What She's Doing Now

First of all, hi!  I can’t believe it’s been so long since I last wrote an update. I guess the old adage no news is good news applies here.  There have been many times I’ve thought about writing or even began a journal entry, but never felt like I had a meaty enough update. I was talking with someone a few weeks ago who inspired me to do a post, telling me she thought it would give others hope to hear how well I’m doing. So here goes… (and editor's note - for those of you who notice things like the weird spacing in this post [er, Hallmarkers and other word people], I cannot get it to look like it does in the editing screen...so my apologies :).

Speaking of almost-posting, I had a post ready to go in October. I had a nice little update brewing about pumpkin patches sans wheelchair, fall boots I could actually wear and having a blast watching the Royals make post-season play. But then a tragedy hit close to home that made my news feel small and unimportant in the scheme of life. I was at Game 6 of the World Series and got a text in the 9th inning saying something cryptic – and sad - about a friend of mine. I was very confused so clicked on Facebook to see my best childhood/lifelong friend had suddenly passed away. My family had kept this from me that evening, worried about me driving home after hearing the news (I was at the game with my cousin). I left the game and immediately called home to hear of what happened. My dear friend, mother of four, was simply cleaning her house when she passed away, without explanation. 

Many of you might recall her name from my Caringbridge site as she was always one of the first to post words of praise and encouragement. This dedication goes to my dear friend, Amanda Girard. I hope we can all live to the standards she set…always build people up, get involved in your community, give your whole self to your family and find joy in the everyday events of life. 

Mandi (as she was to me), shared this quote with me and I will forever cherish it:  "The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths.  These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness and a deep loving concern.  Beautiful people do not just happen."  -Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

That fall post was full of reflections… (excerpt) “I have been reflecting quite a bit as I travel through the anniversary of events from last year. Throwing the football outside with Mitchell remembering last year we played basketball in the driveway from my wheelchair. Preparing for trick-or-treating thinking about last year how happy I was to wear my leg for two hours before I got back in the wheelchair to watch my kids go house to house. In those moments I am so very grateful to be where I am now.”

Those reflections continue. I recently went to Hong Kong and mainland China on a work trip. This trip included six flights in seven days, including one sixteen hour flight. Miles walking through large airports. Factory visits with multiple flights of stairs and no elevators. Navigating all of my revised daily rituals in various hotels. One night when we were on a stroll along the Hong Kong harbor, I couldn’t help but think of how I couldn’t even drive myself to work one year ago. I had just had the tendon transfer surgery and was immobile. Fast-forward a year later and I’m touring the world. Seriously, what a difference a year makes!  I was on the other side of the world but I felt like I was on top of it.

I’ve spoken with a couple of people recently who are struggling with various challenges and I told them of my one year tool. To not give up hope or get trapped in today but to envision life a year from now. Think about how much is possible in just one year. Imagine a different future. Really imagine it. See the details, feel the change. And know on the other side, you’ll have a perspective others will not have that can make you feel more grateful.

Many of you have told me you appreciate the little details in my posts so I will include a few that would have made big news a year ago.

I can walk anywhere, for a long period of time and do just fine. In addition to my work travels, our little family of four took a trip to Orlando in February. Just like our Sea World adventure last August, the Disney experience will test your endurance. I was so grateful to be able to go full-on the whole time, enjoying the important moments with my kids. We have a couple of adventures planned for the summer, including the beach and hiking in Colorado. I can still hardly believe I get to write that.

My left leg has stabilized quite a bit/the shrinking has slowed dramatically. I’m using the same socket (custom part of the leg) I had made last summer and am only up to 3-4 socks a day. I’ll probably be in this leg for another 6-12 months.

Other legs (!)… I’ve been evaluating different options for my swim leg as last year’s solution wasn’t ideal. As you might recall from previous posts, I basically had a wooden foot that I would attach to my main leg after removing my high-end sensory foot that isn’t waterproof. Poolside with an allen wrench. And the wooden foot was difficult for walking, making me appreciate my awesome everyday foot but annoyed with my water foot frankly. As I’ve investigated alternatives for this summer, the options are more complicated than even those of you who like details would want to hear! (If I invest in a custom water leg now but end up getting a different leg in 6 months the water leg won’t be an ideal fit…the water leg is all out-of-pocket expense so these things need to be considered…pros and cons of traveling with an extra foot vs. an extra leg…what happens if I get a cosmetic leg that isn’t waterproof…a swimming-only leg doesn’t have the vacuum pump that helps my leg adhere to my body better…). It’s a never-ending set of circular references!  I finally made the choice (for now, at least) to invest in a better water foot and use my same leg. This weekend was my maiden voyage with it and it was so much better!!  Still rocking the allen wrench but the function is 100% improved.  I also got new water shoes that are basically tennis shoes made for water sports. They might look a little silly (did she forget to take her shoes off?? ☺), but they are wonderful for function. They mainly help my right foot which finally got some sensation back but a little too much sensation.  As long as I keep it cushioned (walking with no socks/shoes is like walking on pins and needles), it’s all good.
So net/net, the water situation is way better which is awesome since being in the pool is a big part of my life.  (what a difference a year made for me in this department)

