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, June 28, 2015

5 Things I'm Not Good At

Mile Marker 2988:

The miles crawl.  The days feel stormy.

A broken right foot doesn't exactly play to my strengths.  To be honest, every coping skill I've accumulated over the last 4 years has pretty much gone out the window.  My Fitbit even ran out of steam this week.  Low battery or sympathy pains?  I'm not sure...

Let's just say this injury has brought me some new perspective and a big reality check.

I call it  5 THINGS I'M NOT GOOD AT:

1.  RESTING (and its evil twin, WAITING):   Being on crutches is exhausting, especially when your "fake leg" doesn't exactly pull its own weight.  (In case you were wondering, the Genium doesn't have a crutch-hopping mode!)  So I've relegated myself mostly to the couch.  This gives me plenty of time to think about what I'd rather be doing: walking around the neighborhood, rock climbing, planting flowers on the balcony, and baking in the kitchen.  Even boring stuff like laundry is tempting when I'm not supposed to be standing up.

Susan and Rocco do a
balcony skate-by!
On the upside, I've had some unexpected visitors drop by.  A few friendly faces and a good laugh can make your alone time a lot less lonely!

The other "Levs" stop in :)

2.  DRIVING A WHEELCHAIR:   It sure beats crutches, but boy am I out of practice!!   For the last 4 years, my wheelchair collected dust in my parents' basement while I learned to walk, climb, swim, and (nearly) run.  Now my chair and I have been reunited like old roommates with a tumultuous history.  Yes, it's better for my bones to roll instead of hop.  But I'm a terrible driver!

Wheelchair cam
I skirt doorways, reverse down the hallway, and attempt a 3-point turn to get out of the bathroom.  I scuff the edges of furniture and walls.  When I get in a tight spot, I sneak in a "stand."

Plus, with every push of those wheels, the old feelings roll back.  The trauma of the early days.  The many return trips to the hospital.  My struggling self-image as a person with a disability.

Its tough to be back in the wheelchair.  But this situation is hopefully short-term.  After one week, I can't even express the respect I have for those who drive full-time!


3.  UNDERSTANDING ANATOMY:   This injury has made it pretty obvious I don't know what my own body is up to.

Where's the pain?   
"Um, my foot?"  "My knee?"  "My ankle?"   

I point imprecisely like a weatherman waving over a green screen.  Medial?  Lateral?  Proximal?  Distal?  Tendon?  Ligament?  Joint?   With so much experience as a patient, I've definitely found my Achilles heel.   I think I need an anatomy lesson while I recover :)

4. THINKING OUTTA THE BOX:   When you've followed the same routine for 4 years, it's tough to come up with new solutions.  Putting on my prosthesis involves a whole lot of weight-shifting, foot-stamping, and a move my friends at Magee affectionately call "the dance."  But without a strong right leg, these steps are painful and difficult.  In fact, it's become the most dreaded activity of the day.

Voila!
Bedroom parallel bars!
But one evening, Chris comes over with fresh PT ideas.  He moves my "leg area" to the other side of the bed.  Then he sets up parallel bars -- a.k.a. a dining room chair -- so I can spread the weight through my arms as well as my legs.  Simple, yet genius.

Sometimes the box is so high you need somebody else to help you climb out!

Which leads to #5...

5.  ASKING FOR HELP:  I've canceled most commitments this week, yet I still lie awake at night overwhelmed with things to do.

How will I bring flowers to the Jefferson Garden?
Buy soap and shampoo at CVS?
Walk 2 blocks to the hair salon?

Even the smallest tasks and responsibilities loom large.  How can I depend on myself when I can't depend on my body?

There's an obvious answer here.  Seek help, right?   But it's easier said than done.  Asking for help shakes the very foundation I've built, the independence I've worked so hard to achieve.  So I remind myself this is only temporary.  And then I make lists.  Mom goes to the grocery store.  Friends wash the dishes after Game Night.

And with Dad's help, the Jefferson Garden gets new flowers :)

I'll make it up to them later.  For now, all I can say is THANK YOU.

I've heard admitting you've got a problem is the first step toward improvement.  So I'll admit it.  I've got at least 5.

But for me, keeping things in perspective is another key factor.  If I know relief is around the corner, I'm willing to work, and wait, to get there.

This right leg injury is inconvenient and annoying.   It does not play to my strengths.  But it's also NOT THAT SERIOUS.  It's not life threatening.  It's not permanent.  And most importantly, it does not involve an NG tube!

As long as I give it time, it should heal.  So at Mile Marker 2988, that's the plan.

In the meantime, I've got some skills to work on.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Need for Speed

Mile Marker 2975:

Being an amputee is like living in the world of  "Hurry Up and Wait."  

So when a piece of equipment becomes available, you move!

