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, July 20, 2014

Screwed!


Mile Marker 1890:

I'm knee deep in pedestrian traffic on Walnut Street.  It's not my favorite place to be.  The sidewalks are cut with alleyways.  Restaurant doors open erratically.  Shoppers and strollers hurry past me.  Cars make turns.  Trucks idle.

At rush hour, I'm carried along by the congested current of walkers around me.

With relief, I turn onto quieter 16th Street.  That's when I hear it.  A clicking sound.  A rhythmic knock with each step.  I stop.  The sound stops.  I glance down at the pin that holds my socket together.  The likely suspect.  But it's firmly in place.

I walk again.  The sound follows with every step, like the rattle of a stone in a car tire.

Suddenly I feel my knee wobble beneath me.  I halt in the middle of the pavement, oblivious to the stream of walkers going around me.  I grasp the kneecap of my Genium.  It wiggles like a loose tooth.

This is no harmless tire rattle.  My wheel is coming off.

I inch my way toward the wall of a Kinko's store.  Against the concrete, I start checking screws from bottom to top.  The foot and ankle are fine.  I check the rotator, the screws I use to put on my swim leg.  (I always fear I won't tighten them enough.)  But no, they're tight.

One set higher, I find the culprits.  The 4 screws that connect the knee to a pylon under the socket.  The first screw practically falls into my hand.  The next 2 are working their way out.  And I can't even reach the last one.  It's behind my leg.

I am SCREWED.

Or more accurately, UNSCREWED.

I've never seen anything like this.  My Genium hangs oddly at an angle, half-in, half-out of its base.  One more step and it will completely fall off.  Drop to the ground and take me with it.  Do I have an Allen wrench with me?  If not, what can I do?  Hop to hail a cab?  Crawl inside Kinko's?

Leaning to the right, I unzip my backpack and search frantically through the leg supplies.  Thankfully, an Allen wrench lies at the bottom!

I bend over and tighten the 3 screws.

Then I continue walking gingerly toward the car.  Safely at home, I do a full check of all my leg's components.


The next day at the rehab gym, I ask Paul if he has any Loctite.  From his tool bench, he pulls out an unmarked bottle with a dark, gluey substance inside.  He tells me it'll work.  (I don't call him MacGyver for nothing!)

In minutes, my leg is officially screwed once again.  As it should be!


Mile Marker 1892:

In the life of an amputee, there are a thousand moments like that one.  Admittedly, coming unscrewed is scarier than most!  But over the years, I've become accustomed to bumps in the road.

Sweaty on the treadmill?  Grab a towel and take the whole socket off.

Bottoming out?  Add another sock ply.

Foot whipping around?  Rotate the socket.

There are tons of tricks, some easier to implement than others.  But the hardest thing to realize is that just one millimeter or one loose screw -- even a tiny puff of air -- can throw a wrench into the day.  And I don't mean an Allen wrench!

At Mile Marker 1892, screws freshly locked, my Genium and I browse through Whole Foods.

On the highest shelf of the freezer sits a Butternut Squash Souffle.  I must have it.

Now, I've been an amputee for less than 4 years, but I have been SHORT my entire life.  In fact, I come from a long line of small, powerful women. What we lack in height, we make up for in determination.  And bonus, I'm a rock climber too!

I've got a plan in mind.  I grab a box of veggieburgers from the bottom shelf, set my right foot on the ledge of the door frame, and hoist my body upward.  In a jiff, my right hand grasps that top shelf.  With my left, I use the veggieburgers to swat down the souffle.  It hits the floor.

Unfortunately -- psst!   I feel my leg going too!

The freezer launch has leaked a tiny bit of air into my liner.  It makes the suspension go haywire.  My prosthesis is no longer fixed to my leg.

I refuse to be screwed 2 days in a row.

So I pick up the souffle box and push my cart toward the restroom, luckily just yards away.  But it's occupied.  To wait, I limp over to the recipe wall.  I feign interest in pecan-crusted salmon while I balance on one foot.

Finally, the bathroom door opens.  Grasping my socket with one hand, I shuffle inside.  There, I perform the best trick so far.  I re-don my entire liner and socket without touching any bathroom surface!

