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?


Saturday, December 29, 2012

Bionic Bowling

Mile Marker 870:

Under the neon lights of Lucky Strike Lanes, even gutter balls have glamour.

Our school staff holiday party happens here every year.  But I've been out of the bowling loop for a while.  Since December 2009, to be exact.  That year, I set the school's low score record.  In the first game, I bowled an 8; the second, a 25.

With 2 legs.

This year, I'm back.   And better yet, BIONIC.  Word on the street (started by me, of course) is that I'm going to break my own score barrier.  "With a prosthesis," I joke to my colleagues, "I'll be a better bowler."   And it's a pretty safe bet.   With scores that low, there's nowhere to go but up.

In case you're wondering, my fancy Genium knee does not have a "bowling mode."  Or at least I didn't have the forethought to ask Prosthetist Tim to program one!

Fueling up at Fergie's!
On the last day of school before winter break, the special ed team sets off for a pre-party lunch -- Chase, Corrine, Bethany, Jon and me.  As we walk several blocks from Chestnut to Sansom Street, we realize it's our first true MILE together.

Fergie's Pub is surprisingly crowded for lunch time -- or maybe it's just that we teachers don't get out much!  Either way, if the sweet potato fries are any indication, it's going to be a high-scoring afternoon.

An hour or so later, I fasten my Genium's first pair of bowling shoes.  (Note the kid-style velcro... I may have gotten a new leg, but my feet haven't grown any!)

Other teachers have already started bowling around us.  Among the fluorescent lights and music, Corrine and Bethany type our names into the electronic scorer.

Before I even pick up a bowling ball, I notice how slippery the floors are.  It's like the white soles of the bowling shoes are coated with Vaseline!

Chase hands me a 6-pound ball and spots me as I take my place the head of our lane.  "Don't go past this line," she points.  "It's even more slippery there."

I try imitate the other bowlers -- to get a running start and lunge as I release the ball.  But ask my pals at the rehab gym -- I am not much of a runner or a lunger...

No records yet, but at least
I'm not alone!
After watching me toss the ball into the gutter for several turns, Bethany asks curiously, "Are you looking at the arrows?"  I've deemed her the most professional bowler on our team. (Rumor has it, once she even bowled in a league.)

"Which arrows?" I reply.

She points them out.  And I realize they've been there all the time, about 10 feet from away from me, lined up in V-formation like a flock of birds heading south.

"Aim for the center one," she says.

I do.  And I hit ONE PIN!

Well, a taste of success is all this team needs.  Don't forget, we're teachers.

A frame or two later, Bethany suggests I squat instead of using my awkward, unstable lunge.  "That's supposed to HELP your momentum," she tells me.  But I agree with her.  It's not helping at all.  It's throwing me -- and my ball -- off balance.

Blinkin' lights and all!
Then Chase recommends I stand at the line, rather than attempting a running start.  I follow her lead.  After all, she's earned an honor of her own today -- winner of the school's ugly sweater contest!

In the next few frames, I earn a sprinkling of 3's and 6's.  And then behold, an 8 -- a Christmas miracle!

When 10 frames are over, I've hit my HIGH SCORE record.  A whopping 31.  And to add to the glory, I haven't even come in last!

Still, my colleagues can rest easy this holiday season.  Even as a bionic bowler, I'm not much of a threat.

But watch out everybody.  Practice makes perfect.

My Genium and I will see you next year!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Naughty or Ni(e)ce

Mile Marker 855:

You better watch out, you better not cry…

My niece Riley is going to see Santa today, and boy is she psyched!  She thinks he's gonna bring her that "Peppa Pig House" she wants for Christmas.  Right now, I mean.

When you’re 2 ½, there’s a fine line between asking and getting.  And don't even try to explain NAUGHTY or NICE.

Santa's up ahead, sitting in his big North Pole chair.  We scoop nephew Brennan -- still sleeping -- out of his stroller.  His wide eyes pop open as my sister tugs off his fleece jacket and hat.   We plop him down on the big man's lap, happily clueless.  

Poor Riley, on the other hand, is on to our trickery!  Who's this guy with the scratchy beard and why is there no Peppa Pig House in sight?!

When we escape the clutches of Santa, Riley takes comfort in the “farm” (a.k.a. live nativity scene) around the corner.  This girl's a Vermonter through and through! 

A self-portrait :)
We visit the carousel at Franklin Square.  I lift Riley onto her zebra and hold her steady as the jerky ride goes round and round.

Then, we hit the slide.  It seems my Genium is determined to get on the NICE list this year.

The next day, I host lunch for my oldest niece Brianna, my friend Suzanne, and her daughter Maddie.

“Did he say he was sorry?” Brianna asks.  Out of the blue, she's talking about the trash truck driver who hit me.

We've just baked brownies with Santa hats, so I’m not sure why the conversation has taken this turn – to the accident, to my robot leg.

I manage a nod.  "Mmm-hmm."

My mouth is full of pizza -- not so full that I can’t answer, but it's all I can squeeze out at the moment. How can I explain the complexities of blame or the logistics of what happened?  She's only 8 years old.

Luckily, kids' minds move like a flash.  Brianna and Maddie quickly lapse into silliness.  They get so giddy they almost tip their own scales from NICE toward NAUGHTY!

My friend Shelley’s nephew Casey has a very insightful take on the NAUGHTY vs. NICE idea.  Especially for a 4-year-old.  (Shelley let me borrow this dialogue from her Facebook post.   I swiped the photo, too!)

Grandma to Casey:  Are you on the naughty or nice list?

Casey Probably I’m on both.

Shelley points out the cool Yin-Yang workings of his mind.

Even so young, he knows it's best to have all his bases covered!

