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, September 17, 2012

Backtrackin' - Part 2

Mile Marker 661:
                     
To quote one of the biggest bigwigs at the Constitutional Convention,
"When you're finished changing, you're finished."

Wise one, that Ben.

Almost 240 years later, my dad's car idled in the darkness of 5th Street and Washington Avenue.  It was 3 a.m. on August 20th, and we were headed back to the hospital.

Mom and Dad sat quietly in the front seat.  In the backseat, I shivered -- sweatshirt hood pulled over my head -- huddling over a doubled plastic Target bag.  Every now and then, my mom would turn around and say, "You all right?"  I answered through gritted teeth.  It took every ounce of energy to keep the contents of my stomach where they were supposed to be.

But as we waited for the red light to turn green, the three of us fell silent.  We stared out the window at the patch of blacktop where this story all began.


I am home from the hospital less than two weeks when I'm drawn back there.

Each weekend this summer (not counting hospital stays) there's been a team effort to get my house ready for sale.  Brother Stephen patches walls, spackles holes, and touches up 6 different paint colors.  Mom and I declutter my shelves and cabinets.  Dad supplies the boxes.  Mark lugs them down to the basement.  Friends Jen, Mary, and Chris lend hands in the garden.

On this particular afternoon, I have just finished meeting with my realtor, Melinda.  The house is finally showroom ready.  In less than a week, it'll "go live" on the market.

When Melinda leaves, I do not fall into a soggy wreck on the freshly fluffed couch pillows.

Instead I head out the door.

I walk in a pattern of norths and wests.  The trees and stair rails line up evenly against the late day sun.  The pavement rises and falls familiarly under my feet.

I am BACKTRACKING, again.

Five seashells click against each other in my pocket.  They press against my thigh – the right one -- the one not encased in carbon-fiber.

It’s a hot day, but I stay on the sunny side of the street where my prosthesis works with the slope of the pavement.  The sweat'll loosen my socket, but my steps will be less clumsy.

I peer out past the parked cars.  My eyes follow the bike lane.

This was my path every morning for 4 years.

Along the sidewalk, things have changed.  A lot.  I pass a new restaurant with outdoor tables.  A hair salon “opening soon."

When I reach the main intersection, the firehouse doors are open and two shiny fire trucks stand waiting.  

I wait too -- through a flashing walk signal and then a red light, until the walk signal begins again.  For this wide 4-lane street, I need a fresh start to cross.

Finally, I trudge down the last two blocks of Washington Avenue, directly into the sun.  My shoulders tense like I'm heading into a job interview.  Or surgery.

This never gets easier, and it never feels normal.

I pass a row of low-income housing.  A burst of pink flowers.  A young couple, maybe on their way to happy hour or a movie.

I squint into the sun until I’m just footsteps away.

When I reach 5th Street, I stop.  Stand still.  Make myself breathe in and out.  The quiet spreads over me, like it did in the car in the middle of the night.

I take inventory.  There's a handful of people waiting for the bus.  And the building coated in scaffolding last fall is now almost complete.  It will be condos, I think.

Finally, I turn my eyes to the street.  To the white lines of the crosswalk, the worn metal of the manhole covers.  Now that I've seen the police photos, I know exactly where I fell. 

Soon I'll sell my house and move.  But no matter where I go, this place will always belong to me.

Finally, I pull the shells from my pocket and set them down gently beneath the edge of the lamppost.  (I'm not brave enough to put them out in the street alone.)

On the way home, I glance back from the far side of Washington.  Allow myself one more look.   When I go, it’s like leaving a piece of myself.

I wasn't sure I could make it this far on foot.

Much has changed this year.  But what I left behind is still the same.


Mile Marker 669:

You might think this story doesn't fit here, after the serious mile marker above.  But this is how each day goes.  Mourning fades into afternoon, hospital trips into field trips, seashells into donuts.

Our long time family-friend Ellen is in town from California, and she wants to walk!

How can I refuse?  Ellen's known me since before I learned to walk -- ahem, the first time.  And she's been following my recovery closely – even from 3,000 miles away.

Also, I'm on a "see-food" diet.

I am not feeling my best, but Federal Donuts is.  Chef Alec tells us their Apolonia Spice donut has been voted the “2nd must-have food” in Philly.

“What’s the first?” I ask.

He answers, “Roast pork from Tony Luke’s.”

(In Philly, to go up against roast pork, you have to be good!)

We're even more impressed when Alec hands over 3 donuts for the price of one.   He wants us to try every flavor.

Our favorite is vanilla lavender.  But in my humble opinion, they are all better than roast pork. 

I nibble as we walk.  On days like this, when it feels like there's a spiked dog collar around my middle, I take the eating slow.  I can't help imagining how each bite will look coming back through the NG tube.

But it's ok.  Mom, Ellen, and I catch up on news.  Relive stories from growing up.

And we get an open invitation to California.

“How are the hospitals out there?”  I ask, only half-joking.

We all know I can’t plan a vacation right now.  I can't even plan beyond an hour or two.

But we surprise ourselves by walking all the way to South Street.  Almost 2 miles round trip.

Things do change -- for better and for worse.  After all, Ben Franklin and company didn't write the Constitution all at once.

No worries, Ben.  I'm not finished changing yet.

3 comments:

  1. I don't who said this, "there is nothing certain in life but change". Those donuts sound yummy :)

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  2. My heart was pounding and my anxiety level was increasing as your words and photos took me toward the corner that will always belong to you. We'll miss your house, but part of what made your house fantastic was you. So, we'll continue to have great times at your new home.

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  3. It's been quiet, Rick ... I came over here to see if I missed a post or something. Hope you are doing well after your latest surgery. I miss you and I miss your writing. Hugs!

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