That's it,  I decide.  I am done.  No more acrobatics.  No more strategies.  No more pushing my luck.  I head straight to the check-out line.

On this blog, I talk mostly about big things, like comfort and health, inspiration and motivation, even getting my life back....  But prosthetically speaking, the devil's in the details.  Consistency is everything.  And inconsistency will take you down in one step.

I don't know how other amputees get through these challenging moments each day.  I only know how I do.

"This'll make a great blog post," I say a thousand times.

Screwed (or unscrewed) that's usually enough to keep me going.

Monday, July 7, 2014

I Can

Mile Marker 1850:

I CAN is a powerful place to be, but it takes a lot of work to get there.

In a crowded New Jersey gymnasium, bikes are zooming everywhere.  Big and small.  Fast and slow.  They whiz around like fireflies -- circling, fluttering, wobbling -- lit by the desire in their riders' eyes.

"Pedal, pedal, pedal, PEDAL!" shout the buddies, who run alongside.  It's their job to keep the kids' feet moving, hands steering, and eyes straight ahead, focused on the so-called road.

At the iCan Bike program, affectionately known as "Bike Camp," children with disabilities are matched with volunteer buddies who -- with the help of adaptive equipment, detailed training, and a whole lot of energy -- teach the kids to ride two-wheelers.  Whew!

If you remember learning to ride a bike yourself, you understand the enormity of the task.  You know it involves a heap of determination, a touch of anguish, and several good spills.

But iCan Bike sets these kids up for success.  Instead of training wheels, they replace the back tires with rollers of different length and thickness.  Buddies run behind the bikes to help the children steer, balance, and stop.  As the kids learn to control the bikes on their own, the back rollers become shorter and more tapered.  The buddies release their hold on the support bars.  And we all watch in amazement as the kids progress from adaptive bikes to their own two-wheelers!


So what am I doing here -- besides witnessing some super awesome bike-riding??

Go John!
I met camp director Caroline a few months ago as I was watering the Healing Garden at Jefferson Hospital.  Caroline is also mom to 10-year-old John, a rider in the program.   When she told me about the camp's mission, I wanted to volunteer, but bike-chasing wasn't really up my alley.  So I offered to be the camp photographer.

In 3 days, I take almost 400 photos, but they barely scratch the surface of the two-wheeled magic...


At the start of the week, the children are tentative.  They need boosts from their buddies.  Their feet slip off the pedals.  They glance from side to side, easily distracted.  Some cry with frustration.  Others miss turns, bump into bleachers, and hop off their bikes mid-stride to run away.

Then, pedal by pedal, a transformation occurs.
I CAN'T turns into I'LL TRY.

To get them there, the buddies coax and coddle.  They draw checklists, distribute stickers, work puppets, and hold up numbered cards for every lap.  They teach the kids strategies for "frog starts" (3 pushes with your feet, then pedal, pedal, pedal!) and "stops" (squeeze the brake and put your feet down quick!).

Most buddies are just high school kids themselves, but they become PTs, OTs, coaches, teachers, and cheerleaders.  All while running their hearts out!


By the final day, 16-year-old Ronnie rides a beach cruiser proudly around the parking lot.  He's got the basics down, but I can see those inner wheels turning.

He attempts tricks:  standing on the pedals, picking up speed, even taking a running start.  He definitely hops more curbs than he should, yet he rolls on with confidence!

Then there's Hallie, whose dark eyes squint with concentration and intensity.
She's earned more than her share of scraped knees this week.  But no matter how many times she wants to give in, her buddies perk her up with pep talks.  And when they finally wheel out her own pink and purple bike, she's on the move once again!

Inside the gym, another rider Logan shows me a picture he drew.  He explains, "It says What to do What to do  because in the beginning, I didn't know what to do."



Then he picks up his red and black dirt bike, and heads outside for more practice.

I step on and off the blacktop, snapping photos as the kids race by.  Truly, it's a challenge for me just to avoid being run over!   But the rewards are worth it.  From the sidelines, I join parents in watching their children soar.

On my own journey, I learned a long time ago the power of I CAN.  I was fortunate to be taught by doctors, nurses, therapists, prosthetists, friends, and family who didn't know the meaning of I CAN'T.  (Or if they did, they kept it a secret!)