Mile Marker 856:

'Tis the season to be jolly.

I was planning to end this post with Casey's words.  It's comforting to believe we have control over our world, just by acting in a certain way.

But this month, we've all watched NAUGHTY and NICE battle it out.  People suffer.  School kids and teachers are full of life one day and gone the next.

Horrific things happen to NICE people.

When I arrive at PT this week, Deb sits me down on a mat.

She tells me Joanna has died.

NICE described Joanna perfectly.  When our PT sessions overlapped.  I’d arrive just as she was hugging Deb goodbye.

They must be really close!   I'd think each time I saw their embrace.

Until Joanna started hugging me, too.

In our spare moments between therapy, Joanna and I found things in common.  We both lived in South Philly and loved the Jersey shore.  She was a kindergarten teacher, too -- until illness took over.

When we talked about our uneven gaits or how hard it was to get out in the morning, Joanna rolled her eyes and smiled at me, like these were secrets we shared.

Over time, I saw Joanna less and less.  Deb kept me posted with stories.  She told me about Joanna's enormous shoe collection.  How she wanted to learn to walk in high heels again!

Joanna's illness took away many things.  But not her kindness and spirit.

I just can't stop thinking about NAUGHTY and NICE.  And the randomness of it all.

At home that evening, I fish out Joanna’s red wristband – the one she gave me last year, just before the holiday season began.

I slip it on next to my own Thousand Miles green one.  My mind wanders back to our talks on the mats and between the parallel bars.  I think about Joanna's 32 years of life.  About how our paths intersected only in small moments, but about the deep impact she left behind.

An hour or so later, I glance down at my wrist.  Joanna’s wristband has wrapped itself around mine.  Embracing it completely, just like one of her hugs.

Late in the night, I hear a new song on my Pandora station.  It so embodies the last few miles that I want to play it over and over again.

In the spirit of Joanna -- who expressed love every time I saw her -- I’m sharing it with you.

Consider it an extra serving of NICE this holiday season.  Because it really does matter.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Moving Days

Mile Marker 836:

If I told you my computer’s been buried at the bottom of a box, would you believe me?

For 2 weeks now, I’ve unpacked box after box of neatly wrapped surprises.  They’re nestled in newspaper and bound with bubble wrap.  And when I open them here – in the new apartment – they’re like tiny presents.

I’ve got many more to go.  But even among the chaos, this place is bright.

There are no stairs to climb.  The washer and dryer are not in the basement.   When I tie up a trash bag, it drops neatly into a chute at the end of the hall.  And when I head out for the day, I ride the elevator down to the car, waiting in a heated garage.  (Hear what I'm sayin', fellow city dwellers?!)

Everything is on one level.  Nothing is off-limits to crutches.  My Upstairs Life is over.

“It’s just so EASY,” I tell my friend Bosco.  “Everything’s so SIMPLE here.”

“It’s been a long time since you've used those words,” she says.

She's right.

But moving is never easy.

My last day at Jeff...
Andy and Mark
help me get packed up!
Exactly 2 years ago this week, I was transferred from Jefferson Hospital to Magee Rehab Hospital.

When I found out I'd go by ambulance, I overflowed with tears of PANIC.  At that time, less than 7 weeks after the accident, the tiniest thought or sound or sensation sent me careening back to that moment of impact -- my body against the truck.  And all the frightening moments that came after.

I feared that being in an ambulance again would release a flood of those flashbacks.

When the paramedics arrived at my room with the stretcher, I tried to hold it together.  I made them promise not to turn on the siren.  They agreed.

"Can my brother ride with me?" I asked.  

Mark stood by the stretcher.  Even if they'd said no, he couldn't have left my side.  I had a death-grip on his hand!

They said he could ride up front, and I started to protest.

But at that instant, it seemed every nurse on the unit stepped into the hallway.  They clapped their hands.  They wished me well and waved goodbye as the paramedics wheeled me out.  A standing ovation.  What a farewell!

Outside, I inhaled my first breath of December air.   With a few smooth movements, I was loaded into the back of the ambulance.  

Then I saw the paramedic give a quick, almost imperceptible nod to Mark.  He jumped in the back with me.

I gripped his hand all the way to the rehab hospital.

The move to this new apartment was nowhere near as traumatic, but it was difficult in its own way.  

Brother Steve to the
There were weeks of packing, cleaning, and organizing that involved the entire family.

Then, there were days of stumbling over half-filled boxes.


Yes, that's a dresser
going out a window...

And finally, there was a morning of furniture-moving that resembled an epic performance of Cirque du Soleil.

Bravo!  Bravo!

But the hardest part was saying goodbye.

Once the house was empty, I stood out in the garden, the only part of the place that still seemed alive.  I thought about how much I loved my home.  How I'd painted its walls and arranged its rooms.  How I'd planted flowers and herbs.  How I'd imagined a future here.

This was where I started out on November 9th -- the morning everything changed.  It's where I showered and dressed.  Where I buckled my bike helmet.  Where I unlocked my bike and put my backpack in the saddlebag.

In my mind, it will always be the last place I was WHOLE.

Some people say tomorrow, December 21, 2012, will bring the end of the world.  

But in an article I just read, a modern-day Mayan says we're missing the point.  It's not the end of the world, he explains.  It's the end of an era.  He says he's looking forward to seeing what the next era will bring.

So am I.

I'm now 16 blocks north, in the oldest part of the city.  

Yet it feels like a new world.

I can walk to restaurants and shops.  Even go out for an evening stroll!

Like my neighbor Betsy's
holiday decorations?

Yes, it's the start of a new era -- complete with an elevator and indoor parking.  (Maybe not for the Mayans, but for me!)

And, of course, there's no telling what's inside the next box....