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, April 18, 2012

Australia

Mile Marker 418:

Some people look twice.

Others look away.

The officer writing our parking ticket wouldn't look AT ALL.

Her eyes refused to leave my face.

Even as my dad pointed to the 30 Minute Loading Zone sign.  Even as we insisted we'd been there less than 30 minutes.

Even as I balanced on one foot.

But I know how she felt.

I was always the "look twice" type.  Nosy, curious.   Interested in people, in a well-meaning way.   I was the kind of person who wanted to see everything.  To always learn more.

Until I had to look at myself.


Which brings me to Australia.
  
When the accident happened, it landed me in an alternate universe.

For months, an IV in my arm pumped potent liquids like Vancomycin, Dilaudid, and (ouch!) Potassium.

I drank nothing but icy cups of Gatorade -- and Boost, when pressured.

Prepping for surgery became as routine as brushing my teeth.

Home was a faraway place my family went each night.  Without me.

When I dared to peek under the hospital gown, my body was different too.

Four-inch metal sutures stretched like unraveled paperclips across my abs.   White bandages and thick tape wrapped both my legs.   A Wound Vac machine slurped and slurped to eliminate the infection.

Each morning, my mom helped me get washed.  We dipped the washcloth into a pink basin of water and gently cleaned my body.

I squinted through eyes that didn't want to see the damage.

There was only one spot where I could safely rest my gaze -- an oasis in this strange new world.

AUSTRALIA.

That's the nickname I gave the ragged patch of "road rash" just above my left hip.


As a city skater, I was a ROAD RASH VETERAN.

I'd slipped, tripped, and stumbled over some of the best streets in the country.

One summer while racing down the Ben Franklin Parkway, my skate clipped against my brother Mark's.   I fell hard, scraping the back of my thigh so badly I couldn't put on underwear for a week!

So while my newest piece of road rash didn't exactly please me, it was comforting in a familiar way.

And from my angle, it resembled the shape of... well, AUSTRALIA.

“How’s Australia?” the doctors would ask when they came in to examine me.  I’d smile.  A new nurse on duty would raise her eyebrows.  It became an inside joke.

Wheeling me into the operating room one morning, Dr. K said, “We’ll clean up Australia while we’re in there.”

It sounded like a campaign promise, but I knew what he meant.  When I awoke, that patch of road rash bore a clean bandage, and its dark flaky scab was gone.


There's a classic children's book by Judith Viorst about a little boy named Alexander who's having a ‘No Good, Very Bad Day.'   He doesn’t find a prize in his cereal box, and he can’t buy flashy shoes like his brother.

He swears he’s gonna move to Australia.

I know it's a little unusual to name one's road rash.  But the desire to escape is not.

I guess I just needed a way back to my old world.

And in the tiny world of Room 7206, Australia was the ticket.


Later in the rehab hospital, the nurses patiently taught me to change my own bandages.  The PTs taught me to massage and Ace wrap.

"Love your leg, Rebecca!"  sang Dr. L each day in her fancy European accent.

I finally found compassion for my new body.


It's been a year and a half.  All those scars are still with me.

Even the road rash.

It remains just above my left hip, a small pink mountain surrounded by a sea of pale new skin.

In the shape of – you guessed it – AUSTRALIA.


These days, without my prosthesis, I feel exposed.   BARE.

Like the whole world can see my wounds.

People look twice.  They look away.  Often they stare.


I don't blame that parking officer for her discomfort.  I don't even blame her for writing that ticket -- although we didn't deserve it!

"She wouldn't even LOOK at me!"  I said angrily, tossing my crutches into the car.  That was it.

As painful as it might be, I want to be seen as a whole person.

Prosthesis or not.  One leg or two.

Australia and all.

5 comments:

  1. Rebecca,
    Great post... one of your best (my second favorite after "You win some, you lose some, and some get rained out.")

    You still going to Magee?  I feel like I haven't seen you since around New Years... but I do keep up with your blog as often as I can.

    By the way, anyone who intentionally doesn't look at you is missing out because you are beautiful.

    Hope to see you around South Philly!

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  2. Ricki, I have to tell you one thing about when I saw you back in October. I was worried about my reaction to seeing you. I was afraid I'd cry. Or stare. Or avoid looking at your leg altogether. I was worried that the accident would put something unfamiliar between us and I'd somehow make things worse. But here's one of the many, many things I love about you: you made me forget. Sure, the first time I saw your "little" leg, I was sad and shocked by the reality of what you are going through. I mean, you look exactly the same with jeans on! But you showed it to me, you showed me Australia. You talked about it and didn't ignore it. And that made me feel so at ease, like everything was going to be just fine. I'm a bit mad at the parking ticket lady for not looking at you, but I get it. She was embarrassed. But if she KNEW you, she'd look at you and see you are the same as you always have been. You'd make her see that!

    Love your writing -- keep it up!

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  3. Ahhh, just two more reasons for us to dis-like the PPA... (1) that she gave you the ticket, and (2) that she wouldn't look at you. The witch. Just sayin.

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  4. I just wanted to tell you a story ... I'll never forget going to my long-time dentist after losing my leg -- on crutches with a pant leg dangling -- and not one person in the entire office said a word. I was shocked. We're a novelty to most people, even people we know!
    Diane

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  5. Sorry to hear about the PPA person. I guess some people just don't know how to act around you. That's not an excuse though, you're still a person - one leg or two. I guess sensitivity is not part of their training. If she were sensitive, maybe she wouldn't have given you a ticket! To me you're still the same old Rebecca and I hope that I act that way -not that I'm acting:). The whole situation sort of reminds me of when a cop car ran over my foot while skating. He stopped just short of running over the rest of me. When I got up, I said, "You just ran me over." He said,"Your skating group just ran a stop sign." I thought,"Wow, do you care if I might be hurt? Is running a stop sign justification for running me over? I know that this is different than your encounter with the PPA person, but it popped into my head as I was reading your blog. Just a little more sensitivity is not a big request. Hope to see you soon on eight wheels!!

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