Even now, almost every day, people ask me what I can do.  Perhaps it comes with the territory of being bionic...
"Can you bike?" (yes)
"Skate?" (pretty much)
"Run?" (not yet, but someday!)


Still, Bike Camp is a good refresher course.

It reminds us how I CAN'T will stop us in our tracks, while I CAN will send a breeze through our helmets.

And to help span the distance, there's a bridge in the middle called I'LL TRY.



At the end of Bike Camp, not everyone is riding independently yet.  But they're all pedaling their fastest, steering their best, and smiling pretty darn wide!

Medals all around!

Then the kids take their bikes home to keep practicing...

...pedaling and pedaling toward that place called I CAN.
(They give me something to aim for too.  Maybe next year I'll chase bikes!)

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Up, Up, and Away

Mile Marker 1800:

UP...

The sky is hot and blue.   Below it, my prosthetic liner fills with a puddle of sweat.

June starts off with a ride on the Zoo Balloon.  But first comes a long wait in the summer heat, with a 10-year-old who's much more patient than I am.

When my niece Brianna was little, we spent lots of time together.  I taught her to love water ice.  I played with her on the beach.  And once, on a sweltering day like this, we grabbed our mittens and headed to an indoor ice skating rink!

At the time of my accident, Brianna was 6 years old.  She colored me lots of pictures and asked me why my jeans were tied up "like a ponytail."  When I first showed her my prosthesis, she was minimally impressed.  "That's cool, but it would be cooler if you had TWO robot legs," she told me.

What she really wanted to know was when we'd go skating again.  But with leg and stomach troubles, I never felt dependable enough to take her out on my own.

Now that she's reached the double-digits, "Lil B" has surpassed me in both height and shoe size.   On the dawn of her 10th birthday, I realize just how much I miss her.   Instead of a present, I decide to give her a coupon book filled with 10 fun things to do together.  At Mile Marker 1800, she chooses the Zoo Balloon.

Of course, standing in a hot line does not rank as "fun" on my list.  After the first 10 minutes, my prosthesis is peeling away from my body.  With each step, it feels heavier and heavier.  My right ankle and knee ache from too much standing.  I'm convinced the entire coupon book was a big mistake.

"It's really hot, B.  Want to skip the balloon and go see the animals instead?"

The ends of Brianna's hair curl in the heat.  "Nope, I wanna ride the balloon," she says.

So I take a deep breath and readjust my stance.  I shift my weight and try to stay calm.   I run my finger along the edge of my waist harness, reassurance that my leg will stay put.

Then I do what most aunts do.   I put my own needs aside in favor of the birthday girl.

In the long balloon line, people cluster in the shade of a few small patio umbrellas.  About 45 minutes in, we welcome a light breeze.  It feels great, but the balloon guy informs us it's bad news.  Ride groups will now be reduced from 15 people to 5, to account for the wind.

The 30 Minute Wait From This Point  sign haunts us for more than an hour.  A restless 7-year-old gets tired of picking up leaves and starts to ask about my robot leg.  By the time we reach the front of the line, his mom invites us to ride for free on her family membership!

Two hours later, we climb with our new friends into the balloon's woven basket.
Lift off!


As helium carries us 400 feet up, I grip the metal handrail.  (Nonsense, I know... cause the handrail is 400 feet up too!)    Lil' B scrambles from one side of the balloon to the other.  We look out at the Philly skyline, the Schuylkill River, and the tiny cars on the expressway!

When they announce that our 10-minute ride is over, Brianna crouches down on her knees.  "Let's hide so we can stay on for the next ride!" she says.  The other kids agree.

I can't say I'm with them on that one.  But as we walk off in search of frozen lemonade, I've left some weight behind me.  My body -- sweaty leg and all -- feels lighter, like I'm still carried by the wind.


Mile Marker 1815:

UP again...

One week and 15 miles later,  I fasten my waist harness one more time.   No matter how many socket issues I have, I don't want to miss this adaptive climbing clinic!

At Philly Rock Gym, I meet up with Tommy and Kareemah, 2 rock stars I met back in the "Gunks" last October.

I'm not a risk-taker, but they encourage me to try something different -- a beginner bouldering route.   I feel like a canary flying into a coal mine.
Look Ma, no strings!

