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!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Handled With Care

Mile Marker 446:

Cleverness is a gift; kindness is a choice.
--Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, speaking at Princeton University’s Graduation

‘Tis the season for speeches and send-offs.  Everyone, it seems, is going somewhere.  Moving on.

Last Wednesday, I stood behind a podium as tall as I was.  The auditorium was filled with doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, patients, and families (including mine).

At Mile Marker 446, I was honored to be speaking at Jefferson Hospital’s Excellence in Trauma Awards. 

My voice echoed through the large room.  I talked about strength, compassion, courage, and hope.  I tried to explain all that my medical team had done for me.  How, for the past 18 months, I’d been handled with such CARE.

As the words unfolded, I studied the audience.  Nods, chuckles, even a few tears.  But was I getting my point across?

Near the end of the speech, I spotted a friendly face in the front row.   Dr. Nate.   He looked different in his suit and tie.  But then he shot me a smile and a quick wink.  Yep, that was him.

As a resident, Dr. Nate embodied what I was trying to say.   Day after day, his tall frame filled my hospital doorway.  His disarming half-smile calmed my nerves.

He became so familiar that I never even bothered with his last name.  Like Madonna, or Adele, or Prince -- he was simply Nate.  The Best Supporting Surgeon on my amazing team.

He set the bar high for newer residents.  I wouldn't let them touch my bandages or detach the Wound Vac machine without his supervision.  And he was a MASTER of distraction.   He used his sense of humor – along with a strong IV drip -- to keep me in stitches !  (The "ha ha" kind.)

But the moment I remember most came five days after my bowel obstruction surgery.   I just couldn't bring myself to try solid food.  I could not forget that excruciating pain.

With impeccable timing, Dr. Nate popped into my doorway.  “Want to see a picture of your intestines?” he asked.

He wore a mischievous smile.  It was lunchtime.

I glanced down at the untouched Salisbury steak on my tray.  “Sure,” I said.  “Why not?"

Nate bent down to show me.  In the photo, my intestine looked like a pinkish-brown zig-zagging ribbon, gathered tightly by a thick, dark rubber band.  Below the band, it swelled up like a bubble of inflated chewing gum.  The source of the pain.

Nate pointed to the evil-looking rubber band.  “See this part?” he said.  “It’s not there anymore.”

So that was it.  He’d given me proof.  My intestines and I were free!

With that picture engraved in my mind, I started eating.  Right then and there.  Sometimes medicine just needs a little extra touch.

When the awards ceremony ended on Wednesday afternoon, I talked with my nurses and doctors.  Thanking them for all they'd done -- however big or small.

"But I only took care of you a few times," said Nurse Leslie.

"You were there for me when I needed you," I replied, "and you're there for OTHERS everyday."

Nurses Julie and Deb...
Where would I be without them??

Each person at that ceremony -- doctors, nurses, patients, and families -- had stories to tell.  Snapshots of strength and sadness, courage and hope.  Small moments they remembered.  People and events that had come together to create HEALING.

I chatted with Dr. Nate, too -- this time, without the need for IV cocktails or intestinal photos.

I learned he has 3 kids.  I learned he’s a cyclist who often bikes to work.  I also learned that it's his last year here, that he’s leaving in June to take a research position at another hospital.

This third fact occupied my mind the whole way home.

Because when Dr. Nate goes, my hospital will lose a drop of its KINDNESS.  Just one small spoonful in the vast ocean that exists there.  But it will leave a ripple. 

As a teacher, I've grown used to graduations.   I know that endings are beginnings, too.  Still, not a day passes when I don't think about my medical team.  They are always there for me in the background, urging me ahead as I move on.

With Nate’s departure this summer, a new class of residents, nurses, and students will arrive -- full of enthusiasm and ready to learn.    

Pay attention, I want to tell them.  That bar is HIGH.

Because you are learning from the BEST.

Pedal on, Dr. Nate --
Wishing you a smooth road, a swift tailwind, and a safe ride!

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