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?


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Cleveland Rocks (and so does my new socket!)

Mile Marker 2155:

In a rest-stop parking lot on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, I sandwich myself between the front and back doors of my mom's Honda Pilot.  I tug down my gym pants (there are shorts underneath!), remove my outer socket, and release the valve from the inner one.  Balancing on my right foot, I toss 10 pounds of prosthetics into the backseat.   Finally, I hoist myself in too.

In the car next to us, two little girls peer out the window, gaping and wide-eyed.   If you've never seen anyone take off their leg, it's a pretty good show!

At Mile Marker 2155, I'm not in the new socket yet.  And my current one, while sort of comfortable, is riddled with inconvenience.  You've heard the stories:  I can't hike; I can't reach for grocery items on the top shelf; and now, I can't even climb into Mom's car without losing suspension.

So on and off my leg goes at every rest-stop, diner, and gas station across western PA.

(Flat Stanley comes too!)

Seven hours later we reach Cleveland where, thankfully, we park the car and walk.  Andy and Nina arrive from Chicago to join us.

Together, we make our way toward the lakefront, dotted with football tailgaters and crisp white sailboats.  Socket angst or not, I get swept up by it all!

We spy the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a glass pyramid that reminds me of the Louvre.

A tribute to one
of my favorite rockers!

Outside the museum, we amble along the dedicated bricks.

Inside is a journey through music.  Many, many miles of it....

Tickets: $1.25 
From the Civil War to early jazz and blues.  Billie Holiday, T-Bone Walker, Muddy Waters -- folks I recognize from my grandparents' old record collection.  A poster advertises the Reverend C. L. Franklin and, in smaller letters below, his lesser-known daughter Aretha.

Museums are tough terrain for me.  The floors are hard, and we spend most of our time standing still.  Within minutes, my right leg aches as much as my left.  But the Rock Hall has a cool solution.  Tucked away in each corner are small, darkened theaters with cushioned movie seats.  Mom and I duck inside one to watch the evolution of American Bandstand.

When the movie ends, she tells me how as a teen, she and her friends actually saw the show live in person.  I'm impressed!

"Who performed?" I ask her.

"I don't remember," she says. "But it was in the afternoon, so we had to cut school to go."   (This last part she whispers, as if a truancy officer might be within earshot.)

My dad parks himself on a bench in front of a Beatles video.  For a half-hour, he follows their bumpy road to stardom.  (The next day, when we stop to eat at Ruby Tuesday, he gives us a lesson in Beatles history.)

The museum's collection is so massive, comprehensive, and REAL, I can hardly believe it.  We find bluegrass and banjos.  Elvis and the E-Street Band.  Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin.  Along the way, my musical taste expands like a loose guitar string.

Check out John Lennon's high school report card from 1956:
"He has too many of the wrong ambitions
and his energy is too often misplaced,"
writes the Headmaster.

A carton of "Bruce Juice"

Artifacts are everywhere.

Remains from Otis Redding's plane

Johnny Cash's tour bus

Even Kurt Cobain's death certificate
(which curiously displays his SSN!)

On a wall outside the restroom, I discover sheets of handwritten lyrics from "Purple Haze" and "Born in the U.S.A."   Both were carried by astronauts to the international space station and back.

Now that's mileage!

Topped off with
Finally I leave to meet college friends, John and Kris, whom I haven't seen in 13 years.  They arrive with their 3 boys, William, Christopher, and Matthew.  I brace my prosthesis and climb carefully into their minivan.  By some small miracle, my leg stays fastened!  We head out for burgers at a local Cleveland haunt, the B-Spot.  Our night rocks as much as the museum!

We're only here for one day, but it's a great show.


Mile Marker 2170:

Good news.  The new socket is ready.  Over the course of a few days, Prosthetist Tim tinkers out the kinks, and I begin breaking it in.  I've learned not to expect too much right away, but this one seems to have potential!

On Saturday morning, Mom and I meet up with friends Arnold and Mo for what turns out to be another great show -- the Limbs in Motion 5K.  The event benefits Walking Tall Charities, which helps uninsured or under-insured amputees get the prosthetics they need.

Arnold, an "above-knee" amputee like me, has been learning to use a running leg.  Neither one of us is ready for a 5K, but luckily there's a one-mile fun walk that's a good trial run.

Rockin' our new gear!

We're in Arnold's neck of the woods, and today his team is definitely in the house -- PTs, friends, and even a few nurses!  I just know he's gonna rock it!

As for me, I'm happy to do some of the walk with some comfort.  To hang with Mom and Mo.  And to cheer on Arnold as he rocks out in his new blade.

I'm just a groupie, but I hope someday to join his band!

As time rolls on, who knows what the new socket will bring?   I haven't yet tried hiking.  Or skating.  Or biking.  Or even climbing into Mom's Honda Pilot.  In my experience, socket fit can be as fleeting as a Top 40 Hit.   But if it's true that rock and roll is here to stay, then maybe, just maybe, things are looking up...

For today anyway, my new socket ROCKS.

Rock on, everybody!

Watch Arnold run -- with music from my favorite Hall of Famer!  (If you can't see it, click here to watch.)

Monday, October 6, 2014

Magic Camera

Mile Marker  2127:

On an exceptionally good leg day, I find magic in my camera.

Really, a good leg day is magic in itself.  So I go out for a walk.  A long one.  4 miles -- The longest I've ever walked on city streets in one afternoon!

