Tuesday, June 30, 2009

11 Weeks - The Crippled Runner

I went to Dr. Ohlson on Monday and had an x-ray; he also did some debridement of the incision. As you can see I have one recessed small spot that is still healing, I think by next week it will be clear but might take another few weeks to totally close the slight depression.


On Monday afternoon I had the pleasure of speaking to Scott Rigsby, who became the first double-amputee on prosthetics in the world to finish an Ironman distance triathlon at World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

Scott was gracious to personally tell me his story and then talk to me about some of the specifics of amputee running. This is information I am hungry for, and as I move into running I will have to find what works for me.


On Tuesday I talked to my Larry, my CP, and we planned on Monday, July 6, to do the casting for my first prosthesis, and it would be ready on Tuesday for me to wear. However, on Wednesday at work I received a call that they could do the casting in the afternoon so I jumped on the opportunity to move up the process a day.

The casting process is fairly simple, I was given a liner over which a layer of saran wrap was applied and then the plaster was applied via rolls. The pic shows the liner, which Larry wants me to wear a couple of times for about 45 minutes to make sure I don't have any skin allergies to the material. Larry's dad was present for this, it was a pleasure to talk to him while Larry did the casting.

After the casting was removed from my leg, I made the appointment to get my first temporary leg on Monday. It will be a SACH foot, or Solid Ankle Cushioned Heel design. This will be used as I learn to walk again by having my weight distributed over each foot. I do not see myself using this foot for long and will be anxious to get a more active design.

I wore my liner back to work, and when I removed it my skin showed no indication of an allergic reaction, however my one healing spot on the incision had bled a little. It had only scabbed over from the previous debridement on Monday and the suction from the liner was not kind to it. I decided I would not use the liner until we returned from our trip to Missouri on Sunday to make sure this would not interfere with the healing.


I am writing this from Hannibal, Missouri. We flew here on AirTran, and the entire trip has gone without a hitch. This will be perhaps the only flight I will have made having to travel in the wheelchair. Since I do not have my foot, the wheelchair offers support for my leg where that is often not possible with crutches. While on the plane I had no support for my stump; this is mildly uncomfortable but for the connecting flight from Atlanta to St Louis it was tolerable.

Kudos to AirTran for taking good care of me, also the Charleston TSA's handling of me in the wheelchair was efficient and courteous.

Only one minor incident on the plane worth reporting: while deboarding in St. Louis a mother said to a child 'watch out for the cripple.' I was sitting with my crutches in my hand waiting for the aisle to clear, we weren't about to stand up.

"We're disabled. That's the currently politically correct word. Some people still call us handicapped. Almost no one uses the word cripple anymore."

- Dick Traum, "A Victory for Humanity"

Truly, the occasional stare or long glance or word(s) do not bother me. I can say with my old anatomical foot I was disabled/handicapped/crippled. With a modern prosthetic I will be a runner again. I suppose someone might call me a crippled runner without realizing the incredible irony of the statement.


On Thursday, July 9, I will be a minor participant in a Freedom Innovations seminar. I am not sure how much I can do at this point but I hope to see their Nitro running foot. As an active amputee, I will be looking for sponsorships to help defray the high costs of running prosthetics if possible. At my age, 56, and as master's runner I hope to be able to demonstrate that neither age nor lack of a foot is cause to change one's life for anything but the better. As long as we breathe we can aspire to great things, be it a walk around the block or an Ironman competition.


Tomorrow Jennifer, brother-in-law Gary, stepdaughter Becca, and son-in-law Chris Winn will be walking and running the Hannibal Cannibal, a race I look forward to doing every year. I was unable to travel to Hannibal last year after my first foot surgery, and this year I have a better excuse. Next year, however, I will be running it as long as we come back to Hannibal for Jen's family reunion. It is a difficult hilly race, and raceday is usually hot and humid on the banks of the Mighty Mississippi. I last ran it in 2007 and managed to score some AG hardware.

I wonder what Mark Twain might have written about us runners were he alive today. I can't think of a single thing that might shock him more.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Week Ten and a Paralympian

From left, my CP Larry Wiley of Floyd Brace, Paralympic champion & Ossur Regional Clinical Manager Brian Frasure, and me. At Ossur seminar at HealthSouth (S&L Photography)

It has been a good week to be this gimp. Highlights are: I received an autographed book by Dick Traum, founder of the Achilles Track Club; Jennifer and I met Paralympian Brian Frasure; and I made an appointment for Monday to get an x-ray that might lead to my getting a foot next week.

