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, July 25, 2012

It Could Be Worse

Mile Marker 545:

About a week ago, I read this post from the Amputee Coalition Facebook Page:

Don’t encourage amputees by telling them, “It could be worse.”  Amputees will learn on their own that IT COULD BE WORSE, and they’ll use this thought to encourage themselves throughout the day.

At the time, I didn't give it much thought.

 I had FUN on my mind.  I was heading out the door to meet my friend Elaine at 30th Street Station.

In the college dorm, Elaine and I lived across the hall from each other.  When she arrived (from band camp!) with her contagious laugh, we became quick friends.

But over time, what I've come to love most about Elaine is this:  She is ALWAYS Elaine.

Even when 20 years have passed between us -- even when some of those years weren't kind – our time together is just like it always was!
(...Except I hope not quite
as DORKY!)

Elaine hails from the booming metropolis of Lewiston, Idaho.  But last week, she and her family vacationed in New York City.  And she dedicated one day of that trip to see ME! 

When I spot her at 30th Street Station, she's waving, wielding a huge Elaine smile.  Already, the day is a victory for both of us.  I've walked from the car to the train platform, almost a half-mile.   She's navigated both New Jersey Transit and Septa -- an admirable feat for an Idahoan!

As we're departing the station, Elaine declares the day a GIRLVENTURE, a term she's coined for stepping out of her comfort zone.  I'm more than ready to agree!
We brunch leisurely at Sabrina’s, then catch up at my house for a while.

That afternoon, we explore the Magic Garden, one of South Philly's treasures.  It began as a rowhouse and vacant lot.  It's now an elaborate, eccentric maze of mosaic by artist Isaiah Zagar.

It also turns out to be a test of balance.  We stop and start, awestruck by the lights and colors that glint from the walls.  We wander over the uneven cement, looking up, down, and to every side.

Within the patterns, we discover words, names, and excerpts of poetry.

We locate holes that serve as glassless windows.

We find dishes, bicycle wheels, and old wine bottles.  We stare at the strange puffy “glue” that sticks it all together. 

The garden is both fascinating and haunting.

Like you’re swimming slowly through someone’s head, taking note of their thoughts and dreams – uncommon, artistic, and strange.

We come upon a set of winding, slippery stairs leading deeper into the “basement garden.”  But they're roped off because of rain water.  I’m relieved not to go down.

Within the labyrinth, three little girls play hide and seek.  When they stumble upon my Genium, they stop short, eyes wide.  To them, the robot leg must fit perfectly here amidst all this stuff -- just another oddity from the artist’s brain.   I answer their questions before pushing on.

Elaine and I spend our last hour together on the edge of Chinatown, sampling summer rolls and grape leaves at Vietnam Palace.  (She says these delicacies are scarce in Idaho!)

Finally, we end our journey the way it started – at the steps of the New Jersey Transit tracks at 30th Street. 

We talk loosely about doing a bigger Girlventure.  Drawing in other friends -- and their daughters, too.  Meeting up somewhere more central, like Chicago.  

Although it's tough for me to travel now, this day makes me feel like anything's possible.  Like things will just keep getting better and better.

Mile Marker 553:

IT COULD BE WORSE.  Over the next week, that Facebook post unravels like the paper inside a fortune cookie.

In a span of seven days, I need new contact lenses, a new phone, and new brakes for my car.  

But at least the WALKING's going well.  On Wednesday, I set a personal best on the treadmill:  1 mile in 20 minutes and 50 seconds!

Then on Thursday, I hear -- and feel -- grinding under the car.  I pull into a local gas station where a kid with a cigarette peers into the wheels.  He tells me my brakes are worn down to the rotors.

“Is it safe to drive?” I ask, figuring I’ll take it to my friend (and mechanic) Jim over the weekend. 

"No, you definitely shouldn't drive it," he says.  "But we can’t fix it till tomorrow.”