I’ve also started to explore a cosmetic option for my legs. For my prosthetic leg, they make custom silicon covers that are literally hand-painted to mimic your skin right down to the freckles. These can be quite pricey so I didn’t even explore the option when I was changing sizes so rapidly. I don’t know for sure, but I also assume they have similar covers for my right leg which is dramatically compromised visually. The rationale for getting these cosmetic options would be primarily for wardrobe options/certain events. I am thankful I can wear dresses of all lengths in the fall and winter now with tights and tall boots, but I can’t do so in the spring and summer. And I always have to wear socks as my feet are two very different colors!  On casual occasions in the spring and summer, I just show all the carbon fiber, metal and scars wearing shorts and socks with tennis shoes, as I refuse to wear long pants 24/7.  And honestly, as I’ve said before, this doesn’t really bother me in my daily life.  But for dressier events and even work in the summer, being able to wear shoes without socks and dresses would be nice. In the meantime, I’ll keep wearing pants and maxi dresses (hope those stay in style a while). Frankly I categorize all of this in the “good problems to have” bucket and can live with any outcome. Like I’ve said a million times before, I’m blessed I wasn’t ever all that fashionable. ☺ 

In summary of this “daily life” section, the best part is my life is normal now. My legs are not in my forebrain anymore. I get to simply live my life, focusing on my family, friends and all the daily stuff that makes up a full life. I tell people all the time that life is great and I mean it. 

And PS – people always thoughtfully ask about how my kids are. They are doing awesome. I love their ages (6 and 4) and we are having a fun summer. Mitchell had a great year in Kindergarten and continues to love playing sports 24/7 as well as fishing, swimming and playing with his puppy (Coco, who we got in February). Morgan is always making up songs which she accompanies with guitars and flutes made of sticks she finds in the yard. And of course she spends a high percentage of her time changing her clothes and telling complete strangers in public what she’s done all day. ☺

Despite all the good in this update, I would be remiss to not add that I still have to deal with a variety of issues. I’ve written several times that it’s important to me to share all sides of my story, as the hard stuff can actually help people more than the sunshine. A couple of examples:

Traveling… when I travel, I have to pack a shower chair or rely on using a hotel bathtub. I have to find multiple power outlets in my hotel room near my bed to charge my various leg parts (and cell phone!), all within reach. If I have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, I have to crawl on the floor because you don’t sleep in your prosthesis (and my other leg isn’t strong enough for crutches). I have to do this at home, too, but it’s easier to crawl on your own floor than in a hotel. Sometimes I lay a trail of towels to make the experience a little more tolerable - I bet the maids think I’m crazy.  But none of this is worth complaining about or heaven for bid not traveling. I just deal.  And remind myself (perspective again) that I’m lucky to even be there.

Issue du jour… I have some physical nuisance on a regular basis. This part is getting rubbed, the bone is feeling too much pressure, the pad in the front is too thick or too thin for good comfort, the charger isn’t working all of a sudden, there is an air leak in my vacuum pump, my other foot is super sensitive, etc.
I can go weeks with no issues, but other weeks are like pop-a-mole.

As usual, I don’t share these details so you will pity me. As I said above and will say below, I am doing great and am so grateful for my life. I do share these details, however, to hopefully give you a bit of hope and potential insight into what I feel like I’ve discovered after multiple cycles with learning to deal with less than ideal circumstances. First and foremost, I always use perspective.  Be happy for what is going right, not wrong.  Two other considerations:   one – there is such a thing as a new normal despite how annoying that phrase can be in the wake of a tragedy. And two - the more you overcome adversity, the more able you are to handle it.

