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, August 25, 2014

Mystery of the Sticky Knee

Mile Marker 1994:

Ever get a rock in your shoe?

A little pebble from the sidewalk, or sand from the beach, or wood chips when you're hiking?  You know the feeling.  The annoying poke each time you put your heel down?  How the tiniest stone feels like a boulder in there?   How, after just seconds of suffering, you stop to dump out your shoe and see what's inside?

Well, Mile 1994 sets a new standard for that.

The mystery begins in the morning on the treadmill at the rehab gym.

My Genium feels sluggish.  Lazy.  Like it's stuck to the ground with a wad of gum.

PT Deb passes by with one of her patients.  I wave as usual.  "Out for a stroll?" I call.  The patient smiles and waves back with her cane-free hand.

I keep walking.  Awkwardly.   It's just a slow start.  Walk it out,  I tell myself.  And I do.

But when Deb goes by on her second lap, I know something's up.  Each time my Genium bends, I have to flick my entire hip forward.  I roll my eyes at Deb.

"What's wrong?" she asks.

"We're having a sticky knee day," I tell her, motioning toward my left half.

But the human body is amazingly adjustable.  I shift my weight differently.  I take smaller steps.  Finally, I find a rhythm.  Despite the hassle, my Genium and I squeeze out 1.5 miles in 30 minutes.  Not bad for sticky knee day.

The rest of the day goes down uneventfully.  When I get home, I walk precariously through the parking garage to the elevator of my building.  Safely in my apartment, I examine each joint of my Genium, foot, and socket.  I check all the screws.  I run my finger over the line of black Sharpie that marks the angle of the knee.  I even strip off the whole system right down to the liner.

What's wrong with my alignment?  How did it get so messed up?  Should I call Prosthetist Tim?  What if he has to send my Genium back to Ottobock again?  What if we have to re-program a loaner?

I catastrophize.  Then I re-don everything and move on.

That night, friends Meg and Chad stop by for dinner.  We walk 3 blocks over the cobblestones and bricks of Old City to eat at Revolution House.  My gait is completely off.  Each step is unsteady.  It feels like I'm walking on tiptoe.  My knee releases too quickly, as if I'm in high heels.  From moment to moment, I check on my Genium like a sick child.  What's wrong girl??

After dinner, we head over to Franklin Fountain for the best ice cream in the city.   Although walking is tough, I push onward.  (Shades of Mile 380 -- Will Walk for Ice Cream!)

Yum!  It's worth the trouble!

When I plug my Genium into its charger that night, I promise it (and myself) that tomorrow be a better day.

It's a truth you learn early on as an amputee:  there are "good leg days" and "bad leg days" -- often without explanation.   And the brighter side of that truth:  sometimes things just fix themselves.

The next morning, I change into sandals.  When I tug the left sneaker off my Genium, I discover it.  The cause of all the fuss.  Not a rock.  But a SOCK.  A crumpled up white gym sock with a Nike swoosh on the ankle, rolled in a ball and tucked into the heel of my gym shoe.  Small and soft, but bulky enough to drive my Genium crazy!

In a flash, I remember 2 days ago at the gym, when I took off my socks and stuffed them inside my sneakers.  Guess I didn't pull both of them out!

Mystery of the Sticky Knee solved!

I text Deb to tell her.
"Good work Sherlock!" she texts back.

In almost 2,000 miles, you could say I've gotten better at detecting what's underfoot.  If I step on a stick, I can tell by the way my foot wobbles.  If the sidewalk is jagged, I can feel the push-back in my socket.  Yet many sensations are still out of reach.

Those are the mysteries that keep me on my toes!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

I'm Back!

Mile Marker 1970:

How appropriate that as I reach Mile 1970, my parents are turning 70!

For 3 weeks, I've been rushing around by car, on foot, and in the kitchen.  There are quiches to be baked, napkins to be bought, and sandwiches to be ordered.  Each morning, my inbox is filled with RSVPs as everyone converges on Philly for the big surprise party.

