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, October 8, 2012

Stitch(es) in Time


Mile Marker 676:

It's been a rough few miles.   One minute I'm buying hiking shoes, and the next I'm buying time before my 15th surgery.  

Autumn opens with a stretch of great walking weather.  I'm finally back to school.  My house sells quickly.  For a solid week, everything's going my way!

I'm walking!
Take that, PPA!
One afternoon, I leave my car behind and venture ON FOOT to run errands in the city.

At City Sports, I stumble on a pair of Merrill hiking shoes.  They’re gentle enough for sidewalks but sturdy enough for hiking trails.  Best of all, they've got traction for bad weather.

A cool guy named Taylor brings out my shoe boxes.  We start talking as I size up each pair with my right foot, then test the heel-to-toe pitch with my Genium. 

When I tell him the story of my leg, Taylor tugs down the neckline of his t-shirt.  He reveals a fist-long scar across his shoulder.  He was in a bike accident, too – just 5 weeks earlier.  He spent 2 weeks in the hospital and almost lost his arm.  Like me, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  And like me, he was protected by his helmet.

“I’m lucky to be alive,” he tells me.

It sounds like a song I used to sing.

This summer wasn't easy.  It's been months since I've viewed my life with such clarity and optimism.  But in that moment, navigating the city on foot, standing there in my new hiking shoes, I can't help but agree with him.

I am lucky to be alive.


Mile Marker 682:

Between shoes and surgery, there is a family-filled weekend.

My parents' house is overrun by kids.  Dad (a.k.a. Pop-Pop) barbecues burgers in the backyard.  For dessert, there's a birthday cake with my name on it!

Yo Gabba Gabba plays nonstop on the T.V., and there are endless choruses of Ring Around the Rosie in the living room.

Baby Brennan watches his "big" cousins, wide-eyed.  
Before dinner, a bunch of us take the kids to see the donkeys at the end of the street.



It's a quick walk, but with toddlers and dogs, our pace is more like shepherding sheep.
  


In her 2-year-old ragtag way, Riley Cate tells us when she's had enough.  I'm glad.  I'm ready to turn back, too.



By Sunday morning, my stomach pains push through.  I wake up worried, frustrated, and ANGRY.  So I push back.

I drag myself out for a hike with Mark, Andy, Nina, and Jack.  Sunshine spreads through the trees, and the Wissahickon air is a fresh change of pace.

To top it off, my new shoes perform well.  With a walking stick -- and lots of cooperation -- we make our way through mud, down hills, and over rocks.   

I get by with a little help
from my... brothers :)
Nina and I guide
each other
across the dreaded pipeline!


We wrap up the afternoon with cheesesteaks from D’Allesandro’s.

And it's all uphill from there.


Mile Marker 698:

The next 5 days bring intense pain, sick time from work, a trip to the hospital, and finally surgery.

Dr. J stands beside my gurney.  Here we are again.  In pre-op.

I’m in a blue gown, covered with layers of heated blankets.  I have one of those sterile shower cap things on my head.  You’d think by the 15th time, this would all be routine.  But I'm jumpy and close to tears.

“Relax,” he says.  “When we’re finished you can have all the ice cream you want.”

I raise my eyebrows.

“Oh wait," he jokes.  "That’s for tonsils!”

Ha ha.  I smile nervously.

I trust my team implicitly, but I can’t help imagining the things that could go wrong.  Slights of hand. Shifts of attention.  Infections or bleeding that could end things way too soon.

When the anesthesiologist wheels me toward the Operating Room, I’m more alert than usual. 

“Shouldn't you give me that stuff that makes me sleepy?” I ask.  He stops, mid-roll, to squeeze a syringe into my IV.  I am such a control freak.

As we come through the doorway, the OR is bright and cold.  And much smaller than I remember.

A nurse named Nancy greets me warmly.  “I remember you from when you first came in!” she says.  “We almost never get to see our trauma patients again!” 

She asks if she can give me a hug.  Of course, I say yes.  You can never have too many friends in the Operating Room.

When I wake up 6 hours later, there’s PAIN.  Lots of it.  Dr. J tells me things went well -- how many of my surgeons had hands in this operation -- but I won’t let him get a word in. 

“It hurts so much,” I mumble over and over in a fog of anesthesia.

They switch my meds, and the pain dulls.


Mile Marker 700: 

Four days later, it’s time to put my prosthesis back on.

Stitched up, I can barely bend over, so I teach Mom to work the pull-bag, tugging gently right then left.  Later, I teach nurse Sarah.  As a morale-booster, Prosthetist Tim stops by for a visit.

At first my whole body is swollen with fluid, so it’s tough to get in the socket.  The next day I’ve lost weight and volume, so it’s tough to stay in the socket.

Legs unsteady, I inch slowly down the hallway, a pillow clutched to my abs.  It feels like I'm walking on stilts.  It feels like my insides are going to fall out.

When I start on clear liquids (yes, again), Deb and Mark stock me with tea from Dunkin' Donuts.  Lemon and extra sugar.

One day after school, Chase and Shawn come by with belated birthday treats.  I missed our "night out," but we'll have another one.  My room fills up with flowers, balloons, and cheer.  I absorb the energy.


Before this surgery, I proclaimed to my family and nurses, “Number 15 is The Fix!”

It seemed so simple at the time, but now I’m not so sure.  Recovery is a gray area.  It’s like a big waiting room -- at my parents' house -- where I lay around reading books and magazines, unsure when things will get better.

One slow afternoon, Mom takes me out to Barnes and Noble.   I try to ignore the tugging in my abs, the fatigue that weighs me down, and the wiggling in my very loose prosthesis.

I browse through fiction, focusing on each title and cover.  Customers walk by me.  To them, I look no different than anyone else.

They don't know how TORN APART I am on the inside.

Surgery number 15 may indeed be "the fix," but the mere existence of a 15th surgery has opened my eyes to something else.  I've realized my surgeons are not Gods or magicians; they are just very skillful humans.  They do their best to unclog and untangle, patch and mend, but in the end the fix might not last forever.

I wonder what the 700's have in store.  I want to pick up where I left off --  To get back to work.  To search for a new place to live.

To be proud and productive.
To remember EVERY DAY how lucky I am to be alive.
And of course --  To have all the ice cream I want.  (Tonsils or not, it couldn't hurt!)

Thanks to Andy, Nina, Mark, and Dad for this post's photos!

4 comments:

  1. Wow. It's been a busy month. But it's not just luck, determination and optimism play a role too - and fortunately you've cornered the market. Keep pressing forward, and when you are up for another hike, Jack and I will be ready to go. (and if you decide you can't finish your ice cream, I can probably help with that, too.)

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  2. I was happy to see your new posts today; so glad I checked the site. Although it would appear that you've gone through an unimaginable amount of pain and struggling (for which I am saddened to read), it just made my day to recognize the familiar undertone of your strong spirit that is NOT going to give up. Surely we all hope the 700's will bring brighter days with less pain, a better fit in the socket, etc... but there is no disputing that you are working hard, being productive and should be proud each and every day through this journey. Healing physically and emotionally like you're doing, day after day, is more difficult than most people's work. Please don't forget that during these times. Number 15 was the fix, but it was also a doozy by the sounds. Thinking of you often and praying for comfort and patience during your healing.

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  3. So glad that you're on the mend. I think of you often and so admire your grit and day by day take on things. I think that #15 will be it! I am always around whenever you need a visit or a delivery.

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  4. I'm convinced that the trip to Little Pete's (and Mary Lou)solidified "The Fix". Solid food, solid fix, solid future. "The fix is in."

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