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, July 29, 2011

The Usual

Mile Marker 28:

Friday is Trash Day in my neighborhood.  This morning when I came outside, my car was parked in by a trash truck.  When I finally got around it, I was caught behind another truck on the next block.  In total, THREE garbage trucks made me late for my PT session!  Don’t think I miss the irony here.

Taking out the trash was never my favorite chore.  Invariably, I’d arrive home late from work on a rainy Thursday night, and I’d miserably drag the sopping trashbags from my backyard down the alley to the sidewalk. 

But Trash Day has taken on a new meaning, now.  What was once usual has become UNUSUAL.

Miles 26 and 27 slipped by unnoticed this week.  They were swallowed up by the minutiae of daily life.  The Usual.


Believe it or not, being an amputee can be downright mundane sometimes.  It doesn’t exempt you from washing dishes or paying bills.  Carpets get dust-bunnies and clothes get dirty.  There may be a few less socks to wash, but still....

And I notice that time has marched on even though I’ve been out of commission.  Amazingly, my car inspection is still due by the end of July.   But wait!   My little green car collected dust in my parents’ driveway for 6 months!   Doesn’t that give me a credit till at least December?  The answer is Nope.

Returning home slapped me with some tough realizations:  Untended gardens still grow  -- mostly weeds!   Sewer pipes still crack.  Basements still get wet.  And food still expires.  If not for some terrific fridge cleaning fairies back in November, my kitchen would have made Philadelphia the Moldiest City in the U.S.  (Better than Fattest City?  Maybe not.)

Returning to The Usual has been both comforting and frustrating.  Last month, my PT Julie came to my house to help me figure out some new systems.  And I learned that being an amputee is not a Get-Out-Of-Chores-Free Card.

I’ve done away with my laundry basket;  it’s unsafe on the stairs.  Instead, I now use a canvas bag over my shoulder, even if the loads are smaller and more frequent.  I practiced carrying groceries, one bag at a time, from the car into the house.  Not too bad, as long as I have a good parking spot. 

I’ve heard that slow and steady wins the race, but with tasks that used to be quick and easy, I'm now methodical, but clumsy.  Well-intentioned, yet inefficient.

I’m not into sitting around and watching others do for me, either.  But it turns out that I kinda like having a HELPER.  I can’t take credit for this idea.  Friends and family have been gently pushing for it.  Sesame Street has promoted it for ages.  

My good friend Sandi even went so far as to set up a schedule, and then proved to me that it works.  In 15 minutes, she helped me take out the trash, vacuum the living room rug, AND fold a set of bedsheets – all tasks that, in my mind, were insurmountable.  It was eye-opening, really!

It turns out there's some truth to all that cooperation hype we learn as kids.  My parents, my brothers, and my friends -- Bosco, Mary, and Sue this week -- have all chipped in to make things a little bit easier.  And many more friends have volunteered to do the same.    

People are coming together to give me perhaps the greatest gift of all:  their time.

Trash Day still haunts me on Fridays, but with a little help here and there, it’s not quite so daunting.  It keeps The Usual in its place – USUAL.

To prove it, Miles 26 and 27 are now memories, with nothing to show for them except clean laundry, healthy flowers, and an empty trash can.  Take that, Trash Day!  

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Come Sail Away

Mile Marker 25:

I’m no sailor, but I know you should catch a good wind when you can.

After our boat ride, I fell into a mellow rhythm -- the relaxing kind that usually comes just as your vacation winds to a close. 

We spent our last day in Maine buoyed along by the lobster, clams, and scallops of Kennebunkport.  Perhaps the quality of a lobster roll, like so many other things, is only a state of mind.  Mine put me in Happy Town.

After a stroll around the beachy shops, we drove inland, bound for New Hampshire.  Smooth sailing.

But a rainstorm blew in.  And, contrary to its name, my C-Leg does not like to get wet!   I stayed afloat largely to the credit of my two crewmates -- Jen and Polly.  Door-to-door service...just another perk of having one leg!  But really, throughout the trip, they helped me navigate steep hills, brick sidewalks, and heavy luggage.  They gave me time to rest when I was overheated, exhausted, and uncomfortable.  And more important, they gently nudged me forward, patient by my side as I stepped into unchartered waters.  

