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, September 28, 2015

Pope-adelphia


Welcome to POPE-ADELPHIA!
The world's most walkable city  
(for one weekend anyway...)

My neighborhood is a mix of bicycles and pedestrians.   Black shirts and white collars.
Some real...

Some not so real...







I didn't think it would be fun.

Fearing crowds and danger, I was planning to escape to the shore.  I was afraid to be closed up in my apartment, forbidden to use my car, and isolated from the rest of the city.  I worry about things like that.

But the shore plans fell through, and I'm so glad they did.  It turned out to be a weekend I'll never forget!

In 3 days, I learn a lot about Pope Francis.  I hear his message of hope, love, and tolerance.  I listen when he reminds us of the principles that shaped our country, and how to work together to build a better world.  I'm touched by his compassion.  This Pope appeals to so many people, even our Rabbi quotes him at Yom Kippur services!

Plus, his winning smile is contagious.

Philly catches Pope-Fever.  Schools are closed.  (The kids call it a "Pope-cation.")  Everyone's in a great mood.

Our city is filled with people from around the world.  Yet it's also pleasantly QUIET.


Without cars on the street, Pope-adelphia is beautifully and fantastically WALKABLE.

Here are a few of my favorite postcards (or "Pope-cards") from the weekend:

Mile Marker 3185:  

The Pope has yet to arrive.  On Friday night, I go exploring with friends Donna, Mike, and Jasmine.

We listen to the sound-checks at Independence Hall.

We pose like the Beatles!

It feels like the city is ours.

Even 10-foot high fences can't bring down our mood!

The restaurants are empty too.  You'd think Mike's collar would score us a table at Buddakan, but we didn't even need it!

On a Friday night?  Are you kidding?

There's a neighborly feeling in the air.

When the fire alarm goes off in our building, we deem it a "Pope Drill."   We eat a "Pope-Luck Dinner" together.   We represent Old City, the eastern edge of The Pope Zone.

My apartment sits at the perimeter of what we locals call "the box," a 4 square mile area of concrete barriers and security checkpoints.

On every corner, there are National Guard officers and Secret Service agents.  But surprise, they're smiling and friendly!

Pope Francis has brought some nice people together!


Mile Marker 3190:

On Saturday morning, I go out to test my socket.  That's where I run into Richard.

He's rolling along the sidewalk in his wheelchair, using his remaining leg to push along the ground.  Richard lives in the building next door to mine.  And in case you haven't guessed, he's a recent amputee.

Today he's wearing his new prosthesis, and beaming.  "Hello, Rebecca!  Look what I've got!"  (He has a terrific British accent.)

"That's awesome!" I say, admiring his leg.

"I can't walk in it yet," he tells me.  Then adds merrily, "I'm going to see the Pope!"

As if this makes perfect sense.

Richard is going to see the Pope.  ON HIS OWN.  He plans to inch along, propelling himself in his wheelchair all the way to Independence Hall.  The Pope isn't due for another 6 hours, so time is on his side.  But jeez, talk about bravery!!

I abandon my test drive.  "Would you like a push to Market Street?"

He says that'd be splendid.

I roll Richard's chair into the car-free street.  We pass two National Guard soldiers who wave and say good morning.  They ask if we need any help.

Help?  Richard and I look at each other.  All at once, we see what they must see.

We both get a laugh!

Then a woman named Anne walks up next to us.  I notice she's wearing an electrical stimulator on her leg.   But Richard notices something different.  She's got a fancy "Pope Pass" hanging on a chain around her neck.

"Excuse me," he calls out. "Where might I get one of those?"

She stops and unzips her pocket.  "Here, I have an extra one."

I'm not kidding.  The Pope brings out the best in Philadelphians!

Anne joins us on our walk.  I ask about the stim device, and Anne tells me she did her rehab at Magee.  Small world.

Click to see
what NOT to bring...
This walk feels kind of like a Wizard of Oz adventure.

Minus the flying monkeys, of course.  I'm sure they're prohibited!


When we reach the security checkpoint, it's time to say goodbye.  Richard and Anne proceed toward the metal detectors.  I turn away and head up 3rd Street toward Cafe OlĂ©.

My socket's working fine, but this pilgrim needs some coffee!


Mile Marker 3195:

On Sunday, friends Ellyn and Adam walk down from Northern Liberties to meet me for brunch.

