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, September 27, 2011

Lemonade

Mile Marker 95:

I think Lemonade must be the little sister of Angry Cookies.

Less than two minutes had elapsed on the treadmill yesterday when my adductor muscle knotted itself into a stiff rope down the inseam of my leg.  “See?!” I said, "This happened over the weekend!  Now I have to stop, and I’m not even at three minutes!”  

My PT Andrew reached over and turned down the speed of the treadmill.  “Let’s try this.” 

My rope became a rubber band again.

At this new pace of 2 mph, I walked for 15 more minutes and passed Mile Marker 95.  The slower speed was key.

My new socket is cut and aligned differently than my old one.  So it fits better but requires increased muscular control.   It'll make me a better walker.  But for now, I feel like a beginner swimmer dog-paddling through the deep end.  

Making lemonade is to focus on the small things.  Scooping sugar and ice.  Keeping seeds out of your straw.  Muscle strength.  Pacing.  Gait.

Later, as I do mat exercises, I watch people making lemonade all around me.

A mom gently places a stick of cinnamon gum into her son’s mouth.  A dad keeps up an ongoing conversation with his daughter even though she can’t (yet) answer him with words.   An athlete with imprecise hands unwraps a breakfast sandwich.  Another gentleman walks back and forth, back and forth, between the parallel bars.

This rehab gym is a LEMONADE FACTORY.


Even last weekend when anger took center stage, the lemonade was there, cooling patiently in the wings. 

It was lemonade that made my new leg into an excuse to go shoe shopping with my mom.   Then lemonade stopped us at Starbucks just because there was a parking space -- the kind with the little blue sign.  

Where there's lemonade, there's hope.

But making lemonade is not as easy as it looks. 

It takes strength to squeeze those lemons, to push the good out of difficult situations.  And it takes sweetness too, to hold close those that you love.   It’s a lot easier to beat up on a pile of dough.   Or to hide away.

Angry cookies do taste good some of the time.  Perhaps they’ll even make me a better baker. 

But just as important, I realized yesterday, are a few sips of lemonade to wash them down.

Happy Birthday to my sister Sam, who has helped me find lemonade -- and laughter -- everywhere!  Especially in doctor's office waiting rooms!  xo

Mileage so far:  98.52


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Angry Cookies

Mile Marker 89:

On the way to Vermont, Route 89 is a good sign.   I’m usually dreary by then, contacts glued to my irises, teeth aching from Sour Patch Kids.  But the highway points to my sister’s house and the comforting warmth of arrival.  Route 89 means the long drive is almost over.

Mile Marker 89, not so much.

The last few miles have been uncomfortable.   Ankle-blades biting.  Sensitive spots pinching.  And something inside just burning and burning.

Yesterday afternoon, things finally came to a head.  Or more precisely, to cookies.

I’d tried everything else I could think of.

Went to PT.   Did exercises.  Drove in the car.   Met friends for lunch.  Read a book.   Checked my e-mail.  Nothing helped.

I need a long walk, I thought.  To get outside and start moving and forget about everything else.    But partway around the block, my muscles screamed from overuse.  I stopped to rest, already frustrated from the short distance I’d covered.   I plugged onward.   Finally, I rounded the last corner and limped back to my front door.  Defeated after only three blocks.  I’d forgotten that walking is no longer a respite.

In my bedroom, I took off my prosthesis and settled in to watch “The Adjustment Bureau.”  I thought a good movie might distract me, that some downtime might smolder the fire in my leg.  Two hours later, Matt Damon reigned victorious, but my ankle-blades did not abate.

Prosthesis on, I paced again with restless energy.  I wanted to run hard.  To pedal into a headwind on Kelly Drive.  To really MOVE.  But the impossibility of it all had me at a standstill.

I started to bake cookies instead. 

The kind of cookies that required chopping, and stirring, and lots and lots of bowls.  The kind that required tearing open 40 individual-sized Heath Bars and mixing, by-hand, three cups of rolled oats.  

And when the pain broke through, I added loud music.  Miss Saigon, if you must know.  (That helicopter scene is a great release!)  Go ahead.  Make fun.  It would just add fuel to my fire.

It wasn’t until I was washing dishes that I finally realized what was up.  Hands soapy, my mind wandered back to the movie I’d watched a few hours earlier.  Damn that Adjustment Bureau!  I thought.  They left me in the lurch.  They were supposed to give my bike a flat tire that day.  They were supposed to work the traffic lights.  Unless…. Could this all be a part of their evil plan??   

Damn that Adjustment—

And just like that -- mid-sentence -- my thought shifted to... Damn that TRASH TRUCK!   

Was this anger?

I am not an angry person.  I don’t like to be angry.   And I don’t like it when others are angry.

I like to fix things.  To find solutions.  I am a problem-solver.

