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!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Miles Down, Miles to Go


Mile Marker 1040:

Back in December 2010, Zach and I were both new to this amputee business.  From our wheelchairs, we said "hi" between therapy sessions and played a wicked game of Pictionary.   One night, our nurse Pam warned me that Zach kept a monster-size Super Soaker water gun in his room.  I'd just met him, but I wasn't surprised!

More than 2 years have passed since then.

I’ve had detours.   
Zach has had ROADBLOCKS.

I’ve gotten a new leg.  
Zach’s gotten TWO legs and an arm.

He even has me beat in the surgery department.
(Let’s just say we share a vicious aversion to NG tubes!)

Zach's legs
get a boost!
Yet through it all, Zach posts hospital humor on Facebook.   He grows an awesome beard practically overnight.   He gets an apartment, trains a new puppy, and grills dinner outside.   He takes a vacation cruise… and even braves mass transit – long before I do.


The horrific tragedy this week in Boston has created a lot of talk about new amputees.  "What's the recovery like?" the news anchors ask.  "How long until they're up and walking again?"

As if it just happens.

But I understand.  We all want justice.  We want people not to be hurt.

And, of course, we want it to be EASY.

So we talk about technology and bionics and medical advances.  We reassure OURSELVES that the injured will get back the lives they deserve.

I, too, feel like racing up to Boston.  To sit by their bedsides.  To tell them that everything will be all right.

But there'll be time for that.  Trauma runs deep, both physically and emotionally.   These victims are at a starting line that was not of their own choosing, and they're headed into an uphill climb.  Healing is the long road ahead.  It's mired with obstacles that will take every ounce of courage, persistence, and grit they can muster.

For as much as we'd like to believe it, there are no simple solutions.  To succeed requires support and hard work for the long haul.

There's no predicting the ups and downs.  Each survival story -- like each limb -- is unique.  I only know there will be many moments when PATIENCE goes farther than a prosthesis.


At Mile Marker 1040, I catch up with Zach and his buddy Kishan at Prosthetic Innovations.   

And I witness some WELL-DESERVED steps forward.  Check 'em out.

No parallel bars!  No walker!  No cane!  Just two dudes holding hands…    (Zach's words, not mine...)


video

Zach, you're amazing  -- Here’s to many, many more miles!!

And for those in Boston just embarking on this journey, I wish for you what you'll need.  Health, courage, and strength.  Technology and a good team.  The vision to see your new horizon.  

And most of all, a SMOOTH ROAD AHEAD.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Walk It Out

Mile Marker 1015:

"Walk it out."

Tim says the same thing each time he adjusts my socket.

He hands the leg back to me -- 10 pounds of carbon fiber, plastic, and machinery.  Fresh from the lab, the socket is still warm and smells of baby powder.

I stand on my right leg and wrap the pull-bag around my left.

Tim watches as I tug myself in.

"It's still rubbing," I tell him each time.

"Walk it out," he always answers.

So I start between the parallel bars, and then head out to the carpet, ramp, and stairs.  With each step, I give the changes time to sink in.  Sometimes it takes an hour; sometimes all day.


At Mile Marker 1015, I'm not getting a socket adjustment but I am walking it out.   It's the day before the skating party, and I'm on the treadmill at Magee.  What better way to burn off nervous excitement -- and raise money for a good cause?

I'm partnered with Jerry, who walks on the Locomotor Training machine.

Three PTs control his body -- one stands behind to support his hips, two squat at his sides to work his legs.  A fourth sits at a computer screen, monitoring the speed of the treadmill and the tension of his harness.

In the background, the stereo blasts Run D.M.C.'s Walk this Way.  Our t-shirts say BELIEVE.  And we do.  Jerry begins to RUN!

It is hour #7 of a 24-hour step-a-thon called Walk It Out.  The rule is that one treadmill has to remain moving at all times.  So when there's a shift change on Jerry's machine, mine can't stop.
I'm not done yet...

The money raised goes to Magee's Locomotor Training Program, funded by the Christopher Reeve Foundation.

Here's a clip:
video

Thirty minutes and 1 1/2 miles later, my left leg is sweaty and my invisible toes are numb.  I've reached my walking limit.

Luckily my sister Sam, who's in from Vermont, steps on the treadmill to relieve me.  Marla, who's visiting from St. Louis, stands by in case we need another walker.  My team has come from far and wide!

"I've never been on a treadmill before," Sam says, surprising everyone in earshot.

"How do you like it?"  I ask.

"I like the woods better," she answers.   Haha.  Typical Vermonter...

Of course, she walks it out anyway!


Mile Marker 1025:

A few nights later, a thunderstorm blows through.  Outside my apartment window, I watch a power box explode.  Orange sparks fly into the wind and rain.

With a zap, the lights go out.