As usual, I stop to shoot photos along the way.  Taking pictures enables me to really SEE what I'm passing.  To notice the shadows, the leaves, the intricacies of architecture.  It also gives me a reason to pause and regain my footing on the cobblestones!

In the sun glare, it's hard to see how the photos turn out.  When I squint into the two-inch screen of my camera, I can only make out lines and shapes.   But when I reach a shady spot along Walnut Street, I notice something unusual has happened.   The camera has unexpectedly shifted into "Painting" mode.  It's user error, I'm sure -- but the effects are downright magical.

A colonial garden transforms into an impressionist masterpiece.

Bricks and mortar, dull with history, shine like new construction.

The accidental change is brilliant... and addictive.

They create a jigsaw rainbow!
I see a row of houses in Queen Village I've passed hundreds of times, but now I shoot them just to see what happens.

My balcony plants!

It's a fun way to spend an afternoon -- walking around with a magic camera.

But it also brings to mind another magic camera I discovered during my days in the hospital.  Nearly four years have passed since then, but on a good leg day, it feels like a lifetime ago.

People often ask me, "When did you first learn your leg was amputated?"

I know they're disappointed when I tell them there was no defining moment.  There was no "A-ha!" or shouting of expletives (or any heart-stopping comments, for that matter).  There wasn't one specific moment when I stared down in shock at the emptiness on the left side of the bed.

My family credits this to the doctors and nurses who cared for me during that first week in Critical Care.  As I recovered from multiple surgeries, they told me over and over again how they were "able to save my life, but not my leg."  At the time, I was heavily sedated -- barely conscious really -- but still they repeated the story.  And when I finally woke up in the ICU, I knew what had happened.  I knew my leg was gone.

But I didn't know everything.  During that first month, surviving minute by minute was about all I could do.  I didn't know what I'd miss later or what would come after.  It didn't occur to me that I'd have to figure out how to live a whole new life up ahead.

When I moved out of the ICU to my long term room on 7 Center, I received a package in the mail.  It was from my sister's in-laws, Alan and Consuelo, who live in Florida.  In the chair next to my bed, I opened it gently, careful not to tug the tubes that surrounded me.

Inside the box was a tiny hardcover book called Mr. Eaves and his Magic Camera.

And inside that book was my defining moment.

My guess is that you've never heard of Farrell Eaves or his magic camera.  But if you read this book, you'll find out he's a retired engineer who loves photography.  One day while shooting photos for a class in New Mexico, he accidentally knocked his tripod over, sending his expensive camera tumbling into the rushing Pecos River.  Moving swiftly, he was able to rescue it, but not before it sustained serious damage.

The story hit close to home.

Farrell Eaves went to great lengths to dry the camera out.  He left it to bake for hours in the desert sun.  He tied it to his windshield while he drove 75 m.p.h. on a New Mexico highway.  Eventually, he got it up and running, but the camera never worked quite the same way again.

It reminded me of me.

As I paged through the book, the photos struck me, each one filled with more promise than the last.

They were simple things -- household items, landscapes, objects of nature -- but through the lens of the magic camera, they took on prisms and shadows, colors you'd never see with your naked eye.

I already knew about the damage to my body.  I could see it all around me: the Wound Vac machine that suctioned day and night; the metal retention sutures, like huge paper clips, that held my abdomen together; the tangle of IV tubes.

And I knew the existence of a distant road ahead.  But I had no clue how I'd ever travel it.

Paging through that book, I had my defining moment.  I understood now that everything would be different.  That a chance encounter had forever changed my world too.

The damage was beyond my control, but the LENS would be mine.  Mr. Eaves' photos appeared before me like a road map, or a tool, or the first hint of a strategy.  A tiny sliver of hope.  And however small it seemed, I knew in my heart it was the way to go.

I can do this.  I'll have a magic camera too.

Through his damaged lens, Mr. Eaves discovered new beauty in everyday events.  I would do the same.

After 2,127 miles, I can tell you it works.  If you keep your eyes open, this kind of magic happens everyday -- no camera necessary.   Even the smallest event can change your view, and the views of others.

A few days (and miles) after my long walk,  I park my car on 10th Street to check on the Healing Garden at Jefferson Hospital.  As I walk over to the parking kiosk, money in hand, a man in a nearby car waves me over.

"How long are you going to be?"  he asks.

"Maybe an hour,"  I say.

At first I think he wants my parking spot, but then he tries to hand me something.  "I'm leaving," he says.  "If you want my ticket, there's time left on it."

I take it and thank him.

Just then a homeless man calls out from behind me.   He's huddled in the shadows about 8 feet away on a small step where the buildings come together.  I didn't even notice him when I first passed.

I hand him the 2 dollars I was planning to put in the kiosk.

"Bless you, sweetheart!" he says.

I start to walk away, but he keeps talking.

"You really helped me today!"  he says.

I turn back around.

He tugs up his pant leg on the right side.  Across his knee is a long, vertical pink scar.  "They've been trying to fix this leg for a long time, and they told me if they can't fix it, they might have to take it off.  Then I see you today, walking like that!  And I know no matter what happens, I'm gonna be all right."

I glance down at my Genium shimmering in the afternoon sun.  "I'm glad I could help," I say.  "Good luck."

I don't have my camera, and even if I did, it isn't really the time for photos.  But I tuck the moment away for safe keeping.   Maybe today, in some small way, this man found his magic camera too.

So be open to magic.  And have your camera ready.

Sometimes a new perspective is just what we need.