City kids!
Their two girls, Maya and Rachel, bask in the glory of a CAR-FREE 3rd Street.

We log a few more miles together, walking to Independence Hall where Pope Francis spoke the day before.  The checkpoints have been removed, but the chairs remain.  We scoop up great seats with no security hassle at all.

Wait!  Where's the mass happening today??


Mile Marker 3200:

On Sunday evening as Pope Weekend winds to a close, Jasmine and I venture out for one last walk.

We stroll down 2nd Street.  Literally.

Some security fences have been taken down.  They're wrapped neatly along the sidewalks, awaiting pick-up.

A few National Guard soldiers mill around on the corners.  They say hello -- but in a wistful way, like they're sad it's over too.

We pause in the middle of Market Street to take photos.  Just because we can.

Will we ever see it like this again?

Bikes jingle by.  Traffic lights change.  But no cars pass.  At 2nd and Chestnut, a bunch of guys play wiffle ball in the street.  Our city has turned into a Pope playground.

Jasmine and I make our way toward South Street, the southern border of "the box."  We continue into Queen Village, usually a quieter section of the city.  But there, 2 cars roll by.  Then 3.  Then 4.  Cars are parked bumper to bumper along the curbs.  It seems like they're everywhere.

It feels noisy here.  And more dangerous.  Like sensory overload.  We remind each other to look both ways before crossing the street.  We can't wait to go back to our Zone.

Funny how quickly we get comfortable with PEACE.


Mile Marker 3202:

Maybe Pope Francis brought out our hospitality and kindness.  Maybe the security measures renewed our sense of safety.  Maybe the time with neighbors strengthened our community.

Or maybe we just worked up endorphins from walking so much.

Whatever the reason, for a few brief days our city was TRANSFORMED.

It might be another 36 years till a Pope returns.  But I've heard talk about creating some car-free zones on weekends.  Perhaps once a year or once a month?   I like to think it could happen.

Maybe we've learned a few things.

Bring in hope.  And love.  And tolerance.  And good people.  And you really can't go wrong.

I woke up this morning to the roar of traffic outside my window.  It's Monday.  People are grumbling.  Clean-up is underway.  My socket's bothering me.

And of course, the cars are back.

But I've got 17 miles that show what we can do without them.

GOODBYE POPE-ADELPHIA ...


Hope to see you again soon!


Thanks Donna for letting me steal some photos from your "All Things Pope" album :)  

And thanks to the MANY, MANY first responders, National Guard, security personnel, police, medical teams, and volunteers who kept our city safe this weekend!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

My Kind of Morning

Mile Marker 3140:

When I wake up, my Genium is charging next to the bed.

MY GENIUM!!!

After 3 long months in the shop, Genie's back!

This should be My Kind of Morning.  With capital letters.  Sunshine.  Legs that work.  All my favorite things.

But if you follow this blog, you know that in the world of prosthetics, things are rarely that simple.  This morning is no exception.

At Mile Marker 3140, along with Genie's return, Prosthetist Tim has crafted me a new inner socket.  I really needed it.  My old one was too loose.  It's disconcerting -- not to mention unsafe -- when you walk out of your leg in the middle of the sidewalk!

The thing is, new sockets are tough to get used to.  It's like breaking in a pair of skin-tight hiking boots.  Made of carbon fiber.

It'll get better soon.  I just need to walk it out.  Wait it out.  Breathe.

The first hours of the morning are the worst.  You know when you get a blood test, and the nurse leaves the tourniquet on your arm too long?  That mixture of numbness and pain?  That's how my leg feels on a new socket morning.

It's like getting out of bed and placing your body directly into a wood-shop vice.

But tighter is better, prosthetically speaking.  Our bodies, mostly fluid, eventually adjust to the new pressure and get used to it.   Think biology vs. physics:  the leg changes while the socket remains the same.  Ask any amputee.  We hope someday technology will catch up.

For now, there's an adjustment period.  I guess it's "my kind of morning."  Minus the capital letters.

It's a getting-used-to-a-new-socket kind of morning.  The kind that requires teeth grinding, short shallow breaths, and lots and lots of patience.  In almost 5 years as an amputee, it's the kind of morning I've muddled through over and over again.

Of course life doesn't stop because you've got new equipment.  On this particular morning, I decide to swim.  This summer I've learned it's a great way to start the day.

