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!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Relativity

Mile Marker 521:

It feels like lunch in Italy.

Diane sits across from me over a table of balsamic-drizzled figs, fresh mozzarella, ripe avocado, and frilly arugula.  
 
You’d never guess that we’re down the street from Prosthetic Innovations.

You’d also never guess that we’re both in PAIN.

I met Diane just a year ago, yet we buzz away like old pals.  I’m a "left above-knee."  Diane’s a "right."  In a three-legged race, we'd make a wicked good team!  (Or a dangerously bad one!)

The conversation flows from travel, to family, to wearing a prosthesis.  On every topic, we find ourselves nodding and agreeing.

But especially on this one:  COMFORT IS RELATIVE.


It’s taken me more than a week to get this blog post up.  I've rewritten it from so many angles it's making me batty.  And I’ve avoided finishing it -- not because of writer’s block -- but because I'm afraid that if I focus on the pain, I'll never get anywhere.

Yet it's a part of every mile.

So I'll start with a question:  How far could you travel with a stone in your shoe?

Now imagine that the stone is actually a rock.  No, a slab of granite.  And it’s not actually in your shoe, but inside your LEG.  Pressing against the back of your knee, to be exact.

Well, not exactly.  See, you don’t have a knee.

Sound confusing?  Painful?  Frustrating, perhaps?   Multiply that by 521.


Rewind to a few days before lunch with Diane.  It’s early evening, and I’m heating up some leftovers to take upstairs.  On these – the most PAINFUL days -- I deliver “room service” to myself.   In my bedroom, I remove my prosthesis and massage my leg.  I eat dinner out of a plastic container, cross-legged (well, sort of) on the bed.

Once my prosthesis is off, some of the pain subsides.  The physical part, anyway.  Emotionally, it goes on and on.

I turn on the TV to drown out the rush of feelings.  There's ANGER about all that's happened.  SADNESS that that my life's come down to this.  FEAR that it might not get any better.  

The next morning I wake up with renewed hope.  Unfortunately, the pain rises early too.  It throws off my balance, so I topple over while watering the garden plants.  One minute I’m standing; the next, I’m lying awkwardly on the red gravel.  After that, I tread more carefully, putting weight on my right side instead.

The 520’s are FULL of moments like this.  The miles crawl by in a fit of stops and starts.  

I plod through the best I can.  But it's like inching forward when you're locked in a long, snaking line of traffic.  When all you can see are more cars up ahead.


To avoid discomfort, I shift my weight to the right.  But it's not a solution.  An ache spreads across my back and shoulders.  My right knee and ankle swell from overuse.

It feels like I'm driving a car with a flat tire.  And worse, I worry about damaging my intact, sound side.

But why?  you ask.  Why is there pain now, at this point in the journey?

It's a good question.  And the answer is, it's not just now.  Like most amputees, the shape of my leg changes.  The socket fit changes.  The nerve sensations change.  There is bone pain, and skin pain, and muscle pain, and phantom pain.  Some days are better.  Some are worse.  Some are just UNBEARABLE.

No day is perfect.  But this week was tougher than most.

After lunch, Diane and I head to our home away from home – Prosthetic Innovations.  It’s my third visit this week.  Diane’s second.

Tim acts like he’s happy to see us. 

With never-ending patience, he adjusts my prosthetic angle, alignment, and length -- yet again.  This time, he adds a pylon that offsets the position of my knee.  Then he puts me on the treadmill and sizes up my gait.

He encourages me to take step after step.  He tells me there will be BETTER days ahead. 


Mile Marker 524:

He's right, but it takes a while.

In the meantime, I go through the motions.  Chat with friends at the rehab gym.  Lift weights to strengthen my arms and right leg.  Spend a few hours at work.  

I don’t venture far.  
And I don't WALK anywhere.

When I need to get out of the house, I drive 5 blocks to Philly Java and stash my car in the dry cleaner’s parking lot across the street.  An iced chai always lifts my mood.

Plus, it helps me avoid something else I don't like to think -- or write -- about.  Pain is ISOLATING.

I'm a traveler and an athlete.  When I move, my mind unfolds with freedom.

I’ve hiked through vineyards. 

And snowshoed through the woods of Vermont.


I’ve skated over the cobblestone streets of Bordeaux -- and Philly. 



And canoed on the bluest water you've ever seen.
  
With movement, the road stretches ahead of me, wide open and completely clear.

But when I'm in pain, I see the world through a perpetually foggy windshield.  All that's clear is what's BEHIND me.