So have many others.    Wind is invisible and a tough thing to measure.   There are so many people that have kept my sail open, pushed me ahead.  Many of them -- family, friends, co-workers, professionals (and, yes, even blog followers) -- don’t even realize what a difference they’ve made.

Last Friday morning, before I left for this trip, I received an e-mail from a very special nurse, someone I met in the hospital but now consider a friend.  Coincidentally, her name is Deb, just like my PT. 

Despite the bustle of the hospital unit, Deb always watched out for me there.   She’d come to my room to discuss concerns, answer questions, or just chat about the book I was reading.  When I was re-admitted in January, she appeared in my doorway shaking her head.  Although dismayed that I was sick again, she was thrilled to see me with crutches.  That is, until I stood up.   My hospital gown was so long it dragged on the floor.   Instinctively, she reached out for me.  “You’re going to fall in that thing!” she said.   Then, of course, she had a solution.  She ran a recon mission to pediatrics and scored me a whole bag of child-sized gowns.  They were soft, fleece-like shirts that fit perfectly.  As usual, she’d found me a safe harbor.

In her recent e-mail, Deb wrote, Smile and keep walking….One step at a time!   

I scribbled down those words and stuck them in my pocket just minutes before we left for the trip.  Each morning when I woke up, I transferred the note into the pocket of a new pair of shorts.  Those words formed a solid rigging for my sail.  The paper never left my pocket, but in moments I felt adrift, I fingered its edges and repeated those words to myself.  Then, well, I smiled and kept walking.  One step at a time, I told myself, like a whispering breeze.

Before our long drive home, Jen, Polly and I took a morning walk around the tiny town of Portsmouth.  We discovered some crafty shops and an earthy cafĂ©.  On an overcast morning, a great cup of coffee can be more powerful than a nor’easter. 

We rerouted ourselves, abandoning I-95 for smoother waters.  A tailwind, it seemed, moved us faster.  We rolled down the windows to watch Massachusetts and Connecticut blow by. 

And finally last night, when I was securely anchored at home, there was an unexpected knock at the door.  It was my brother Mark, inviting me on a quick supermarket trip.  Why not?   I've heard there are gusts (a.k.a. brothers) so strong they can even carry your grocery bags!

Some days you’re just cruisin’.


So, who puts the wind in your sails?

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.  

Friday, July 22, 2011

Ready, Set... Again!

Mile Marker 20:

It has been a tumultuous week filled with new cable lines, a new shower head, leaking sewer pipes, socket fit issues, and 100 degree heat.  I feel like the project manager for a huge corporation, but I know it’s really just LIFE.

Luckily, I’ve had my dad and brother Steve here to do the construction, my Roto-Rooter expert Oscar for plumbing, and my friends Jim and Jen for dinner, the wet-vac, and momentary counseling!  My good friend Sandi also came by yesterday.  In 15 minutes, she helped me fold the linens, take out the trash, and vacuum the living room rug – all tasks that had seemed insurmountable on my own!   Such is household life as an amputee, I guess.  I’m (reluctantly) learning to ask for help!

And now, it’s not yet 10 a.m., and I’m filled with nervous energy.  My fingers skip over the keyboard.  I’ll be lucky to get this one up without typos.

I’m about to embark on a new adventure.  A road-trip.  To Maine.

Why am I so nervous?  For the past two summers, I’ve lived in France – alone!  But things are much different now.

Back in December, when I first arrived home from the rehab hospital, I climbed out of the car onto my crutches.  I crutched over to the door to the house, flanked, of course, by an anxious mom and dad on each side.   My dad opened the door, and then the three of us froze.  There was a step.

After a second of panic, I said, “Wait, let me think here.”   They both stood and waited.  After a few more seconds, I remembered what I’d practiced so many times in the therapy gym.  Crutches to the ground, I pushed off and launched myself onto the step.  We all breathed a sigh of relief.  First hurdle jumped.  Literally.

So this is another hurdle.  Bigger than the front step.   I am traveling far away from my family, my hospital, and the home where I feel safe and secure.  It’s not that far, I know.  But it’s far enough.