Here are my usual thoughts:
I will read until I feel better.
I will work until I feel better.
I will rest until I feel better.
I will bake until I feel better.
I will ignore all this, and soon it will be over.

But there are no shortcuts here.
No easy fixes.
And no end in sight.

This is NOT the familiar haul up Route 89 in Vermont.

As I turned off the faucet, the house was suddenly silent.  My blaring music had ended. 

I grabbed my iPad and pulled up a chair to the kitchen counter.

Waiting in my e-mail box was an invitation to watch the latest Youtube video by Josh Sundquist, an inspirational amputee whose Youtube channel is one of my favorites.

Here’s the link.  It’s a minute long.


So, was this a sign that the Adjustment Bureau hadn’t forgotten about me after all?

I guess some days and some miles are just going to be like this.  Unpleasant and uncomfortable.  Even unbearable.

Josh's video spoke to me.

I, too, am not sure I can make it through a lifetime of having one leg.  Sometimes, like yesterday, I’m not even sure I can make it through one day.

But can I make it through a moment?  I think so.  

I can make cookies.  Angry Cookies.

And boy do they taste good.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Perfect Gift

MR. BACON!
A gift from Marla :)
Mile Marker 85:

Mile 85 unfolded
Like a true birthday fest,
Wrapped up with the people
And things I loved best.




Cousin Tray and I spent
A nice, calm Friday night,
With sushi delivery
To our restful delight.

Then Saturday added
More cousins and fun.
With Betsy and Zak,
Who’s a little past one.



And later that evening
I gathered my team,             And we toasted the future   Over Thai and ice cream.


When out on the sidewalk,
South Street came alive.
And a passerby asked,
“Are you old enough to drive?!”


A walk Sunday morning
With Mark, Tray, and Jack,
Tested out my new leg and
Tucked a mile in my sack.




And when our jaunt finished,
We hit “Pete’s” to rest
*Click to see the answer!
With the whole skater crowd
Plus an unexpected guest!*

(*Hint: Someone who's been here these 42 years.
Meeting each challenge with me, through love and through tears.)


Then my cake was alight 
With those bright dancing flames, 
So I drew in my breath --

And I wished for…
THE SAME!

‘Cause just in that moment
My wishes came true
And all I could think
Was a simple THANK YOU!

Some gifts come in paper
And others in ribbon,
But mine was a weekend
To enjoy all I’m given.

Thank you, everybody, for helping me celebrate my special day this year!  

I'll always remember
Mile Marker 85 and Birthday #42.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Candles

Mile Marker 82:

I want candles this year.   Lots of them.

I've sealed last September 17th tightly into a cardboard box and labeled it BEFORE.  All those wishes I made last year, torn and tossed into the air like shredded newspaper.

It’s the beginning of Year 42:  a brave and stable number, strong like a high school football player with shoulder pads and two muscular legs.

I am a mixture of thankful and wistful today.  Divided, hesitant, and slightly off-kilter, like my gait. 

So I'm sending wishes in all directions -- forward and backward -- To infinity and beyond!   This year I wish for my wishes to count.

My first candle stands for GOOD HEALTH.   This, I wish every time I toss pennies into a fountain and spy the first star.  “Good health for me and for those I love,” I whisper again and again.  Without good health, I’ve realized, life is so, so difficult.  But with it, anything is possible.

My next candles are for PEOPLE.  Those who’ve appeared miraculously in times of trouble and those whose constant presence keeps me holding on tight.  People who’ve powered me with medicine and technology, humor and encouragement.   From the nameless paramedic who told me, “Get ready, honey.  It’s gonna hurt like a %!@$&!”  To my prosthetist Tim who, after 5 socket fittings, still calls me a Rock Star.

PEOPLE like my parents and grandparents, sister and brothers, cousins, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephew.  Friends.  A tall, bright candle for each of my trauma surgeons.  There'll be so many flickering flames that my neighbor will call the fire department.  All you candles… You know who you are.

And along with those, I need two candles for GIVE and TAKE.  Because just when I fear I’ve drained my caregivers dry, they return, renewed with sunflowers, cards, and plastic containers to wash my hair.   To bottle up their energy would be to light the city.  My wish now is to trace that web backwards.  I wish for my turn to give.

I’ll light the next candles for STRENGTH.  One for each person I’ve met at rehab -- for Val, Dean, Dan, Frank, Sylvia, Michelle, Joanna, Michael, Ilana, and Zach -- and for those whose names I don't know.  I wish for their paths to be smoother and more clearly marked.  I wish them the force to push aside boulders, and tissues to wipe their sweat and tears.  I wish them Superheroes, like I've had.


I'll light another candle for TODAY and all the promise it holds.  Wishes for rest.  Wishes for play.  Wishes for crunchy leaves and pumpkins and the fresh smell of fall.  I'll make wish after wish to celebrate this new year.  Number 42.   The year that comes AFTER.  

And when the wax drips into the icing, you will know I’ve moved on to TOMORROW.

