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!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Proud

Mile Marker 950:

About 100 miles ago, I tripped in the school hallway.

It was nothing dramatic.  But suddenly there I was -- on my knee and Genium – on the linoleum floor, next to a row of kindergarten cubbies stuffed with backpacks and lunchboxes.

I was shocked but unhurt.  And surrounded by a sea of splattered coffee.

Not my finest hour.

I have no idea what caused me to trip.   There were no hidden ruts in the floor, no littered worksheets or pencils.  Nothing slippery at all, except the stuff I spilled there myself!

A band of first graders rallied around me.  “Are you ok?!” they cried.

“I am, but my coffee’s not!”  I laughed.

Amputee Rule #1:  What goes down, must somehow get back up.  This is a lot easier to do if you're smiling.

I propped myself into a half-kneel and then onto my feet.  

“I can tell you guys are great helpers," I said.  "How 'bout if you get some paper towels from the teachers’ bathroom, so we can wipe this up?”

They scrambled for the bathroom door.  I fetched a trash can from a nearby classroom.

Then the kids and I got down on our hands and knees (yes, down again!)  to mop up the damage the best we could.

When all that remained were a few sticky spots, the kids reluctantly returned to class.  The school day resumed as if nothing at all had happened.


The strange thing is that just minutes before all this, I’d been enjoying one of my PROUDEST moments.  I’d just returned from a 3 block walk to get coffee for me and my colleague Bethany.  That’s right.  I, Rebecca -- Genium and all -- had actually run an errand for someone else!

Alone, I'd fought the slanted sidewalk along Arch Street, balancing 2 paper cups in a cardboard caddy.  My black boots, tiny as pinpoints, hit the ground with each step.  As the coffees sloshed in their cups, that familiar rhythm sloshed around in my head.  Just don’t trip.  Just don’t trip.  Just don’t trip....

When I reached the glass doors of the school,  I breathed a heavy sigh of relief.  Possibly my first breath of the entire trip.  

Then, 15 paces later... BAM!  It was all over.


Last week PT Julie asked me to recall the proudest moment in my recovery.   I thought about the first steps I took without my crutches, the first time I pedaled my bike in the basement of the rehab gym, the first time I laced up my skates.  These were all very BIG proud moments.

But as the miles roll by, more often I think it's the smaller ones that keep me going.

At Mile Marker 948, I drop my car at Pep Boys.  (It had started making this weird whistling sound on the way back from New York.)  At the edge of the shopping center, I hail a cab and ride it into work.  My mind races with the risks of leaving my car behind.  What if I have stomach pain?  Leg pain?  What if I need to leave in an emergency?

At Mile Marker 949, I go to a doctor's appointment, then to the rehab gym, and then to Whole Foods to buy groceries. Yes, without stopping.  All in one day.  It may not sound like much, but it feels like a triathlon.

At Mile Marker 950, I sing the "new socket blues."  Getting used to a new prosthetic socket is like breaking in a skin-tight hiking boot.   But with the help of a terrific group of middle schoolers, I walk yet another mile.

With Maeve, Mia, and Diane!
And at Mile 951, I meet up with friend and fellow amputee Diane for a slow and steady stroll around the mall.  There's no better distraction from new socket woes than shopping!


There are so many steps in a mile, so many moments in a day.  It's the proud ones that hold them all together.

For me, they're often the least dramatic.  Getting out early in the morning.  Carrying groceries -- or coffee.  Leaving my car behind.  Persevering through an "uncomfortable" day.

When I take one step after the other, I do stumble sometimes.  It's true.  But the proudest moments remind me that life goes on.


At the tail end of these miles,  I return to the inpatient rehab hospital where I'm now a volunteer.  I'm still limping around on my new socket, but there's something here I have to see.

I take the elevator to the 6th floor, and tiptoe into the back of the conference room.  It's packed with wheelchairs and spectators.  Patients, doctors, nurses, and therapists.  Families and friends.  It's standing room only.

Up front on a makeshift stage, against a wall of windows facing the city skyline, sits former patient and fellow amputee Virgil.  With his band The Elgins, he's rocking out Motown Style!

I met Virgil last November when he was a brand new amputee.  Back then, his leg was so painful it often made him physically sick.  Maybe it still does.

But today, Virgil sings soulfully into the microphone.  His broad shoulders sway to the beat.  His eyes close as his voice rises to the final number, What a Wonderful World.

When the song ends, the room erupts into applause.  Although half the audience is in wheelchairs, there's no mistaking it.  This is a STANDING OVATION.

Afterward, I talk with Virgil.  Still in his wheelchair, he's not yet officially back on his feet.  He'll be fitted for his first prosthesis in the weeks ahead.

You might say he has many miles to go.

Virgil and Agnes --
2 proud graduates!
But this PROUD one will keep him moving.



Check out the Elgins -- click here.



2 comments:

  1. Every step you take is a proudest moment for the rest of us!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Keep on truckin' Rebecca! Your progress has been so inspirational, and I'm sure we're all looking forward to Mile 1000!

    ReplyDelete