As I write this Blackbird is playing...nice.

I plan to read Mr. Traum's book when we go to Hannibal, MO, for Jennifer's annual family reunion. As mentioned in a prior post, Dick Traum is the first person to run a marathon with a prosthetic leg and is the founder of the Achilles Track Club.


On Thursday I had an appointment with Larry at Floyd Brace to see if my incision had healed in order to start the fitting process. The last scab is showing a great deal of stubbornness, this attribute irritates some but I think it should be one of the seven virtues, certainly for runners and amps alike. It was decided to wait but Larry called and chatted with Dr. Ohlson and I will be getting an x-ray on Monday to see if the bone has completely healed. If so we will proceed with the fitting with some accommodations for this tiny pothole in my leg.

Jennifer went with me to this appointment and subsequent Ossur seminar, and while in the patient examining room Brian Frasure stepped in and introduced himself.

A word about greatness and role models:

Olympians are rightly held on pedestals as examples of the potential realized by the human mind, body, and spirit.

The Olympic motto is "Citius, Altius, Fortius."

Faster, Higher, Stronger.

The Paralympic motto is "Spirit in Motion."

Brian Frasure realized both of these ideals. His amputation was the result of youthful indiscretion, something no doubt many of us were just as guilty of yet escaped relatively unscathed. Brian did not. Yet he took what may have been a destructive thing, embraced it, and went on to be a champion in a way that gives that word the meaning it deserves.

Olympic champions, mostly able-bodied and without physical disabilities, have pushed the limits of human performance into a realm that few can ever touch even in their dreams. Paralympic athletes, given broken bodies or some design flaw of nature or God, go beyond that rare air, beyond those dreams, into a place reserved for the best our human spirit can achieve.

No, this not a place I can go, but I have been given the eyesight to see it now. Before my amputation, the Paralympics and the athletes who participated were something I might read about in an ancillary article in Runners World or elsewhere; now I see, in this different slant of light I have been given, something better about us human beings. Something noble and real.

This is the light I see Brian in, and I am a lucky man to have shook his hand and chatted about running with no limits whatsoever.


I discussed my main concern with Brian, which is moisture (sweat) control in the liner, especially in our hot and humid summer climate. This affects athletes and walking amps; a wet liner is the source of many problems. Brian said I was correct to identify this as something I will have to deal with, there is no solution, only methods to help control the problem.

As a sprinter, Brian did not have much problem with moisture, as his workouts were shorter in duration and between interval sets he could take time to dry out his liner. As a distance runner, this becomes a more significant source of aggravation. I intend to keep asking about advances in moisture control, as I believe the technology exists to fix it or make it way more manageable that it currently exists.

Sweating in the summer as an able-bodied athlete can be problematic, but it is mostly managed with high tech fabrics that wick moisture away from the skin, creating a microclimate that helps make the runner comfortable. The liner has no way to dissipate sweat; the design is flawed and requires abnormal solutions. Looks like I will have to see how this will affect me in the months and years to come.

Brian is a CP (certified prosthetist) as well as a Paralympian. Here is a tidbit: he fit Oscar Pistorius with his first Cheetah feet. He went on to say how he liked Oscar as they had similar personalities when it came to running. With his new feet, Oscar went on to beat Brian in competition, but imagine the lasting satisfaction in helping a fellow athlete bring such notoriety to amputee running.


The Ossur seminar was geared to professionals but was informative to us as well. Brian was wearing the Re-Flex VSP foot, one that I might be wearing as an every day prosthetic. I could do easy runs in it if I chose and it would be a backup to my running blade. Brian demonstrated how he could easily jump off a chair with the foot, very impressive as that was impossible with my old ankle.

We finished talking to Ricky Miller, a technician, and a couple who attended with the husband participating as a patient wearing an Ossur foot. We had plenty to talk about, phantom pain, TENS units for helping with it, various stories about falling and infections and all sorts of delightful things to look forward to or leave behind.


