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!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

You Are Here

Mile Marker 1414:

YOU ARE HERE.  On the map, the trail looks like a 3-mile triangle:  one path down, one path up, one path across the top.  It shows 15 waterfalls along the way, with heights that vary from 12 to 94 feet.

But the trail map doesn't really tell us what's ahead.

The Falls Trail at Rickett’s Glen is a wondrous walk through waterfalls.  It is also an AMPUTEE'S NIGHTMARE.

More stairs than
I can count!
Wobbly stone steps line the mountain trail --  each one more leafy and muddy than the next.  The path shoots one mile downward, tracing the edge of the wild water.  It winds along narrow cliffs, and then climbs a mile straight up.

The only thing between me and the rushing water below is a 14-inch piece of titanium.  (And no, it's not waterproof!)

For nearly 5 hours, I hike with friends and family -- a.k.a. my Secret Service Support Team -- Susan, Rocco, Jen, Mark, and trusty dog Jack.

It is November 9th.

I wanted a challenge to mark the third anniversary of the accident.  On this trail, I definitely get one.  To survive, I have to use every skill I've learned over the past 3 years!

Here's the TOP 10 List:

No railing alert!
Unstable ground alert!
Water alert!
10.  BORROW STRENGTH:  Just minutes into the hike, I face the first downhill stone staircase. 

“Um, I don’t think I should be doing this...” I say aloud.  It's the understatement of the century.   

But my team kicks into action.  “You can do it!” they insist.
  
Mark and Jack
run recon
on the trail ahead.
Rocco spreads his arms to form a safety net between me and the water below.  Susan lends me her shoulder as a guide.  Jen points out tree roots so I don't trip.  They have no idea how many stairs lie ahead or how much energy they’ll need for themselves.  But they lend me their STRENGTH anyway.  You could say it's how I've gotten so far on this journey!

9.  BE A PROBLEM-SOLVER:   When PT Deb first taught me how to get up off the floor, I grabbed onto any object in sight – a chair, a mat, an exercise machine -- but Deb made me let go.   She said those things wouldn't always be available.

“So can I push off the floor?” I asked.
“Sure,” she said.  “The floor’s always available!”

Now, I search the trail around me for something to grab onto.  To my left is a steep drop-off into rushing whitewater.  To my right is the rocky wall of a cliff.  I choose the cliff.  

Dig my gloved fingers into any crevice I can find.  Grip it for leverage and balance as I take each step.   It's no railing, but hey, it's available!

8.  WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, ADAPT:  Three years ago in the hospital, Nurse Lucy taught me to get out of bed by pivoting on one foot.  Sure, I’ve come a long way since then, but ADAPTING is still a key mode of transportation.  

On this hike, some descents are just too large to step down.  What to do?   I hand off my trekking poles to Susan.  Lower my whole body onto the ground.  Scoot down those huge boulders on my butt! 

Damp jeans are a fair trade for safety!

7.  IF YOU CAN LOOK UP, YOU CAN GET UP:  When the trail narrows, we come face to face with another group of hikers.  Crowd in single-file so they can pass.  I line up both my feet, parallel, on a downhill mess of tree roots.  It overwhelms my Genium and my balance.  In a matter of seconds, I hit the ground -- this time, not gracefully or purpose!  

Everyone offers their hands to help.  But a few months ago, rehab buddies Robert and Binal taught me a catchy rule:  IF YOU CAN LOOK UP, YOU CAN GET UP.   

I look up.  Get up.  It turns out to be a theme of the day!

6.  REST IS RUST:   Almost 3 hours later, when we finally reach the bottom of that first shaky mile, we realize this hike is taking much longer than anticipated.  

“What time does the sun set?” Jen asks.  
"Are you kidding?" I say.  "What time do they send in the helicopter rescue?!”   

Every bone in my body is exhausted.  Yet through the trees, I can see the next mile -- an uphill climb -- as steep and difficult as the one we've just come down.  So I pull out a phrase that goes back to my earliest days with Prosthetist Tim:  REST IS RUST.   I gulp Mark’s orange Gatorade.  Force myself to start walking again.  

When we reach the first uphill stretch, my right quad muscle is already quivering.  I climb anyway.  There's no time to rest -- or rust --  at the bottom of this waterfall!

5.  NORMALIZE:   My mom used to ask me each morning, "How's your leg?"   Most days, especially in the beginning, the answer wasn't good.  Finally, we agreed she should just stop asking.  My job each day was to accept this new normal -- bad or good -- socket fit, phantom pain, and all. 

So as much as the uphill climb overwhelms me, I try to accept it.  (A helicopter could never get down here anyway!)  

While my eyes stay focused on the ground below, Mark NORMALIZES what's ahead.  “Just your average stone steps,” he says matter-of-factly.  “You know... steep, uneven, muddy, leaf-covered…."   
He says it sarcastically, but really it's a survival strategy.  With a few simple words, Mark cuts those steps down to size.

