Tuesday, November 9, 2010 arrived with a clear early morning that promised to become a chilly, sunny, and typically autumn day. I zipped my coat, buckled my helmet strap, unlocked my bike, and headed off to work. A few minutes later, a garbage truck crossed a bike lane to make a right turn. I was in that bike lane. The tires of the truck crushed my left leg and caused other internal injuries. An amazing team of trauma surgeons saved my life, but they had to amputate my leg to do so.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Confucius.

In July 2011, I set off to walk a thousand miles as an above-knee amputee in my new prosthesis. The journey has held more twists, turns, and detours than I ever imagined.

I reached Mile 1000 on March 30, 2013.

But of course, that wasn't the end.

I'll keep walking!

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.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Clean Slate

Mile Marker 2105:

I'm on my hands and knees scrubbing out the closets of my apartment.

The walls are scuff-marked and scribbled as if Harold and the Purple Crayon lived here before me.  But I'm determined to wipe them down.  Shelves are due to arrive tomorrow, which'll bring me one step closer to unpacking all these boxes.

For my cluttered home, the Jewish New Year couldn't come at a better time.   I know most of you don't celebrate Rosh Hashanah, but really, who couldn't use a NEW YEAR right about now??
In any case, autumn's a nice time to clean the slate.  How in the world did things get so dirty anyway?

My niece Riley Cate is an expert in that field.  Last week she ran her first "Spartan Junior" race.  At 4 1/2, Riley plays happily in the mud.  The soles of her feet are the color of charcoal.  She climbs bedposts and baby gates.  On any given day, she runs the gamut between circus acrobat and Pig Pen.

I didn't run that Spartan race with her, but it sure feels like I did.

It's been a year of obstacles and hills.  Losses and gains.  Plans and transitions.   One recent afternoon, I logged more than 4 miles just unpacking my apartment!

In case you're wondering, I did not cover 70 miles in the last 4 days.   I'm just running a little behind with blog posts!

For me, Mile Marker 2105 presents the perfect chance to start fresh.  Regardless of what you celebrate, September's a good time for taking stock.  A month to think about where we are, as well as where we're going.

If last year's slate is wiped clean, what would you want to write on your new one??

Here are my Top 5 this year:

It's my birthday!  Everybody wins!
BALANCE.  Earlier this month, a game of Pub Quizzo found me sitting directly between the winners and losers.  (Technically I was on the losing side, but I was granted asylum for my birthday!)   Along with unpacking, the last few miles have brought new job opportunities, a new haircut, and a new adaptive yoga class.  Through it all, I've realized how much extra stuff I carry around!  I'm still searching for balance -- between work and play, between holding on and letting go -- but it feels great just to breathe and let the equilibrium happen!

SWEETNESS.  Apples and honey are the foods of the season.  For our family dinner last night, I baked a traditional Jewish Apple Cake.   It's easy but takes multiple steps, which translates into lots of standing time!

So I'll add STRENGTH, too.  Peeling and slicing apples, preparing wet and dry ingredients, greasing the tube pan, and mixing the cinnamon sugar topping.  I can do it all thanks to the strength and technology that lets me stand long enough to spread the sweetness!

HOPE.  Yesterday I swapped High Holiday services for a prosthetic appointment.  (Maybe not the best footing to start off the new year, but it felt like a hopeful trade!)   A month ago Tim casted me, and now -- three fittings later -- we're finally honing in on a new socket shape.  Leg-wise, I've had a year of technical adjustments and malfunctions.  But with a new system on the horizon, the future of walking looks bright!

And finally, the most important word I'll inscribe:


This week marks exactly 2 years (and 1,339 miles) since my last abdominal surgery.  That pretty much sums it up.

As I write this post, I'm thinking of 3 friends who, at this very moment, are struggling through their own journeys -- treatment for cancer.  Their wishes are modest:  to have their hair grow back, to get out from under their fatigue, to have a tumor so small the doctor can't feel it.  And of course, to live their lives cancer-free.

If you're lucky enough to be healthy, stop for a moment and GIVE THANKS.  Every healthy day is a GOOD DAY.