I’m taking friends along – Polly and Jen, who are two of the most accepting and giving people I know.  We agreed to pack light, but I told them my new leg is like traveling with a small child.  So in addition to clothing, there's a shower bench, lotions and ointments, shrinkers and socks, alcohol spray, high-powered sunscreen, and the all-important battery charger!  

With them, I’m ready jump the next hurdle -- BON VOYAGE!   Stay tuned for some miles from Maine!
And please pardon any typos :)

Total mileage so far:  20.41

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Human Touch

Mile Marker 17:

If you saw two women pushing a cat in a stroller on Monday night, don’t think you’re crazy.  But don’t think they’re crazy either!

The cat, Moe, belongs to my good friends Mary and Chris.   I’ve heard people say, “My cat thinks he’s a dog,” but I’ve never seen a cat quite like Moe.  You see, Moe thinks he’s HUMAN.

At dinner that night, Moe ate in the kitchen while we ate in the dining room.  But Moe didn’t actually eat.  Have you ever seen a 23-pound cat refuse food?  But Moe stared and stared at us.  Hello.  I’m here.  I’m really one of you.   Finally, Chris sighed.  He got up and moved Moe’s food to the dining room floor by our feet.  “Don’t ask,” he said, shaking his head warily.

So when Mary and I decided to go for a walk later, it was only natural to take Moe with us.  He hopped into his stroller (yes, his stroller), ready to go!

Chris carried Moe’s stroller down the front steps like a city dad carrying his child's stroller to the subway.  Mary and I took over from there.  We were off!

As you might expect, we were stopped by a few neighbors.   “There’s a cat in there?!” exclaimed a kid on a bike.  But after a few more questions, he pedaled off.   Just another night in South Philly.

The thing is, it was just another night.  But being human is more powerful than you think.  Of course, we do it every day.  But I mean really being human.  Some call them Random Acts of Kindness; others call it Karma.  And I've experienced it over and over again these past 8 months.

Each day during rounds in the hospital, my surgeon Dr. J stopped by.  “What’s up, Levenberg?” he’d snap.  I couldn’t help but smile.  It didn’t matter if I had an oozing wound on my leg or retention sutures across my stomach.  I felt like joking along with him.  I felt human.

One night, after my parents had left, my nurse Fran came in to check on me.  She asked how my day went, and I told her not so well.  “I had a meltdown,” I said, which is how I referred to my moments of disaster, crying, and generally letting it all out.  “Me too!” she said.  “This afternoon I was so tired.  I knew I had to work tonight, and I just lost it.”  We talked a bit more, and then she left to perform her other duties.  But a few hours later, she stuck her head into my room.  “Rebecca,” she called, “I’m goin’ over to Starbucks.  You want anything?”  It was late and I didn’t have much of an appetite, but my heart just soared!  I felt human!

Hello.  I’m here.  I’m really one of you.   Belonging is important, and Moe knows it.  He looks out from his stroller at the busy world around him.  He feels like a part of it all.

My doctors and nurses didn't realize that their small gestures would make such a difference.  But they did in my world.  Being human is more than what’s measured when they take your vital signs.  It’s what happens in between.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Taking Our Time

Mile Marker 15:

Sometime life presents you with “aha” moments, sparkles of brilliance, and sure signs that you’ve hit the big time.  But more often changes are subtle, only revealing themselves when you look back and realize how far you’ve actually come.

Mile 15 was the slowest mile so far.  But also the sweetest.

Last December, my sister and brother-in-law sneaked my baby niece into the hospital to surprise me.   What was even more surprising was that they’d driven 500 miles from Vermont to do it!

At the time, Riley Cate was still pretty bald, was just learning to sit up by herself, and played a mean game of Peek-A-Boo with my bedsheets.  Smiling toothlessly, she easily convinced the nurses to let her stay a while.   We made bets about who would walk first, me or Riley.

I won, but only by a hair.

Last weekend, Riley Cate accompanied me on my 15th mile.  And, as easy as 1-2-3, she taught me how she operates!

1.     Take time to stop and smell the flowers. ..and pick up sticks…and dig in the dirt….and look at leaves…  Riley Cate keeps busy.   She toddles around quickly, but she also stops A LOT.  She likes to examine things – see them, touch them, and of course, taste them!  And while I’m pretty sure I’ll never go back to chewing on nature-y stuff, I’ve been starting to take notice of things in a new way.   These months of recovery have forced me to be still.  When I returned home from the hospital, I marveled at the vibrant colors around me.  I watched the seasons transform my parents’ backyard from winter to spring to summer in a way I never noticed during my 18+ years of growing up there.  Now, I notice beauty even in the most unlikely places.  Cute kids, funny-looking dogs, flowering gardens....They’re really everywhere!


