How do we move forward?

My road came to an unexpected halt on November 9, 2010.

That morning, I was bicycling to work when a garbage truck turned across a city bike lane. I was in that bike lane.

I was critically injured in the accident. A team of trauma surgeons saved my life, but they had to amputate my left leg. I had a long road ahead of me, physically and emotionally, yet I was grateful to be alive.

An ending can be a beginning too. I started over.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.

Gradually I learned to walk again. So I began counting steps. Then miles.

Over time, that journey turned a corner. It became less about my own recovery and more about resilience -- the connection we all share.

Ten years later, I still take one step at a time. Yes, there are bumps in the road, but each step means rising to new challenges, adapting to change, and moving forward with hope.

Are you on your own journey?


Monday, September 17, 2012

Backtrackin' - Part 2

Mile Marker 661:
To quote one of the biggest bigwigs at the Constitutional Convention,
"When you're finished changing, you're finished."

Wise one, that Ben.

Almost 240 years later, my dad's car idled in the darkness of 5th Street and Washington Avenue.  It was 3 a.m. on August 20th, and we were headed back to the hospital.

Mom and Dad sat quietly in the front seat.  In the backseat, I shivered -- sweatshirt hood pulled over my head -- huddling over a doubled plastic Target bag.  Every now and then, my mom would turn around and say, "You all right?"  I answered through gritted teeth.  It took every ounce of energy to keep the contents of my stomach where they were supposed to be.

But as we waited for the red light to turn green, the three of us fell silent.  We stared out the window at the patch of blacktop where this story all began.

I am home from the hospital less than two weeks when I'm drawn back there.

Each weekend this summer (not counting hospital stays) there's been a team effort to get my house ready for sale.  Brother Stephen patches walls, spackles holes, and touches up 6 different paint colors.  Mom and I declutter my shelves and cabinets.  Dad supplies the boxes.  Mark lugs them down to the basement.  Friends Jen, Mary, and Chris lend hands in the garden.

On this particular afternoon, I have just finished meeting with my realtor, Melinda.  The house is finally showroom ready.  In less than a week, it'll "go live" on the market.

When Melinda leaves, I do not fall into a soggy wreck on the freshly fluffed couch pillows.

Instead I head out the door.

I walk in a pattern of norths and wests.  The trees and stair rails line up evenly against the late day sun.  The pavement rises and falls familiarly under my feet.


Five seashells click against each other in my pocket.  They press against my thigh – the right one -- the one not encased in carbon-fiber.

It’s a hot day, but I stay on the sunny side of the street where my prosthesis works with the slope of the pavement.  The sweat'll loosen my socket, but my steps will be less clumsy.

I peer out past the parked cars.  My eyes follow the bike lane.

This was my path every morning for 4 years.

Along the sidewalk, things have changed.  A lot.  I pass a new restaurant with outdoor tables.  A hair salon “opening soon."

When I reach the main intersection, the firehouse doors are open and two shiny fire trucks stand waiting.  

I wait too -- through a flashing walk signal and then a red light, until the walk signal begins again.  For this wide 4-lane street, I need a fresh start to cross.

Finally, I trudge down the last two blocks of Washington Avenue, directly into the sun.  My shoulders tense like I'm heading into a job interview.  Or surgery.

This never gets easier, and it never feels normal.

I pass a row of low-income housing.  A burst of pink flowers.  A young couple, maybe on their way to happy hour or a movie.

I squint into the sun until I’m just footsteps away.

When I reach 5th Street, I stop.  Stand still.  Make myself breathe in and out.  The quiet spreads over me, like it did in the car in the middle of the night.

I take inventory.  There's a handful of people waiting for the bus.  And the building coated in scaffolding last fall is now almost complete.  It will be condos, I think.

Finally, I turn my eyes to the street.  To the white lines of the crosswalk, the worn metal of the manhole covers.  Now that I've seen the police photos, I know exactly where I fell. 

Soon I'll sell my house and move.  But no matter where I go, this place will always belong to me.

Finally, I pull the shells from my pocket and set them down gently beneath the edge of the lamppost.  (I'm not brave enough to put them out in the street alone.)

On the way home, I glance back from the far side of Washington.  Allow myself one more look.   When I go, it’s like leaving a piece of myself.

I wasn't sure I could make it this far on foot.