So clear your slate of daily annoyances.  Erase all the tiny challenges that monopolize your mind.   They are -- in the words of a wise surgeon -- bumps in the road.

When you're a kid like Riley, it's pretty easy to come clean.  All you have to do is soak in the bathtub!    But for us adults, the job's a little harder.  We have to stop and look around.  Dust ourselves off.  Get all our parts in working order.  And then walk onward, grateful for each step.

Happy New Year -- or whatever you're celebrating this season!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Halfway There

Mile Marker 2035:

Mark wants to hike Camel's Hump.

I can think of a million reasons not to go.  My socket's rubbing a red patch on my inner thigh.  My liner comes loose every time I get in the car.  I'm hungry, and we haven't eaten lunch yet.  Plus it's already 80 degrees, downright steamy by Vermont standards.

My brother Mark counters each problem with a simple solution.  "So you'll fix your socket," he says.  "So you'll put your liner back on again.  So we'll stop for a sandwich.  Plus it's shadier in the woods."

In the tailgate of the car, 4-legged, one-eyed Jack sits waiting  -- and wagging.  He's always up for a hike.

There's a part of me that truly WANTS to go.  I love hiking.   I love being outside.  I just don't like to FAIL.  And today, it is almost a sure thing.

I take it off to avoid further damage!
Eventually I run out of arguments and climb into the car.  Which of course makes my leg loose.

"How far is this place?"  I grumble as we get on I-89.

"Not that far," Mark says.  By Vermont standards, 50 miles is practically walking distance.

We drive.  And drive.  And drive.  As the minutes pass, my reservations increase.  I think about how hard it'll be to fix my leg on the trail.  I think about how long my strength will last.  I think about how disappointing it will be if we can't make it to the summit.

Finally the mountain -- Camel's Hump -- rises before us.  We pull onto a gravel road that takes us to the trail head.

Trekking poles in hand, I follow Mark and Jack to the beginning of the trail.  We sign our names in the trail book.  A wooden marker tells us it's 2.4 miles to the summit.

"That's it?" I say.  "I can do 2.4 miles."

"See?" Mark says.  Cleverly, he omits the counter-argument:  that we will also have to come down the mountain.

We begin hiking.  Or more accurately, Mark and Jack begin hiking.   I begin hiking MY HIP over the rocks and branches scattered along the trail.

Predictably, after a tenth of a mile, my liner leaks air.  The whole socket loses suspension.  Turns out, climbing a mountain is roughly the same as climbing a supermarket shelf.  Sound familiar?

I try to ignore it and keep walking.  But without suspension, my prosthesis swings heavy like a steel pendulum.  My foot skims the edges of rocks.  My steps get sloppier and sloppier.  Several times, I launch into a full-fledged stumble.

When we spot a flat boulder, I plop down on it, pulling the towel and alcohol spray from my backpack.  Quickly I peel each layer -- outer socket, inner socket, sheath, and liner -- off my sweaty leg.  Mark puts out his hand to collect pins and valves as I unhook them.  Jack looks on, confused.

I try to keep everything clean, but it's just not possible.  My liner collects soil like static cling.   The towel gets muddy with moss.  Finally, I give up.  I focus on just one thing -- getting it all back on again.

For the thousandth time, I tell Mark I don't think this is going to work.  But he's used to me by now.  For almost 4 years, he has helped me navigate some of the toughest paths.  And he's not about to give up today.

"Don't THINK," he says.  "DO."

I tell him he sounds like Yoda.

We begin climbing once again.  Other hikers pass us.  "Great day for a hike!"  they call out.  "It's worth the trip!"

I grit my teeth, which sort of looks like I'm smiling back.

We come upon a large boulder blocking the trail.  Mark climbs up on it and offers his hand, just as another hiker steps past us.  In a shuffle to get out of the way, my Genium's foot catches the edge of the rock.  Psst!!  That's it.  Air leaks into the liner and the whole system releases.  Again.

"My leg's off," I say.

"Never heard that one before!" says the passing hiker.