My right foot is still aching when Prosthetist Tim calls.   He says he has two things for me:  a brand new socket and a running blade (yes, like in the Olympics!).  I've been waiting WEEKS for the socket and YEARS for the running blade, so I race down to Prosthetic Innovations, limpy foot and all.

Tim mounts the new socket on my loaner Genium.  I step into it, twisting the Boa knob to cinch the top edge tighter.  A socket that adjusts throughout the day??   If this works, it could be revolutionary!



But the really cool part happens next.  Tim attaches my old socket to an Ottobock Fitness Knee....

I'm going to RUN TODAY!!

We practice the bouncing motion inside the parallel bars.  My little leg works triple-time, yanking up the knee so the blade kicks out in front.  I lift it fast and furiously.  With my right foot, I launch upward and land on my toe so the blade clears the ground.  Over and over, I repeat the pattern.  It takes so much oxygen, I could use an extra lung!

I totally forget about my injured foot.  Instead, I'm flying -- higher and faster than any motion in the last 4 1/2 years!

At Mile 2975, I have a Bionic Woman moment...

video

It feels incredible!

I decide to name my new blade Attie -- a salute to two runners I admire.

The first is Atalanta, a headstrong princess from Greek mythology, who challenges her suitors to a famous foot-race.  She trains, and trains, and trains until she runs like the wind!

Matt Long's first mile run

The second is NYC firefighter and Ironman Matt Long, whose own strength, courage, and determination to run continue to inspire me with every mile.

If my new running leg can carry with it the speed and spirit of those two, I'll be in great standing!

I'm pumped!
With the help of Tim, Jon, and Chris, I run with Attie three more times.  On the hottest days of the summer, I'm out there slapping the pavement with brand new carbon fiber.

It seems too good to be true.


Mile Marker 2983:

And it is.

Unfortunately, in the world of  "Hurry Up and Wait,"  there's a "wait" part too.

Attie's working fine.  But after two days of running, the HUMAN side of me is more sore than ever.

Sitting on the edge of my bed that night, I cradle my right foot in a fit of fear and frustration.

What if something is seriously wrong??  What would I do if something happened to my foot??  It's the only one I have!

I start apologizing to my right leg -- for ignoring it, for pushing through the pain, for sacrificing its comfort because I wanted so much to feel SPEED again.

My foot just sits there, swollen and sad.

I think of that old Michelin slogan:  Because so much is riding on your tires.  What do you do when all your mobility rides on a single, fragile part of your body?

And that part is hurting.  Bad.


Mile Marker 2985:  

It's a level 4 stress fracture.

Orthopedist Dr. S. prescribes rest, ice, and physical therapy to build hip, knee, and ankle strength.  His assistant Tara searches for a surgical shoe small enough for my foot.  I begin using crutches and my prosthesis.  I modify any plans I have for the next 4 weeks.

He says it'll be at least 6 weeks till I run again.

Attie waits patiently in the corner of my bedroom.

But I am not patient.  There is a part of me that's AFRAID to sit still.  If I don't keep using my running leg, will the socket even fit in 6 weeks?  Will I still remember how to work the knee?   Will I lose the skills and speed and strength I've gained?

Sitting still reminds me of the time I spent recouperating after the accident.  After every surgery.  All those uncertain, tentative days of recovery.

I had thought I could finally make plans again.  I had started counting on my body and its technology.  For a few miles, I had felt like I was full speed ahead.

In the car, I tell this to my dad.  Intentionally or not, he borrows a phrase from one of my past blog posts.  He says, "The New Normal is subject to change without notice."

Yeah.  Well.

I had a good run for a while there.

I'm not that good at the waiting part.

So to get through the next few weeks, I'm going to call on the wisdom of my friend Shelley, who had a clever way of reminding me how much distance I covered.

When I wrote my Mile 200 blog post, she commented that it equaled a round-trip to New York City.  At Mile 298, she said I was just 6 miles from reaching Boston.  And at Mile 764, she told me I'd just arrived at her doorstep in Chicago!

If she were reading this post, I can just imagine the comment she'd write today...

2,985 miles!?!  You've nearly crossed the whole United States!  Of course you need a REST!!

So for the next few miles, I'll take her advice.  I'll slow down and pretend I've made it to California, dipping my right foot in the chilly waters of the Pacific Ocean.

(Really, I'll be at home... icing it on the couch!)

Waiting for the next time someone tells me to hurry up.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Stops and Starts

Today's rambling blog post is brought to you by some much needed downtime...

Mile Marker 2900:

At the Inglis ACE Awards
As I start the mad dash toward Mile 3000, life is moving pretty fast.

