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!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Jigsaw

Mile Marker 1085:

When I left Chicago after college, someone gave me a puzzle of the city skyline.  I loved the photo on the box, but there was one problem -- inside were 500 pieces!

I'm terrible at puzzles.

Luckily, my friend Marla is a puzzle expert.  One very long evening, we assembled that Chicago puzzle on the floor of my living room.  Or to be more specific, she assembled the puzzle, and I sang along to James Taylor, impatiently eyeing the PUZZLE GLUE!


For more than a year after the accident, I recorded my memories on index cards:  images, dialogues, sounds, sensations, and fears.   As they came to me, I’d scribble them down and tuck the cards into a small plastic file box.  It was my way of taming them, of getting them out of my head.

I planned to pull out those cards one by one.  Spread them on the floor pyramid-style.  Arrange them into categories.  Organize those moments like I was writing a high-school research paper.

But to this day, I haven't even opened that box.  Puzzles still confound me.


At Mile Marker 1085, my parents and I walk down the carpeted aisle of a large auditorium.  For the second year in a row, we're attending Jefferson Hospital’s Excellence in Trauma Awards.

As we take our seats, Mom leans over to me.  “Is that Steve?” she says, nodding across the aisle.

I see a guy in a lavender shirt and tie -- good looking, short brown hair, easily 6 feet tall.

“I think so,” I whisper.  But I can't be sure.  Steve was a nursing assistant from way back in the beginning.

 A FALL RISK  bracelet --
 my only accessory!
Here is the piece I remember:
My IV pole hangs heavy with fluid.  My infected leg is suctioned to a wound-vac machine.  My blue hospital gown ("one-size-fits-most") is tangled underneath me.  I'm literally CAPTIVE in bed.

When I press the call button, Steve appears magically at my door.  He is the shape of strength and relief.

With help, I can take only a single step in any direction.  But Steve’s muscles fill the sleeves of his scrubs.  He can lift me, my equipment, and my bed if he has to!  More importantly, he comes in with a smile.  When I'm down, he cracks jokes.

Over time, those days have faded into the background.  But when I glance across the aisle, they come flooding back.

After the award ceremony, I chat with Dr. B.   He, too, is a face from the very beginning.  In November 2010, he’d just returned from duty as an army surgeon in the Middle East.

But the piece I remember is Dr. B standing over my gurney in Pre-Op.  He wears a surgical cap with a red and green pattern -- a chain of hot chili peppers.

Before each surgery, he inks his initials, A.B., onto the top of my left leg.  He reassures me he's seen infections like this before.  That the team will take care of it.  That I'm in good hands.

I hang onto his words as the anesthesia takes hold.

The rest I don’t remember.


Moving forward gives the illusion of putting things in order.  But this night at the awards, I realize how many pieces have slipped from my mind.   With more than 2 years and 1000 miles behind me, the memories are still fractured, random moments.
  
We sit down for dinner with other returning patients and families.  You’d be startled by the jigsaw pieces we bring to the table.  They're jagged, nightmarish, and dark.   A fall through an air conditioning shaft.  A late night gunshot.  A careening, high-speed car crash.  Images and feelings no one should have to remember.

The parts we can't assemble, our families fill in.  They're our witnesses.  In a split-second, their lives changed too.

But we also share laughs.  My dad tells everyone, "After the accident, Rebecca had perfect vision!"

As soon as he says it, I remember it's true:
When I first wake up in the ICU, I ask for my glasses.  Mom's been toting them in her purse for a week, just waiting for me to open my eyes and need them.

Glasses on, I look out the window.  The buildings are a blur.  Glasses off, the city's crystal clear.   I can see better without them!

Hanukkah 2010...
No glasses!
My brother Mark gets a kick out of it.  He downloads eye charts onto his phone.   Each day, he stands across the room, holding up the tiny screen.  “Can you read this?” he asks.  I always can!

When the surgeons do rounds, we joke that I got laser eye surgery as a bonus.   For 5 mysterious weeks, the world is in precise focus.  No one seems worried about it.  And no one has an explanation.

Then my right eye changes.  A week later, the left follows.  And one day everything beyond the door of my room is fuzzy again.

I put my glasses back on.


After 1085 miles, I'm still gathering pieces to this endless puzzle.  Some are tangible, like photos and medical reports.  They form the anchors and edges, the frame of the picture.  But the pieces buried deepest are the ones that worry me.  They come and go.  They don't hold their shape long.  In the beginning, I remembered too much.  Now I can't remember enough.

At an appointment with my optometrist, I recount the strange-but-true story of my post-accident eyesight.

He has an explanation -- or at least a hypothesis.  He says the anesthesia from so many surgeries relaxed the muscles of my eyes.  It literally flattened the curves that caused my astigmatism.  Weeks later, when the anesthesia finally wore off, my eyes tightened up again.

I like it.  The stories fit together like 2 perfectly matched jigsaw pieces.

Only 498 more to go...


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