2.     Fall down.  Get back up.   Repeat.  Riley Cate is the poster-child for working toward mastery.  During our walk together, she bottomed out no fewer than three times for every ten steps.  The grass was uneven and crunchy.  Curb cuts were like climbing and descending small mountains.  Brick pathways formed obstacle courses.  I felt her pain!  But she is a determined little thing.  Let me do it myself or I’ll never learn!  She screeched when we tried to help her.  Now, with each new activity and exercise, I'll strive to match Riley’s persistence.  Whenever I learn a new skill, my PT Deb says, “Ok, get ready to do some PROBLEM-SOLVING.”  Her belief, and Riley’s also, is that there are no tasks that can’t be done, only those that haven’t been puzzled out yet!


3.    Know when to say when.  Riley and I are both still working on this one.  As a toddler, Riley gets crabby and puts up a fight when the adults know she really just needs a nap.  In a way, I do the same thing.  I’ve always been on the move.  Relaxing does not come easily.  Maybe Riley’s got some of my genes.  I’m tempted to plunge full speed ahead into my “normal” lifestyle, when sometimes even getting dressed pushes me to the point of exhaustion.  Riley’s pint-sized tantrums remind me that my body’s still in recovery mode.  I need to get used to a new speed -- one that includes rest time.  We scoop Riley up and put her in the stroller.  I need to do this for myself.

When I think back to where Riley and I were last winter, we’ve come a long way.  Progress has been gradual, and we’ve both still got a long way to go.   But that’s ok.  We’ve got time.






Monday, July 18, 2011

By Way of Explanation

Mile Marker 13:

At mile 13, I didn’t find myself walking under any ladders, nor across any black cats.  On the contrary, I was LUCKY enough to come across the answers to a few questions that have cropped up from friends, family, and followers over the past week!

Here goes:

Q:  How do I become a follower of this blog?  I can’t seem to log in or leave a comment.

A:  Ok, I did the “secret shopper” thing to figure this one out.  I found a few ways you can sign in and/or become a follower even if you don’t have an existing password from any of the obvious sponsors. 

The easiest way is to click JOIN THIS SITE, the very colorful rectangle in the right-hand column underneath “Walk with Me.”  When you click that rainbow-colored box, you will be prompted to sign in using your login from Google, Twitter, Yahoo, AIM, etc.  But, I get it.  You don’t have one of those – that’s the trouble.  Well, it’s really no trouble.  In tiny letters below that prompt, there’s a key sentence CREATE A NEW GOOGLE ACCOUNT.  You can use your existing e-mail address.  My advice:  Go for it!  It’s easy, quick, and doesn’t cost a penny.  It’ll be like the gift that keeps on giving!

While I was sneaking around, I also found 2 other ways to sign in.  In the top right-hand corner of your screen is a dark blue strip; on it there’s a SIGN IN prompt.  You can click on that and follow exactly the same directions as above. 

Another option is to sign in when you want to write a comment.  The COMMENT prompt is at the bottom of each post.  Simply click it, read others’ comments (if you want), and then write your own.  Again, it will ask you what system you want to use to sign in.  You have the option of creating a new Google account there also. 

Remember, 1000 miles is a lot of ground to cover.  So, leave a comment!  Conversation is always interesting and makes the time fly by!

Now that you’re all signed in, on to Question #2:

Q:  Is there a way to get notifications by e-mail?

A:  Yes, and I finally figured out how to put it on the blog!   There is now a section on the right called FOLLOW BY E-MAIL.  Enter your e-mail address, press submit, and enjoy.  I’ve tried it out, and it’s lots of fun!  (By the way, you will only get an e-mail when I update the blog.  New post, new e-mail.  No post, no e-mail!)  We’re all happy!

I hope you found these little hints helpful.  Feel free to jump in and share your own....

I’ll stick in more explanations as I stumble onto them.  Or when they cross my path!