My students are prepping for finals.  I'm writing a keynote speech for the Inglis Ace Awards.  Then I'm heading off to Chicago for a Memorial Day celebration in honor of my friend Shelley.  In the meantime, each day is a race to get things done.

That's when I hit a pothole.  Literally.  A big one.

I'm driving to Target to pick up some printer paper and travel supplies when my Honda Civic nosedives into a pothole several feet below sea level.

I could have predicted it.

Maybe it's because I've been driving it for nearly 17 years, but my Honda has an uncanny way of knowing when life is moving too fast.   And more often than not, she forces me to take a time-out.  This usually involves a FLAT TIRE.

I steer into the post office parking lot to check the damage.  The passenger side hubcap is dented, but the tire isn't quite flat... yet.   I make a U-turn and head straight to Pep Boys where my friend and mechanic Jim comes to the rescue.

The day resumes at a slightly adjusted speed.

Of course, that's only the beginning.


Mile Marker 2903:

A few days later, my brother Andy and I are strolling around Chicago's Millennium Park when another system grinds to a screeching halt.


We sneak in some Chicago Hot Dogs
before all the trouble begins! 

My Genium gets stickier with each step.  Eventually it bends only 15 degrees before the knee locks out.  To walk, I hike up my left hip and launch onto my right tiptoe.

But Chicago is a city of stairs.  On the first set, I force my Genium into a 90 degree angle.  It gets stuck like that.  Thank goodness for railings!  I hang on with one hand and use the other hand to reach down and pull the knee straight again.  I keep it straight the rest of the day.

Hours later, when we reach Giordano's Pizza, I collapse into a chair.  My Genium juts out in front of me like a wooden peg leg.

Genie's sick.  And so am I.

The next day my throat is scratchy, my voice is completely gone, and I can't stop coughing.

One of many past
Memorial Day Weekends
I knew this trip would be hard.   For years, I've celebrated Memorial Day weekend with my good friend Shelley.  But this year is different.  Shelley passed away in January.  And I'm here with her family and friends for what we're calling a "Shellebration," celebrating Shelley's life at one of her favorite events, Bike the Drive.

My physical issues, for all their trouble, can't compare to the emotional ones we're all experiencing this weekend.

Arriving by cab, rather than bike
With an immovable leg, there's no way I can do the bike ride.  So I hail a cab to Grant Park for the after-party.  It's only 2 blocks from the hotel, but my knee is so unpredictable I'm afraid to walk it alone.  When I try to get out of the taxi, my knee is locked in a 90 degree angle again.  "Hold on," I tell the driver.  Then I grip the edge of the car with one hand and grab my Genium with the other.  I yank it into extension.

Exasperated.

And it's only 8 a.m.

I limp through the grassy field to meet up with the rest of the crowd, a sea of purple Follow Your Bliss t-shirts.



My Chicago "family"
Shelley's mom is there, along with her brother Jack, sister-in-law Hoa, and nephew Casey.


Our close friend Linda has traveled in all the way from Omaha, Nebraska.



Team Shelley Power!
Shelley's friends -- and mine now too -- have helped organized this special event.


Despite my struggles with walking and talking, it's really good to be together today.

When we've eaten our fill of picnic pancakes, we form a circle and grasp each other's hands.  After a few moments of silence, we send an array of purple balloons soaring into the sky.

I look up at the buildings, watch the balloons float away, and tell Shelley how much I miss her.



Then I hobble back to the hotel with Linda by my side.

I make it through the rest of the weekend without leg or voice.  We celebrate Shelley's birthday at Harry Caray's.

Self-serve room service!
That night, Andy and Nina join me for tea and cough drops in the hotel room.

And the next day, I hang out with my good friend Wendy at her daughter Emma's fast-paced volleyball tournament.

Go Emma!

All in all, a bittersweet weekend.  Sometimes you just can't keep moving like everything's ok.  Even if all my systems were in working order, it just wouldn't have been possible.


Mile Marker 2913:

When I return to Philly, Prosthetist Tim ships my Genium off for repairs.

And I'm sporting a new summer fashion trend.  Soon everyone will be racing to their nearest prosthetist for a red "Loaner" sticker like mine!


The new knee launches a string of record-setting mileage days.  The miles are racking up fast: 8.48, 7.42, 6.96....  My Fitbit seems utterly baffled.  It probably thinks it's been hijacked by an impostor.

Actually it's just the miracle of a working knee!


Mile Marker 2950:

The speed doesn't last long.

If you're an amputee, or suffer from another one-sided injury, you understand all too well the risks of OVERUSE.

After a busy week or two of walking, there's a new pain in town.  My RIGHT FOOT starts to hurt.  At first it's just a subtle, nagging discomfort when I crutch into the bathroom in the morning.  Where my toes meet my foot, there's an undeniable pressure.  Throughout the day it becomes more pronounced.  Each time I curl onto the ball of my foot, it startles me.

