It's been a year. It's been a YEAR. It's been A year. August 10 is here again.
I honestly feel a little lost for words as this is an epic moment in any journey to hit an anniversary of sorts, but I don't feel like I have all the right words to say. But as usual - and metaphorically - I'll just charge ahead and see where this goes.
Before reflecting a bit on the year, here are a few updates from the last chapter/since I last wrote.
* Got a new everyday leg in June. Fits much better and only requires 1-5 thin (1-ply) socks depending on the day. This was a nice reduction in socks just in time for the summer. I tried a leg option that doesn't require a large liner going up my mid-thigh, but it didn't work well with the nature of my limb. Most people wear the type I have (known as a suspension sleeve), but I wanted to explore my options. I did add another feature to this new leg that I hadn't been ready for before. It's a vacuum pump device. Basically, you hit a button and an electric vacuum sucks all of the air out allowing the prosthetic to be as firmly attached to your body as possible. Prior to having the vacuum, the prosthetic used manual vacuum suction simply releasing air through a small hole. The electric vacuum does help the leg feel a little lighter and more agile and helps with proprioception which is essentially knowing where my foot is in space. It's been a nice feature to have, moreso than I even knew as it was not working well this weekend (will get it repaired this week!). The only funny part of the vacuum pump is it will automatically turn on from time to time throughout the course of the day. Many of my co-workers have heard the mysterious sound from under the table! You can turn it off if needed which is good!
* The water leg... this has been a journey. The plan was to create an entirely separate leg - different socket, foot, etc, along with a cosmetic cover. Therefore we waited until we finalized the new everyday leg to simply duplicate the same fit. This was the right thing to do but took more time than anticipated as I worked out the kinks on the everyday leg. When it was time to order the water leg, I showed my research file to my Prosthetist (aka leg maker) and he had never seen the type of water leg I had discovered. He always laughs at me at the level of personal research I do on these subjects. He looked into the option I found and thought it was a better option than the one he was considering (aka the Barbie leg I've referenced before). The problem with the new option is it was going to take over 30 days to get and I would have to overnight my everyday leg to France for a few days. By this point, I decided to go a simpler route as it would be towards the end of summer before I would receive this water leg which defeats the purpose as I'll probably be another size next year as your limb changes a decent amount for at least 18 months. And the water leg is not covered by insurance. So we simply ordered a waterproof foot as the rest of my regular leg is actually waterproof, just not my fancy ankle/foot which has electronic components (surprisingly, the electric vacuum pump actually is waterproof). So for the last four weeks or so, I've had the water foot which I simply switch out with my other foot with a 4mm allen wrench. Who knew? It works okay, provides me with a nice option when I have needed it. It's much harder to walk on than the foot I'm used to, but I've made it work for this summer and I'm sure I will get better at as I have all other devices. Looking forward to exploring the water leg options for next summer with a little more time and experience. I've also done a lot of swimming (er, mostly floating and relaxing :) in our pool without the water leg as I wasn't going to miss the summer waiting on this contraption. I put the leg by a chair, cover it with a towel, and slink on into the pool. One upside has been not having to get out and chase things for kids as I can simply say, "sorry, I don't have my leg on." :) (I've learned humor is a necessary ingredient... :)
* I've been wearing shorts in public. I had never really been opposed to this idea but also had never really considered it. It just wasn't something I'd actively thought about. I'd put on my pants or jeans or whatever every day. One night in early June I emailed my personal trainer to confirm I was coming to work out the next morning and she simply wrote back, "in shorts". I sat there contemplating if I was going to take on this challenge. I decided to take the nudge. The people at the gym - many of whom had no idea what I was sporting under those pants - were amazingly supportive. One guy came up and said to me, "it makes you look strong". Another guy who is an injured war vet from Afganistan (with unnoticeable but fairly severe injuries) brought in a special cane he never uses in public but said he decided to because I wore shorts. And even Mitch Holthus, the voice of the Chiefs who I met a long time ago and who works out with us, kept cheering me on with his classic announcer voice. Needless to say I was glad I took the nudge. Since then, I've worn shorts many times to many places. I honestly don't even think about it that much. I do notice people looking at me, but it's generally simply out of curiousity and people are always very nice.
