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, May 10, 2014

A Walk in the Park

Mile Marker 1700:

In May 2011-- long before I began counting miles -- there was a walk in the park.

Six months earlier, Prosthetist Tim had dropped by to visit me in the hospital.  Two months after that, he casted me for a prosthetic socket.  And a few weeks later, I took my first steps between the parallel bars of his office.

On this particular day in May, the path ahead looked pretty sunny.  Prosthetic Innovations was sponsoring a 2-mile Walk for the Wounded, for Operation First Response which helps wounded warriors.  As a new member to the PI family, I was eager to participate and even more eager to WALK.

"Do you think I could walk 2 miles?"  I asked Tim during one of my frequent visits to his office.

"If you want to try it," he told me, "I'll walk with you the whole way."

That was all I needed to hear.  The challenge was on!

The morning of the walk dawned hot and humid.  By the time Mom and I arrived at 10 a.m., the temperature had already reached 80.  We made our way from the gravel parking lot to a large stage where men and women in uniform had gathered.  The grassy field was filled with motorcycles, helicopters, and flags.  An award ceremony for veterans began.

As the minutes passed, I became less and less sure of myself.   There was no shade and nowhere to sit down.  Under a nearby tree, I waited with my mom and some PI staff.  The tree roots made me unsteady.  I planted my cane in the dirt for balance.

Panic crept in.  I was too hot and sweaty.  My socket felt like it was on wrong.  I limped over to a port-o-potty on the other side of the field.  In that tiny box, I peeled off my socket and liner.  I held my nose and tried not to lean against the wall.  But a little voice inside my head urged me on:   If you can fix your leg in here, you can do it anywhere!   The more rational part of me disagreed:  Are you out of your mind?!

The walk finally began.

"Grass?!  We're walking on GRASS??"
In my short time as an amputee, I'd never taken more than a few steps on grass.  Nobody told me this walk would be a rambling stroll in a wildly cut field!

But the PI team rallied around me.  Tim's dad walked in front of me, Bonnie from the office walked behind me, and Tyl trailed us with her camera.

As promised, Tim paced next to me, reciting his ever-present mantra...
"Big step with the right, small step with the left!"

Meanwhile, Mom remained steadfast at my heels, reminding me it was ok to give up whenever I needed.  "Don't be a hero!" she warned, her voice full of worry.

Together we continued onward.  Everyone watched my feet, including me.

The sun blazed down.  Somewhere along the way, Tim took my cane.  Someone handed me a bottle of water.  I kept putting one foot in front of the other.  Uphill.  Downhill.  Over grass and rocks and holes in the ground.  My socket stayed attached, and I stayed on my feet.  I don't know how we did it, but somehow we reached the finish line!


It was a day of VICTORY!

So why am I telling this story now?

Fast forward 3 years.  (In amputee time, that's 5 sockets, 3 suspension systems, 3 knees, 2 feet, and 1 revision surgery.)  Since that first walk, I've traveled well over 1000 miles.  I've learned about silicone and skin irritations.  I've fashioned socket pads from shoe soles and Saran wrap.  I've become a ninja with an Allen wrench.

This year, PI is celebrating its 8th anniversary at Walk for the Wounded.  As the days approach, I can't wait!  Walking is second nature now.  I cruise easily over grass and stone and ruts in the ground.  I can endure 2 miles.  I'm the master of my Genium.

On this sunny May morning, I show up at the park with my brother and parents.  The temperature is an ideal 65 degrees.
Trying to get into the spirit...

But at Mile Marker 1700, things go south.  If you're an amputee, you understand all too well that comfort is fleeting.  That technology sometimes fails.  That a good walking day does not always come when you call it.

At 10 a.m., I'm already frustrated by a long morning of socket issues.   Despite padding with sock-ply and silicone, the interior brim pokes my leg like the tip of a paring knife.  And if that weren't enough, I am walking on a "loaner leg."  My Genium has been sent back for repairs.  Again.  This month alone, it has logged more air miles than I have.

These are normal ups and downs in the life of a prosthetic user.  Bumps in the road.  Small blips on the walking radar.  I try to remember I'm lucky to be walking at all.

But on days like today, those glitches add up.  When expectations are high, there's farther to fall.

I wanted this to be a great walk.  A victory, like it was 3 years ago.  Instead, I sit it out completely.

It feels like I'm moving backwards.

I've now been an amputee for more than 3 years.  Yet the more miles I cover, the more questions I uncover.  Will I ever be able to count on my leg?  Will I get to a point where walking doesn't depend on the whim of the moment?  Will the next step always elude me?

As I think about where I came from and where I'm headed, there's one thing I know about this journey...

It is not a walk in the park.


To see a video of my first (and victorious) Walk for the Wounded, click here.

Thanks to Tyl for the video and all the photos!

3 comments:

  1. Rebecca - I'm sorry for your continuing questions, but very grateful that you share your journey here. You're an inspiration. Stay strong.

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  2. Wow, Rebecca...your walking is so much better now! I enjoyed the video, and it was cool seeing your mom too. :) Glad that Genie is back.... and I'm channeling some "gimpy chick power" over there to you!

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  3. Oh my gosh that video hard to believe it is of you. You do walk so much better now! Know you have been having some issues lately. Hopefully they will get worked out. If you need a cat to hug or something let me know.

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