Tomorrow's candle holds wishes for new directions.  Ideas and interests I’ve only just discovered.  Wishes to spread my wings and branches.  To volunteer.  To join the teams that have embraced me with their momentum.  Tomorrow holds wishes for HOPE.

And when the dust settles, I’ll light a candle for YESTERDAY.  I wish to slit that “before” box open and let it know I haven’t forgotten.  To look into that whirling confetti mess and sort through those old wishes.  I wish to reassemble the pieces before they blow away.

And, finally, one candle for GOOD LUCK.  Of course.

I’ve heard if you reveal your wishes they won’t come true.  But I wonder, How can they come true if you DON’T reveal them?

I’ll need a very big cake this year. 

So get your sunglasses ready.  The light will be visible for miles and miles.  You’ll see it wherever you are.

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

Monday, September 5, 2011

Full Speed Ahead

Mile Marker 60:

I like to keep moving.  As an amputee, that means putting the pedal to the metal every single day.

It drives me into the ground sometimes, but I can't figure out any other way.  My prosthetist Tim says above-knee amputees use almost 60 percent MORE energy to walk than people with two legs.  Imagine if your car used 60 percent more gas, or if you lost 40 percent of your engine!

I gotta FLOOR IT if I want to keep up!

So, as I passed Mile Marker 60, it was nice to find a little stretch of road where I could shift into cruise control.  

Not surprisingly, it happened at Prosthetic Innovations.  They're my pit crew, cheering section, and home team all rolled into one.  There, having a prosthesis makes you fit in rather than stand out.  I get a turbo boost each time I go, but Mile Marker 60 topped them all.

There aren’t too many places where you can get a new outlook on life AND a new leg!

My new leg – the Genium – is truly ground-breaking!  It enables movement that most people take for granted -- like stepping over a child's toy or climbing a flight of stairs -- movements that are usually impossible for above-knee amputees.

And another cool thing -- the Genium is shorter than my other prosthesis.  That leaves space for a rotator, a switch that allows me to bend my knee in multiple directions.  An important detail for someone who's spent the last 6 months removing her WHOLE LEG just to change her shoe!

But if those benefits weren't enough, things really picked up speed when Tim started programming the Genium...

“So,” he said, eyes glued to his laptop screen, “We want to set a mode for inline skating, right?”

And suddenly, I shifted into overdrive!

We started examining the angles of the knee -- How far should it bend for skating?  At what point should it lock?   Without the muscles of my lower leg, I'd need resistance to push against.

I stood at Tim's desk in my sneakers and my shiny new leg.  I bent at the knees, trying to remember skating positions.  "How's that angle?" Tim asked over and over again.

"....I'm not sure," I said finally.  And then, “Can we try it with my skates on?”

“You have them with you?” he asked.

(Well, of course!  You never know when you'll need them!)

Notice how I can bend my knee
 with the rotator!
And that's when I shifted into CRUISE CONTROL. 

I geared up in a hurry -- like scrambling to get ready for a Tuesday night skate.   Then I stood there on the carpet with my skates tied tightly and my wrist guards fastened.

“Ok,” Tim said from across the room. "Go!"

I just stood there.

“Any directions?”  I asked.  He always had at least SOME words of wisdom!

He sort of laughed.  “Um....Skate?”

 Chris, who plays rollerhockey, emerged from the workshop to spot me.  And I started...let’s just call it propelling myself back and forth across the room.

I walked, staggered, tripped, and tumbled as we worked out the kinks.  But slowly, instinct began to take over.  This road was familiar even though the vehicle wasn't.  And an hour or so later,  I DID resemble a beginning skater!  WHOO-HOO!



It felt different to be in cruise control.   Putting on my skates made me realize that my inner GPS is alive and well, and trying to steer me back to where I used to be. 

Sure, it takes more energy to get where I'm going, but I'm fueled by a substance far more potent than gasoline:  People.

Like my Prosthetic Innovations team, who gives me the tools to keep driving forward.

And my family, who stays one step ahead of me so they can pave the road just a little more smoothly.  

And friends like my rehab buddy Michelle, who just returned to college.  On Friday, while I laced up my skates, Michelle attended her first swim team practice since her injury last January.  She’s driving this road too, and she knows how bumpy it can be.  But Michelle, I hope you're cruisin'!  YOUR bravery pushes me ahead, too!

You could call this Recovery Road.  It's mostly uphill, and there are more potholes than I like to admit.  Traffic jams are the rule rather than the exception.  And unfortunately, "Easy-Pass" just doesn’t exist.

But some days – though they may be few and far between -- I stumble onto a little stretch where passion takes over and cruise control is possible.

In those moments, it's just full speed ahead! 


Want to see my first skating attempts?  Use this link:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9Bz-0vFud8

(When the annoying ad pops up during the video, just click the "x" to close it!  Sorry 'bout that!)