Friday, July 15, 2011

The Other Side

Mile Marker 12:

I got the news today that someone very important to me was hurt in an accident.

With this news, I felt myself falling -- flying through space, really – and landing on unfamiliar ground. The other side.

When I studied filmmaking in college, one of the hard and fast rules of camerawork was not to cross 180 degrees. If a camera shot shifted 180 degrees, the viewers would be confused. They’d see a mirror image of what they’d seen before.

This is exactly where I’ve landed. My viewpoint has shifted over that line. I’m no longer the victim. Instead, I’m suddenly the person who cares, the person who can’t figure out what to do to help.

What does one do in this situation? Go about the normal daily routine? Get coffee. Pay bills. Get a haircut? The business of things, which felt so important and demanding before, feels so bare and meaningless on the other side of this line.

I talked to my good friend Bosco about it tonight. “When I heard what happened to you,” she said, “I felt exactly the same way.” She said it was late afternoon when my brother called her with the news of my accident. When she hung up the phone, she didn’t know what to do. His words echoed in her mind while she debated, “Do I sit back down and do my work?” And now, 8 months later, she can’t remember what she actually did; she says the rest of that work day is a blur. She does remember that evening, however, taking a walk with her sister. Talking it all through. Trying to make sense of it.

------------------------------------------------

When I woke up in the ICU, I already had flowers. They were from Matt, Dan, Debbie, Heidi and Carl -- friends near and far. I wasn’t sure how the news had traveled, but then cards started coming. Packages, too. Tokens from all the people who cared about me, but didn’t know what to do.

What these people (and maybe YOU) didn’t know at that time, was that these small tokens and thoughts colored my room and filled my heart every moment of every day. I looked forward to tearing open your envelopes! We used surgical tape to hang your cards and photos on the walls and sides of my bed. Your flowers and plants turned my window ledge into a garden. Battery-operated candles from my friend Shelley offered hope when my room was dark. A huge teddy bear in a Landskaters t-shirt took up permanent residence at the bottom of my bed, on the side where my left foot would have been.

What you probably didn’t realize is that your thoughts and wishes became the air that I breathed every day.

-------------------------------------------------

Fortunately, today’s news was that my friend is going to be ok. That’s really all that’s important, and I'm truly thankful for that.

Still, here I am on unfamiliar ground. I care so much, but feel utterly powerless. I want to help, but even with my experience behind me, I can’t think of a single thing to do.

So I’m going to follow YOUR lead. I'm going to send my thoughts and prayers and wishes, and believe that they will make a difference. Here, on the other side.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Family Ties

Mile Marker 9:

At 9 years old, I thought I was turning the corner of adulthood: I got my ears pierced. I saw Grease. I outgrew my poster of Shaun Cassidy.

November 9th turned back the clock.

Mile 9 is for my mom. Each morning at the hospital (coincidentally around 9), I heard in the hallway a rustling of shopping bags and cheerful chatter that told me she was near. My body relaxed with relief. Organization would soon take hold. Tenderness would takeover.

One day she arrived with a glint in her eye that told me she’d hatched a new plan. “I figured out how we can wash your hair,” she said. I was all ears. I’d been using that dry shampoo, the kind that makes your hair like straw. She turned on the faucet – it usually took a good five minutes to run warm – and then started unpacking her bags. She pulled the commode over to the sink, put a pillow on top of it, and covered it with a “chuck,” one of those multipurpose waterproof hospital sheets. Then, she helped me pivot on one foot till I was perched on top of the pile. We layered towels across my chest and put another chuck on my lap to protect my bandages. Yep, this was going to work.

In addition to shampoo and conditioner, she’d brought an empty plastic container, probably from a quart of Won Ton Soup. “Ok, lean back,” she said. I did. And from that soup container, came Nirvana. Warm water spilled from the ridge of my forehead to the base of my neck. My mom washed and massaged and conditioned and rinsed, and when I sat up I felt like a new person. There was water all over the floor, but the two of us were LAUGHING! A nurse popped in the door to check on us. “We’ll be neater next time,” we both assured her. I combed my wet hair and watched as my mom, in typical Mom fashion, went off in search of more towels to clean up the floor.