Much has changed this year.  But what I left behind is still the same.

Mile Marker 669:

You might think this story doesn't fit here, after the serious mile marker above.  But this is how each day goes.  Mourning fades into afternoon, hospital trips into field trips, seashells into donuts.

Our long time family-friend Ellen is in town from California, and she wants to walk!

How can I refuse?  Ellen's known me since before I learned to walk -- ahem, the first time.  And she's been following my recovery closely – even from 3,000 miles away.

Also, I'm on a "see-food" diet.

I am not feeling my best, but Federal Donuts is.  Chef Alec tells us their Apolonia Spice donut has been voted the “2nd must-have food” in Philly.

“What’s the first?” I ask.

He answers, “Roast pork from Tony Luke’s.”

(In Philly, to go up against roast pork, you have to be good!)

We're even more impressed when Alec hands over 3 donuts for the price of one.   He wants us to try every flavor.

Our favorite is vanilla lavender.  But in my humble opinion, they are all better than roast pork. 

I nibble as we walk.  On days like this, when it feels like there's a spiked dog collar around my middle, I take the eating slow.  I can't help imagining how each bite will look coming back through the NG tube.

But it's ok.  Mom, Ellen, and I catch up on news.  Relive stories from growing up.

And we get an open invitation to California.

“How are the hospitals out there?”  I ask, only half-joking.

We all know I can’t plan a vacation right now.  I can't even plan beyond an hour or two.

But we surprise ourselves by walking all the way to South Street.  Almost 2 miles round trip.

Things do change -- for better and for worse.  After all, Ben Franklin and company didn't write the Constitution all at once.

No worries, Ben.  I'm not finished changing yet.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Backtrackin' - Part I

Mile Marker 621:

If you merge the classic hit of 1976 with the catchiest tune from 2012, you’d get "BORN TO RUN, MAYBE" – which pretty much captures my work in PT these days. 

Learning to run is a lot tougher than it looks.  I trip and stumble more often than I rock and roll.  In Bruce Springsteen terms, my gait lies somewhere between THUNDER ROAD and TENTH AVENUE FREEZE-OUT.

It's a good time to backtrack.

To retrace my steps to August 16 -- Mile 621 -- that trip to the Constitution Center.  A story that got preempted by a hospital visit, but still deserves to make it into the history books!

That day, friends Cécile and Thelma ambled with me through the Springsteen exhibit. 

We checked out the guitars, t-shirts and bandannas used by the Boss.  We examined lyrics scribbled in his own handwriting. We watched him sing in venues as small as the Stone Pony and as large as Central Park.  We stood on specially-constructed “boardwalks” to give us the true Jersey Shore experience.

Afterward, Thelma suggested staying for the multi-media show, We The People.  It’s a cool installation – part live, part film, and part slide show – a 15-minute synopsis of the nation’s history.  It makes you proud to be BORN IN THE USA.

Finally, in Signers’ Hall, I met my soul mate from '76.   1776, to be exact.

As we browsed the statues of constitutional gentlemen, he caught my eye.  An unmatched set of legs.  One rigid and narrow; the other, curvy and muscular.

“There’s somebody here with a wooden leg!” I called.  My voice echoed in the hushed, high-ceiling room.  I repeated myself in a whisper as Thelma and Cécile rushed over.

Turns out, somebody was named Gouverneur Morris.   (Kudos to Facebook guessers -- Karen, George, and Philo!)

In a prominent spot next to Ben Franklin, I stared at this colonial guy with one leg.

An amputee signed the Constitution?!   How had I missed this in history class?

I went home with renewed pride for our country.

That night, I did some quick research.  At 28 years old, Gouverneur Morris shattered his left leg in an accident.  Publicly, it was said to be a carriage accident.  However, this guy was quite the ladies' man.  Some say he injured his leg jumping from a window to escape a jealous husband.  Hmmm…

But despite the scandal, he was well-respected -- a diplomat in London and an Ambassador to Paris during the French Revolution.  He laid out the grid pattern for Manhattan and helped plan the Erie Canal. 

He’s even credited with writing the Constitution’s Preamble – those famous "lyrics" all middle schoolers struggle to memorize.

And I’d say his sense of humor also withstood the test of time.  When his friends suggested that the pain and struggle of losing a leg would build character, he responded with this:

 “You point out so clearly the advantages of being without legs that I’m tempted to part with the other.”