Tomorrow the x-ray will show whether or not the bones and screw have all fused together to provide a solid bridge at the end of my right leg. If so I can - with luck - have my socket fitted on Tuesday and then get my leg on Wednesday just in time for our trip to Hannibal on Thursday.

If I can get the leg I can leave the wheelchair at home, which will make our cat Cutie very happy as she claims it a night for a perch. It will make traveling way more comfortable or else I will just have to hang the stump off the seat with no support. I think that will be doable, not sure what we'll do if it's not.

At least we will be able to board early and avoid the pushing and shoving until we meet the family.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Tar Heels Unite

Brian Frasure competing (right)
Photo courtesy of Ossur.com

Tomorrow I go back to Floyd Brace for a 'stump check' but it looks to me that I need one more week before I can be fitted for my new foot. Jennifer is going to meet me there and go to the seminar afterward.

For an update, the remaining scab on my incision does show signs of wanting to bite the dust but I cannot seem to evict it until it decides to vacate the premises. As one amp told me, "Like mommy said, don't pick at the scabs." Mom was right although we constantly had to test her.

Larry Wiley, my CP, told me at my last visit in passing that Brian Frasure was going to be at a seminar I will be attending after my office visit tomorrow. I guess I was a little overwhelmed with all we talked about that day, and I didn't think about it until later.

I wrote Larry yesterday and asked if he had said what he said and he said yes. I can't wait!

Brian's bio and long list of accomplishments are here. For me to be able to speak to such a champion is quite an honor indeed. I hope to be able to get some tips and advice on amp running, particularly the thing that is worrying me most, what to do with a bucket of sweat that my liner will gather in humid summer running. Brian and I were both born in North Carolina, so we have that in common, along with one heel apiece. I believe I edge him out on the number of toes. = :-)

More on this after tomorrow! I have to do my PT which I've managed to miss for the past two days. Nearly all of my pants are starting to get quite tight and I need to get back to running to burn 70,000 calories which is 20 pounds of flab.

It's win-win.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Letter to Roper Hospital

Mr. Matthew Severance
CEO Roper Hospital
316 Calhoun Street
Charleston, SC 29401-1125

Dear Mr. Severance,

On the morning of April 14, 2009, I had my right foot amputated at Roper Hospital by Dr. Blake Ohlson, MD. I had an arthritic ankle and deformed foot as the result of a childhood injury. In recent years it had become quite painful and I had a prior surgery on April 8, 2008, also at Roper by Dr. Ohlson. This did not allow me to have enough function to walk without pain and a limp although I did have less pain than before the surgery. Dr. Ohlson and I discussed this first surgery in detail and knew the outcome might not be optimal, but thought it was worth trying to avoid full ankle fusion that would severely limit my quality of life.

I have been a runner my entire life, it is my passion. After the initial surgery, I could find no evidence that I would ever be able to run or even walk without pain and would face additional surgeries in the future. I could, however, have my foot amputated and get my life – and running – back. It still seems ironic that I had to lose a foot to run again, but the choice was clear to me. You may be familiar with what amputee runners like Oscar Pistorius, “The Blade Runner” can do with no lower legs at all. Given these examples, I made the difficult decision to have my foot removed.

Dr. Ohlson performed the Ertl amputation procedure on my right leg. I was very happy to know he had been trained in this procedure and his mentor, Dr. Lew Schon, MD, is one of the premier orthopedic surgeons in America. I have done research on amputation and tried to be my own best advocate in my health care. I mention this because I tried to be proactive in my journey down this road, relying on myself as much as the ones who helped me at Roper. So knowing I had superb surgeon doing the amputation put my mind at ease.

The main point I want to make is the extraordinary care I did receive at Roper; had I written a script for my amputation it could not have gone any better. The prep-op was thorough and friendly and when I awoke from my surgery I was amazed to be pain free. My foot was gone and I was pain free. Just incredible.

I was taken to the 7th floor because the orthopedic floor was full, but that was no problem for me. The nurses and staff gave me excellent attention and care, I never lacked for anything. The kindness of everyone made me feel very fortunate to be there.

I had planned for this surgery, so I knew what the approximate cost would be (if everything went well) and what I would be personally responsible for. I think our health care quality in general is incredible – I am 56 years old - and I have seen a few changes in my short lifetime already. I have to think had I the care today as when my foot was first broken that I might not have lost the foot at all.