Aunt Patti generously agrees to host the party in her backyard.  She and I schedule secret meetings.  We pray for good weather.  And get it!  On the day of the party, it's 85 and sunny.  The garden is dotted with lawn chairs and lanterns.  Rainbows of flowers fill a dozen mason jars.

Everyone chips in.  Uncle Steve and cousins Kevin and Jeff set up the yard.  Mark and Andy bring beverages.  Joe carts in toys for the kids.  Stephen's on clean-up duty.  And Sam has the job of getting Mom and Dad to show up.  (The toughest task of all!)

At T-minus 1 hour, I race through the supermarket with a cart full of balloons.  Breathless, I reach the bakery where our pre-ordered cakes sit waiting.

Back at the house, I carry out plates and boxes and bags.  I walk gingerly across grass and stepping stones.

But primarily, I direct and delegate like the conductor of an orchestra.  One that's been playing together for a very long time!

To understand this story, you need to know that I'm the OLDEST.  The oldest child.  The oldest sibling.  The oldest cousin.  The oldest grandchild.  I have always been the oldest in the family.

Circa 1986
When I was a kid, my mom called me "The Ringleader."  (She did it mostly when I was in trouble!)  

But it was true.  I was the organizer.  My siblings and cousins always looked to me for answers.  What are we doing for Mom's birthday?  What's the dress code for dinner?  Did you get Dad anything for Father's Day?   Of course this was followed by, Can I go in on it?

So on November 9, 2010 -- the day of my accident -- a curious thing happened.  I stopped being in charge.
My siblings and cousins called each other from across the country:
"What do we do?"
"Should we come to the hospital?"
"Should we drive or fly?"
"Have you heard anything?"

Everybody called everybody.  And, according to legend, at least one person remarked, "I don't know!  Rebecca always tells us what to do!"  (I mean I can't say for sure, but that's the way the way the story goes.)

As you probably guessed, they all figured it out.

Mark skipped work and came straight to the hospital.  Sam got in the car and began the 8-hour drive from Vermont.  Andy flew in from Chicago.  Joe and Stephen trucked in from the suburbs.  Cousins Betsy and Tracy traveled from Baltimore and Kentucky.  They all came running.

Even Riley Cate did her part!
As the days passed, Mark became my "big" brother.  Sam fielded my phone calls.  Andy helped move me to Magee.  Tracy accompanied me to the ER too many times to count.

Discharge day from Jefferson

Everyone called, everyone visited, and everyone kept my spirits high.

THEY took care of ME!

At Mile 1970, it's nice to be needed again.

Mark asks me how much beer to buy.  (I overestimate by a mile.)  Andy asks if we're getting a gift.  (I tell him to investigate our options.)  Tracy bunks in, as usual, at my place.  (She even has her own bedroom.)

But as the afternoon wears on, we're all getting antsy.  My parents were supposed to arrive a half-hour ago, but according to Sam's desperate text messages, they haven't yet left the house.  Lateness runs in our family, but we need the guests of honor!

At a loss, I call Mom's cell phone and leave a whiny voice mail.  "I'm at Aunt Patti's house.  When are you coming??  I'm waiting for you, but I can't stay much longer!!"  Over the past 3 years, she's received a string of messages like this one.  She knows my staying power is not what it used to be.  Today, of course, it's a hoax.

Finally they arrive, and we shout SURPRISE!  The day blossoms into the party we planned!


We eat.  We sing.  We celebrate.  Kids swing in the hammock.  Friends chat with friends they haven't seen in years.
Lots o' neighbors!

Uncle Andy holds court :)

The 2 Patti's kick back!

Uncle Steve's first selfie!

It's so great to be together that even "The Ringleader" starts to relax!  My siblings and I gather together for a photo.  Just for fun, we line up in age order.  I take my place at the head of the line.  I'm smallest in height.  But with this group beside me, I'm tallest in pride!

Some things never change!

When the party's over and clean-up is done, Tracy and I arrive back at my apartment.  Every bone and muscle in my body drags with exhaustion.  It's been 16 hours in my prosthesis, almost all of them standing.  Tracy heads out to pick up sushi, and I go into the bedroom to take off a very tired Genium.

