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, November 26, 2014

Harvest Time

Mile Marker  2266:

The first time I stepped outside in my prosthesis, I nearly blew over.
That’s right.  I waved goodbye to Prosthetist Tim, pushed open the glass door of his office, and a gusty breeze did the rest.
“Watch out for the wind!” Tim called after me.  Famous last words.
That was 3½ years ago.  Spring 2011.  Back then, I was like a brand-new sapling.  Easily shaken.  Unsteady on my feet.  Fragile in body and mind.

On the hardest days, I wondered whether my roots would ever survive in this new soil.
Even the wind could blow me away.

At Mile Marker 2266, I'm hit by another gust.

This time it's an uneventful day.  I'm just crossing Sansom Street to check on my Healing Garden at Jefferson Hospital.   That's when I step off the curb into a wind tunnel, the kind that whips down narrow streets and between tall buildings.  (If you live in the city, you know what I mean!) 
Leaves scatter.  Plastic bags fly.  My jacket flips open.  Hair stings my eyes.  For a split second, it takes every ounce of energy to stay on my feet.
Then I recover.  Push the hair out of my face.   Regain my rhythm.  Keep walking.
I'm not a sapling anymore.  
After 4 years, I can finally say my roots are firmly planted.  This season, my branches reach out in all directions.  I’m not just growing.  I’m ready to HARVEST!
I push through Jefferson’s revolving door and ride the elevator to the 8th floor.  My steps are swift and confident.   Each visit here is like a pencil mark on the kitchen wall.  This is the place where my growth feels most real.
The Surgical Waiting Area is a large windowed room filled with families waiting for their loved ones to come out of surgery.  Chairs are clustered in groups.  There are wooden cubbies for coats and bags, board games and restaurant menus.  In the center sits my Healing Garden.

“Rebecca…” Crystal calls from the reception desk.  “Somebody’s been waiting for you!”
She gestures to a woman with long braided hair sitting in a chair by the door.   I go over and introduce myself.
The woman tells me how much she likes the garden, especially the air plants suspended in their glass globes.  She tells me how her own home is filled with plants in every window and every room.  Then she pulls out her phone and shows me photos.  Lots of them.
People often talk to me when I’m taking care of the garden.  Usually they share a piece of their own story:  who they’re waiting for, how long it’s been, or what they hope the outcome will be.  But this woman doesn’t reveal any of that.  She just tells me about her plants and how much she enjoys them.

After a while, she asks if she can take home a plant from my garden.  “I’ll take good care of it,” she promises.  “I’ll name it Jefferson.”
A plant named Jefferson!  I love it!
I want to give her one, but I'm stuck.  The plants are in ceramic pots woven among leaves and pumpkins.  Taking one out would leave an empty spot.

And there aren’t that many.  It’s just a small garden really, barely 5 feet in length.  Truly I don't have a plant to spare.

Gently, I tell her so.  Then I go over to fill my watering can.
After I've tended to all the plants, I notice a little pot on the other side of the reception desk.  When I gave the garden its fall makeover last month, I intended to give that plant to a patient’s family.  But somehow it got left behind.

Carefully, I drizzle the remaining water into it.  Then I carry it over to the woman by the door.
"He looks like a Jefferson, don’t you think?” I say.
It's a simple houseplant with round green and white leaves.  The pot is plastic and nothing fancy.  But she's ecstatic!

“Did you know this is related to a rubber tree plant?”  she asks me.
I did not.
I pack my watering can into a file drawer behind the desk.  As I head out, I exchange smiles with Crystal.  We can both feel happiness radiating from the woman.  Jefferson is going to a good home.

I have always loved Thanksgiving.  Four years ago, it passed me by while I was in the hospital, and it seems I'm still making up for lost time.

Last year's crew!
With every step, I'm rediscovering what makes me happy, thankful, and satisfied.

I go home that day and decorate more flower pots.  Fill them with soil and clippings and greens.  So when I return to Jefferson later in the week, I've got a boxful of plants to deliver to patients on the unit where I spent Thanksgiving 4 years ago.

