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, November 9, 2013

With Thanks

Mile Marker 1400:

This year, November rides in on a wave of GRATITUDE.

In Harrisburg, I speak at the Pennsylvania Trauma Systems Foundation Conference.  In the audience are doctors, nurses, directors, and staff from hospital trauma centers across the state.   I describe my experience as a trauma survivor, the value of trauma care, and the way "my" trauma team supported our family. 

I can't help thinking how lucky I am.  To have made it this FAR.  To be able to THANK these professionals.  To tell them how much my family and I REMEMBER.


When October ends, things are going so smoothly, I'm convinced I'll cruise through November 9th, this upcoming anniversary.

Mary and I stop at Ben's house
on one of our jaunts!
I stretch my walks to 2 miles.  I buy my first pair of climbing shoes.   At work, I arrive earlier and stay later.  I go out to dinner.  I cook with neighbors.  At the rehab gym, I sweat - and laugh - more than ever!


Lest I forget, November makes its presence known.

In preparation for the conference, I study my own medical report for the very first time.  Up until now, I haven’t felt ready.  But three years have passed.  Plus, in front of all those doctors, I want to get the details right!

The summary is 3 pages long.  It's jarring to read because the events are terrible and, of course, they happened to me.  But I get through it.  I add "fractured pelvis" to my list of injuries.

That night, as I'm taking off my prosthesis, a random thought strikes:

I would like to send that medical report to the truck driver who hit me.  

I have the sudden urge to photocopy those pages, staple them together, fold them into thirds, and seal them into an envelope with no return address.

It’s not exactly anger.  And it's not revenge.

I just don't want him to FORGET.

Mailing that report wouldn't change a single thing for me.  He'd never know what I go through on a daily basis.  He'd never understand how this month forever divides my world into "before" and "after."

But at least he would REMEMBER.


The idea fades quickly -- a blip on the radar.  Yet the following week, November darkness creeps in again.  Whenever I stand, the edge of the prosthetic socket juts into my upper thigh.  When I sit, it presses angrily against my butt bone.  When I roll the liner off, I find red welts and puffy blisters.  Hasn’t my leg suffered enough?   

Then abdominal pangs kick in.  For effect, I guess.

Really, it’s not all that bad.  It's not the nightmare stuff of emergency rooms.  (Yet another reason to be grateful!)

Still, the disturbance makes me uneasy.   Breaks the momentum.   Weighs me down like a five o'clock sunset.

I guess that's November's way.


On November 7th, seven trash trucks cross my path.  Two of them come to halt, idling side by side in front of my car.  Their monstrous bodies swallow up the narrow street.  Throw a dark shadow over me and my Honda Civic. 

One truck finally pulls away, leaving an open lane.

I don't dare pass.  The countdown is on.


Finally it's November 8th.  As sunset nears, I feel an inexplicable pull toward the corner where this journey began.  

I’m on my way to the rehab gym, but as I drive south, I turn right on Washington Avenue.  A parking space opens up along the bike lane.  I take it.

I start walking down the sidewalk.  Without seashells in my pocket, I feel unprepared.  When I come, I always bring something to mark the space.  To remember what happened here.

When I reach 5th Street, a cluster of noisy students pass by.  They jostle and shove each other, laughing together as they wait for the light to change. 

An ambulance sounds in the distance.  No, I think.  It can’t be.  But the siren gets louder.  In a second, its lights come into view.  I see the red and white stripes of Fire Rescue -- the kind that stopped for me.  It zooms across Washington Avenue.  This time, it doesn't stop.

When it's quiet again, I inspect the street.  Between the manhole cover and the crosswalk, the blue footprint we painted at Mile 1000 has washed away.

I turn to the base of the lamppost, where I usually leave my shells.  With relief, I see one’s still there, jammed so far underneath, you can barely see it.  A crack in the pavement catches my eye.  In it -- scattered among cigarette butts and gravel -- are tiny shards of seashells in purple, blue, gray, and white.  Signs of remembrance.