* We went on a family vacation last week to San Diego. We have a goal to try and take a vacation with our kids each year (last year was the first) and we didn't want to miss this year. So as usual, we booked it and went for it without overthinking it. We went to the beach, Sea World, more beach, San Diego Zoo, etc. Aaron estimated I walked 13-15 miles on the trip. All in all, I did great and was overjoyed to be able to just take a normal family vacation. There were a few issues like blisters on my limb from all the walking or a challenging double football field length of sand to walk through to get to our desired beach, but I pushed on and found resourceful ways to make it all work. I did think as we were walking into Sea World about how grateful I was to be there, doing something like that with my family. I think most Moms (including my former and sometimes present self) are thinking about the best route in the park to see everything or if the kids have on enough sunscreen or what stroller to use or whatever. I was simply happy to be there. Perspective like this is an ongoing gift.
* We've been to a couple of fun weddings this summer. I've been able to find long maxi dresses and great shoes that work, making me feel much more feminine than the black pants with black men's orthodic shoes I had to wear to the New Year's Eve wedding. I also got to see so many people that have been great sideline supporters which was so fun. And I even danced a little - maybe a bit clunkily - but I'm not sure I was Ginger Rogers before either! (though those that know me well will tell you I think I have great country swing dancing skills :).
* I still haven't worn that brace/AFO on my right leg since I've recovered from the February tendon transfer surgery. As I've said before, this outcome far exceeded my expectations and I am so incredibly thankful!
* So in summary of the final chapter of this year, things are all in all good.
I'm sure this won't be the end of my reflections on the past year, but since the official day is here, these thoughts come to mind. And like any good compilation, some of these will be the greatest hits you've heard me describe before.
* PERSPECTIVE IS KING. I wrote about the power of perspective the first week and I used it last week and most weeks in between. I had one particularly frustrating moment on the trip (amongst 99,227 awesome moments) where we had just returned back to our hotel from a day at the beach, capped off by the seemingly 10 miles of trudging through deep sand on a plastic foot. My leg was already a little sore and this didn't help. I hobbled into the hotel room and had my private moment. While in the shower (a rare stand-up shower I might add!), I took a moment to think about how lucky I was to even be on that trip. How many others for a variety of circumstances aren't on a vacation with their family in that very moment. I thought about some specific situations. And bam, I was good again. Perspective is so helpful as it really makes you focus on how good you have it. It is true, it could always be worse. And if you take a moment to really process, there are usually a million little things that haven't stolen your attention because they are fine or good or not broken. And those are worth noting as they are all the things that are going right. And they outweigh the other short list of whatever is going wrong. I found a little poster I made in early November listing my accomplishments. This was a sister to the goal chart and a coping mechanism at the time. And it listed things like, "wore jeans" or "put in my own ponytail". Wow, to think those were big deals not that long ago puts things in perspective for me.
* PEOPLE ARE GENERALLY GOOD. And I'm not even talking about family and friends, that's coming. I'm talking about the general public. We see a lot of bad stuff on the news and hear terrible stories. But I can tell you I've witnessed another side of people. I went on a morning walk pushing Morgan in a stroller on vacation (a mile or two) and two different guys running stopped to give me a thumbs-up and a "good for you" accolade out of nowhere.
* VALUE YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS. We all know this at some level. This year has taught me an entirely new warp zone depth of this lesson. My family and friends have stepped up and been there for us beyond my previous imagination. I hope to be as good of a mother, daughter, sister, in-law, cousin, friend, niece, co-worker, neighbor, etc. as these people have been to me. This is a high bar, trust me.