With a whole lot of nurturing, my roots took hold.  And for that, I'll always be THANKFUL.  Now it's harvest time!  What surplus do I have?  What capacities to share?

I'm ready to GIVE.

And it turns out, I've got quite a bounty.
Wishing you a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Mind the Gap

Mile Marker 2230:

Four years ago today, after a week of surgery and sedation, I woke up in Jefferson Hospital’s 7th floor SICU.  I know it was November 16th because I can still picture the date scrawled on the white board across from my bed.

"When’s Veteran's Day?"  I asked my family over and over.

I knew I'd been in an accident.  I knew my leg had been amputated.  I knew my body was stiff with tape and I could barely move.  But in that medicated fog, what I couldn't figure out was how I'd somehow missed November 11th!

Why was I so hung up on that particular day?  At the time, there was a lot riding on it.  On the Tuesday of the accident, I had a "To-Do" list a mile long.  Our school was about to undergo state compliance monitoring.  As the Special Ed Coordinator, I’d been spearheading the preparation effort for over a year.  And that week, I still had one major task:  to complete a video presentation about our program.

I had planned to put it all together that Thursday -- Veterans Day.  I'd been counting on that extra day off from school.

When I woke up on the 16th, that day had disappeared.

My case isn’t unique.  I’ve heard stories from people who were out much longer than I was.  My friend Rob, injured in an accident in August 2001, was unconscious through the events of 9/11.  In mid-September, he literally woke up to a different world!

Maybe it's a step in adjusting to my New Normal, but this year's anniversary finds me minding those gaps.   Not just that one missing week.  I mean the REAL GAPS.  The space that still exists between my life "before" and my life "after."

On the east edge of Philly, the Ben Franklin Bridge divides the river and the sky.  It stretches from Pennsylvania to New Jersey, towering 380 feet above the Delaware.

There's a walking path along it.  And this November 9th, I decide to try it.  If we make it to the other side, we will have walked 9,573 feet  – 1.8 miles.  If we double back, it'll be closer to 4 miles!

Like all events these days, walking the bridge is a last minute decision and "leg-dependent."   A team somehow materializes.  Friends.  Mom, Dad, and Mark.  PT Julie and her daughter Alaina.

At 10 a.m., we decide it's a go.

Early-bird Donna and her running pals were nice enough to mark our trail...

I follow the chalk messages like a treasure hunt.   

Wouldn't you??

Talk about motivation!

The half-mile stroll from my apartment to the bridge flies by!

At the foot of the bridge, we gather for a photo.  The Ben Franklin is a fixture in our neighborhood, but most of us have never crossed it on foot.  Today we're all ready for an adventure!

Happy Anniversary!

We start the uphill climb, rising above 4th Street, then 3rd, then 2nd...

If I squint to the south, I can just make out the yellow chairs on my balcony, blurred against the bricks.

The Race Street Pier rolls by below us, a collage of autumn leaves. 

And suddenly, we’re over water!

We walk the width of the Delaware River from 20 stories above.  I stop to gaze upward at this dizzying, amazing structure!

Jack likes this hike a lot better...
and I agree!

The bridge is an incline, but the walk isn't overly strenuous.  Not by last year's standards anyway -- when we hiked the slippery waterfalls of Rickett’s Glen

I'm in a different place this year, physically and emotionally.  This year's challenge isn't just survival.  It's to BRIDGE the old and the new.  The "before" and "after."

To build a bridge, you've gotta have a strong foundation!
Here's mine!

In the weeks leading up to this walk, I had a disturbing dream.  I was up on a bridge high above a river, on a walkway of concrete planks.  Between those planks were huge gaps.   To get from one section to another, I had to jump.  But I knew I’d never make it.  The spaces missing were much too wide.

And anyway, my friends
would never let me fall!
At Mile 2230,  I notice the Ben has gaps in its concrete too.   As we make our way across, my sweaty liner slips and my footwork gets sloppier.  I trip several times, catching my Genium’s foot on the edge of those openings.  Luckily, they're only inches apart!

