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!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

5 Ways to Escape (when you can't go to France)

Mile Marker 5042:

I live inside a construction zone.

My windows are coated with dust, and the air smells of exhaust.  The view from my balcony looks like feeding time at Jurassic Park.

When the sun goes down, there's street work below.  All night long, I hear the revving of truck engines.  Jackhammers rattle my bed.  It's like trying to sleep through a really bad production of Stomp.

Earplugs required!

In the morning, my walk is detoured.  Literally.

Mile 5042 takes me past 5 construction sites and 2 sidewalk closures.  My leg, usually noisy with nerve pain, is the only thing that's quiet today!

So on the way back, I choose a different path.  I head up 3rd Street, cross under the bridge, and step into a neighborhood filled with brick houses, a dog park, and lots of bright colors.

Mosaic coffee holders too!

I'm only a few blocks from home, but it feels like a world away!
How peaceful...

This isn't a big escape, like France, but it's a small one.

You might not be surrounded by construction, but face it.  Life is messy.  We all crave escape.  Yet most days -- for most of us -- big escapes just aren't possible.  We can't go to France.  And if we've got mobility or health issues, maybe we can't even walk around the block.  Some days, we can't even leave the house.  Trust me on that.

So Mile 5042 gets me thinking.  For all those times I can't escape big (which is most of the time!) how do I escape small?

Here they are...

Everything tastes
better in a mason jar!
1.  Change it up.  When I changed up my walk this morning, it spurred me to change my breakfast too.  I tried something new -- mason jar oatmeal.  (Living on the edge, I know!)   But it's worth a shot.  Inject a little "newness" into your day, and see what happens.  Comb your hair to the opposite side, toss sunflower seeds in your salad, light a hazelnut candle, put on funny socks... or if it's just one of those days, move yourself from the bed to the couch!  Doing something different, no matter how small, can put you in a new place -- which leads to a tiny, but fresh, change in perspective!

2.  Find your soundtrack.  I run low on energy, especially in the evenings when little "Leg-erella" is about to turn into a pumpkin.  When this happens, finding a soundtrack gives me the boost I need.  If this moment were a movie, what would be playing the background?  A Broadway show like Miss Saigon?  A podcast like This American Life?  A band like Fun.?  (Those are a few of mine!)

How about Pandora's French Café?

Sift through old CDs.  Explore iTunes.  No matter what soundtrack you find, a small escape for your ears can help the rest of your body tackle the big stuff!

My current read...
3.  Get outta your head (and into someone else's).   You may not know this, but for a full year after my injury, I barely slept at all.  Every time I closed my eyes, I'd relive the trauma of the accident.  On those long nights, DVDs were my only escape.  It started in my hospital room with the first series of Glee, and it worked like a charm.  Nowadays, I sleep much better (jackhammers aside!) but when my own problems overwhelm me, I still resort to books and Netflix for distraction. (See Mile 417 for an example.)  It doesn't matter where you go.  Escaping into someone else's life is better than getting lost in your own!

4.  Get your hands dirty -- or at least busy!   Way back at Mile 89, I discovered an unexpected path to pain relief -- baking Angry Cookies!  Since then, keeping my hands busy has been my go-to escape when pain takes over.  (No baking necessary!)  Find your own balance between mindless and mindful.  Pot some plants.  Color with crayons.  Do a crossword puzzle.  Knit a scarf.  Play cards, or the piano, or a video game.  Text a conversation using only emojis.  My friend Ellen taught me that one...

Surprisingly, it works.  An escape for your hands is an escape for your mind too!

5. Use a BEX PASS.  I want to be everywhere and do everything, in case you haven't noticed.  The trouble is, most days my body just can't keep up.  When I overdo it, my leg lets me know, and I'm forced to sit on the sidelines.  It happens so often my friends came up with a name for it -- the BEX PASS.  (That's "Bex," short for Rebecca.)  The Bex Pass is like a last-minute cancellation policy.  No questions asked.  No excuses required.  It caught on so well, my friends use it too!  I still feel guilty, and I don't like to miss things, but it's ok to prioritize and choose.  Sometimes it's the only escape we have!

Days have passed since I started this post, but the view out my window hasn't improved.  Grrr.  Feeding time goes on and on.

Yet if I look in the other direction and zoom in really close....  Check this out!

Another small escape!

What are YOUR best ways to escape??
Share a few in the comments below!

Go ahead.  Sweat the small stuff.
I highly recommend it.

Monday, April 17, 2017

So She Did

Mile Marker 5000:

Just like that, I land back in my happy place.

Well, "just like that" is a bit of an understatement.

What I mean is, after flying for 11 hours. trekking through 3 airports, adjusting to a 6 hour time change, pulling 44 pounds of luggage over cobblestones in the pouring rain, and wearing my leg for 22 hours straight, I am finally in France!

If you want to get technical, it isn't truly Mile Marker 5000.  But it counts.  I'm pretty sure I earned the rest in airline miles.