From 9 in the morning till 9 at night, my mom remained by my side doing everything she could to comfort me. She brought me books, cards, photos, pillowcases, and gossip from home. And when my pain made it hard to be alone, she spent the night curled up in the chair next to my bed.

Before surgeries, tests, and difficult news, we took each other’s hands. “Be strong,” we said to each other. “Be strong.” Her strength became mine. But, then again, I know it always has been.

Mile Marker 10:
I passed Mile Marker 10 last night with my dad -- my provider, protector, chauffeur, business manager, and very first walking partner.

From January to June this year, my dad and I had fallen into a comfortable routine of doctor’s appointments, trips to CVS, and grilled cheese & bacon sandwiches. We also took evening walks together.

But my dad will tell you that our walks go back far beyond January. Back to 1969, exactly. Then, I was a colicky, sleepless infant. To coax me to sleep, he strolled me around our apartment parking lot at unusual hours. One night around 2 a.m., a police officer in search of suspicious drug activity checked my baby carriage to make sure there was really a child in it. Or so the story goes.

Fortunately, our recent walks have been less eventful. We catch up with neighbors. We point out colorful gardens, unkempt lawns, and new cars. Occasionally, I trip on the sidewalk.

In the beginning, it was easy to measure distance; I could only walk as far as our next-door neighbor’s driveway. We were back home in a matter of minutes. With anyone else, it would have seemed a waste of time – why even put your shoes on? But with my dad, each trip felt like an accomplishment. A small, but worthy step forward.

As I made progress, we measured distance by the number of houses we passed – counting 4, then 6. After that we used landmarks – we made it halfway up the big hill; halfway around the block. When summer temps soared, we walked the corridors of the mall. Grilled cheese & bacon night moved to Ruby Tuesday’s.

After one of those walks, we happened into a Dick’s Sporting Goods and bought a pedometer. Interesting idea, we thought. How far could I really walk?

Mile 10, it turns out, is a marker much like passing the 10th house on our street. We know we've rounded a corner, but we also know there’s farther to go. Slowly, gently, my dad accompanies me ahead. For now, it’s just the two of us, and it's just an evening stroll.

Mileage so far: 10.92

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Efficiency Rules

Mile Marker 8:

I’ll keep this one short. I call my friend Matt an “efficiency expert.” He does his laundry, pays his bills, cleans his garage, and catches the latest game on ESPN in the time it takes me to write a “to do” list.

During our walk last night, I was hoping some of Matt’s efficient vibes would rub off on me.

You see, my simple morning routine – showering, getting dressed, and eating breakfast – has become a multistep quagmire. For efficiency’s sake, I’ll spare you the details. Suffice to say, when I've been too absorbed in the TODAY Show, I've pulled up my jeans and forgotten my underwear!

Last night, as efficiently as ever, Matt and I passed Mile Marker 8 at exactly 8th Street! We doubled back past the supermarket so Matt could pick-up a late-night dinner. He planned to eat while watching the All-Star game. I picked up a few groceries, too. After all, Matt offered to carry the bag! I'm not an expert yet, but I'm gettin' there!

Any suggestions? All efficiency tips welcome!

Mileage so far: 8.88

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Baby Steps

Mile Marker 6:

Yesterday, on the treadmill at Magee. I increased my half-mile time from 15 minutes to just short of 12 minutes. But I can’t take all the credit. My awesome therapist, Deb, has turned up the speed! I’m now walking at 2.7 – 3.0 mph. I practice letting my arms swing by my side. As long as I keep my eyes straight ahead, I’m fine. Just don’t distract me J

Mile Marker 7:

With friends and family, I ventured onto Kelly Drive and down the shore.

Today, reality hits. I’m walking to the mailbox. ALONE. Who would have thought that two blocks could be so daunting?

I channel my inner Bob. “Baby steps to the mailbox,” I tell myself. Remember Bill Murray’s character who tentatively stepped onto the bus, goldfish bowl securely fastened around his neck?

That’s me as I step out the door today. But instead of a goldfish, I carry my cell phone. Cautiously, I take a water bottle, too. It’s a short walk, but you never know.

I examine every crack in the sidewalk. Every curb cut. Every littered napkin and crushed soda can poses a tripping hazard.

I hear the words of my brilliant therapists and teachers.

“Big step with your right, small step with your left,” says Tim, my amazing prosthetist.