But it reminds me of what happens when I try to bridge my "before" and "after."   I do stumble.  Frequently.  My leg gives out before the rest of me.  There's a gap between what I want to do, and what I actually can.  They're like two ends of a bridge that never quite touch.

I don't have to tell you that bridges are full of metaphors.  And this particular bridge -- on this particular day -- is fuller than most.

When you peer out over the water, you can see other bridges in both directions:  the Walt Whitman to the south, the Betsy Ross to the north.

I learned that from my PTs!
That's a handy thing about bridges.  If one is closed, you can usually find another.  It's become a way of life for me.  There are alternate ways to do almost anything!

Over the last 4 years, I've watched a few of my own bridges close down, but I've watched many more go up.  They're like highways zooming out in all directions.  A web of relationships, a network of support and care.  They connect me to people and places I never knew existed just 4 years ago.

But I feel like I've known
At least half of our group today is from my life AFTER!

On this bridge the ends do meet.  And they get along swimmingly!

After a brief stop on the Jersey side, we turn around to head -- Where else? -- back toward Philly.

The bridge vibrates as a train roars by on the tracks beneath us.  Here's our version of the High-Speed Line...

(You can always count on Mark for special effects!)

By the time we reach Philadelphia, my prosthesis is dangling, my gait is terrible, and I've set a distance record in my new socket.  But most importantly, we've crossed that bridge!


So whatever did happen to Veterans Day?

I can't really let it go without proper acknowledgement.  Let's just say from my new vantage point, it's grown from a school holiday to a day to honor some of the bravest people I know.

Their strength,


their spirit,

and Mike
and the way they always stand tall.

I'm ready to make up for lost time.
Build bridges.  Keep walking.

And fill the gaps along the way. 

Love & thanks to all who've helped me "rebuild" these last 4 years!  Couldn't have made it this far without you!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The New Normal

Mile Marker 2223:

Writing this post has been like trying to pull off a very sticky Band-aid.  It's hard to explain something I'm still grappling with myself.  But it's time.  I need to go to bed.

November 9th awaits.

In my last post, I told you my new socket ROCKS.   I need to clarify a bit.  By "rocks," I mean the socket is somewhat comfortable.  And by "somewhat comfortable,"  I mean BEARABLE.  WEARABLE.  Most of the time, anyway.

By "most of the time," I mean about 70%.

If you use a prosthesis, you'll know that's a pretty decent return.  My last socket was 50/50 at best.  But if you're a teacher, you'll recognize 70% for what it is:  a C-.

I belong to both factions.  In school a C- doesn't cut it.  Still, this socket is the most helpful one so far.

It's all part of this line I walk called the New Normal.

I know what you're thinking.  There's not much "new" about it.  After all, this weekend marks 4 YEARS since the accident.  Four years is a long time.  So how can it be that life hasn't returned to normal yet?

I ask myself that question all the time.

But on the eve of this milestone -- the 4th Anniversary -- I think I finally get it.

My "old normal" might always be one step away.

On this blog, I usually talk about the bigger moments.   And I wouldn't trade those for anything!  But the New Normal includes all the smaller steps in between.  Without them, I wouldn't get anywhere!

So here are 10 snapshots of my New Normal that maybe you don't know about:

1.       It takes a minimum of 3 hours to get ready in the morning.  Sometimes longer.  This includes getting my digestive system in order, getting my leg to fit right, and all the usual stuff -- teeth brushing, hair combing, picking out clothes...  It's a routine I cling to, as much as I want to stray from it.  Bottom line:  If you see me at 8 a.m., you can bet I've been up since 5.

New socks are exciting too!
2.       I still spend a lot of time Walking It Out.   You'd think after 4 years I'd have this leg thing down.  But no.  On average, I adjust my prosthetic socket about 5 times a day.  And that doesn't count the times I want to adjust it, but can't.  New pants throw me for a loop.  New shoes feel like new feet.  Every day is different.  

