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, January 30, 2012

Crossroads

Mile Marker 315:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth….


Apologies to Robert Frost.

My crossroads happened nowhere near the woods – yellow or otherwise.

My mom and I stood at the corner of 11th and Pine, utterly perplexed.

Mom was perplexed simply because she didn’t know the neighborhood.  But my eyebrows crinkled.  I squinted north and south. 

I could've sworn this was the place.   I’d biked past here hundreds of times.  I'd jockeyed those trolley tracks.  I'd dodged those Septa buses.  I REMEMBER. 

But it wasn't there.  So I took my best guess, and we turned the corner.

These days, choosing the right path is key.  In my prosthesis, every step counts.  Even one block out of the way makes a huge difference.  

 
We found the coffee shop.  Turns out, it was at 11th and Spruce, not Pine.  

But as luck would have it, there weren’t any tables available.  So we moved on to another place – one I’d never tried before -- around the corner on 10th Street.


Sometimes you think you’re in one location when really you’re somewhere else. 

A good sign??

And sometimes, that somewhere else turns out to be a better place.


More CROSSROADS lie ahead.  

In the distance, I see them looming like a desert rainstorm or shining like a promising sunrise -- depending on the moment. 

These upcoming decisions are wide and far-reaching.  

They don’t cram easily into the narrow column of a blog post.   Or into an afternoon stroll.

Yet they’re also too important to leave out.

I want you to know where I am.

Like the hiker in Frost’s poem, I peer down each road as far as I can.  I crouch low and crane my neck to get a better look at each outcome.

To move or not to move?   To give up the house I've worked so hard for?  For the lure of a one-floor apartment that might make life easier?  To search for indoor parking?   To face the insurmountable task of packing up my belongings?  To buy or rent?   Rent or sell?

And the question of yet more surgery.  To repair my irritated leg for a better socket fit?   But to risk more anesthesia?  More nights in the hospital?   More time to heal?   To take this leap -- this temporary setback -- for the possibility of a better, more comfortable, future?

These are just a few of the paths that lay before me.  

None is life threatening.  None is critical.  None must be chosen today.

They are just many, many more BUMPS IN THE ROAD. 

Where am I headed?  What does the future hold?

These questions lock me in like the steel grooves at the entrance to a carwash.  They harness me down with their weight and gravity.  They pull and propel me forward, but off my original course.


Coffee wasn’t really the purpose of Mile 315.   I was actually on a mission to find some very special gifts.   

So Mom and I made our way along the shady streets to SOTA -- Spirit of the Artist -- a wonderful little craft shop on Pine, midway between 10th and 11th.

Incredibly, I found exactly what I was looking for.


Maybe the future will be FREEING.  Maybe it’ll be easier than I think.

I crave a smooth road.  One where I’ll enjoy the walk.
  
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Cheating on Winter

Mile Marker 310:

From my café table, I look out on the intersection of 2nd and Christian Streets.  But in my mind, I’m in France.

They have the same chairs here.  The woven wicker ones.  The beige ones trimmed in burgundy that wobble gently against the sidewalk. 

It’s harder to sit on them now.  I squat 3 or 4 times before I settle in comfortably.  I use my arms to hike my Genium around an iron table leg.  But no matter.

I’m dining outside.  In January.

There is something about this day that makes me feel like I’m cheating on the world.  That, despite all that’s happened, I somehow got the better end of the deal.  

I’m sitting with a chai latté and a sandwich in front of me, and this is what I’m thinking:  It doesn’t get better than this.

It's like I’m watching the afternoon float by in a fountain-studded marketplace in Draguignan, the first French  town I called “home.”  

I can almost see the shadows of children scampering between the tables while their parents sip cafés.  

The sunlight on the green, orange, and red legumes.  Its glimmer on the glass bottles of huile d’olive.  




In my funk last weekend, I dug up a French recipe for “Cheating-on-Winter Pea Soup.”  

