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.
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, July 20, 2014
Mile Marker 1890:
I'm knee deep in pedestrian traffic on Walnut Street. It's not my favorite place to be. The sidewalks are cut with alleyways. Restaurant doors open erratically. Shoppers and strollers hurry past me. Cars make turns. Trucks idle.
At rush hour, I'm carried along by the congested current of walkers around me.
With relief, I turn onto quieter 16th Street. That's when I hear it. A clicking sound. A rhythmic knock with each step. I stop. The sound stops. I glance down at the pin that holds my socket together. The likely suspect. But it's firmly in place.
I walk again. The sound follows with every step, like the rattle of a stone in a car tire.
Suddenly I feel my knee wobble beneath me. I halt in the middle of the pavement, oblivious to the stream of walkers going around me. I grasp the kneecap of my Genium. It wiggles like a loose tooth.
This is no harmless tire rattle. My wheel is coming off.
I inch my way toward the wall of a Kinko's store. Against the concrete, I start checking screws from bottom to top. The foot and ankle are fine. I check the rotator, the screws I use to put on my swim leg. (I always fear I won't tighten them enough.) But no, they're tight.
One set higher, I find the culprits. The 4 screws that connect the knee to a pylon under the socket. The first screw practically falls into my hand. The next 2 are working their way out. And I can't even reach the last one. It's behind my leg.
I am SCREWED.
Or more accurately, UNSCREWED.
I've never seen anything like this. My Genium hangs oddly at an angle, half-in, half-out of its base. One more step and it will completely fall off. Drop to the ground and take me with it. Do I have an Allen wrench with me? If not, what can I do? Hop to hail a cab? Crawl inside Kinko's?
Leaning to the right, I unzip my backpack and search frantically through the leg supplies. Thankfully, an Allen wrench lies at the bottom!
I bend over and tighten the 3 screws.
Then I continue walking gingerly toward the car. Safely at home, I do a full check of all my leg's components.
The next day at the rehab gym, I ask Paul if he has any Loctite. From his tool bench, he pulls out an unmarked bottle with a dark, gluey substance inside. He tells me it'll work. (I don't call him MacGyver for nothing!)
In minutes, my leg is officially screwed once again. As it should be!
In the life of an amputee, there are a thousand moments like that one. Admittedly, coming unscrewed is scarier than most! But over the years, I've become accustomed to bumps in the road.
Sweaty on the treadmill? Grab a towel and take the whole socket off.
Bottoming out? Add another sock ply.
Foot whipping around? Rotate the socket.
There are tons of tricks, some easier to implement than others. But the hardest thing to realize is that just one millimeter or one loose screw -- even a tiny puff of air -- can throw a wrench into the day. And I don't mean an Allen wrench!
At Mile Marker 1892, screws freshly locked, my Genium and I browse through Whole Foods.
On the highest shelf of the freezer sits a Butternut Squash Souffle. I must have it.
Now, I've been an amputee for less than 4 years, but I have been SHORT my entire life. In fact, I come from a long line of small, powerful women. What we lack in height, we make up for in determination. And bonus, I'm a rock climber too!
I've got a plan in mind. I grab a box of veggieburgers from the bottom shelf, set my right foot on the ledge of the door frame, and hoist my body upward. In a jiff, my right hand grasps that top shelf. With my left, I use the veggieburgers to swat down the souffle. It hits the floor.
Unfortunately -- psst! I feel my leg going too!
The freezer launch has leaked a tiny bit of air into my liner. It makes the suspension go haywire. My prosthesis is no longer fixed to my leg.
I refuse to be screwed 2 days in a row.
So I pick up the souffle box and push my cart toward the restroom, luckily just yards away. But it's occupied. To wait, I limp over to the recipe wall. I feign interest in pecan-crusted salmon while I balance on one foot.
Finally, the bathroom door opens. Grasping my socket with one hand, I shuffle inside. There, I perform the best trick so far. I re-don my entire liner and socket without touching any bathroom surface!
That's it, I decide. I am done. No more acrobatics. No more strategies. No more pushing my luck. I head straight to the check-out line.
On this blog, I talk mostly about big things, like comfort and health, inspiration and motivation, even getting my life back.... But prosthetically speaking, the devil's in the details. Consistency is everything. And inconsistency will take you down in one step.
I don't know how other amputees get through these challenging moments each day. I only know how I do.
"This'll make a great blog post," I say a thousand times.
Screwed (or unscrewed) that's usually enough to keep me going.