* KIDS ARE AWESOME. Clearly we all love our kids and I am no different - I love my kids more than anything I can even adequately put into words. They saved me from that very first moment of truth. And throughout the year, I've witnessed a new vantage point on the beautiful naivety and unconditional love kids naturally have. I'll share a couple of examples to bring it to life... Often, completely unprompted and always at just the right moment, Mitchell will say to me, "Mom, you are walking really good!" or "Wow, you just walked up that hill super fast!". He seems to know at some instinctually caring level how to find these kinds of words. And all little girls emulate their mamas. They wear their shoes. Or hold their purses. Or pretend to cook or shop or drive a bulldozer or whatever it is their mother does on a regular basis (threw that last one in to recognize all the kick-tail mamas out there :). Morgan will sometimes go get these little leg warmers and put one on and tell me it's her prosthetic leg. She even insisted on wearing it once day to preschool. Of course I let her. While we were in San Diego, a 7 or 8 year old girl in the hottub was quite obsessed with my situation. She was telling everyone, "hey, that girl has on shoes in the hottub, you can't wear shoes in here!" (I wear a water shoe which helps me walk). Morgan pipes up, "that's my Mom's water leg...remember that boat?...". She was sticking up for me via her three-year-old version which was so cute. And other kids have been awesome as well. The kids' friends will ask me questions and I'm very comfortable answering them. I want them to feel at ease asking their questions. I stole the notion of having a "robot leg" from a guy I know with a prosthetic leg and have found the little boys especially are pleased with this explanation.
* PEOPLE ARE GOING THROUGH STUFF. We've all heard the adage that everyone is fighting a battle of some sort, so be kind. If I saw a quote of that nature prior to the accident, I wouldn't have really thought about it much. Of course we should all try to be kind, got it. But as I've said before, people tell me things now as a way to relate and I'm always taken aback at the variety of challenges people are handling each and every day. Give people grace, because everyone is dealing with something challenging to them.
* FAITH MATTERS. We all have a level of faith that is unique and means something different to us. My personal brand of faith and the faithful support many of you gave me allowed me to make it through this year. I remember every single moment of the accident. From being pulled under the boat to the ER nurses at Springfield cutting off my swimsuit. But I don't remember swimming out from under the boat. It's the one black hole I have. I can't even adequately describe the magnitude of this missing link in my brain, but let me just say I don't believe I saved myself without help. And throughout the journey, having faith really helped me get through. I read a sign the other day that said, "give your worries to God and then go to sleep." As someone who doesn't shut off her brain easily, I found that useful. :)
* YOU ARE STRONGER THAN YOU THINK. Aaron and I were talking about learning this year that you can overcome things, things that you never dreamed in a million years you could conquer. If someone would have told me 366 days ago what I would have to face, I never would have believed I could have dealt with it. Though I have always been a person who is confident I can handle most situations and generally dive in without thinking twice, situations like this tend to be at a level beyond our ability to fathom. Can I handle moving to Chicago without knowing a single soul there, sure! Can I figure out how to care for a newborn, let's do this! Can I survive when my leg is cut off, what?? But you just do. People will tell me I'm an inspiration or that they couldn't have handled what I have handled. You don't know until it happens and you would surprise yourself with what you can do. Trust me, you can handle more than you think. This notion is a bit liberating if you let it soak in...it removes some of the fear of life.
Last but not least, THANK YOU. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU. Like all of my Caringbridge attempts at gratitude, this will be woefully insufficient. Thank you to my family. You are simply the best. Thank you those of you who were there a year ago today and pulled me out of the water or tied a tourniquet or thoughtfully answered my recurring question, "do you think I'm going to die?". Thank you to the helicopter pilot (a woman who looked exactly like a co-worker of mine btw), thank you to the amazing medical professionals I've had to the privilege to meet, thank you to the people who have helped navigate the paperwork side of this journey. Thank you to my husband. You really have lived your vows. Thank you to my kids. Thank you to my friends. Thank you to all of you who have cared so very much. I am in awe of all of you.
Here's to another year of getting to live this amazing life. I'm a lucky girl.
PS - am planning to update the photo section - will let you know when I do.