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!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Magic Camera

Mile Marker  2127:

On an exceptionally good leg day, I find magic in my camera.

Really, a good leg day is magic in itself.  So I go out for a walk.  A long one.  4 miles -- The longest I've ever walked on city streets in one afternoon!

As usual, I stop to shoot photos along the way.  Taking pictures enables me to really SEE what I'm passing.  To notice the shadows, the leaves, the intricacies of architecture.  It also gives me a reason to pause and regain my footing on the cobblestones!

In the sun glare, it's hard to see how the photos turn out.  When I squint into the two-inch screen of my camera, I can only make out lines and shapes.   But when I reach a shady spot along Walnut Street, I notice something unusual has happened.   The camera has unexpectedly shifted into "Painting" mode.  It's user error, I'm sure -- but the effects are downright magical.

A colonial garden transforms into an impressionist masterpiece.

Bricks and mortar, dull with history, shine like new construction.

The accidental change is brilliant... and addictive.

They create a jigsaw rainbow!
I see a row of houses in Queen Village I've passed hundreds of times, but now I shoot them just to see what happens.

My balcony plants!

It's a fun way to spend an afternoon -- walking around with a magic camera.

But it also brings to mind another magic camera I discovered during my days in the hospital.  Nearly four years have passed since then, but on a good leg day, it feels like a lifetime ago.

People often ask me, "When did you first learn your leg was amputated?"

I know they're disappointed when I tell them there was no defining moment.  There was no "A-ha!" or shouting of expletives (or any heart-stopping comments, for that matter).  There wasn't one specific moment when I stared down in shock at the emptiness on the left side of the bed.

My family credits this to the doctors and nurses who cared for me during that first week in Critical Care.  As I recovered from multiple surgeries, they told me over and over again how they were "able to save my life, but not my leg."  At the time, I was heavily sedated -- barely conscious really -- but still they repeated the story.  And when I finally woke up in the ICU, I knew what had happened.  I knew my leg was gone.

But I didn't know everything.  During that first month, surviving minute by minute was about all I could do.  I didn't know what I'd miss later or what would come after.  It didn't occur to me that I'd have to figure out how to live a whole new life up ahead.

When I moved out of the ICU to my long term room on 7 Center, I received a package in the mail.  It was from my sister's in-laws, Alan and Consuelo, who live in Florida.  In the chair next to my bed, I opened it gently, careful not to tug the tubes that surrounded me.

Inside the box was a tiny hardcover book called Mr. Eaves and his Magic Camera.

And inside that book was my defining moment.

My guess is that you've never heard of Farrell Eaves or his magic camera.  But if you read this book, you'll find out he's a retired engineer who loves photography.  One day while shooting photos for a class in New Mexico, he accidentally knocked his tripod over, sending his expensive camera tumbling into the rushing Pecos River.  Moving swiftly, he was able to rescue it, but not before it sustained serious damage.

The story hit close to home.

Farrell Eaves went to great lengths to dry the camera out.  He left it to bake for hours in the desert sun.  He tied it to his windshield while he drove 75 m.p.h. on a New Mexico highway.  Eventually, he got it up and running, but the camera never worked quite the same way again.

It reminded me of me.

As I paged through the book, the photos struck me, each one filled with more promise than the last.

They were simple things -- household items, landscapes, objects of nature -- but through the lens of the magic camera, they took on prisms and shadows, colors you'd never see with your naked eye.

I already knew about the damage to my body.  I could see it all around me: the Wound Vac machine that suctioned day and night; the metal retention sutures, like huge paper clips, that held my abdomen together; the tangle of IV tubes.

And I knew the existence of a distant road ahead.  But I had no clue how I'd ever travel it.

Paging through that book, I had my defining moment.  I understood now that everything would be different.  That a chance encounter had forever changed my world too.

The damage was beyond my control, but the LENS would be mine.  Mr. Eaves' photos appeared before me like a road map, or a tool, or the first hint of a strategy.  A tiny sliver of hope.  And however small it seemed, I knew in my heart it was the way to go.

I can do this.  I'll have a magic camera too.

Through his damaged lens, Mr. Eaves discovered new beauty in everyday events.  I would do the same.

After 2,127 miles, I can tell you it works.  If you keep your eyes open, this kind of magic happens everyday -- no camera necessary.   Even the smallest event can change your view, and the views of others.

A few days (and miles) after my long walk,  I park my car on 10th Street to check on the Healing Garden at Jefferson Hospital.  As I walk over to the parking kiosk, money in hand, a man in a nearby car waves me over.

"How long are you going to be?"  he asks.

"Maybe an hour,"  I say.

At first I think he wants my parking spot, but then he tries to hand me something.  "I'm leaving," he says.  "If you want my ticket, there's time left on it."

I take it and thank him.

Just then a homeless man calls out from behind me.   He's huddled in the shadows about 8 feet away on a small step where the buildings come together.  I didn't even notice him when I first passed.

I hand him the 2 dollars I was planning to put in the kiosk.

"Bless you, sweetheart!" he says.

I start to walk away, but he keeps talking.

"You really helped me today!"  he says.

I turn back around.

He tugs up his pant leg on the right side.  Across his knee is a long, vertical pink scar.  "They've been trying to fix this leg for a long time, and they told me if they can't fix it, they might have to take it off.  Then I see you today, walking like that!  And I know no matter what happens, I'm gonna be all right."

I glance down at my Genium shimmering in the afternoon sun.  "I'm glad I could help," I say.  "Good luck."

I don't have my camera, and even if I did, it isn't really the time for photos.  But I tuck the moment away for safe keeping.   Maybe today, in some small way, this man found his magic camera too.

So be open to magic.  And have your camera ready.

Sometimes a new perspective is just what we need.


  1. I remember so well the day you received that little book! I love this post. Through my tears, it has reminded me to see things that often escape my vision. Only YOU could find such a magic camera... and have the amazing ability to share its beautiful perspectives with those of us who so often struggle to see them.

  2. Great post. I love the sentiment, but I also love the photos, too!

  3. All your posts inspire me, Rebecca, but this especially this one!!

  4. Wow. You're really good at this - both blogging and finding a positive perspective. Thanks for being a good role model.

  5. Catching up on the blog, and this is just so inspiring! I love your perspective and your uncanny ability to string life's events into graceful vignettes. Thank you for sharing your amazing gift!