Stay calm, I tell myself.  Walk it out.

I haven't yet taken my Genium off for the night, so I feel my way into the bedroom to find a flashlight.

Then I slip into the dark hallway and knock on my neighbor's door.  She answers in flannel pajama bottoms, smiling, flashlight in hand.  I tell her about the power box explosion, and she gives me the emergency building management number.

"I hope it comes back on soon," she says, shrugging at the inconvenience.  Then she closes her door.

I'm in the dark hallway again.

Back in my apartment, I call the emergency number.

Power outages -- and emergencies of any kind -- sound my body's alarms.  Anxious and restless, I pace the dark apartment trying to get things in order.  Just in case I need to leave suddenly.  On crutches.

When I take my leg off, I'm vulnerable.  And slow.  And clumsy.   Especially in the dark.

In bed, I toss and turn all night.  When morning finally comes, the sunlight through the blinds floods me with relief.  There's still no electricity, but there's LIGHT.  The danger recedes.

I take a dim, lukewarm shower.  I put back on my Genium.  (It, too, has had a rough night without re-charging!)

The stove, microwave, and toaster won't work.  But in daytime, this all seems minor.  I can be brave again.

I decide to walk it out.  Grab my flashlight and descend the darkened stairway.

Escape victorious into the light of day.
Things are looking up...
I pass a hopeful sign
on the way home!


Soon, I head to the rehab gym.  The atmosphere there is even more festive and cheerful than usual.

It's wellness trainer Ian's birthday!

I mooch some electricity for my laptop while I start mat exercises.

My friend Nora passes by, practicing her side-step.  It's part of her PT session.

Giddy from the sleepless night, I just can't resist.  I grab my own resistance band and join her.   Walk it out turns into DANCE IT OUT!

video


Will walk for donuts!
When our pal Dajon returns from his PT session, there's a bounce in his step, too.  We crack up as he makes a beeline for the birthday food!



After 1000 miles, you'd think I'd stop counting.  But how??

To stop now would be like trying to stop breathing.

Step-by-step, walking's become my mode for solving problems.  It dares me to take chances.  It keeps my mind occupied at the most tentative, lonely moments.

All those times Tim says "Walk it out," I think what he means is this:  Give it time.  Reserve judgement.  Don't overreact.  You can handle this.

It's usually just what I need to hear.


Mile Marker 1030:

They're also straight from
my grandmother's closet!
I'm about to test drive a new pair of shoes.

They're silly and happy, just right for spring.  I love them!

But my Genium doesn't agree.  They've got the wrong heel-to-toe angle.

So I begin experimenting, stuffing pads of different thicknesses into the toe and heel.

One change at a time.  One step at a time.

No problem too big or too small....

Just WALK IT OUT.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Welcome Home

Who would've thought that after 1000 miles, I'd end up back home again?

But that's the way it happened.










My teams, old and new,
came together from near and far.

And just like that, beneath the disco ball and flashing lights -- along the smooth skating rink -- my feet knew what to do.





I stopped counting miles and started counting FRIENDS.


If a picture's worth a thousand words,



these are worth a THOUSAND MILES!



See for yourself...


Thank you for helping me celebrate this journey.



For never ever giving up.

For supporting me all along the way.









And most of all, for WELCOMING ME HOME!


Yes, of course there's a video! Click here :)


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Beautiful Day


Mile Marker 1000:

It's a beautiful day for a BIKE RIDE.

The morning sun lights up the corner of 5th and Washington, just like it did 2 years ago.  

But today instead of a chill in the air, there's the fresh scent of spring.

Colors dot the road as friends and family breeze in on their bikes.  They come from every corner of the city and beyond.  Michael from Manayunk, Rocco from the Northeast, Alayne from Fairmount.  

Then there's the South Philly contingency:  Davey, Carol, Jen, Karen, Mary, and Chris.


My brothers Mark and Joe, and sister-in-law Amy, have come to ride too.




Shelley's traveled the farthest.  She's flown all the way from Chicago just to bike with me!


But I'm not quite ready yet.  I pull a few shells from my pocket.  They're from the garden of my old house.   Mom stands next to me as we set them down gently between manhole covers in the street.  The spot where I went down.

Then we step up onto the curb and watch passing tires crush them into gravel.

As usual, this place has me on edge.  But I'm about to get on my bike, and that shakes me up even more.  

Jen comes to the rescue.  “Come on,” she tells me.  She’s got a cardboard stencil in one hand and a can of spray paint in the other. 

She leads me back out into the street.  Watching for traffic, she drops the stencil to the ground right next to the crushed shells.

It’s the shape of a left foot, size 6.  A cartoon cut-out of the one I left behind.
I leave my mark a second time --
South Philly style!

And then it’s time to go.  I loosen the screws at my ankle and rotate my foot like Tim taught me.