I compromise by driving to the nearest Starbucks.  There, I use my new cell phone to locate another repair shop around the corner.

While they work on the brakes, I pace back and forth, logging another mile on their short stretch of sidewalk. 

Unfortunately, that night things screech to yet another halt.

There’s a gas leak on my street.  At 9:15, the gas company pounds on my door -- just after I've removed my prosthesis.   I hop to my bedroom window.  The neighbors outside yell, “Gas leak!!!”  (Very helpful to my state of panic.)   As fast as possible, I pull on both leg and pants. 

It turns out there’s no gas leak in my house.  But the pounding on the door has triggered one of my deepest fears:  escaping in an emergency.

It's now 10 p.m., and I am in full blown "fight-or-flight" mode.  With the gas company drilling outside, I know I’ll stay up all night worrying.  So I fly.  To my parents' house.

“It was like my worst nightmare!”  I tell my dad.

He raises his eyebrows.  "Your worst?" he says.

He's right.  Not exactly.

The next night, I end up in the ER with a bowel obstruction.

Twelve hours of abdominal pain.  Two days with that dreaded NG tube.  Four nights in a hospital bed.

Saturday, 1:30 a.m.
Duane wheels me into my new home.

But it turns out, the hospital is an excellent place to remind yourself that IT COULD BE WORSE.

The nurses and doctors embrace me with care.  I get a room with a window.  They let me wear my own clothes rather than a hospital gown.

(Sneaky photo by Mark,
of course)
That first night, my mom sleeps in a chair next to my bed.  Nurse Stephany returns to the room again and again to suction out my NG tube with a syringe.

Dr. K and Dr. P keep a close eye on me.  The CT Scan shows this obstruction is in a different place than the ones last year.

"But I don't understand," I say.  "I've been so careful!"

"You didn't do anything to cause it," they tell me.  "And there's nothing you can do to prevent it."  On the surface, this sounds reassuring; underneath, it rocks with uncertainty.

When I start to feel better, the nurses disconnect me from the machines so I can take a short walk around the unit -- no easy task with an IV port in my hand and an NG tube dangling from my nostril!

I don't sleep much.  But I get halfway through a new novel.  I figure out the workings of my iPhone.  I watch endless hours of Netflix -- even if the hospital wifi isn't fast enough to sync the sound with the picture.

When I'm finally allowed clear liquids, Mark brings me tea from Dunkin' Donuts.

A handful of friends and family drop by.  On my last night, I even get a surprise visit from one of my favorite surgeons, Dr. J!

Two years ago, I knew nothing of NG tubes, prostheses, or IV cocktails.  And I definitely did not have the hospital ER on speed dial.

My friend Ashley -- who happens to be a nurse -- stops by my room at the end of her shift.  She tells me they only give out that ER phone number to "gold card" members.  We both laugh.


Special thanks to the staff of 7 West for keeping me comfortable and safe on this leg of my journey!  


  1. That does sound like a week that went from bad to worse. I'm so glad you made it through everything, with a laugh at the end. Hope the laughs stay for a long while!

  2. Please keep us updated... I'm so sorry that you are going through this.

  3. Sometimes, "Hang in there" just doesn't work. In all cases, we survive life's roadblocks, but sometimes well-wishers just don't know what to say. So they say that overused phrase. In this case,"IT COULD BE BETTER" seems to fit. And it WILL be better.

  4. Isn't that what brothers do best? (try to mortify us every chance they get, especially by snapping 'sneak' photos...)(-; So glad you're once again on the road to recovery, literally and figuratively, and outta that hospital bed!

  5. My very dear Rebecca,
    I was so thrilled to hear you were home and not much worse for the wear. We can hope this is the last blockage for a very long time. I always know when the lights are on too late next door there is something worrisome. Here's to lots of walking without any stumbling blocks......I am always thinking of you.

  6. I'm sorry to hear that you were in the hospital for yet another visit. I think you need Brunch at Little Pete's and George's Ice Cream and it WILL get better.