We find a different rock to rest on, and I repeat the whole costume change step by step.   Mark and Jack wait patiently.

When I re-don everything, I add a thicker sock-ply, hoping it'll tighten up the suspension.  We continue our uphill climb.  The socket loosens again but doesn't completely lose suction.  I discover a middle ground, not-quite-on and not-quite-off but decent enough to keep going.

a heart-shaped leaf...
As we walk, we discover little treasures.  The way the sun soaks through the trees...
...a Zen-like trail marker.

I even start to enjoy myself.

When we come to a challenging cluster of tree roots, I plant my trekking poles, set my eyes on the ground, and inch my way through it.

"Think how easy this would be if my leg actually fit right!"  I tell Mark.

"Don't THINK," he says. "DO."

Before I can tell him to shut-up, there's a voice from behind.

"Does that thing have a knee function?"

We turn around.  It's the hiker behind us.  "You know, it might be easier if you bend the knee more," she advises.  Then she races by us.

Mark and I look at each other.  Thanks so much!  Cause we just found this "thing" sitting in the parking lot, and we were wondering how to use it....  

It becomes our joke of the day.

Two hours later, we come upon a winding path of boulders.  They're steep and daunting.  I hesitate at the bottom, wondering if this is even possible.

"Don't THINK --" Mark starts.

I interrupt him.  "I know...DO."

The phrase reminds me of something Prosthetist Tim says -- "Analysis Paralysis."   If you think too much, it keeps you from any movement at all.

I stop thinking about it and start to climb.  It's hard, but not impossible.  My quads and glutes fire like crazy.  Astoundingly, my socket stays put.  And Mark shoots this cool hyperlapse video while helping me up!


(Cake-walk, right?)

At the end of the boulders, we haven't reached the summit.   In fact, we're not even close.  I'm disappointed to learn we're only halfway there --  still a good mile from the top.

It's getting late, so we decide to turn around.  All day long, I've been begging to stop, but now I wish we could keep going.

The decent is remarkably easier.  Everything goes smoothly until a huge white poodle charges us from behind.  (Yes, a poodle!  Even Jack is surprised!)

"Yetti!  Yetti!  Come!"   We hear hikers yelling from behind us.

What a perfect name for a large, reckless poodle!  I think.

Then the dog brushes by me, knocking into my prosthesis as it goes.  I am mid-step.  The shove releases my socket.

Well, at least we're on the downside...

Mark and Jack pause with me one more time.  We are getting to be experts at trail-side socket changes.

When I remove my liner this time, a gentle breeze rustles the trees.   The tickle of air feels funny and unfamiliar.  It dawns on me that since the amputation, my little leg has never been exposed to outside weather.  It's always encased in multiple-layers of silicone and carbon fiber.  For one quiet moment, I pause and take it all in.   I stop rushing to fix things and instead enjoy the short spell of freedom.

As we finish the hike, I finally stop THINKING and start DOING.   I even stumble onto a new trick with my Genium.   Its stair-decent function helps me step down over tree roots!

We're almost back at the trail head when one last hiker bounces up from behind.

"Isn't this trail challenging enough?" he jokes.

"I'm taking it to the next level!"  I say, kicking out my Genium.  "Wanna try?"

"Thanks!  But I don't even know if I'll make it down with my own legs!"  he replies.

He does.  And we do too.

When all is said and done, we've hiked 2 miles in nearly 5 hours.  As we walk back to the car, I apologize to Mark for slowing him down.  "If I wasn't along, you could have made it to the summit," I tell him.

"Don't think so much," he says.

Late afternoon sunlight streams through the trees.  The fields around us are bathed in yellow and gold.

As you might have guessed, not reaching the summit is not really my thing.  I like to finish what I start.  And I THINK before I DO anything.  But maybe there's value in taking in each moment as it comes... without looking so far ahead.

For me, it takes a trusted brother (and his trusty dog) to hit the point home.

It's ok to go halfway.

Don't THINK... DO.

Even a short journey is worth the trip.  Can't say I'm fully converted, but maybe I'm halfway there.

It sure beats not going at all.