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, August 25, 2013

Day 3

Mile Marker 1230:

It’s hard to imagine my doctors before they were doctors.

But at Mile Marker 1230, I get a glimpse.  At a horseshoe-shaped table in a hospital conference room, sit a dozen first-year med students. 

Their short white coats are freshly pressed.  Their ID tags dangle proudly, minted just days ago.   

They are brand new DOCTORS-TO-BE.

The instructor of the class nods for me to tell my story.  So I start at the beginning.

“Two and a half years ago, I had no idea what went on inside this building,” I say.  “It was just a place I rode past on my bike.”

Then I move on to November 9, 2010.  The day I became a patient.

I tell about the bright, frenetic trauma bay, where Dr. M’s voice wrapped me in much-needed calm.

I describe that first critical week:  surgery after surgery, compartment syndrome, amputation.  Seventeen units of blood.  And then what came after:  infection, 7 wash-out surgeries, a skin graft, and 6 more hospitalizations.

I tell them how long the nights were, how much I feared being alone, and how many months passed until I regained faith in this dangerous world again.

As I talk, my eyes travel around the room.  I try to look past the white coats and pressed shirts to see the people underneath.  Are they kind?  Nervous?  Eager?   What kind of doctors will they be?

This is their THIRD DAY of medical school.

I’m touched -- but not surprised -- that, at Jefferson, this is where learning begins.   

Introduction to Clinical Medicine.  And the very first topic:  "Narrative Competence."  It says so on the agenda sheet:

Caring for patients begins with understanding the stories they tell.

I should have known.

If I wind back far enough, I can see my own Day 3 at Jefferson -- swollen with fluid, covered with bandages, pumped with tubes.   Lying in Critical Care, I was virtually unrecognizable.  A multi-layered problem to be solved.

Truly, I don't remember that week.  I was in and out of surgery so much they kept me heavily sedated.  But my Mom tells me that early on, my friend Andy, who worked in the area, dropped by the hospital.  He stopped short at the doorway to my cubicle. “That’s not Rebecca,” he said in a frightful whisper.  My brother Mark steadied him, escorted him back into the hall.

The hospital staff told my parents to bring in photos of me from BEFORE the accident.   They filled the bulletin board of my room. 

“She’ll get back there,” the doctors and nurses reassured us.

I always guessed those pictures were for my family’s benefit.   But now I wonder differently.

If I can’t imagine my doctors before they were doctors, how could they imagine me before I was their patient?

...but admitted I had more
siblings than they could
keep track of!
Of course as the days wore on, we got to know each other.  They learned I was a teacher and a skater.  They checked my breakfast tray each morning to make sure I ate my bacon.  Through daily ups and downs, they became like part of our family...

Just standing in the doorway, my doctors could make me feel better.

“Tell me I’m gonna be fine,” I’d say, often through tears.  And when they said it, I believed them.

I recently read an article about the body’s ability to heal itself, the hormone releases that actually fight against pain.  It’s the reason Advil starts to work the minute you swallow it.  (It doesn’t really, but once you’ve got that hope, your body kicks in its own pain relief.) 

Research shows that a doctor who LISTENS can have exactly the same effect.

I remember med student Emily who visited me every morning at 5:30 a.m.   She’d tap lightly on my door, even though it was always open.   “How are you feeling today?” she’d say softly.  Then she’d bend over my bed.  Listen to my heart.  Take a pulse from my foot.  Small gestures.  But so many nights I lay awake, counting the minutes till she arrived.

I want to tell these future doctors of the POWER they carry in their hands and their words.  That their companionship with patients and families will be REAL.  That what they say will become TRUTH – whether it’s wonderful (You will walk again.) or terrible (You won’t.).  And that how they say it will make all the difference.

But I've gotta wrap up now.  My 20 minutes are over.  I'm not the only patient speaking today.

So I finish with this:
“When I saw that first med student each morning, I knew the long night was over.”

As I look into their faces, I imagine the impact they'll have over the next 4 years.  They pay attention.  They ask good questions.  They really seem to CARE.

It's only Day 3.  I picture it like my third mile.  Even in 1000 days, they'll still have much to learn.

Patients are more than just patients.  Doctors are more than just doctors.  And the place where they meet?  It's much, much more than a hospital.  

It’s a place where HEALING happens.

Good luck Jefferson Class of 2017!  Thanks for letting me be part of your first week!


  1. Once a teacher, always a teacher.

  2. You are an amazing writer, with an amazing story to share that will benefit more people than you will ever know! Love you!

  3. And don't forget the impact that YOU have on others!