Who knows how Gouverneur Morris's leg would match up with my Genium in a road race? ...Especially before electricity.  

But one thing’s for sure -- if anyone was DANCING IN THE DARK back then, it was this signer with his wooden leg!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

One Fine Day

Mile Marker 645:

I left the hospital last week in a shadow of discouragement.  There weren't any answers.  No reassurance that things would turn out differently than last month.  Yes, the obstruction had cleared for now.  But it could reoccur at any time. 

“We’d like to see you gain some weight,” Dr. K advised.  He thought that with additional fat stores around my intestines, the scar tissue may be less likely to interfere.  It was a long shot.

Plus, gaining weight is tough when you can’t digest food.

I was tempted to scribble See ya next month! on my discharge papers.

My good friend Shelley is a dietitian.  Since July, we'd been e-mailing back and forth with theories about digestion, breaking down adhesions, and preventing bowel obstructions.  She’d even posted the question to her dietitian listserve.  Apparently, there's no easy solution.

When I told her about Dr. K's latest suggestion, she sent me a clip from Barack Obama’s speech in 2008.  (Kinda timely with the DNC tonight!)

It wasn't medical advice, but the words hit home:

We’ve been warned against offering the people of this nation false hope.  But in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope.

Granted, my intestines are not as complex as the American economy.  But I have to admire my surgeons.  Even when options are scarce, they refuse to send me home empty-handed.  

There's nothing false about hope.

At Mile Marker 645,  I head over to the rehab gym for my “wellness” workout.   Sort of ironic because I’ve been feeling anything but well

PT Deb isn't surprised.  “For every day in the hospital, you lose 5%,” she tells me.  Energy, stamina, strength.

With a 9-day hospital stay, I figure I've lost 45% of that special something.

But I try my workout anyway.  I walk 20 minutes on the treadmill.  Lift 4-pound weights with my arms.  Strap a 10-pound cuff weight to my right ankle and power it up with my knee.

Across from me is Dan.  He's in a contraption called a stander.  Using a system of bands and Velcro, it supports people with paralysis so they can maintain an upright position.

Dan and I chat it up while we both lift -- and he stands.  He tells me about a litter of 13 American Bulldog puppies he's raising.  He shows me pictures and videos on his iPhone.

My fatigue from the hospital gets farther away.  After I’ve changed position several times, I ask him, “How long are you standing in there today?”

“An hour or two,” he says.  “But I could do it all day.   It just feels so great to STAND.”

His words hype me up more than steroids.

When I get home, Jen calls.  She’s a guidance counselor, debating how to spend her precious time before the first day of school.  Do I want her to visit? 

“Let’s go to Parc,” I tell her, shocking even myself.  I've been on solid food for less than a week, and I'm still bracing for the pain to strike -- anyplace, anytime.

“Really?!” she says.

Beats clear liquids!
"I’m eating for the moment," I say.  “We’ve gotta make the most of it!”

So we set out for an early dinner/dessert combo.   We split a sandwich -- mainly to justify the decadent carmelized apple tart and fromage blanc cheesecake that follow!

A good sign!
As we eat, we discuss Jen’s options for a home exchange next summer in Australia.  

We people-watch on the square.  

We sit across from a wide-eyed kindergartner who’s never seen a robot leg before.  (And his little sis who's more impressed by my painted toenails!)

All in all, a fine day.

At home that evening, my thoughts drift back to the week before, when nurse Lucy wrapped up my IV port so I could take a shower. 

Lucy knows me well.  In November 2010, she was my first nurse on 7 Center.  I was frenzied from the ICU, but she embraced me with her calm capability.  I could relax.  I didn’t have to worry when Lucy was there.

This time around, my needs weren’t quite as dire.  But somehow my newest discouragement showed through.

Lucy offered me some words of wisdom:

"Good things don’t last forever," she said.  "But neither do bad things."

It takes just ONE FINE DAY to convince me she's right.

See, there's a flip-side to excruciating abdominal pain.  It makes a day without pain feel like pure bliss.

It puts me in a rare, thankful place.  A place where each moment passes like a tiny wrapped gift -- with HOPE inside.

One fine second.
One fine minute.
One fine hour.
One fine day.