3.       I carry my weight in prosthetic supplies.  With all my equipment malfunctions, I fell into the unfortunate habit of dragging around a backpack as heavy as I am.  Recently, I've been trying to lighten the load.  So I downsized, keeping only a few necessities:  spray alcohol, AdaptSkin, hydro-cortisone cream, and an extra vacuum seal.  My Allen wrench is stashed in the car.  For now.  We'll see if it stays there...

4.      Fun happens in small quantities.  Rock climbing, biking, skating, and hiking are all impressive, but they don’t happen that often.  My body used to run for 17 hours straight; now it conks out after 12.  Most days, the usual activities  – going to work, exercising, volunteering, grocery shopping, doing laundry, and making dinner – are more than enough.  If I can manage 1 or 2 of those each day, I consider it a win.

5.   I drive a lot.   Yes, I cringe every time I support the Parking Authority, but the truth is, I can't always walk.   Most days, I'm not sure I'll be comfortable and functional enough to get from Point A to Point B.  Or back.  So I take my little Honda along for the ride.  Luckily, I still rock at parallel parking.  (And by "rock," I mean rock!)

6.       I have a last minute cancellation policy.  I've always been good at making plans, but lately I've become even better at breaking them.  Even after 4 years, some get rained out Every decision is a game-time decision.   I'm easily exhausted and overwhelmed.  I still can’t depend on my body.  At times, it's frustrating!

Shhh!  They're treats
for the Trauma Team  :)
7.       I bake a lot of cookies.  But they aren't angry.  Usually, they're GRATEFUL.  And so am I.

8.       I don't like to use the word pain.  But in last 4 years, I've discovered more types of discomfort than I ever knew existed.  I've felt it in my bones, organs, muscles, skin, and in the leg I no longer have.  It makes me wiggle in my chair.  It stops me from walking.  It fills my head with static.  Even on the best "leg days" there's always poking, pinching, and burning I've learned to ignore.   In fact, I've become so good at ignoring them, I often find red welts when I remove my prosthesis.

Hangin' with my buddy Jeff...
(He's workin' out.  Me, not so much!)
9.       Sometimes I go to the rehab gym just to TALK.  (For those of you who used to skate with me, I'm sure you aren't surprised!)  The wellness center at Magee is like a training room and a support group all in one.  Often I need an emotional workout as much as a physical one!

10.   To end the list on a light note, I wish someone would invent a drive-thru supermarket, Velcro-seamed pants, and a prosthetic rain cover that looks cuter than a Home Depot bag.  These would all make my life a lot easier!  And while we're at it, how about a Taser for my Genium?  It would make going out at night a lot safer too!

One more story before I go...

A few miles ago, I was sitting in my car at a red light when an unlikely creature crossed the road.

A butterfly.

Its reddish-orange wings lit up the cloudy afternoon.  But something about it didn't look right.  It hovered merely feet from the ground, passing dangerously close to the cars' headlights.  It sputtered and fluttered.  Dipped down when it should have flown up.  It was working its little body so hard, I could barely breathe watching it.

I wondered if it was injured.  If at any second, it would be knocked to the ground by a passing car.

As the light turned green, I lost track of it.  I think it reached a patch of grass by the sidewalk.  I hope it did.

If you've lost a loved one, or have had a life-changing illness or injury, or have cared for someone who has, you know a New Normal follows.  It's not right or wrong.  It just happens.  You fall into the rhythm of a new equilibrium even as you search for your old one.

I could add a thousand items to my New Normal list, and it still wouldn't capture all the changes that have come about in the last 4 years.  I'm still the same person I was before the accident, but I don't always feel that way.

Mostly I feel like that butterfly.  Flapping my wings so furiously just to move inch by inch.  To do each little thing I was meant to do.

There's a healthy balance around here somewhere.  I'm still looking.  Step by step -- within this New Normal -- I'm hoping to find it.

We'll see what the new year has in store.

Happy Anniversary.