I’d never tasted pea soup before.  I am not even a fan of peas.  But when my dad came to rescue me in the melting snow on Monday, we went out to buy the ingredients.

And on Tuesday night it all came together.  The first spoonful was like SLURPING SPRING!


Mile 310 was a taste of that, too.  

Really, it was nothing more than my usual jaunt up the street.  5 blocks.  20 minutes. 

Past the crossing guards, the playground, and construction sites.   Up and down those crooked sidewalks I write about so often.

I can’t say my leg pain went away.  As long as I wear my prosthesis, the irritation doesn't get better. 

Yet somehow, this sunny day gave me the strength to push past it.  At least for an hour or two.

When I reached Washington Avenue, the speedy WALK SIGNAL flashed its orange hand before I could even step off the curb.  Powered by the sun, I stepped off anyway. 

I knew where I was headed.

If you’d asked me when I left the house if I thought I could make it, I’d have told you NO.  But with one block to go, I could see my destination in the distance.

And there were tables outside!  All available!

When I told the counter clerk I'd sit out there, he smiled.  Nearby laptop tappers stopped tapping.   All eyes turned to me.   I just grinned back.

Did I not feel the cold??

A stroll in my Genium works up some HEAT.  I’d left the house wearing a hat and gloves; now I'd stuffed them into the pockets of my open jacket. 

But the first bite into my baguette – loaded with tomato, basil, and fresh mozzarella – confirmed it. 

Out here at my little table, I was cheating on winter.


Truthfully, there’s another reason I have France on the brain.  This week, five families e-mailed me about exchanging homes this summer.  To each, I sent this reply:  J'avais un accident avec mon velo.  Je ne peux pas faire des plans.  

"I had an accident with my bike.  I can’t make plans."

Traveling through home exchange had become a regular part of each summer.  I'd pack light, meet new people, and navigate my way around a new part of the world – on FOOT or BIKE. 

It was always challenging, but in a simple, straightforward way.  

Now it's curved and complex, like my independence.


I sat outside for a good hour at that café on the corner of 2nd and Christian, munching on my sandwich and doing schoolwork.  Changing position every now and then to keep the sun on my right side – where I could feel it most.

And on the walk home, I was reminded how the sunlight glitters off bike helmets. 

How it makes the wooden shutters of the row houses pop against the bricks. 
  
The sun stayed high, and the sky stayed a true, rich blue.  As blue as la mer in Frejus -- where I watched fireworks, summers ago, on Bastille Day.


Like France, Philly shows its own colors.

Even on the most ordinary of paths.

When I finally got home, I’d traveled a mile.  But it felt much farther.  

A respite from winter really can’t be measured.

There is nothing quite like a sunny day in January.  

There’s nothing like a WINTER FLING.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

My Upstairs Life

Mile Marker 305:

I am STAYING IN this weekend.

Not only because of the snow.  If it were just that, I'd call around for someone to pick me up.  To hang tight to my arm as I plant unsteady steps on the sidewalk.

I'd even try out those ice cleats from friends Davey and Carol.

No, the real reason I'm home are TWO RED LINES running along the bottom of my leg.

They look like a child's darkly painted lips after she digs through her mother's make-up kit.  But when I roll my socket on, I feel them.  And they are not lipstick.  They're fiery tire tracks!

It's a socket rub gone wild.

So for the past two days, I've been resting inside -- LEG OFF -- as my Genium recharges against the bedroom wall.

I've barely set foot off the second floor of my house.

Since Thursday night, I've worn my prosthesis fewer than four hours and walked only half a mile.  I am trying to heal.

I've saturated those red lines in antibiotic ointment, slathered them with magic cream from the dermatologist, and washed them gently with soap and water.   When I must put on my socket, I wrap the end of my leg with Saran Wrap -- my own bandage creation!   Not quite endorsed by prosthetist Tim, but it's doing the trick for now.

