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, October 14, 2011

Graduation Day

Mile Marker 116:

My first grade teacher and I shared a love for the Flyers.  Once we even went to a game together!

We watched from my dad’s top level seats, leaning back against the bone-smooth wall of the Spectrum.  What could be better?  I was 6 years old, and the two people I idolized most -- MY TEACHER and Bobby Clarke -- were with me under one concrete roof! 

My heroes have changed through the years, but teachers have always held a special power.


Billing expert Steve gives me
 my "walking papers!"
Last Monday -- Mile Marker 116 -- was “Graduation Day.”   I was discharged by my Trauma Surgery Team.

To be honest, I’d been pushing off the appointment.  Not that I didn’t want to see my doctors.   Nor that I didn't want to be healthy.   I just didn’t want to LEAVE them!

For almost a year, they’d brought comfort to me and my family.  Their simple presence could calm my nerves and soothe my pain.  They'd come to symbolize HOPE.

And in that way, they were much more than doctors and nurses. 

They were also TEACHERS.

So, in honor of my graduation, I thought I’d share a few things I learned during our time together.

Consider it a graduation speech…

First, SMILE.   I mean smile every chance you get!  Lock eyes with someone like you’re sharing a private joke.  My doctors and nurses had smiles for every occasion:  pre-op, recovery, middle-of-the-night calls, and slow afternoons with New York Housewives on TV.  Smiling is one hospital procedure that doesn’t hurt at all.   And it can make someone’s day.  (It often made mine!)

Next lesson:   WASH - RINSE - REPEAT.   Or whatever it takes.  My Trauma Team never walked away from a challenge.   Seven “wash-out” procedures in 11 days?   Well, my leg was infected, so my team fought back!  Again and again and again and again and again and again and again.  Surgery to the 7th power!

Then there's TALK IT OUT.  My doctors gathered together every morning at some crazy-early hour.   They shared information and made decisions as a team.   And when I had lots of questions -- (Are you surprised??) -- my nurses and doctors took the time to talk with me, too.  Because they knew that words are to the mind what blood is to the body.

And this next one I'm still working on:  DON’T LOSE SIGHT OF THE FOREST.   I can’t imagine how many sutures my team stitched in a day, how many IV bags they hung on poles, or how many pills they administered in little cups.  But along with their keen eyes for detail, they never failed to remind me of the progress I made.  Even back in Critical Care -- when my body was puffy with fluids and I didn’t seem much like ME at all -- they asked my family to tell them about me BEFORE this accident.   They said to hang up pictures.   You’ll get back there, they reminded us all along.  Don’t think about now.  Think about a year from now.  

And here we are, almost.

Which leads me to this one:  GO TO RESTAURANT WEEK.  Sounds funny, I know.  This message from Dr. J – in the midst of abdominal pain last January – seemed like a contradiction in terms.  But I’ve thought about it since then, and here’s what I think he was getting at:  CELEBRATE LIFE.  Don’t dwell on what you can’t do.  Get out there.  LIVE.  Let the chips -- or scar tissue in my case -- fall where they may.    ...Or perhaps he was just trying to get me to eat.  Well, Dr. J, I did go out for Restaurant Week just last month!

And finally,
PASS IT ON.  It’s a teaching hospital, after all.  My favorite fellows and residents like Dr. Nate and Dr. Josh  demonstrated incredible patience and support by my bedside.  They also had an uncanny ability to make me giggle, even during painful bandage changes.   It might have been the heavy-duty meds flowing through my IV, but I thought they were hysterically funny!   And quite skillful, too. 

With just over 11 months gone by, these lessons echo in my life outside the hospital -- reverberating off the walls of my house, my school, my rehab -- everywhere I go.

And my team goes on to treat – and teach – other patients.  My doctors and nurses continue their hard work.  Their talent shines through from the inside out.  And they overcome more obstacles in one morning than most of us do in 5 YEARS.

At my discharge appointment last Monday, Dr. J. asked me a most important question:   “What’s next?”

Bye Dr. J!
Because graduation isn’t really the end.

It's just the beginning.

But it's good to know that whatever time I wake up in the morning, my Trauma Team will ALWAYS be up earlier.
 
Just in case I need them.

For now, I'll practice what they've taught me.   And PASS IT ON.



5 comments:

  1. Congrats on your graduation!! There is not enough thanks to go around for all the docs, nurses, and others for all they did for you, and all of us! Truly a great and talented trauma team. Glad to see how far you've come, and looking forward to seeing, "what's next". The sky's the limit!

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  2. Congratulations, Ricki, on this milestone. As always, you share valuable insights, and when this blog becomes a book, many caregivers will be reminded how important it is to work together as a team, to have a sense of humor, and to recognize the patient's progress. I would like to share this entry with the employees at my clinic, if that would be okay with you. I wonder if the receptionists and schedulers consider that our patients were very different before their illness or trauma. In psychiatry, what was lost is not always visible, but progress is often apparent....

    Anyhow, just like Mark, I am grateful to your surgeons and other caregivers. And I am grateful to you for describing in detail your journey, which is an inspiration to all of us.

    Aunt Gail

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  3. "And my team goes on to treat – and teach – other patients. My doctors and nurses continue their hard work. Their talent shines through from the inside out."

    Congrats on your graduation day. How proud and grateful we are with your progress. How impressive is your strength in dealing with the issues of your recovery.

    I must add from personal experience that I have learned a lot from my patients' experiences and no doubt feel that your medical team will also apply what they have learned from you to their respective skills in caring for their patients.

    Your talents are incredible. Doctors acknowledge that they continually learn from patients, gaining new insights that influence their practice.

    Rebecca, your were part of that team! What they have learned from you will help them to go "on to treat – and teach – other patients."

    uncle steve

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  4. I love that I was away for a few days and came home to two great posts! Thought of you a lot this weekend while we were in Chicago.

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