay present, assured, and attentive.  I try to take a lesson from those New York teachers:  Sometimes we have to hold it together for a bigger cause.

Later, in quiet moments alone, I ask my own questions.  What if I’d left my house just a little bit earlier?  What if I’d taken a different route?  What if I hadn’t ridden my bike to school at all? 

In fifth grade, I believed that any wrong could be remedied by writing a 500-word composition.  Now I turn to our students and say, WEAR YOUR BIKE HELMET.  It's one little thing, but I say it 500 times.   I can’t change the past, but maybe I can change the future.

As my niece Brianna grows up, I know she’ll have more questions.  But Brianna has a different charge in all this.  She has to remember the day I taught her to ice skate. The times I chased her through the sprinkler park and lifted her over the ocean waves. She's my oldest niece and the only one who will remember me as I was -- before I became Robot Girl.  

And I want her to keep drawing me with two legs.


Mileage so far:  73.34

4 comments:

  1. Again, another beautiful, heartfelt post. Tears are in my eyes from your insight and honesty, and for your pain and your strength. While Brianna may remember you with two legs, everyone will be lucky to know you. You are kind and compansionate, beautiful and intelligent and an amazing person who demonstrates more determination and strength than most people are capable of with both legs.
    Love you.

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  2. Somehow my post didn't get saved. Forgot my Google password. Set a new one. Trying again.
    It's great to read all the quesions from the kids. Kids take life at face value. No preconcieved notions. They asked quesions that we are sometimes afraid to ask and I'm greatful for that. Ok, so I might not have asked if your leg has voice control, but that's how kids think. They know about voice control, but not prostheses (is that the plural?)

    Life is full of "What ifs". We can't dwell on them, but I know that can be difficult. How about a positive "What if? What if I never tried inline skating? I would never have known Rebecca and that would be my loss. Ironically, I was rehabbing my knee after surgery and I asked my physical therapist what the next step was. He said, "Since you ice skate, go out an skate" It was easier for me to inline instead of going to a rink.

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  3. Mar, your comment almost made me cry. Thanks for everything -- all your support and cheering me on, even from afar! Love you too!

    Rocco, In a way, I'm really glad that you had to rehab your knee...although I do feel bad when I see you icing it after a skate! I can't imagine skating without you (and Susan, too!). Plus, you're my best person to draft behind so I might need you to practice with soon!

    I've thought MANY times about the people I'd never have met if I hadn't been in this accident. Amazing people -- my prosthetist Tim, my PTs Deb and Colleen, my surgeons, nurses... the list goes on and on. It's strange to think I might have gone through life without knowing that they even existed. It's a little ironic, but my life has been enriched so much by these special people that I can't imagine NOT knowing them!

    So yeah, great point. There are lots of positive "What ifs" too!

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  4. You're proof positive that character doesn't require two legs, just one strong heart. For the record, I've said it before, and I'll say it again- we thought you were amazing before this. You just prove it again 1000x over.
    xo

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