Sandy's gotten some
mileage this summer!
So at 5:30 a.m., I pretend things are normal.  I struggle into my socket, put on my bathing suit, and pull on some denim shorts.  I head out, carrying my swim bag in one hand and my swim leg "Sandy" in the other.

I drive 5 blocks before the pressure on my leg becomes unbearable.  Then I pull into a no-parking zone.  Get out.  Stand up.  Press the socket valve to release some air.  Readjust.  Get back in the car.  Head toward the pool.

There, my kind of morning continues...

I discover a new law of prosthetics:
If a socket is TIGHT on land, it will be SUFFOCATING underwater.

I stand still in the chest-deep pool.  Suck air into my lungs.  Hold it.  Let it out.  Try to stay calm.  But the squeezing force on my little leg is so intense that if I move a muscle, I fear I'll be sick.

Why so tight?   Maybe my leg swells from the saltwater.  Maybe the pool increases pressure between the inner and outer layers of the socket.  Maybe the vacuum seal gets stickier.  I don't know.

What I do know is that something's gotta give -- the socket or the pool.

This is a problem because the pool has become my early morning HAPPY PLACE.  A safe, peaceful haven where I can exercise without impacting my broken foot or straining the muscles that took a beating this summer.

It makes me angry.  I got out of bed early.  And I like it here.  My happy place has turned into a PLACE OF PAIN.

I want to take the whole socket off, but if my leg swells more, will I be able to get it back on again?  And if not, how will I get back into the locker room?   Up the stairs?  Out to my car?

My mind does handstands trying to figure it out.

Finally I can't wait any longer.  I step onto the pool deck, pop the socket valve, and pull myself out of the leg.

Ahhhh, RELIEF.

I can breathe again.  The absence of pain is the sweetest feeling in the world!

I look at the clock and decide to give myself just 10 minutes.  I wear the silicone liner to help control volume change in my leg.  Inch my way back toward the pool.

Without Sandy, I'm totally lopsided.  But I don't even care.  It feels SO GOOD to be free!

Ten minutes later, I do get the socket back on.  And for reasons I can't explain, it's not quite as tight as it was before.  On the way home, I stop for coffee.  And the rest of the morning improves from there.

I know in a few weeks this new socket will fit like an old pair of hiking boots.  If not exactly comfortable, at least wearable.  It might even be an improvement.

Driving home through South Philly, I feel the transformation.  Things are shaping up into My Kind of Day.

The capital letter kind.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Small Happiness

If you want small happiness, wake up early.
--Sparrow

Insert Vermont sunrise here...

Mile Marker 3117:   If you want small happiness, TAKE a kindergartner to school.  Feel her fragile hand in yours as you cross the street.  Set her free when her shoulders bunch with excitement.  Watch her play tag with her shadow.









SPEND a weekend with your sister.  Stay up late watching American Ninja Warrior and eating Applebee's take-out on the bedspread.

READ for a few hours.  Yes, hours.  Read aloud.  Read inside your head (says the new kindergartner).  Find a little nephew to sit next to you.  Turn lots and lots of pages.

LEAVE the shopping list behind.  Take your niece to the store just to pick out a toy.  Don't rush, even if she takes ridiculously long.  Let her huge eyes crawl over every doll on every shelf.  Let her dance up and down the aisle.  Let other shoppers laugh.

GO SEARCHING for a missing cat.  And find it.  Be pleasantly surprised that the teenage boys who lured you onto the trail didn't chase you down, or mug you, or drag you away.  They really just wanted to help an injured cat.


BELIEVE in the goodness of those around you.

And ENJOY the breathtaking hike along the way,
even if you forgot your trekking poles!

On the way home, THANK the airport TSA agent for understanding, before you tell him, that an Allen wrench is a "necessary item."  Then thank him again when he discovers your too-big bottle of maple syrup and -- instead of tossing it in the trash -- walks 30 feet beyond security to hand it off to your sister, waiting behind the line.

This summer, happiness has been kind of hard to find.   For me anyway.

Funny how a tiny trip in two short days can turn things around.

I'll keep this post short too.

(Like the shortest and happiest
Vermonters I know!)

If you want to find happiness, START SMALL.
Look often.  And early.
Blink and you might miss it.

Insert newly fallen Vermont leaves here...

Hello September.  Let's see what you have in store.