Strings attached this time!
Then comes the challenge of my first 5.6 climb.  And in case it's a fluke, I set out to conquer 3 more!




Part of the fun of adaptive climbing is experimenting with different foot and leg set-ups.  In a pinch (a.k.a. emergency), I watch Kareemah switch in and out of her prosthesis mid-wall.

And surprise, I find my SWIM LEG is quite the climber!  It's lighter than my Genium and much easier to bend!
Go Sandy!  Get ready for some bangs and bruises!

I meet Kai, an industrial design student who's created a climbing leg modeled after the foot of a mountain goat.  For now it's just for below-knee (BK) amputees, but I offer to be his AK tester when the next generation comes out.
Wanna trade??

I meet some new rock stars, too.  Like Mark, a prosthetist and photographer who coaches me up a wall with his camera between his teeth.

And Tom, a route setter who comes to the rescue just when we need it most.



Then there's Scooter, who volunteers with Peak Potential, a climbing program for kids with disabilities.

Steve, a BK amputee, climbing again for the first time with his prosthesis.



And Olivia, an awesome climber who just graduated from high school.


Finally comes Levi, the youngest and newest amputee climber.... With Tommy's help, he rocks the wall too!

Together, this team brings INSPIRATION, ADAPTATION, and of course, PERSPIRATION. Proving once again -- no matter what your hardware -- the sky's the limit!


Mile Marker 1830:

AND (finally) AWAY...

June's been a month of change.   At school, I put my supplies into crates.  At home, I pack everything into cardboard boxes.  And in the midst of it all, I grudgingly make plans for more prosthetic work this summer.  Stay tuned.

I'm not a fan of change.  When the signposts point to new starts, the road clogs up with unknowns.

Among all this craziness, I realize how an aerial point of view has actually helped keep my feet on the ground.  The last 30 miles have forced me to reach farther.  Stand taller.  Push through my own limits.  And in doing so, prepare myself to take that next leap into the future.

Good thing.  Because at Mile Marker 1830, it's MOVING DAY.   Luckily, I've got a great crew of helpers!

The new place is in the same neighborhood and has plenty of room for friends...
...and Game Night hi-jinx!


In keeping with the theme, it's a tad HIGHER than my last apartment.  Not quite above the clouds.  But from the third floor balcony, I can see the treetops.

And what a view!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Time and Again

Mile Marker 1747:

Time and again, I return to Jefferson.

Over 3 1/2 years, the tile floors have been replaced with light wood.  The walls have been repainted butter yellow and robin's egg blue.

Scenic prints of beaches, gardens -- and yes, even bicycles! -- line the walls.

I'm a regular now, not as a patient, but as a trained volunteer.  I trek the hallways each week loaded down with plants and garden supplies.  I'm even friends with Barry, the security guard in the lobby!

He just celebrated his 18th year
with a donor heart!!

I see the hospital from a new perspective.  The rooms and doorways that once loomed so large are now just... rooms and doors.   I glimpse behind-the-scenes shift changes.  I get the cafeteria discount.  I empathize with patients and family members through new eyes.  Been there, done that,  I think, time and time again.

At Mile 1747, Deb and I move through the hallways together.  She's not my nurse today.  We're two friends on a mission.   In 4 hours, we log 3 miles photographing staff who touch the lives of trauma patients.  We're making a video to be shown at the Excellence in Trauma Awards in early June.

This is the third year my family and I are invited.

"Aren't they tired of us yet?" I ask Deb.  (I worry about outstaying our welcome!)

Deb laughs and rolls her eyes.   She knows how excited I get from the invite.  The idea of coming back as a "survivor" reminds me how much I've moved on.

On this day, Deb and I travel from floor to floor, camera ready.  We stop at Patient Services, Pastoral Care, Critical Care, the Neuro ICU, Orthopedics, and Rehab.  In each location, the good-natured staff gathers together for quick photos.  In their scrubs and white coats, many look familiar.  Some remember me or know my story.

But there are also surprises.  When we step off the elevator onto the 9th floor, I meet someone new.

"Do you have a blog?"  I hear from behind.

Great to meet you Dianne!!
I turn around and meet Dianne.  She tells me she works in Orthotics at Jefferson.  We've never met in person (till now!) but she's been reading this blog for almost 2 years!  We grab a quick photo before she heads to the casting room.

