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!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Act II

Mile Marker 436:

Places, everyone!

The theater lights dim.  The curtain opens.

On the verge of Mile 436, I take my place...  

...which happens to be in the backseat of my parents’ car.  I am riding among a mass of baby supplies, gifts, luggage, snacks, crutches, and a shower chair.  

We are headed to Vermont to greet my new nephew-to-be.

It may not be fair to the little guy to call this Act II.  After all, he hasn't even been born yet.

But in March 2010, we took a similar journey when his big sister -- my niece Riley Cate -- was born.  We followed the same rural, winding roads.  We stared out at the same sunset-lit mountains.  And with each passing hour, the same anticipation grew.  That was Act I.

Act II is a much different story.

The intermission has not been kind.  It makes me wish I'd never left the theater.

Act II, Scene 1:   I wear headphones in the backseat.  My mood alternates between angry teenager and know-it-all critic.   When we stop to stretch our legs, I unfold myself slowly.  Test the suction of my prosthesis.  Limp in and out of sticky rest-stop bathrooms.  Try not to slip.

Act I was lighter and happier.  I trailed behind my parents in my little Honda, thinking of baby names and James Taylor lyrics.  Winding through hills and farmland, I called my sister Sam and brother-in-law Gregg for updates on Sam's labor.  With each mile, I readied myself to meet my new niece.

Act I reached its climax as we dashed through the hospital parking lot.   Breathless, we arrived at labor and delivery just minutes before Riley was born!


Act II, Scene 2:  This time around, we arrive midway through Sam’s labor.  Things are moving slowly.  The nurse tells Sam to walk a few laps around the unit floor.

“18 laps is one mile,” she says.

Sam rolls her eyes.  Sweaty, uncomfortable, and tired, she does not feel like going anywhere.

“Come on,” Gregg and I urge.

“Do 10 laps,” the nurse says cheerily.

We let out a communal groan.  Ten??

But we set out anyway. 

My prosthesis pinches horribly.  Gregg is exhausted from lack of sleep.  But there's an unspoken agreement here – Sam is the only one allowed to complain.

After 3 laps, we return to the room.  The nurse accepts our effort, and we breathe a collective sigh of relief.  The walk is over.  

Along the way, we've somehow passed Mile Marker 436.


A few hours later, I watch in awe as my nephew Brennan Jack struggles his way into the world.  He has a full head of blonde hair, and his cry sounds like the tiniest goat you’ve ever heard.   He nestles into my sister as if they’ve known each other forever.

By evening, my parents and I retire to the hotel.  I am limping.  My leg has a new blister -- puffy, blackish, and scary-looking.  I send a text to Prosthetist Tim, but there’s not much he can do from 400 miles away.  Cut down your wearing time, he texts back.  Keep an eye on it.

Act II, Scene 3:  In the morning, I hop down the hotel steps on my crutches.  When we arrive at the hospital, I climb reluctantly into a wheelchair.  My dad pushes me through the long hallways toward the maternity unit.  

I focus on the the walls, averting my eyes from the doctors and visitors passing by.  I'm acutely aware of my cargo pants, rolled up to the ankle on one leg and to the (invisible) knee on the other.  For some reason, I feel more conspicuous than ever.

I want to hold up a sign that says, “I am NOT a patient here!”  

Instead, it feels like I'm wearing a scarlet letter A for AMPUTEE.


I wish I could go back to Act I.  At that time, visitors were limited due to a flu outbreak, so Sam and Gregg picked me to be their designated "helper."  I brought in bagels for breakfast.  I held Sam's towel while she took a shower.  I walked my fussy niece up and down the hospital corridor while Sam and Gregg dozed.  I cradled little Riley as the nurses prodded her for a hearing test.  I took photos.  I called the anxious grandparents.  I was able to do it ALL!

But this is not Act I.  

We finally reach Sam’s room.  I gather my crutches and rise from the wheelchair with relief.  

Someone offers me the chair by the bed, and I willingly take it.

Immediately Sam hands me baby Brennan.  Freshly bathed, his hair shines in the afternoon sun.  I marvel at his little hands – his narrow fingers and sharp nails – peeking out from the swaddled blanket.  I am instantly in LOVE.

I stay in that chair for the whole afternoon.  And in a way, it is enough.

But in another way, it’s not.


I have always been the big sister.  

As the oldest of six kids, I was dubbed the “mini-mother.”  By the time Sam turned two, I babysat.  I sang her to sleep with songs from my 7th grade musical.  I braided her hair for school pictures.  When I left for college, she closed her nine-year-old self in the bathroom and cried.

Now, I can’t even fetch her a drink from down the hall.

I'm no longer the competent, nurturing helper I was during Act I.   In fact, I’m not even sure what role I play now.


Act II, Scene 4:  The next day, in the Vermont rain, baby Brennan comes home. 

Still on crutches, I navigate Sam and Gregg's wet driveway and hoist myself up their wooden steps. 