I expected there'd be days like these.  "Leg-off" days when I'd think about the places I'd go if I weren't sitting still.  The miles I'd log if I could walk comfortably.  If crutches weren't my vehicle of transport.  And if it weren't slippery and slushy outside.


This morning, I tied up the left leg of my jeans like I did last winter BEFORE I got my prosthesis.  Denim didn't knot too well, so I used a hairband.  The first time my niece Brianna saw it, she asked, "Why do your jeans have a ponytail?"

It's been a while though.  I forgot how hard it is to balance on one leg while you tuck your shirt in.  Or how many HOPS it takes to make your bed.

And the stairs of my house are downright treacherous on crutches!  Without the extra railings my friends Robert and Jim built, I wouldn't be able to go downstairs at all.

Even with banisters, the open-slatted stairs to the basement are strictly off limits.  So laundry stays down there in the dryer until I put my prosthesis back on.

Mostly, I stay upstairs.

But don't get me wrong.  The second floor of my house isn't a bad place to be.  It has all the luxuries -- TV, computer, even a mini-fridge and microwave.  When I returned home last summer, my family made sure I had everything I needed.

We anticipated UPSTAIRS DAYS ahead.


"Why not go out anyway?" my friend Jen asked last night over a plate of take-out sushi.  She told me she knew a girl who got around on crutches and one leg just fine.

It's true.  I've seen people do amazing, difficult things.

But I thought about how hard it is to get my crutches in and out of the car.  How impossible it is to push a shopping cart or carry a bag.

And I remembered how, last February, my crutch skidded across a wet spot on the smooth floor of a building lobby.  I fell down hard and fast.  Right on my little leg.  My mom had just dropped me off for an appointment.  I was alone.  And embarrassed.  And hurt.  And scared.    In a split second, I felt back at the scene of the accident.

The truth is, I'm AFRAID to go out without my prosthesis.

In just nine short months, it's become a part of me.  Sure, it drives me crazy sometimes, but in the way of a best friend, or a big brother, or a mom.

To be independent, I NEED my leg.

Without it -- like now -- I'm upstairs.

Up here, there are books to read, movies to watch, e-mail to answer, and bills to pay.  There are cookies, and crackers, and mugs of tea.

It's a cozy place to be on a snowy, icy day.  But I don't want to make it a habit.

700 miles in 10 months is a lot more ground to cover.

So I'm hoping for speedy healing tonight.

And I'm keeping plenty of Saran Wrap on hand for tomorrow.


Sending healing thoughts to friends and family tonight, too.   xo


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Kidding Around

Mile Marker 298:*

Remember those raucous relay races from gym class?

How in t-shirts and shorts, we lined up single file along the polyurethane floor?   And how we all let out a choral groan as the teacher set down wooden blocks, two at a time, on opposing sides of the gym?

How the first person took off like bullet as the whistle blew?  Scrambled across the room, grabbed one block, ran it back to the starting line, and then set out to do the same thing over again?   How we all leaned sideways -- our hands outstretched -- bubbling with energy to run the exact race in reverse?

Were we crazy?

If you've never experienced a shuttle run, you can breathe a sigh of relief.  You escaped a rite of passage in the elementary school curriculum.

But I must point out you also missed a bit of FUN.


On Sunday – the coldest afternoon so far this winter --  I met up with my young friends Eric and Chad, who were happy to be enjoying a holiday weekend away from their Tennessee grade school.   They were staying with their parents, my friends Marla and Tim, at a hotel in Delaware.

The temperature outside hovered around 20 degrees, so we brainstormed a way to log a mile together --INDOORS.

Chad suggested walking on every floor.  Then Eric thought of tagging the wall at the end of each hallway.   

The “Sheraton Shuttle Run” was born!

The five of us eagerly hopped into the elevator and pressed 2.  The whistle had sounded.  We were off.

But I move slowly.  And like kids too wise for their years, Eric and Chad spotted the monotony of this game before we'd even reached the third floor.    

