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, March 16, 2014

The Sweetest Place

Mile Marker 1612:

There's a certain sweetness in telling my story.

For weeks beforehand, I line up the events like ingredients on a shopping list.  From photos, I mix together a PowerPoint.  I decide what to include and what to leave out.  Dice or chop?  Stir or blend?  It's a constantly changing recipe, and only in the tasting, can I tell if I got it right.

The key ingredient... chocolate?
I'm excited to be here in the Sweetest Place on Earth.   But more than that, I feel fortunate to be in a place, physically and emotionally, where I'm able to share my story with others.

As my parents and I wait in the bright, windowed lobby of Penn State Hershey Medical Center, patients go by in wheelchairs.  Doctors in scrubs drink coffee at a nearby table.  On the other side of the room, a woman on a scooter tries to reign in 2 rowdy toddlers.  My mom says she can feel the anxiety here.  But to me it's just an atrium, spacious and airy.  In the middle of fields and farmland, it's nothing like the city hospitals I know so well.

An hour later, at Mile Marker 1612, I stand in an auditorium filled with doctors, nurses, and hospital staff.  Above me, on a screen the shape of a giant Hershey Bar, is my first slide:  A Thousand Miles:  Trauma from a Patient and Family Perspective.

This is Surgery Grand Rounds.

Kinda rolls off your tongue, doesn't it?

I'm impressed with many things here (including that cool title!).  I'm impressed with the story behind the town, the vision and teamwork that impacted the lives of so many people.  I'm impressed with the hospital, a sprawling and busy Pediatric and Adult Trauma Center.  But what impresses me most are the medical professionals who've taken an hour of their valuable time to come and hear me.

I begin with the basic ingredients:  a bike, a street, and a teacher heading off to work.  Then I add the garbage truck.  The right turn.  The injuries, the rescue, the surgeries, the hospitalizations.  The pain, the fear, the worry, the set-backs.  And all the people -- like everyone in this audience -- who competently and compassionately carried me and my family to where we are today.

I throw in the scary times, but I sprinkle in the sweet stuff too.   Like Australia and A Bump in the Road.  All the human and healing moments.  Three years later, those tiny details are the tastes I like best.

Halfway through the presentation, beepers go off like a barrage of oven timers.  Not one, not two, but a whole auditorium full!   I stop talking, but no one makes a move.  "That sounds like an emergency," I suggest.  "Maybe you guys should go."  A laugh echoes back.  So I pick up where I left off.  But then, 5 minutes later, they all beep again.  "It's ok if you need to leave," I say.  "Really, I've been there!"

I remember the stark white lights of the trauma bay.  The doctors' wide eyes hovering above my gurney.  I have been there.  I've been the patient in need when the beepers go off.

But I guess this time it's not a true emergency after all.

At the end of the program, we open it up to questions.  The first one is from Dr. Peter Dillon, Chair and Professor of Surgery.  "What was the most important aspect of your relationship with your team?" he asks.  "What did you need the most?"

I've been telling my story in one form or another for the last 3 years.  Yet this question takes me somewhere new.  Instinctively, I lean into the microphone and tell him the most important aspect was TRUST.   After 1,612 miles, I discover the secret ingredient that has flavored every interaction with my team.

Other questions and comments come from the audience.  This one gets a laugh:  "Do your parents feel like putting you in a padded room so they can go on vacation?"

Ha ha.  In the last 45 minutes, I've shown photos of biking and skating and rock climbing.  So it's a logical conclusion.  And reasonable too.  Like I said, my mom feels the anxiety in a hospital that's not even mine!

When a trauma occurs, it leaves vast and deep scars.  You lose your health, your independence, your confidence, and even your hope.  It's TRUST that gets you through.

The story starts out bitter.  But if you're very, very lucky (like I was), you find some sweet places along the way.

A heartfelt THANK YOU to the Trauma Team at Hershey Medical Center for the opportunity to share my story.  And for the skill, courage, compassion, and TRUST you share with your patients every day.


  1. Very well put.
    (Is it true they have chocolate IVs there, or is that just an urban legend?)

  2. I had no idea that you had so much in common with Rachel Ray! The sweetness in your cooking doesn't come from Hershey, PA... it comes from the cook! You have used all the very important ingredients in the recipe that your trauma team provided to create a healthy and productive life. But then you blended and stirred in your own special sweetness (determination, perseverence, optimism, connectedness) to flavor your OUTLOOK on life. Many people are given the ingredients and the recipe, but not all will learn to cook. Your presentation in the Sweetest Place, yet again, overwhelmed and inspired me, but I've come to the conclusion that it's not about the place. The location of the kitchen doesn't matter when the cook knows how to add her own special sweetness to the recipe. Just watch Rachel Ray!

  3. I wish I had known you were going to be speaking, I work there and would've loved to meet you. Oh well, happy (almost) spring!