“Stay on it,” says Deb, my ever-confident cheerleader and PT.

“BREATHE!” They both echo!

So much to remember with each step.

------------------------------------------------

Rewind to February. Between the parallel bars at Prosthetic Innovations, I first stood up on the C-Leg. Pushing through the knee’s resistance felt like stepping through mud, but I didn’t care. I was walking!

Rewind to last December. I used crutches, and before that, a walker, both under careful supervision. Outside the therapy gym, I was in a wheelchair. But even that was independence.

And before that, in late November, I learned to pivot on one foot to transfer from my bed to a chair. A huge accomplishment. Like the king piece in a chess set, I could take one step in any direction. A blur of weeks spent in yellow hospital socks, lined with white no-slip treads.

And then there was BEFORE. My other life -- the one with two legs.

-------------------------------------------------------

After crossing one street, I pass a neighbor out on his step. “Morning,” I say.

“Gonna be hot,” he says. “They say it’s gettin’ to 100.”

I nod and continue on. Even this slight glance to the side has broken my rhythm. “Stay on it,” I say to myself to even out my gait.

And then…Land Ho! I see the corner up ahead where the mailbox should be. But wait! Where is it? It’s been 8 months, maybe it moved. The sidewalk looks freshly paved. Oh no!

“Recalculating! Recalculating!” says my inner GPS. Where’s the next closest one? And do I dare continue on?

I finally round the corner and, with GREAT RELIEF, see that the mailbox is there -- about 4 yards west of where I remember it, but probably where it’s always been.

I drop my envelopes in and head back. My job here is done.

When I reach my house again, I’m refreshed by the air conditioning as well as my small victory. I’m hungry – I feel like making a sandwich – but I realize that I’ve been gone only 7 minutes. How appropriate for Mile Marker 7.

As I said, baby steps.

Mileage so far: 7.34

Monday, July 11, 2011

Near the Beach

Mile Markers 3 and 4:

After my abdominal surgery in November, the surgeon told my parents, “Well, she’s gonna hate me come bathing suit season!” He was referring to the long, vertical incision and the metal retention sutures that covered my middle. At that time, they were all just relieved I was going to BE HERE for bathing suit season. Back in November, we couldn't conceive of the salt air, warm sand, or bright sunshine. We couldn't imagine anything outside the fluorescent lights of the hospital.

But now….Ahhh, the exhaustion that follows a day at the beach. I can feel it in every bone in my body, and even in some that aren't!

Yesterday's walk found me in Ocean City with my best beach buddies – Rocco, Susan, and Beth (“Bosco”). We paced the Boardwalk, as close to the beach as my prosthesis would allow. Think of it this way: Laptops don’t belong on the beach; neither do microprocessor knees.

So after soaking up the hot, sunny boards without the luxury of an ocean dip, we summed up the day with this list:

Top Ten Reasons to Take My New Leg on the Ocean City Boardwalk

10. It’s not as dangerous (or as WET) as skim boarding with Rocco!

9. I'm powered by Mack and Manco Pizza. That is, until the “food coma” kicks in!

8. My pedicure looks snazzy in sandals.

7. Kids think I’m the newest Transformer.

6. I’ve got a stumble-recovery mode for downhill ramps….Good thing because there are a lot of them on the Boards!

5. There’s a charging station at 8th and the Boardwalk. Really!

Thanks Verizon!

4. I glitter in the sun, even without sunscreen. Think Edward from Twilight.
3. Easy clean-up from ice cream drippings. It turns out I CAN walk and eat George's Ice Cream at the same time, but not neatly!

2. My leg doesn’t tense up on the Ferris wheel – unlike the rest of my body.

And the Number One reason for taking my new leg for a walk on the Ocean City Boardwalk ….(drum roll please) …. SHE’S A C-LEG!!! (Hee hee…get it??)

Mile Marker 5:

Good friends, good food, good miles. No bathing suit necessary. As we reached the car, my energy flagged. Exhaustion kicked in.

Someday, we’ll be ON the beach – but that’ll require a specially-designed leg and another learning curve.

For now, I covered 5 miles in two days – the MOST I’ve ever walked in my prosthesis. Bring on the next 995. Just don’t get my leg sandy!

Mileage so far: 5.10