It's been a long day, a long 1,970 miles, and an even longer 3 1/2 years.  But as I release my socket and remove the sweaty liner, I'm still celebrating inside.

Happy 70th Mom and Dad!


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Thousand Words

Mile Marker 1920:

A picture is worth a thousand words.

I've always had the desire to capture a moment in time.

Don't leave home without it!

For my 8th birthday, I got a Technicolor instamatic camera with a flashbulb on top.  Later I progressed to a Polaroid.  And finally at the end of 8th grade, I saved up enough babysitting money to buy a real 35mm camera, a Nikon FG.

Like everybody else, I've now gone digital.  Yet I still carry my camera everywhere.  A tiny Cyber-shot, so small it fits in my pocket.  If it's on my prosthetic side, I don't even feel it!

But today, at Mile Marker 1920,  I'm on the other side of the lens.

(Last year's issue!)
This fall, my story is going to be featured in the "Be Well Philly" issue of Philadelphia Magazine.  Yes, the whole city is going to read about my last 3 1/2 years!

The article is about overcoming health challenges and adapting to life as an amputee.  About the journey of a thousand miles and beyond.

A few weeks ago, reporter Gina Tomaine interviewed me.  The tale flowed easily -- in WORDS.

But now there's a PHOTO SHOOT.

A thousand questions run through my mind....

How does one dress to be in a magazine?
Who am I after nearly 2,000 miles?
What does OVERCOMING look like??

They stack up high like my pile of old t-shirts, none of which is presentable enough for modeling!

After much deliberation, I choose a pink tank-top, denim shorts, and black sandals.  I simply decide to be MYSELF.

Photographer Adam Jones has the job of telling my story in photos.  Or photo.  Of all the pictures he takes, the magazine might choose just one.

We meet on Penns Landing.  The plan is to catch the sunset, but there's a storm on the way.  It's so windy Adam uses sandbags to weigh down his light set.

I climb up on the stone wall above the choppy Delaware River.  Behind me, the sky is steely gray.  My hair whips everywhere.

I stand tall, hands on hips, while he snaps photos from the ground below.  His flash lights my face like the sun.  It feels awkward at first.  Walkers watch us as they pass by.  They smile and wave.  So I start waving back.  And when Adam lets me peek at the photos, I see what the image portrays:  CONFIDENCE.

Next, he has me walk along the top of the wall, one foot in front of the other.   The wind gusts, but my Genium and I hold steady.  (I tell Adam about PT Deb and all our balance beam practice!)   Then he shows me his camera, and I see what we were after.  My Genium's blurred; my hair flies out behind me.  Pure motion.  MOVING FORWARD.

Finally, he has me raise my fists high above my head.  (Rocky style!)  We repeat this pose over and over again.  My arms shoot up and down, each time with more force.  I get into it.  I feel the victory!  And when I see the shots, I understand why.  This is what OVERCOMING looks like.

We move to Boathouse Row.  Once again, Adam sets up his equipment and snaps photo after photo, working toward one that will tell the whole story.

Between shots, I see myself through his lens.  High above the Schuylkill, as tall as the Philly skyline.

It's then that I realize my clothes didn't really matter.  The photos capture not only what's outside, but what's inside too.   A thousand miles and beyond.

The whole process -- settings and poses, camera and lights --  makes me feel like a STAR.

That's me in there!

I wish my friends along this journey could join me here.  Everyone who's dealt with injury or illness.  Anyone who looks in the mirror and sees disability.  I wish they too could be in front of Adam's camera.  To feel this boost.  To have their doubts fall away.  And to believe in themselves like I do right now.

He gets his photo.

The one that's worth a thousand words.

(Of course the magazine won't be out for a while.  Cliffhanger, I know!)

Back in the parking lot, my little Cyber-shot is still in my pocket.  And it's itching for a turn.  So I ask this real photographer for.... What else?


Adam takes my little camera, extends his arm, and presses the shutter.

What'd you expect?  He's a professional!

Maybe this isn't our "thousand words" shot.
But it definitely captures the moment!