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!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Go/No-Go

Mile Marker 357:

I don’t claim to be an expert on flying. 

I do know that in order for a vehicle to get off the ground, about a million things have to go right.

Altimeters, fuel gauges, fluxcapacitors... (ok, I'm faking it here).... But devices like these all have to be fully functional for the pilot to make that crucial GO decision.  

For the plane to take off.

I do claim to be an expert on airports.  I can tell you the best place to stop for popcorn at Chicago’s O’Hare* and where to find the best deals in Philly's SkyMall.**  

I navigated across Paris’s huge Charles de Gaulle Airport, decoding signs en francais as I ran.   And in the tiny airport of Burlington, Vermont, I heard my name announced over the loudspeaker when they could have just yelled it across the hall. 

Once, I even spent an entire night at the airport in Omaha, Nebraska.  (It was after my friend Elaine’s wedding, and I was with the Best Man, but that’s another story….)

Today’s story is this:  Traveling as a beginner amputee adds a whole new dimension.

Crutches, prosthesis, shower chairs…. Wheelchairs, hand searches, full body scanners… 

If the trip's to be a GO, each cog in the system has to be running smoothly.

So here’s the news from my personal flight deck --
THIS WEEKEND, FLORIDA IS A NO-GO.

I rented a shower chair and ordered travel crutches.  Reserved a wheelchair at the airport.   Even pedicured my toes.

But as any pilot knows, even the smallest mechanical detail can have huge repercussions.  If it’s not absolutely safe, the flight must be a NO-GO.

This week's detail is about the size of a quarter.  It’s not a piece of machinery although it is related to one.

A skin irritation.  What else is new?

Well, this one is.  And so is the prosthetic socket that goes along with it.

My new socket is called a “total suction” system.  It grips my leg without a liner.  It’s tighter around the hip area, which relieves pressure on the bottom of my leg.  Of course, now a new patch of skin has to adjust to the push and pull.

It hasn’t turned into anything serious.  In fact – with the prosthesis off for the past 3 days -- it’s healing up.  But at this point, there are too many variables up in the air.

Let me put it this way.  You would not want me flying your prosthetic plane.  (Not yet, anyway.)

Like a good pilot, I make GO and NO-GO decisions throughout every day, along every path, with almost every step.   At the supermarket, I brace myself during “produce misting,” so I don’t slip on the water.   At school, I hide out during bus dismissal so I don’t get plowed over by kids. 

Sure, the stakes aren’t quite as high as flying a plane.  But sometimes it feels like it.

Socket #4 brings new hope!
Last Friday, my new socket was ready for pick-up.  It came out of the Prosthetic Innovations workshop shiny, sleek – warm, even.  It was hand-crafted, custom-made, and fitted just for me.  I slid my hand over its smooth, black finish.

Prosthetist Tim helped me don it using a new “pull-bag” system.  I covered my leg with the blue, parachute-like sack.  With Tim’s guidance and tugging, my leg was suctioned into the socket.  So far, so good.

That night, I dreamed of running.

But on Saturday morning I had trouble sitting in a chair, and by Saturday afternoon an angry red circle had formed on my leg along the skin graft area.  I spent Sunday on crutches.  Mom came over to help me with laundry.  On Monday, Tim lowered the trim lines around the top and cut a “window” in the carbon shell to relieve the pressure.

Crèpes à la Cécile
Two more days of healing on crutches.  I sat tight in the house.  Plenty of time to finish schoolwork and enjoy crèpes with my friend Cécile.  

Plenty of time to make my GO/NO-GO decision for this weekend.

I hate to let my aunt and uncle down.  They’re the ones who sent me my “thousand miles” necklace just weeks after the accident. 

And it’s my cousin Tray’s birthday.  Last year, she spent her birthday weekend with me in the ER.   Since then, she’s lifted me up so many times with her bubbly energy; I’m amazed I’m not already airborne.

But it is just not SAFE yet.  They all understand.

Like a thoughtful pilot, I am choosing to wait.  It’s an inconvenience and a disappointment, but right now it’s necessary.

NO-GO.  I’ll take off later....
When all my parts are in working order.

----------------------------------------------------
FYI:
*You can find Garrett's Popcorn in Terminal 3.
**The Gap in Philly's SkyMall has fun travel-size scents for $4.00.

4 comments:

  1. Sorry to hear the trip is off, but I'm around all weekend if you need some company!

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  2. Just a note to say I'm thinking of you and sharing the disappointment that your weekend plans had to change. I am continually inspired by how you maneuver all the relentless curveballs thrown at you with such grace and such an upbeat attitude.
    Waiting is sooooooooooo hard. Please know we're all here ready to pass the time with you.
    You are in my thoughts all the time....

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  3. You are, indeed, an experienced traveler! I remember one of your 50 minute flights from Philly to Burlington, Vermont, rerouted through Washington DC with a six hour layover! And I often laugh at the thought of you rushing through the huge airport in Frankfurt, Germany, searching for your connection to France, when your entire German vocabulary consisted of one word: "danka." Air travel is always complicated by mechanical malfunctions, delays, cancellations, overbooking, gate changes, lost luggage and missed connections. Even on the road trips we love, like a simple 300 mile getaway to Vermont, we've encountered potholes, detours, car trouble, weather delays and Highway Patrol fundraisers! So, on a journey of 1000 miles... walking, no less... it seems pretty predicable that obstacles way out of your control will likely hinder your progress and hold you up. In fact, with the challenges of travel, it is truly amazing that any of us, eventually, ever get where we're going... but, on schedule or not, we do... and you will, too. I know it! "Sometimes the only available means of travel is a leap of faith."

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  4. You know, thinking about it, sometimes those diversions are half the fun!

    After all, without that 6 hour layover in DC, I would never have caught up with my long lost friend Amy! And the Frankfort airport -- where else can you buy a 5 EURO bottle of water?!

    As far as those Highway Patrol "fundraisers" -- They're not cheap, but they do spice up the ride :)

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