In the living room sits the family’s newest “big sister” – Riley Cate.  At two years old, she is already a lot like me.  Outspoken, intense, extremely BUSY.

She points to the baby.
  
“Brennan,” she pronounces proudly.

Tentatively she touches his blanket, his golden hair.  She swallows him up with her huge eyes.

When Sam whisks him away for a diaper change, Riley bursts into tears!  She’s holding out her hands.  She wants something, but we don’t understand.  And she doesn’t yet have the words to explain.

Riley’s too young to know that this event pushes her into the next chapter of her own life.  Molds her into a new character.  Changes her role.

Guilt washes over me for being so selfish.   Act II has rocked more worlds than just mine.

Gregg takes Riley onto the porch and scoops her into her little swing.  It’s covered by a roof, protected from the rain.

As the swinging starts, her smile gets wider and wider.

All things considered, she’s handling this like a champ.  A STAR, actually.

She is going to be an excellent big sister.


Act II, Scene 5:   The afternoon passes quickly.  Mom helps Sam organize the baby’s clothes.  Dad helps Gregg reassemble the old Pack and Play.  

I sit on the couch, cradling Brennan in one arm and entertaining Riley with the other.


Too soon, we hug goodbye and hustle out to the car.

I search for words.  A parting line that -- in some small way -- will bridge my roles between Act I and Act II.  But at that moment, I can't think of anything.

So I toss my wet crutches into the backseat and climb in.


As we're driving home, the line finally occurs to me.  

It's from the intermission.  From one particular day filled with despair and waiting.  A day when I lay in my hospital bed sickened and weak, an NG tube slurping greedily through my nose and throat.  A day when I could barely talk or lift my head.

On that day, a small basket of flowers arrived.  In it was a little card that read:  Always remember you are STRONG, BRAVE, and AMAZING!

She'd signed the names of all our siblings and cousins, but I knew those words were really from Sam.

Little sister to big sister.

This is the message that fills the gap between Act I and Act II.  It's the line I can deliver right now, regardless of health or physical capability.

To Sam and Gregg.  To my parents.  To all the helpers of the world.   

To Riley Cate and others who -- like me -- are struggling to learn their new roles.

And to little Brennan Jack, who’s (hopefully) sleeping as I write this….

Always remember you are STRONG, BRAVE, and AMAZING!

Places, everyone!  Pull the curtain.  Dim the lights.  

The show is just beginning.

8 comments:

  1. You ARE all those things - strong, brave, and amazing. More importantly, you will always BE the big sister, or "head sibling" as we described you to Mom and Dad back in December 2010 when we warned them not to expect anything fancy for their anniversary that year. (I don't think they were surprised to learn you were the organizing force behind all the creative group gifts over the years....)

    You have taught Brianna the role of a big sister. And Riley was lucky to have you there showing her the ropes as she too, becomes the big sister. She is learning from the best.

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  2. Ricki- your words are so profound that they moved me to tears. As Mark said, you are all those things. This Lev show will have many encores and each time you will be out front taking a bow and we all cheer for you. By the way, did you know that HEART in Hebrew is Lev. No surprise to me.. XXOO

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  3. What an amazing post! Your honesty and observations really touch my heart. Congratulations on your new nephew - he's so lucky to have you for an aunt!

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  4. Enjoy Act II for what it is...Act III will come soon enough- assume it will be amazing!!!

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  5. I know I am only six days old, but trust me when I say please don’t doubt your importance. You traveled all the way up from Philly when you were feeling lousy just to visit me – just like you did my big sister. And you weren’t there just to visit, but were actually the first non-doctor face I saw, sitting there catcher style like Luis Ruiz (that’s right, I’m a Phillies fan) ready to welcome me to the world.

    I know you will be there as I grow up providing anything that I might need, and most importantly love. You will be the first one Riley and I go to when our parents are no help (except maybe to buy beer – that will probably be Uncle Andy).

    Your “role” is just to continue to be the most wonderful, inspiring, caring person that you naturally are. My parents can get their own bagels and drinks.

    Brennan Jack

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  6. Dear Brennan Jack,
    What a perfect first blog-post! Apparently you are already taking after your Aunt Ricki and her incredible, poignant, heartfelt writing skills. :o)

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  7. Beautifully written as always! Congratulations to you and you family on the arrival of little Brennan Jack!

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  8. "You are strong, brave, and amazing" is my mantra that I use at times when I don't feel like I can do something. I have used it to get me through some pretty tough times, including the delivery of Brennan (along with the mantra "You will never have to do this again"). I am glad that it helped you through the tough day you were having and I can't think of anyone who is stronger, braver, or more amazing than you! You are always the person I call when I need an ear to talk to and was so happy that you were there to share in Brennan's birth and first few days! He is so lucky to have you as his aunt and I am SO lucky to have you as my big sister! I love you!

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