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!

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.

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.)