I am currently starting the prosthetic fitting process with Larry Wiley at Floyd Brace. He has put me in touch with Brian Frasure, a Paralympics champion. I expect to be running by this fall if all goes well.

I want to thank you and all employees at Roper Hospital for making this operation a success and for giving me outstanding care. I know it is difficult to remain positive in the face of adversity and I imagine some days are horrid beyond belief at the hospital. But for me, being able to get my life back as a runner has been nothing short of miraculous. So for this patient know how much my life has been changed for the better.

I am overcome with emotion when I think I can run again, and I want to know how much I appreciate each and every person who has made this possible.


Richard W. Blalock

Random Thoughts Part II

Indian blanket wildflower in our yard

Always pursue your dreams, let nothing dissuade you from your goals. Even if you fail, what you learn will be the gold in your life.


"They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."
Isaiah 40:31


I will run and grow weary and I shall be a happy man among eagles.


I look at my right leg and see my foot is missing and still have trouble believing what has happened to me, what I have done, the why of it all. I have to remember I am still here among friends, and I will run again. The golden rule is exposed for the one truth that it is. Thanks to everyone who made this possible and especially for the understanding and love of my wife Jennifer.


My mom said I ran before I walked.
I love that.


My dad said I had beautiful hands...this is one of the nicest things anyone ever said to me.


The way to do is to be.
Lao tzu

Saturday, June 20, 2009

No News Is Okay News, or No Foot For Me

That's a scar, mate! The scab on the right side is holding up The Show.

I made my first prosthetic fitting trip to Floyd Brace in North Chuck (Charleston) on June 17, 9 weeks and one day after my right foot amputation. As noted in a previous post, I was hoping for the best, especially considering how some amputees seem to be able to run 6 to 8 weeks after amputation. I still find this hard to believe, but then I want to be one of those runners right now.

Having grown up doing all things boy, I have a body full of scars except for several hard-earned stripes that vanished when my foot was amputated. I suppose I need to list all of my specimens, but that should be a separate post. My favorite one was under the right big toe from bullfrog catching, that day is as clear to me as when it happened over 50 years ago. Again, a post for later. What this tangent is about is I know a thing or two about scars and healing and why I think it will be 10 - 14 days before my incision has healed enough for my prosthetic fitting.

Larry, my CP, took a close look at my incision and noted the one scab was not raised, which indicated deeper healing was underway and we should indeed continue to wait. Here my wishful/wistful thinking collided with reality, and I am going to do nothing to insist that we move forward until all systems are at go.

I did meet the local rep for Freedom Innovations at Floyd Brace, makers of a number of popular and successful prosthetic feet, including the Nitro Running foot, one on my list to consider when the time comes to get my running blade, which shall be known as Jato. Ossur also has some terrific running feet; the Flex-Run is likely the one I would choose although I understand some distance runners use the Cheetah.


It still seems like forever before I will get my walking and running prosthetic feet although I know it will only be a week or two. The small miracle that I will be able to run again from the here and now appears to be a mirage at times. I do feel a bit like I am in purgatory, waiting for the green light to move on.


Ah, to hear the a capella din of runners gathering at the starting line, who suddenly grow silent as they lean toward a single voice:

Runners take your mark.

Get set.


And that, my friends, is music for the passion.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Bridge Run

David (right) and me (left, 1 y.o.)

Before many runs I often wonder what it will bring...sunrise birthing colors or sunset laying them to rest...parents strolling with baby or an older couple walking among the azaleas...a near miss by yet another careless driver...possum trotting across the street or eagles twisting overhead. The sweet scents of magnolias and jasmine and honeysuckle or the peculiar odor of pluff mud. Holy passion flowers blooming lonely among the weeds.

And sometimes nothing special happens, your run is full of blah and you look forward to the next time out. Tomorrow will be better.

On this day I was thinking of these things, wondering what, if anything, the run would show to me. It didn't feel like a special day in any particular way. I felt neither good nor bad, just another easy run in my marathon training. As I ran down Pitt Street to the old trolley bridge, there it was. A white tandem-wheeled truck parked on the side of the road.

I'm not sure now but I don't think it was the same model that my brother drove. As I approached I tried to catch a glimpse of the driver without staring, for some remaining Southerners civility is a gene that must be endured. I ran by the side of the truck and could not see the driver; he appeared to be leaning back, perhaps even sleeping. I could only see a dark figure, no details, no face.