My leg still sweats and swells in all the usual places, but I don't mind it so much.  We're walking to the local boulangerie for croissants aux amandes!

Our first morning in Nice, Mary and I carry our breakfast to a city park bench.  Here's our view.

Everything -- I mean everything -- is better in France!

We log more than 15,000 steps that day, most of them on actual stairs!

It turns out, Nice is a city of escaliers, something I neglected to notice when I was here 8 years ago -- with two legs!

Our apartment is on the "second floor" which to us, is actually the third.  In France, the ground level doesn't count.

That means 35 steps each way -- up or down -- every time we go in or out.

It's in Vieux Nice, the old part of the city, so the stairs look like remnants from an ancient castle.  The shaky railings change from wood, to metal, to wood again.  And the stairwell lights?  They run on a modern timer.   You press a button to turn them on, and they switch off after a minute or two.  (Energy efficient, but we get caught in the dark every time!)

The abyss lurks below our doorstep

Our climb is an endless source of entertainment, endurance, and nervous laughter!

In the end, it doesn't get any easier, but we learn to love it.
It has a certain medieval dungeon charm!

Mary and I walk all day.  Some days more than 6 miles.

One afternoon, we unexpectedly end up on the rocky beach.

We're taking a selfie from the promenade above, when Mary's water bottle accidentally tumbles onto a pair of sunbathers below.  We race down to rescue it -- and apologize!  (Pardon Monsieur et Madam!)

We never do take that selfie!

Each morning we walk to the Cours Saleya, a sprawling outdoor market filled with fruit, vegetables, meat, flowers, and cheese.

We stock up our tiny kitchen!

One late night, we meander through the Place Massena, searching for a boulangerie I remembered from my last visit.  When we get there, it's closed, of course.

That's ok!  The journey is half the fun!

In case you haven't guessed, walking is essential here -- mainly because of the crème glacée!

A few days in, we're faced with a crisis:  too many ice cream flavors and not enough time!  This is serious.  We resolve to plan better.

The next day, we carefully schedule an ice cream stop between each meal.  The flavors are wild!  My favorite:  fromage blanc avec crème de marron (chestnut cream).
Not technically ice cream,
but worth the stretch!

Mission accomplished!

To be honest, I worried about this trip.  A lot.  I pictured all kinds of disasters.  My Genium would malfunction, and I wouldn't be able to walk.  I'd end up in a hospital with abdominal pain, or worse.  My troubles travel with me;  I can't really leave them behind.

To my relief, the challenges that come along are just the usuals, not worse (or better) than they are at home.  I problem-solve as they arise.  And in doing so, I realize something.  I've kind of mastered them.

The highlight of this trip is when we meet up with my French friends.  After canceling a visit because of the accident, we finally get a do-over!  (For the backstory, click here.)

When Hervé and Max meet us outside our apartment, they greet us the French way, with a kiss on each cheek.  It's charming, especially from 10-year-old Max.  He was just a baby the last time I saw him!

"Shouldn't you be in school?"  I try to tease.  But my French isn't good enough.  Hervé translates.

In response, Max fakes a very dramatic cough.

This visit is big.  For Max, it's "stay-home-from-school" big!

They drive us to their house in Sillans La Cascade, an hour north of Nice.  When we arrive, Christelle and Léa are waiting.  We hug each other so tightly we're not sure whether to laugh or cry.  We can't stop talking -- in a mix of languages -- there's so much catching up to do.  We haven't seen each other for 8 years!

Cést ma famille!

Christelle prepares a traditional Sunday dinner, even though it's Monday.

French delicacies with a habit they picked up in America!

The next morning we hike a sloping, wooded trail near their house.  The rocks form uneven stairs, and I grab Mary's backpack for balance.  We end up at la cascade.

I guess there really are happy endings!

It gets even better.

Next stop:  Draguignan, the town we shared 8 years ago when we exchanged homes.

Christelle still works here.  Max and Léa go to school here.  To them, it's just a bustling local town, part of daily life.

For me, it's so much more.

We walk toward the city center.  My feet -- even my Genium -- seem to know the way.

Then I see it:  a cluster of tables and wicker chairs.  This is the place I've imagined a thousand times.

During the toughest moments of my recovery -- painful bandage changes, sleepless nights, days when I wasn't sure I'd ever go anywhere -- this is the place where I escaped in my mind.

It's part of who I was.  BEFORE.  I sat here, so many days, sipping café au lait.  I was proud of myself:  an independent, competent, adventurous traveler.  In this place, I believed I could do anything.

Tears well up.  I squint into the sunshine.

I'm back.  I'm really back.

"This is my happy place," I say to Mary.

Then I repeat it to Hervé, in French.  It gets lost in translation, but I think he understands.

It's the end of one journey and the beginning of another.

Before I left on the trip, my parents gave me this travel journal.

