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, January 26, 2013

The World Outside


Mile Marker 900:

For three days in a row, I've FORGOTTEN to carry my pedometer.  The journey goes on anyway.

At the inpatient gym, I sit down next to a woman with sparkling eyes and a radiant smile.  In the few weeks I’ve known “Annie,” she’s gotten stronger and stronger.  She breathes better.  She walks better.  She lights up the gym, cheering on other patients – even as she takes step after step herself.

But on this day, Annie gets a yellow ribbon on her wheelchair, and her eyes fill with tears.

“What’s wrong?” her PT asks, concerned.

“I feel so safe here,” Annie says.  “What will I do without you?”

Yes, Annie.  I know.

The yellow ribbon means Annie's going home soon.  

Just minutes before, she was telling me about her family.  "I miss my grandbabies," she said.   But now I see there’s a part of her that doesn’t want to leave.

It’s been more than 2 years since I had a yellow ribbon tied around my own wheelchair.  

In that time, I’ve grown from inpatient, to outpatient, to hospital volunteer.  Still, that uncomfortable mixture of pride and sadness returns again and again.  I know how Annie feels.


In the business of recovery, each muscle takes its own sweet time.  The days crawl by with progress so slow, it sometimes seems to move backwards.  Then, all at once, everything comes together; your body’s moving as one.  Your energy returns.  Things are going swimmingly. 

This is when you get your yellow ribbon.
See mine?
It’s meant to congratulate.  But back in December 2010, in the days before my own discharge, I fell into a downward spiral.  The skills and independence I’d so happily welcomed suddenly turned against me.  Hope became anxiety.  Then full-blown panic.

To prepare me for going home, the rehab hospital scheduled a "practice outing."   That morning, I slid into my winter coat.  It felt tight and unfamiliar, lumpy against the back of the wheelchair.  

Therapists Colleen and Jillian met me in my room.

“Ready?” they asked.

I nodded nervously. 

We rode the elevator down to the first floor of the rehab hospital.  Gloves on, I propelled my wheelchair out the door and down the front ramp.  It was almost New Year’s, and I hadn’t been outside since early November.  Was this what normal people did every day?   The sidewalk, the sunshine, the cold -- it all felt like a foreign country.

With Colleen and Jillian’s help, I turned the wheels of my chair against the bitter wind.  We headed to a nearby hotel which had a gift shop and a lobby equipped with ramps and stairs.  All good tests for my newly-acquired crutch skills.

Inside, we stripped off our winter gear.  Jillian handed me crutches, and I navigated the new environment.  I hopped up carpeted stairs, lowered myself down inclines, and made my way among narrow aisles filled with stuffed animals and postcards.  We even tried out the stalls in the restroom.

But the biggest challenge proved to be on the trip back.  Sixteenth Street was three lanes wide.  At the intersection, cars turned directly through the crosswalk.   As I rolled into the street, I was so tiny; the cars around me, HUGE.  The rumble of traffic boomed in my ears.  My heart pounded.  The world erupted into total chaos.  

My mind fled to Washington Avenue where a certain truck's tires waited for me.  It was all I could do not to clench my elbows to my head and curl up like a hedgehog.

Being hit seemed the only outcome.
   
I pushed the wheelchair so hard my arm muscles burned in my winter coat.  Finally, I felt Colleen boost me up the curb cut onto the sidewalk.  We'd made it across.


You'd think such an outing would have bolstered my confidence.  But over the next few days, my stress level increased.  

Ahead lay the trip home.  How would I ever make it through the car ride safely?   If a traffic accident didn’t kill me, surely my own panic would!

With endless patience (and Kleenex), hospital psychologist Lenore coached me through scenarios, guided me through visualizations, and helped me find relaxing music on my iPad.  With her support, I told my parents I’d rather take the back roads home than the highway.

Going home was overwhelming, but there was more to it than that.

As limiting as hospital life was, I'd found a certain comfort in its routine.  My doctors, nurses, and therapists were at their best when I was at my worst.  Over exercise and meals, I bonded with fellow patients.
With Mom, Tracy, Mark,
and my new friend Val
So I knew how Annie felt when she got her yellow ribbon.  She did want to go home, but it was uncharted territory.

At Mile Marker 900, I watch this from the sidelines.  
I’m volunteering in the very same gym where I was once a patient.  It's been a long time since I looked out my window -- frozen with fear -- at the dangerous world outside.   But now there's another precipice ahead.

MILE MARKER 1000 looms on the horizon.  I've got fewer than 100 miles left.  It feels like the great unknown. 

As I sit with Annie, there's an emptiness in my pocket where the pedometer should be.  

Even after coming this far, I guess I'm reluctant to FINISH.

And why not?  This journey's provided me with structure and a goal.  Comfort in counting.  Not unlike the shelter of the hospital.

How can I measure progress if not mile by mile?   And then, what lies beyond?

Annie went home on Saturday.  And although I wasn’t there to see it, I’m pretty sure she got in the car. 

Because when it was my turn, I did too.

I need your ideas for the 1000th mile!
Thoughts?  Suggestions?  Please post ‘em!

6 comments:

  1. Rebecca,

    I hope Aunt Patti and I will be with you as you reach your 1000th mile. More importantly, I hope we will be with all your friends to celebrate. The one thing I have learned from your journey and blog is:

    "A journey is best measured in friends rather than miles" Tim Cahill, author.

    Uncle Stevie

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  2. I think there are lots of ways to approach this amazing milestone. Like Uncle Stevie, I would like to share the journey with you as well. One thing you could do is return to the Jersey Shore. It's a place you love and wrote one of your first posts about. Look how far you've come since that day. Sometimes, it takes going back to see how far we've come. Another idea, is to go back to Washington Avenue. Another milestone accomplished. Or, you can do something completely different and maybe out of your comfort zone. After all, 1000 miles was a awfully big and challenging goal but now that you're approching it, it really is just the beginning. There's always a mall, St. Louis, etc, etc. Love you and continued to be inspired by you everyday. Keep up the great work.

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  3. The art museum steps are an obvious choice for such a big milestone - you know you can do it! Or how about something that's a starting point for what you want to do with the *next* 1000 miles? Places, skills, companions?

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  4. My suggestion would be the Ocean City Boardwalk, Manco & Manco Pizza and then George's Ice Cream. That would be a great way to mark the 1,000th mile. I would still enjoy reading your blog even after you have reached your goal...so keep walking and keep posting!

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  5. The art museum steps are an obvious choice for such a big milestone - you know you can do it! Or how about something that's a starting point for what you want to do with the *next* 1000 miles? Places, skills, companions?

    Karen

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  6. Wherever the 1000th mile marker is reached, I'm sure there will be lots & lots of us there to share it with you, and to party!!!!

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