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!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Legless

Mile Marker 1225:

Different mailbox.  Same dilemma.

If you’ve been following my journey from the beginning, you might remember Mile 7, in which I took a harrowing 7-minute hike to the nearest mailbox.  My first adventure ALONE with a new leg.

More than 2 years have passed.   Now my Genium and I move like old friends.   Together we're willing to tackle almost anything – escalators, cobblestones, even trolley tracks.   Of course, I'm always more comfortable with a partner by my side.  But when going solo, the LEG makes the difference.

The problem is, you can't wear a prosthesis all the time.

At the conference last month, the leader of our discussion group asked, "Are you reluctant to go out without your prosthesis?"

My answer:  a resounding YES.

I've met amputees who, for one reason or another, don’t or can’t wear a prosthesis.  With wheelchairs or crutches, they push courageously ahead.  They go to work, they shop, they raise children.  One woman I know is a preschool teacher; one guy, an awesome dancer.  I admire them all. 

Because when it comes to going legless, I’m still miles behind.

At Mile Marker 1225, I try to catch up.  One step -- or hop -- at a time.

...and with Mark!
The sun is shining.  The weather's refreshingly cool and dry.  The morning starts with a bike ride on Kelly Drive.  With leg...

But even as I lace up my biking shoes, I know it's going to be the last hurrah of the day.

My socket keeps losing suction and the rubs have only worsened in the past few weeks.  Each time we stop, my leg comes loose.  I remove my left foot from the pedal and press it into the ground.  This expels air from the socket valve -- a.k.a. gets me back in my leg.

When I come home, I take off my Genium.  Legless, I hop around the kitchen to make lunch.  I'm pretty productive.  I do laundry and dishes standing on one leg.  Sitting down, I pay bills, catch up on schoolwork, and start a new novel.

But when evening rolls in, a soft breeze beckons through the windows.  It rustles the leaves of my houseplants.  I hear neighbors chatting outside.  Suddenly, I feel very closed in.

In this apartment -- unlike my old house -- I’m not confined to an Upstairs Life.  The only limits are the ones I set myself.

So I decide to venture out.  TO THE MAILBOX, again.

It's tough to carry things on crutches.  So into a small backpack, I toss my phone and the book I’m reading.  If the trip to the lobby goes well, I'll push further out -- into the building courtyard.

I'm plenty agile on crutches, able to leap computer cords and carpet edges in a single bound.   But that confidence only stretches so far.  In the doorway of my apartment, I freeze.  There's a boundary line here.  On the other side, I’m a coward.

To push forward, I draw energy from one of the bravest amputees I know. My friend Jen lives on her own, like me.  But unlike me, she ventures out alone -- with or without her prosthetic leg.  To access her apartment, Jen navigates 20 stairs.  One day, she showed me the straps she'd constructed to carry her walker up the steps.  She's not much taller than I am, but she hoisted that walker like a backpack onto her shoulders.  And you should have seen her climb those stairs!

I take a deep breath, channel my inner Jen, and hop over that line.

In the lobby, there are 2 guys waiting to ride up in the elevator.  “Hey,” they say, as I step off.  We recognize each other, but they’ve never seen me legless.  Not many people have. 

To their credit, they don’t do a double-take -- not while I’m watching, anyway.

I start toward the mailroom.  At first glance, our building seems handicapped accessible.  It has elevators, single-floor apartments, and wide hallways.  

But look again.  To get in and out, you have to push and pull 2 sets of double doors.  Then, to get to the sidewalk, there's an iron gate – even heavier than the doors.  With crutches, these feats are difficult.  In a wheelchair, they'd be near impossible.

I place both crutches in one hand.  Give the first set of doors a push.  It's wobbly, but it works.  The door opens.
 
I slide the mail into my backpack.  Mission #1 -- complete.

The next set of double doors, slightly heavier, leads into the brick courtyard.  I pause in front of them, peering through the glass.

Just then the guys from the elevator reappear, this time with a small brown pug on a leash.  “Can we get that door for you?”  they ask on their way out.

“No thanks,” I say.  I’m waiting for someone.”  (I'm not, of course, but it just pops out.)

I want to open these doors myself, and not in front of an audience.

I let the guys pass.

Now or never,  I think.  What would Jen do?

As gracefully as possible, I transfer the crutches to one arm and lean my entire body weight against the left door.  With one large hop, I'm out!

Thankfully, there's no one around.  Alone on the walkway, I crutch over to a table and set down my backpack.  Then I look up.

There are 4 buildings in the complex, the tallest about 10 stories high.  But they rise around me like skyscrapers.  Windows are everywhere.  My little leg is on display.

Even sitting down, I feel inexplicably vulnerable.  The slightest movement makes me self-conscious, like a dream where you find yourself naked.  My loss, exposed for anyone to see.

A few people pass by on their way home.  They glance at me maybe a split-second longer than usual.  My crutches are in plain sight, but my leg is masked by the tabletop.  No one looks long enough to notice the truth.  

I am LEGLESS.

For 40 minutes, I sit there.  I open the mail.  I read my book.  I try to enjoy the breeze.

Two years ago, that first trip to the mailbox was a starting point.  This one illuminates how far there's still to go.

When the sun sinks below the rooftops on 3rd Street, I head back inside.

Relieved.  Lighter.  One hop closer to freedom.

4 comments:

  1. Rebecca, you may never know how many of your friends, family, acquaintenances, blog/FB followers, channel their inner Rebecca, when they need a boost.

    You keep on trucking, girlie!!! We're with ya!

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  2. As we say about Chad "you're tiny, but mighty". Chad was having a rough day recently and I tried to boost his spirits by reminding him how amazing he is at so many things and he said "all of that is this tiny little package". You too, are tiny and mighty and amazing and I love following you on this journey. I only wish that I could be walking along side you more often. Miss you my friend.

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  3. Thank you for being so tough and so brave, and especially for being able to write about the process and feelings behind all that. You're a heck of a role model.

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  4. Rebecca, thank you. I usually don't get very vocal about things, except when they really hit home with me. This is one of those times. I am a recent above knee, right leg amputee, and your blogs/comments really resonate with me. You are an amazing woman, and your strength and optimism really helps to push me forward. I completely understand your most recent post too. I cannot help but be totally self conscious when I don't have my leg on, and unfortunately act very hermit like at times. Not saying I am not self conscious when I have my leg on, its just you can't help but feel more "normal" when you are wearing it. Both publicly and privately. But like you said, even though it can be hard at times, each occurrence serves as "one hop closer to freedom". Thank you.

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