I buckle my helmet tight.

Mom reaches out for a nervous hug.  I say everything’ll be fine, but she's not convinced.  Two years ago on a morning like this, I told her, “It’s just my leg.”


As I'm about to board my bike, there's a reassuring voice behind me.  It's the same voice that reminded me to stay on it, shift your weight, rotate those hips -- a voice that's guided me forward since before Mile 1.

It's a beautiful day when your PT shows up on her motorcycle!

"I'm so nervous," I whisper into Deb's helmet.

She smiles knowingly.  “Don’t forget to enjoy it,” she says.


Michael takes the lead position, just as he has on hundreds of skate routes.  I trust him implicitly.  He'll slow down before lights, call out when intersections are "clear." 

The rest of the team gathers their bikes around.
We are READY TO ROLL.

I plant my Genium’s foot firmly in its pedal cage.  Here we go...

The light at 5th and Washington shines green, just like it did 2 years ago.

Gripping the handlebars, I scramble down the slope of the curb.  I steer wobbily into the bike lane.  

My right foot searches for its pedal.   And as I ride over the crushed shells, I find it.

Today is different already.  

I MAKE IT ACROSS.

A protective cocoon of friends forms around me.  

Shelley rides along on a pink beach cruiser, ringing her bell and snapping photos.

Davey and Carol take up the
rear on their tandem

Look Ma, no gait belt!


PT Deb spots me, as usual -- but in a very creative way!




We pedal 2 blocks down the bike lane on Washington Avenue and then turn up 7th Street.  

This is my old commute.   Instinctively, I steer around hills and valleys.   Some potholes are still here from 2 years ago!   Gradually I relax into the pedals, watching rowhouses and stores pass by.  It could be any school day.  I could be biking to work.

I keep my eye on Michael, 2 bikes ahead.  All the practice has paid off.  My right foot swings out as we slow down.  I come to a smooth, gradual stop.  My socket stays suctioned, my bike stays upright, and I stay off the ground.

It’s a beautiful day!






On Spruce Street, I find myself sandwiched between "little" brothers Mark and Joe.  (And I realize they're probably under strict orders from Mom!)
 
But it works.  I feel completely safe. 

I inhale the spring breeze and wave to the trail of bikers behind me.  I'm not the only one having FUN!

Uh-oh!  Stroller up!
Two miles go by too fast.

Before I know it, we're rounding a busy corner onto Walnut Street.  Dad's poised with his video camera.  And Mom is finally smiling!

Colleen and Kim -- more of my Magee team -- cheer us on at the edge of the park.  

Diana and Katie from the Bicycle Coalition give us a welcoming wave.



Along the cobblestones, I spy Deb from Jefferson with her 2 girls, Rebecca and Jac.  Deb used to be my nurse, but after all this time we're more like family!


No need for pedaling now.  My bike is propelled by pure HAPPINESS!

Speed equals freedom.   Each turn of the pedals takes me far, far away from that moment everything stopped on November 9, 2010.

Just for kicks, we do a VICTORY LAP!

The tires keep spinning.  The chain goes round and round.  My old life and new life wind together. 

At Mile Marker 1000, I can’t imagine one without the other.

Two years ago, my fate spiraled outward like spokes on a bicycle wheel.  I'd never been a hospital patient before.  Never been inside a rehab gym.

Never even MET an amputee.

Now, these are the teams I love and learn from.  They inspire me to go further.  They instill me with courage.


They hold out their hands when I move forward.  And catch me when I slip back.


With their energy, skill, and compassion, they keep me pushing and pedaling -- one step at a time.


This journey has truly been a group effort!


At the end of the ride, we celebrate!





I join new friends Diana and Katie at the Bicycle Coalition table.  We hand out safety information and remind drivers to WATCH FOR BIKES in their side mirrors.
 
It feels like new start.  One with fewer bike accidents like mine.

You never know when your path will come to a screeching halt.  Or when a new road will open up ahead.

There's still far to go.  But right here, right now -- with 1000 miles down -- I feel nothing but GRATITUDE.

I can write my own ending to the story.


About an hour after we arrive, Dr. J walks up.  He's exhausted and still in scrubs, just off a long shift at the hospital.  

But he didn't want to miss this day!

I expect him to ask me What's next? as he usually does.  But instead, he laughs and tells me he has a new challenge.

"Trapeze."

I think he's spent too many hours on call!


Still, it's one of those moments when anything seems possible.

My shoes are tied.  My Genium is charged.

And it's a beautiful day.


Enjoy the ride!  I did...
Click here to watch the video.


To my family and friends, and ALL my teams--

Thank you for BELIEVING this day would come.


Photos by Shelley, Dad, Mark, Michael, Rocco, Amy and Joe  -- because I can't pedal and shoot pictures at the same time!