She believed she could, so she did.

It gave me a much needed boost of confidence in those jittery hours before my flight.

Yet I know it's not that simple.

Believing is powerful, but it's really just the start.

It drives us to take the journey.  It keeps us chipping away, step after step, even when it's the hardest thing we've ever done.  And when we finally reach our own horizon, it sets our sight on what's beyond.

Teal green shutters.
Flowers on balconies.
The blue Mediterranean sky.

After 5,000 miles, that's what I see beyond mine.

BIG THANKS to all who've helped me get this far!   "Bisous" to my French family, and especially to Mary -- my awesome and courageous traveling companion, who loves France as much as I do!

The Limb Loss Lowdown - Week 2


Here are a few more fun facts about limb loss and being an amputee...


As a petite woman living in the city, I had always counted on running to be my best self-defense.  When I became an amputee, that all changed.  On a physical level, I could no longer respond as quickly to threats -- and I definitely can't run away from an aggressor!

If you're an amputee, or use a wheelchair, or have another mobility issue, you probably feel vulnerable at times -- especially out alone or at night.  The good news:  you can increase your independence and safety!

I've just taken my second self-defense class, specially designed for people with disabilities.  (Thanks Good Shepard Penn Partners for the opportunity!)

Our bodies may be different, but we can make mental and physical decisions to maximize on our strengths.  Find a class near you, or talk to a traditional self-defense instructor about offering one!

It never hurts to SHOW YOUR METTLE!

Turns out, I've got a titanium kick!

4/12/17:  Alterations...

On my recent trip to France, one of my biggest worries was how to wear my leg during the long, overnight flight.  As an "AK" (above-knee) amputee, my socket goes up to my hip, so it's nearly impossible to adjust it in public!  Even yoga pants are difficult to pull up high enough!

In case you're wondering, I surrendered any sense of fashion and ended up wearing gym shorts on the plane.  Which leads to this Limb Loss Lowdown...

Be innovative.  That's what Kerry Baez did!

She started BKQ Amputee Boutique, which designs clothing especially for amputees -- well, for "BKs" anyway!

For AKs like me, the zipper would need to be on the outer seam and stretch all the way up to the hip.  I'm still searching for solutions, but Kerry's ideas are encouraging!

On the next journey, maybe I'll leave my gym shorts at home!

4/13/17:  The cookie crusher!

A few years ago, a man unexpectedly approached me on the street.

"Were you born that way?" he asked.

It was an odd question, given the context.  We were standing across from a hospital entrance.  I was wearing shorts, so he could see my prosthesis.  But he was clearly not an amputee.  (There's more to it.  Read the full story here.)

It turned out he was a brand new dad whose infant son had been born with Amniotic Band Syndrome.  An amniotic band had wrapped around the baby's arm in utero, and as a result, his arm hadn't developed.

Later, I asked Prosthetist Tim, "How do you treat babies like this?  Do you fit them with a prosthetic arm?"

His answer:  "They sit, we fit!"  (Tim always has a way with words!)

When babies begin sitting -- which is also around the time they start picking up objects -- they can be fitted with their first prosthetic arm. 

Appropriately enough, it's called a cookie crusher!

4/14/17:  Casting call...

Getting "casted" for a prosthetic socket is the amputee equivalent of a fresh start!

So what does it feel like to be casted?   

I slide on a pair of stretchy fabric casting shorts.  Half shorts, half overalls, they look incredibly silly, like something out of a Dr. Seuss book.  Prosthetist Tim hooks them over my shoulder with a suspender-like bungee cord.  He then double-wraps my leg in layers of saran wrap.   (Are you laughing yet?  I usually am!)

Finally, he begins dipping rolls of plaster into a bucket of water.  Pressing firmly, he wraps them carefully around my leg.  This is the serious part.  The cast needs to capture the shape of my leg, precisely, from the distal end up all the way up to my hip and ischium.  Each leg is unique, and this cast becomes my leg's "fingerprint."

When it's done, Tim uses safety scissors to cut me out of the whole contraption.  (Insert nervous laughter here...)

Check out the finished product!

Of course, this is just the first step in designing a new prosthetic socket.  More to come!

4/16/17:  Hoppy Easter!

Amputees hop a lot.  More than the Easter Bunny, and more than we should.

When I take my leg off, I use crutches to get around the house.  Other amputees may use a walker or wheelchair.

But sometimes, for short distances, I get lazy.  That's where hopping comes in.  I hop from my bed to reach the light switch on the wall.  I hop from the fridge to put a snack on the kitchen counter.  It's usually no more than a few steps.

Still, there's one rule about hopping I learned the hard way:  NEVER HOP ON A WET FLOOR!

I'll spare you the details.  Suffice to say, watch out for slippery bathroom surfaces!

And always remember -- Hopping stresses your "sound side," so it's better not to hop at all!

Stay tuned for more Limb Loss Lowdowns in WEEK 3...