The new normal stuff… when I first had to navigate something like the showering situation, I would get so sad and mad I couldn’t even handle it. All I would do is compare it to how easy things used to be. Now I am simply used to it. Is it fun or easy – no. But does it rock my world every time – no. You get used to it. You really do. Even if you think there is no way you will, you do.

I remember in the early days if I’d have a pain or get a wound or whatever I would freak out a little thinking it would be this way forever. This was going to be a chronic issue, I was sure of it. Now when something pops up, I stay calm and simply address the situation and move on. I’ve learned that the last twelve challenges have worked out so this one probably (hopefully) will too. The more you deal with adversity, the more you can handle. I’ve always said opportunity builds confidence. Said another way, the more you throw yourself into something the more you’ll have to figure out and therefore believe you can figure out the next thing. It really works.

As time goes on, I’ve began to encounter an interesting chapter of meeting people who don’t know my story. Mitchell started elementary school last fall so we have met a whole new clan of people. I felt like every single person at his preschool knew us and our story, but very few people know our back-story at his new school. I meet new people at/through work who weren’t in my life during the accident chapter.  Morgan began a new preschool a few weeks ago.  All groups of people who don’t know this part of our lives. 

Of course it’s wonderful to not have my injuries in the forefront anymore. Like I’ve always said, no one wants their injuries to define them. I’m sure some people wonder why I walk a little different, but I don’t get nearly as many comments as I used to. 

I will say I had to learn a little about how to broach the subject if and when appropriate. One day I was talking to a new co-worker about why I wasn’t at work last fall so the subject of my accident naturally came up in the course of conversation. I am so used to talking about it I blurted out the story in 60 seconds and left the person on the other side of the table in a bit of shock. I am working on more graceful way to reveal my past to say the least!  And for the most part, I don’t have a reason to mention my situation to new people I meet as it really isn’t relevant to most people. “Hi, nice to meet you, I have a prosthetic leg!  Oh, and would you like to hear about a tendon transfer?”. Probably not. With that said, it’s still new enough to me I feel like I’m keeping some big secret. It’s an interesting (and even humorous at times) dynamic that I know others have faced when something has happened in their life that doesn’t have a quick explanation. 

Now that we are finally having hot shorts weather, I’ll be revealing myself to many of these new people and will undoubtedly have many conversations. The good news is I don’t mind it at all. I am serious when I say you can ask me just about any question and it doesn’t bother me. I got to explain my cool leg to Morgan’s new class the other day and they seemed thoroughly entertained.  My favorite story has been one of the Moms on Mitchell’s basketball team heard Aaron make a reference and she asked him what he meant. She was floored and had absolutely no idea after seeing me every Saturday for several weeks. Her compliments were heartfelt and very kind and meant the world to me.

I’ve been starting to do some speaking engagements over the last few months and have some lined up for the summer. I’ve always had a vision of wanting to use my story for good and I’m starting to take that to the next level. I’ll keep you all posted! Thanks for all the encouragement along the way to do something with my story. This is just the beginning. 

I am determined to do something good with the chance I've been given.

I’ll leave you with a bit of humor. 

I have this vacuum pump that uses periodic electronic suction to adhere my leg to the prosthetic. It will randomly go off and it sounds like a 10-15 second version of a vibrating phone. Sometimes it will go off and people will look around for who isn’t turning their phone off and I will simply say, “that’s my leg!” 

Or I will hit the off button under the table and look equally confused. :)

The other day Mitchell referenced being sad for me about my leg (which he has done once before; he’s such an empathetic little cat). I challenged him to challenge me and I tried to demonstrate anything he could think of. I jumped. I danced. I reminded him of everything I can do. The only thing he could think of is if an alien held he and Morgan from the ceiling I wouldn’t be able to jump high enough to get them down. Upon this conversation, he started laughing and agreed I can do anything that matters. ☺ Some of you might remember the one other time he brought this subject up he concluded I couldn’t get to the living room quick enough to spot a deer in the yard. Oh the imagination of my sweet and caring boy.

I have said numerous times at work some sort of leg cliché. For instance, “I’m not sure about the second leg of our trip.” Or, “unless we take the cost down on the program, we won’t have a leg to stand on.” When I said that one, the lady sitting across from me said, “I’m glad you said it and not me.” Ha!

Oh, and to note, I’ve been working on my handstands in the pool. Once I get it refined, I’ll post a pic. ☺

As always, thank you for listening. Thank you for being the most amazing community when we needed it most. I hope each of you are having a great summer and living your life to the fullest.