So we began taking big steps and small ones.  Tim turned Chad upside-down.  Eric cross-checked him into the wall.   We crab-walked and walked backwards.  They ran ahead.  My Genium and I leaped like a clumsy ballerina to keep up.

By the fourth floor we became detectives, noticing variations in the heating system, examining each hallway for minor aberrations in wallpaper and doors.  We spotted a double helix pattern on the carpeting.  We read graffiti scribbled on housekeeping carts.

Somewhere around the fifth floor, we came up with an idea that would rock the hotel world!  A room with a see-through floor so you could watch guests swimming in the hotel pool below.  (And then, of necessity, we invented a retractable “floor curtain” so the swimmers couldn’t watch you getting dressed above them!).

Between floors in the elevator, I knelt down to stretch my hip.  Like good sports, Eric and Chad followed suit.

In 35 minutes, we paced out ALL 7 STORIES.  Twice.

And when our journey was complete, we’d done ONE MILE.


I don’t get to see these guys often, but Marla and I grew up together.   We burned paper plates in the microwave, trampled around France, and stayed up all night laughing more times than I can count.  Marla knows the value of fun.  And clearly, she’s taught her boys well.

It was a good reminder to me, too.

Day to day, life isn't always fun.  But it was nice to escape on Sunday.  

What began as an afternoon with out-of-town friends became a mini-vacation.

We all know shuttle runs don’t get you anywhere -- physically.  But mentally, it seems, they can take you miles!

Maybe they're not just kids' stuff!

*By the way, it was actually Mile 298, but the room numbers didn’t go up that high.  So the boys chose the 305 sign instead.  What can I say?  They're kids...


Don’t want the fun to stop?   

Check out the new CONTACT ME e-mail at the top of this page.  Now, with a click, you can drop me a line!   So send a message, make a date for walking, or just say HI!  If you’re having trouble leaving comments on the blog, send them to me, and I’ll post them for you!

Stay tuned for the 300’s….  No kidding!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

In Training


Mile Marker 288:
Wanted: 
Talented, tireless team of trainers for “WILL-BE” walker/ runner/ biker/ skater. Bionically-equipped.  Ready, willing, and (usually) able….


I’ve been trying to write this blog post for almost a week.

Since last Monday, to be exact.  That was the day I woke up bolstered by a case of the "I WILL"s:

I WILL WALK.
I WILL RUN.
I WILL BIKE.
I WILL SKATE.

I WILL move beyond baby steps.

I WILL leave my car behind to take back the life that used to be mine.



You see, last weekend I read Matt Long’s book, The Long Run, cover to cover.

With his inspiring story, Matt Long convinced me that all these things are possible.


So early Tuesday morning, I put on my sneakers determined to walk for 15 minutes before work. 

Unfortunately, on Wednesday morning it took me 3 hours just to don my prosthesis.  I spent the rest of the day at Prosthetic Innovations.

Thursday opened with reborn positivity and a brand new socket to try.  Surprisingly, I walked smoother and faster!   

Then came Friday.  Yesterday.  No comfort to be found.  At all.  The whole day long.


I do believe I will walk, run, bike, and skate again.  But for the life of me, I cannot imagine HOW.
 


How can I move forward when one day of pain plows me over?  

When "I WILL" turns so easily into WILL I?


Matt Long is a New York City firefighter, marathon runner, and Ironman. 

One cold morning in December 2005, he was riding his bike to work when he was run over by a 20-ton bus making a right turn. 

His body became entangled with his bike.  A team of surgeons rebuilt him from shoulder to abdomen to toe.

No, Matt did not physically lose a limb.  But his injuries were so severe, their effects so lasting, that he's traveled a similar journey.

In his second year of therapy -- while still struggling to walk -- Matt decides he WILL run again. 

Last Saturday afternoon, I read Chapter 15 of The Long Run.  And witnessed Matt's first mile.