4.  HAM IT UP:   Way back in the rehab hospital, when I was first learning how to get dressed on one leg, I looked down at my 5 remaining toes.  “Do you think I could get a pedicure for half-price now?”  I said to Nurse Tama.  She cracked up.  Later, she made me repeat it at the nurses' station.  Sometimes laughter is the best medicine!

On this trail, the farther we get, the GIDDIER we get.  I sing chorus after chorus of the country song,  "If You’re Going Through Hell, Keep on Going."   

When we stop for a photo, Rocco strips his shirt off.   Susan and I join him... well, sort of!
  
Faking a flash :)

Even in the midst of this huge challenge, we LAUGH a lot!

 







3.   DO LOOK BACK:  Each time we finish a rough stretch of trail, I pause for a second.  Catch my breath.  Find a stable place to plant my feet.  Then I turn my gaze down -- or up -- the hillside.  Wow!  I did that??   People always say don't look back, but a well-placed LOOK BACK can be powerful.  

Still, as we near the end of the uphill climb, fatigue overwhelms me.  If I had a choice, I'd lie down and burst into tears.  

"I'm not doing so well," I mumble.


“Just think where you were three years ago!” Susan chimes in.  And she's right.  At this exact time three years ago, I was nearing my 9th hour of surgery, with many more to go.  Sometimes a look back can put it all in perspective!

Best lunch view ever!!!

2.  KEEP COUNT For more than 2 years, I've been counting miles.  Today, we count waterfalls.  

"Number 14!" Rocco and Mark announce as we ascend yet another strenuous set of stone steps.  Then magically, a sign for a shortcut appears.  We need to finish before sunset, but if we take the shortcut, we'll miss the 15th waterfall.

Wait a minute!  If you count my fall (see #7 above), that makes 15 falls all together!  We realize we've done it!  We've seen 15 FALLS -- including mine!

If that's not a good excuse for a shortcut,
I don't know what is!

We stumble out of the woods just ten minutes before sunset -- exhausted and sweaty, but mostly relieved!   In the parking lot, we examine the trail map again from a new perspective.

For the first time, I notice colored markings: green for easy, red for more difficult, black for most difficult.  Our trail is black.  I point it out to everyone.


"Didn't you see that before we left?" Jen asks.

Nope.


I'm glad I didn't.  If I knew how hard this would be, I never would have started.  

Kind of like the past 3 years.

Which brings me to the NUMBER ONE survival strategy...

1.  ONE STEP AT A TIME:  I’d love to tell you how beautiful it was to be among the majestic waterfalls.  But for the largest part of this 4 ½ hour hike, I really just watched my FEET.  Every edge of rock.  Every bumpy tree root.  Every inch of incline.

On a journey like this, you have to step over, around, and through obstacles as they come.  Activate every resource you can find.   Be thankful for the people, skills, and titanium that guide you along the way.

I'm learning that there isn't always a trail map.  (And if there is, it might not tell you what you need!)  The only way to go is ONE STEP AT A TIME.

I don't know where I'll be tomorrow, but I know one thing --

Today, I AM HERE.

And that's a lot to be thankful for!
Happy Thanksgiving everybody!  And Happy Trails!

7 comments:

  1. Please...Don't try that again.

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  2. Things - good or bad - happen to us all at one time or another in our lives. For what ever reason , your accident , not by any fault of your own , happened to you. By the grace of God you survived. You could have let your life just fade away but you haven't. You have fought a strong fight to get back to where you are today and I believe you serve a purpose in life. That purpose , as I see it , is to be an inspiration to others who have endured tragedies in their lives , and you are showing that anyone can fight back and live their life to the fullest.- such as you are doing for yourself. Never quit , always look forward , always smile. In a sense , your an angel. Happy Thanksgiving :)

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  3. Oh...and a Happy Hanukkah to you!!!

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  4. Lots of metaphors possible here. Let's just say that I'm happy to have been part of your hiking day! You can borrow strength from us anytime! It was a fantastic day for all of us!

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  5. Hi Rebecca, just came a cross your blog on Twitter during my daily search for 'amputee news' (I work for a charity supporting amputee kids in Africa by providing prosthetic legs and rehab support elizabethslegacyofhope.org ) and just wanted to say that I loved reading about your hiking day! You write very powerfully and with great insight and courage about your experiences, which I am sure inspire fellow amputees to never give up! Keep on counting those miles, Isabelle

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    Replies
    1. Hi Isabelle, Thank you so much for your feedback and for finding my blog! I visited your website this morning to learn about Elizabeth's Legacy of Hope. What an amazing and important mission! I'm adding the organization to the list of my favorite links on this blog. In the future, maybe we can do some fundraising together :) Thanks again! It's wonderful to realize how one story can be so far reaching! -- Rebecca

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