I get down on one knee.  Pull off my gloves and dig those pieces out one by one.  I find more than a dozen.  Reassemble them on the sidewalk.

“Excuse me.”

There's a kid standing above me.  He looks about 13.  He’s wearing green and black gym clothes from the public school up the street. 

“Are you the one who got hit right here?”  he asks.

I get to my feet quickly, in total surprise.  "Yeah," I say.  "That was me.”

Silence falls between us.

“Were you here?" I ask.  "Did you see it?”

“No, my friend was.  He was on his way to school.  He told me about it.”

Another second of silence.

"I come back here sometimes," I tell him.  "It happened three years ago on November ninth.  That's tomorrow." 

Are we really having this conversation?   How could this boy possibly understand?   How could he even REMEMBER?

“Sorry that happened to you,” he says.

He can’t tell the extent of my injuries.  I'm in long pants and a sweatshirt, gloves and a hat.  On this night, I don’t look any different than anyone else walking by.

“Thanks,” I say.  “And tell your friend thanks too... for... thinking about me.”

He nods.  Continues on his way.

I watch him go.  Then continue on my way, too.  Once I start walking, I find the words I meant to say:

Thanks for remembering.

It's almost 4:30.  The sun will set soon, but when I look back, the sky looks just a little bit brighter.

The world remembers.


Thanks kid.  Thanks November.

I think I'm ready now.


Thanks to all of you who've walked with me on this journey.  For lending me your confidence, your courage, your skills, your strength, and your belief in every step.  But most of all, for REMEMBERING with me along the way.

7 comments:

  1. Ricki... how well I remember that day. I remember it with all my senses... in my waking thoughts and in my dreams. But today, mixed with the painful memories, I find myself feeling immensely grateful to those who have walked with us through all those yesterdays, and feeling positive and hopeful about the tomorrows yet to come. Today, I don't have even one second to waste on that garbageman... I have to use every moment to send loving thoughts to that young boy and his friend who still, incredibly, hold the memory of that day, to the caring professionals who have become part of our lives, to the inspirational people we've come to know in the last three years, and to our wonderful, supportive family and friends who continue to accompany all of us on this arduous journey. Today I have to spend every moment celebrating you... your survival, your strength and courage, and the contagiousness of your determination and resilience. Thanks, Novermber, for reminding me to send love and gratitude to you, and to all who are remembering and celebrating with us today...

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  2. Ricki and Mom Lev, I just adore this post and comment. Yes, your spirit truly is "contagious" as your mom highlights. I've been thinking of you and your family all this week....
    I was talking with a friend about your rock-climbing post and was marveling that it has been three years..... 'cause in some ways it seems like yesterday and in other ways like a million years ago with all you've faced and accomplished since then.

    We've had such a mild fall here in Chicago, but then almost instantly when the calendar turned to November the temperature seemed to plummet--November brings a chill on many levels. But interestingly, today is again beautiful and mild, shedding a little hope too.

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  3. As usual, you bring me to tears (in a great way). You have touched so many lives and inspired so many people...they will always remember what your journey has meant to them. -Binal

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  4. Had been thinking wanted to say something like hang in there before the 3 year anniversary. Tonight I remembered to look online for the date and it was today. When your accident happened I recall running by there in the days after. Discussed it with friends and later found your blog through a Philly. com article. Reading your blog has been so interesting. How do you stay so positive?!!! Then small world we meet in person and I embarassingly blurt out you were the girl hit by the trash truck! Sorry about that definitely not how you deserve to be defined! What I should have said is you are amazing and an inspiration! :-)

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  5. Rebecca, remembered you yesterday ....and everyday! Miss you lots and hope to see you soon.

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  6. Each person who's walked part of this journey with you will remember!

    Karen

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  7. I'm not even going to try and imagine what you went through that day. But to see what you have achieved , not giving up , fighting to get yourself to where you are today is truly amazing!!!! Never stop living!!

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