Afterward, I got up off the couch and walked to South Street and back.  Two miles exactly.   In 70 minutes.

It used to be my quick errand jaunt -- to grab birthday cards, or Greek food, or frozen yogurt.  It now stands as my LONGEST walk so far.

I took a rest stop when I ran into some friends in Queen Village.  Then paused briefly for coffee on the way back.

An hour passed.  I continued to push through the throbbing pain inside my socket.  I limped those last few blocks over the crooked South Philly sidewalks.  I stopped at each curb to breathe.  I crossed each street searching for steadier footing.  It didn’t make a difference by then.  I’d simply walked myself out.

But as I fumbled along, I pictured Matt finishing that first mile – taking uneven steps, sliding his left leg behind him, flanked by his therapists on both sides. 

And so I kept putting one foot in front of the other.

And when I finally reached home, I decided this:
I am tired of recovering.  Of being exhausted after 10 minutes on the treadmill.  After a day at work.  After a walk around the block.  Like Matt, I want to DO MORE.

So I will condition my body to fight harder and go farther, despite its new shortcomings.

And that brings me to Monday morning when I announced in my kitchen, "As of today, I am officially IN TRAINING."

It was all uphill from there.

How do I train myself to go farther when each step is a risk?   When some days my leg is so sensitive I stop the treadmill after only 5 minutes?    When I feel like crying because my muscles are so tight? 

I massage, I stretch, I lift weights. I follow my prescribed program. 

But what do I do with this pain and uncertainty?  With this body that aches, and the frustration that floods my mind? 

I’ve been thinking about it all week.  And I've decided that Matt Long’s story spoke to these questions, too.  

It showed me that something needs to give.   That I cannot go this ALONE.

Matt mobilized his team.  And thankfully, we have that in common.

I, too, have an excellent team behind me.


Walkers, runners, skaters, and bikers.

Hikers, shoppers, strollers, and dog walkers.

PTs and OTs.  Doctors and nurses.  Prosthetists.  Engineers.  Athletic trainers.  And fellow amputees.


It occurs to me that everyone I need to help me get back into shape is only a phone call or e-mail away.



So with this post, I’m calling my team back together.


Yes, I am officially IN TRAINING.

Wanted: 
Talented, tireless team of trainers for “WILL-BE” walker/runner/biker/skater.  Bionically-equipped.  Ready, willing, and (usually) able….

...Interested?



Special thanks to PT Julie for turning me on to The Long Run.  You can find out more about Matt Long and his "I WILL Foundation" here:




Saturday, January 7, 2012

Happy Boots Day!

Mile Marker 277:

Boots Day?  Not quite the holiday you were expecting??  

In my short time as an amputee, I've learned that adding another pair of shoes to my wardrobe is a cause for celebration. 

My boots aren’t fancy, nor are they new.  They’re plain black leather with simple silver buckles.  The soles are worn.  The black polish is scuffed.  The zippers stick each time I yank them up. 

They’ve been through a lot with me.

They even survived the accident, hiding inside my backpack that morning.

My mom describes how she kept my backpack by her side during that long first day of surgery at the hospital.   And how, much later, she slowly unpacked my "black boots" at home.  She says those words sweetly as if caressing them with her voice. 

Even now, I imagine how she looked at my boots while I lay unconscious for so many days in the Critical Care Unit.  What those boots meant to her.  How they reminded her of the person I was before. 


But my brother Mark tells a different story.  During those months in the hospital he put his faith in BOOST, not boots.

Boost is the high-calorie protein drink that was delivered to my hospital room 4 times per day.  It came in flavors resembling vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry -- flavors that never quite hit the mark.  By evening, those red bottles lined up along my bedside table, unopened.  

To my touchy tastebuds, Boost became bacon's arch nemesis.