How refreshing to be recognized as a writer rather than a patient!   Yep, times sure have changed...

Mile Marker 1748:  

But despite the months and miles, Jefferson's healing power never ceases to amaze me.

Sure, I've moved on.   But in a sense, time STANDS STILL here.

Patients fill the beds.  Gurneys line the halls.  Nurses dart in and out of rooms, as prompt and attentive and busy as ever.  Under this roof, it could be November or May.  2010 or 2014.

Deb and I arrive at 7 Center, my old unit and Deb's current one.  We rally the nurses for a photo.  I see lots of familiar faces.  Then I glance down the hall.  My old room, 7206, has undergone a full makeover:  new door, new floors... and of course, new patient!

A man shuffles by dragging an IV pole.  His back is hunched.   An NG tube dangles from his nose.  On his feet are yellow "fall risk" socks.

"How're you doing?" one of the nurses asks him.

"Ok," he says quietly.

I whisper into Deb's ear a secret I learned first-hand,  "Ok is as good as it gets with an NG tube!"


When we turn the corner onto 7 Northwest, we run into Brendon.

All he has to do is smile, and the memories come tumbling back.  He was my nurse one early morning after a sleepless, painful post-surgery night.  As the sun rose outside my window, Brendon's presence flooded me with relief.  (His charming brogue didn't hurt either!)  He rescued me from my sweaty bed sheets, cleaned up my messy IV port, and assured me things would get better.  They did.

Today he's got lots of other patients waiting for him.   So we exchange a long overdue hug, and he dives right back into work!

Mile Marker 1749:

It's late afternoon by the time Deb and I make our way to the Emergency Department.

Our energy's flagging.  The trauma bay will be our last stop.

It's bright and high-tech.  The stuff of dreams...  In the center of each area sits a gurney wrapped in white sheets.  Two alien-looking lights hover overhead.  Machines and monitors perch at the ready.   The walls are lined with metal cabinets, each one carefully labeled.

A lifesaving lab.

This room, more than anywhere else, sends me hurtling back through time.

Nurse Aileen steps out from behind the desk.  With her friendly smile and dark ponytail, she's maybe 2 inches taller than I am.  But in a second, we realize we have something else in common.  Aileen was here the morning I was brought in by ambulance!

She shows me the actual bay I was in -- 32T -- and tells me what she remembers.  My horribly mangled leg.  Dr. M's determination to control my pain.  How my mom came in to see me, and how worried I was about her.

Then Aileen calls Margaret, who remembers me too.   At 7 a.m. on November 9, Aileen had just begun her shift.   Margaret was finishing her last month as a trauma nurse before becoming a nurse practitioner.  What are the chances I would end up in both their capable hands?

There are no words to express how FORTUNATE I am!

The two of them took care of me on this very bed, in this very room.  In the last 3 1/2 years, they've cared for thousands of patients.  Yet they still remember.

On this blog, I often talk about how things change.  (Just type the word "change" into the search box, and you'll see what I mean.)   As humans, we like to move forward at a steady pace.  It instills us with comfort and hope.  Don't we all want to leave the troublesome stuff behind?

But science says that time doesn't work that way.  Like so many other things, time is relative.  It's based on our own speed moving through space.   I'm no expert in quantum physics, but as I near Mile 1750, I kinda get it.

When I push out through the revolving doors of the lobby, I can feel my own speed.  Although my leg aches from this long day, I keep walking.  I leave the hospital behind.

On the sidewalk outside, there are a thousand reminders....



Blue Jefferson signs.  Wheelchairs.  Flags proclaiming the hospital's new slogan, Health Is All We Do.

Maybe so, I think.  But here's the thing, Jefferson.  You do it AGAIN and AGAIN.

While time moves forward, you remain like a rock between Chestnut and Walnut Streets.  You stock your floors with the best staff anyone could ask for.   When an ambulance can't reach you, you send out a helicopter.  You light your hallways day and night.  Hour to hour, your trauma team waits.  So when we need you, you're there.

Some things are better left unchanged.

Today, 3 miles passed for me.  And before that, 3 1/2 years.  But YOUR work goes on and on.

Thank you Jefferson.  Time and time again.