As Mile 524 draws to a close, Susan and Rocco come to the rescue.  With their help, my leg rallies enough to navigate the hilly sidewalks of Fairmount.

We make it to our friend Alayne's 4th of July party.

I catch up with the girls over a bowl of kettle corn.

Outside, sparks fly as the guys launch fireworks on the narrow city street.

 I don’t dash out to see them as I used to.  But I hear the snaps and booms.  They're energizing!

It's FREEDOM, Philly-style -- if only for an hour or two!





Mile Marker 530: 

“1, 2, 3, 4 -- no, wait!”

Landon bounces around the kitchen pointing to each person as he counts.  He’s figuring out how many of us need water ice.

He starts over again.  “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7… Yeah, 7!”  That's his final answer.

Then he starts in on the cups, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7…”

Landon is 4 ½ years old.  34 pounds.  40 inches tall.  And boy can he count!

Susan scoops out the icy treat – pale pink watermelon and bright orange mango.   Proudly, Landon hands a cup to each of us.

It's Saturday night, and we're gathered around my parents’ butcher block kitchen table.  Robert, Susan, Rocco, Jen, Chris, and me.  Landon is perched on Chris’s lap.  

It's hot and humid outside.  The sky threatens to storm.

Before they arrived, I was flat on my parents’ couch, icing down my right leg to control the swelling.

Now, I’m smiling and laughing.

Mile Marker 530 breezes in like an 80-degree day at the end of a heat wave.  It's as refreshing as water ice.

Through no feat of my own, the pain has mysteriously lifted.  I am suddenly and inexplicably MORE COMFORTABLE.   

It is not a perfect place by far.  But it's better.

That blurry windshield defogs.  I picture smoother and easier days ahead.  The idea is so enticing that I consider sleeping in my prosthesis.  

You see, comfort is relative.  But it's also FLEETING.  One good day does not predict another.  I don't want to start over again tomorrow.

But for now, I'm busy.  Through dinner and dessert, Landon entertains me with crayons and stickers.  We get up from the table several times to fetch markers, tape, and Ziploc baggies to hold his drawings. 

The conversation keeps rolling.

I tell Landon my robot leg has superpowers.
He challenges me to a game of Freeze Tag.
Touché!

It's not Italy or France.  It's not skating, or snowshoeing, or canoeing.  But it's better than where I was a mile ago.

And it's good to be moving again...

6 comments:

  1. Your strength amazes me more and more each day! God bless you on your journey!

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  2. From Day 1, your infectious and beautiful smile, positive attitude and unending supply of courage and determination have imparted optimism, reassurance and hope to all those whose lives you've touched along your arduous journey. Intentionally or not, you've protected us from the anguish, pain and struggle that sap your energy and endurance everyday, even on a "better" day, and from the enormous effort it takes to make your accomplishments seem so effortless.

    But it's the Clark Kent side of Superman... the "un-caped" crusader, the superpower without his super power.... that keeps us cheering him on. I'm so glad you were able to share the most vulnerable part of yourself - the part that you always manage to keep just outside our line of vision. I've said it before, but I'll say it again: You are truly a superhero, not in spite of your pain, but because of it... with or without the cape! XOXOXO

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  3. Ricki: I had no idea you still had so much pain. I see many better days ahead, but please know all your friends are here for you on ALL the days, good or bad. xoxo, Amy

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  4. I was completely unaware of the all the different types and level of pain that you are going through on a daily basis. When I have a blister on my foot or scratches on my arms from berry picking, it bothers me more than I care to admit. Just coping with multiple types and levels of pain each day would most likely keep me holed-up in my house on the majority of days if I were experiencing anything close to what have been, let alone the physical and emotional challenges of accomplishing all that you do each day. This was an eye opening entry for sure. You truly define courage, strength and optimism while adapting to and accepting a part of your life that is so different from what you had invisioned a couple of years ago. I can confidently say that I am not alone in feeling very inspired by you on a regular basis. Thank you again for taking us with you, one mile at a time! (Or nine in this case)

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  5. I'm glad that you came out on the 4th even if it took a little coaxing. Everyone was glad to see you. Also, nothing like some water ice and a 4 1/2 year old boy to lift your spirits. I think that he was also entertained by you. He did ask his dad when they could come back. See, I can write a comment without mentioning George's ice cream.

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  6. Prescription for a pain free day - surround yourself by the laughter of friends, the playfulness of a 4 1/2 year old, refreshing water ice, a light movie and the snacks to go along with it. Even if it is just for a little while, it sounds like a good way to spend a HOT day! To many more pain free days :)

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