Everyone encouraged me to drink the stuff, but my brother Mark took a different tactic.  He celebrated it!  At random hours of the day, my cell phone beeped with enticements.   Mark ran a creative campaign.  Day and night, he bombarded me with little known tidbits from the Boost archives.

Did you know that Boost was the driving force behind the founding of Philadelphia?

(Click photos to read captions)





How about the election of President Obama?? 

According to Mark, EVERYONE drank Boost.

From my very first idol, Bobby Clarke --
to my pip squeak protégée, Riley Cate!


Apparently, Boost was as critical to survival as blood!

I looked forward to my next Boost announcement.  Where would Boost turn up next?  An MRI scanner?  My IV pole?


Each day in the hospital became BOOST DAY.


But I am proud to say it’s been almost 10 months since I’ve sipped my last Boost.   And today, I wore my BOOTS for 10 hours straight.

Not a bad exchange.

See, before today, each time I tried on my boots, I got only as far as the living room.  After the third or fourth stumble, I always took them off.

But yesterday morning, there was snow on the ground. 

So today I decided it was time to LEARN to wear my boots. 

I started at the place I've learned most everything else:  the rehab gym.   PT Deb suggested a toe-pad for them, and “MacGyver” Paul glued some sticky stuff to their sole.   Then we hit the treadmill.  (In my t-shirt, shorts, and boots, I can only hope I set the newest fashion trend!)

Later, my boots and I took to the street with friends Mary and Chris, who coincidentally wore their boots, too.

Afterward I ran into Mike and Vickie, some friends from rehab.  Vickie's also an amputee, just a few months behind me.  Yes, I assured her.  You’ll wear boots, too. 

So today it's Happy Boots Day...or Boost Day...  
Celebrating all those forces that keep me moving!

(Including my favorite Boost-er!)
And check out those boots!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Wild Side

Mile Marker 267:

In Philadelphia on New Year’s Day, the wild things come out to play!


*Both can be found at
the Italian Market :)
If you’ve toured South Philly, you’ve probably come across everything from wild fires to wild boar.*


But nothing roams wilder than THE MUMMERS on New Year’s Day!

Strutting along with those crazy Comics and strumming String Bands, my Genium and I logged over TWO MILES!  



Now I've never been known for my dancing ability.  And as you might guess, wearing a prosthesis does not help the cause. 

I spent Mile 267 (and 268) bouncing, and swaying, and swinging my arms.   I strolled  the sidelines.   I dodged silly string and cheered for those Golden Slippers.  

Then my pal Geno brought me a “Froggy Carr” parasol – and the street was all mine!

But it's a jungle out there!


After 24 hours of partying, those Mummers (and other folks) aren’t too gentle with us single-legged creatures!   

My vigilant friends surrounded and protected me amidst the crowd.  They defended me against reckless stumblers.  When you walk on the wild side, it's good to be part of a pack.

World Famous Mummers Cupcakes!
Truly, it’s my trustworthy pack that made the whole party possible.  I couldn't have thrown together this New Year’s bash on my own.  With a little teamwork, our clan hunted and gathered up a feast for all time!


Yet in the days leading up to the big event, another feral force took over.  One even harder to control:  the WILD THOUGHTS running rampant in my mind.   On New Year’s Eve I tossed and turned, sleepless till 4 a.m.

Would 2012 be as hard as 2011?  Would I even have the energy to get through a wild New Year's Day?  All the worry, doubt, and heart-pounding stress shredded any vision of fun to come.

This New Year's celebration would push me and my new leg to our very limits.


And it did.

It forced me to stray from my daily routine.  It stretched my body, honed my reactions, and tested my endurance.  It compelled me to stand up straight and sturdy among herds of trumpets, and glitter, and swaggering party-goers.

In the wilds of South Philly, survival of the fittest was the rule of the day.  But with my pack by my side, we TAMED those Mummers – or at least joined them!

My INNER wilderness?  Well, that's another story.  

But it's only January 4th.  That's what New Year's Resolutions are for.