I ice it and pop a few Advils.  I know I have to rest, but there's just too much to do.

I even start limping on my prosthetic side!

If you've been reading this blog, you know I like forward motion.  Some days it feels like an uphill climb, but I try to push through anyway.  Stronger, better, faster.  After all, I'm the Bionic Woman, right?

Let's just say I have trouble finding a balance between movement and rest.

What my Honda and my Genium -- and maybe even my body -- seem to be telling me is that I need to take a BREAK.  Sometimes we just need to give ourselves time to HEAL.

Because no matter how much we plan, or practice, or perfect our fast-paced lifestyle, there will always be potholes.  Some bigger and more damaging than others.



I don't know where this newest problem will take me, but I'm hoping a little downtime might be the answer.
.
If nothing else, at least I'll get caught up on blog posts.

Stay tuned for Mile 3000.   I'll get there eventually!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Night of Champions

Mile Marker 2830:  

Boy, it's been a while!  (Almost 250 miles to be specific...)  So what better way to kick off a new blog post than with a great party?

Welcome to Night of Champions!

I cross Mile Marker 2830 in a huge banquet room.  Blue and gold balloons punctuate the air with excitement.  Wheelchairs zoom between the tables.  My family and friends mingle with my Magee Rehab team.

Worlds collide... in a good way!

It took a long time to get here.

I can't tell you how dismal things seemed when I first found myself at Magee.

In December 2010, my body was raw with wounds.  My spirit was reeling from trauma.  Every night, I lay awake in bed reliving the accident.  And every day, I panicked with the fear of once again having to face the dangerous world outside.

I learned to steer my wheelchair through hospital hallways, do obstacle courses on crutches, and wrap my leg with an ace bandage.  But between therapy sessions, I suffered through anxious crying spells and terrible abdominal pain.  It felt like my sutures were the only things holding me together.

The day my parents finally took me home, I lowered my body out of my mom's Honda Pilot, landing my right foot carefully on the garage floor.  I crutched over to the door of the house.  There I stopped.

There was a step.
One step.
Eight inches high.
The first obstacle I'd encounter as an amputee.

It might as well have been a mountain.

On each side of me my parents froze, looking as scared as I was.  I'm sure they wanted to grip my skinny arms, lift me by the elbows, and hoist me inside to safety.

"Wait," I said.  "Just gimme a minute."

It was a defining moment.

In my mind, I heard the voice of my inpatient PT, Steph.  Plant your crutches on the ground.  Push up.  Put your right foot on the step. 

I mobilized my strength -- the little bit I had back then -- and propelled myself upward.

When I landed inside the house, we all let out a long sigh of relief.

I had already learned Magee's ultimate takeaway:
Life isn't a question of can or can't.  It's simply a matter of HOW.


Tonight, when PT Deb calls me to the podium to receive the 2015 Believe Award, she talks about the way we've moved forward over the years.  How together, we set the smallest goals, and then took the tiniest steps toward them.  How with each new task, she watched me inch away from FEAR and toward COURAGE.  How I re-learned everything:  to walk, to get up from the ground, to balance in a hallway full of kindergarteners.  Even to ride my bike and lace up my skates.  What she doesn't say -- but all of us know -- is that she and my other Magee therapists held tightly to my gait belt until I was steady on my own!

When Deb and Dr. Lax hug me and hand me the award, I'm surprised by its weight.  The density of its crystal.  Its sharp angles and symmetrical beauty.   It's HEAVY.

It feels like I'm holding the last 4 years in my arms.

It is a huge honor!

The award is for a patient who has given back to the Magee community.  And while I enjoy giving back to Magee in lots of ways -- as a volunteer in the gym, as an amputee peer mentor, as a member of the Patient Advisory Council -- my efforts can never compare to what Magee has given me.

They rebuilt my muscles and strengthened my mind.  They taught me to be proud of my body, and to LOVE IT, despite its differences, and its scars, and the stories it tells.  From that very first step in my parents' garage, they empowered me to face whatever obstacles lie in my path.

Go Team!

For every hour I spend, or meeting I attend, or patient I touch, I've been touched A THOUSAND TIMES more.

Magee gave me my life back.



They believed in me when I couldn't BELIEVE IN MYSELF.


For that, I can never say thank you enough.

So after 2,830 miles, I'll just say... BELIEVE.


We've come a long way.  We're all champions tonight!

A special shout-out (in order of appearance in my life...) to Dr. Lax, Tama, Steph, Jillian, Deb, Julie, Colleen, Ian, Chris, and rest of Team Magee for all you've done for me and for all you continue to do everyday for your patients and their families.  

We couldn't have come this far without you!