I ran on down the trolley bridge, thinking of my dear brother who is not yet one year dead. The mind raced ahead, thinking maybe he isn't gone after all; here he is looking out for me still. It would be just like him to pull some kind of prank, a high art passed along from brother to brother.

Oh but I recall him lying still, no life left. A casket, flowers, family, his fiancée. A funeral in the mountains near his much beloved Blowing Rock. The spot in his small garden where he lay down with a bursting heart with beauty bursting all around. A rock pathway he was building that our younger brother would finish. Tears, many tears. My mother's pain. So much love.

He is gone and not gone.

As I reached the end of the bridge and turned around, I knew the truck would leave before I could return. That if I could run faster than any human being on the face of the earth, I could not catch it. And as I thought this very thought the truck pulled around and was gone.

I ran on, slowly.

I make no pretense of being a religious or even philosophical soul. I have no answers to give and many questions to consider. But I have not been able to forget this particular run and know I never will just as I miss my brother and will love him forever as all us who knew him.

…a long time ago an asthmatic boy watched as his older brother disappeared from sight as he ran around the block. Unable to run further than beyond a few houses down the street, the boy kept trying to mimic his brother's feat. The block was defeated, 5 miles, 10 miles, 15 miles down highway 61, and years later the marathon.

He never gave up and found peace in the end.

- In memory of my brother, David Michael Blalock. 10/19/1949 - 06/19/1999

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

News Flash

I just found out one guy RAN 8 weeks after amputation here. Note: that link may require a login, but article refers to Dale Jackaman of Canada. "Thanks to his hard work and his team at GF Strong, he was able to run down the hall at full speed 2 months after amputation. Now, 6 years after his amputation, Jackaman leads a “normal,” active life."

I am seeing my prosthetist for the first time today after 9 weeks. I expect to run around the block this evening...

...not really but soon!

Amp PT

I have been doing upper and lower body PT since leaving Roper Rehabilitation Hospital. As a runner I rarely found or made time to do much upper body strengthening. As it stands, or sits, I have made some strides in strength training and worked into a routine that I will continue once I start running again.

This is the lower body plan I use plus a few added things:


I have worked up from no weight to 20 lbs in the form of two 10 lb Reebok ankle weights you see in these pics. Jennifer had some slightly lighter weights that I used initially.

The above is the "Hip Outward and Inward" exercise with the weights. In reality this is only about 10 - 12 lbs more than an intact leg. I do about 75 - 100 reps.

This is the "Hip and Knee Bending" exercise. Right now I do about 200 reps. The thigh still atrophies; if I could work out 3x a day I might arrest it.

This is the "Short Arc Quad" exercise. I stack the weights to get good resistance. I usually do 30 - 50 reps 2x or 3x.


I'd show some upper body stuff here but there isn't enough room for my giant chest, uh, head as Jennifer happily concludes.

I hope to keep this up once I start running again, I believe a strong core will make me a better runner and less prone to injury. I will likely do strength training 3 - 4x a week which should be enough to maintain and improve my fitness. If I get very ambitious I might join a nearby 24/7 club to have access to more sophisticated equipment.

I won't be rupturing my right achilles tendon ever, but having a strong left leg will be more important than ever. Can it be I will be walking without pain in a few weeks? Except for the phantom pain, which I have come to a compromise; it will keep pestering me and I will keep it in a headlock. Since PP has dumb tenacity and I have the Scottish ancestry, there is only one outcome to be had.

I go to see my CP tomorrow. If my incision has healed we can start the fitting process. Here's hope for real change I can believe in! = ;-)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

8 1/2 Weeks

I continue to be amazed by the scenery of my journey through foot amputation. It's like going down a road you've always traveled, and one evening at twilight all that was old is illuminated in ethereal brilliance.

Earth and heaven collide.


On Wednesday, June 10th, I met my CP, Larry Wiley at Dr. Ohlson's office at my eight-week post-op appointment. Larry and I had a good conversation in the waiting room; I am very concerned about sweat and my upcoming prosthetic foot, specifically the liner. Being in a sub-tropical climate and knowing it's sometimes difficult to know if you are sweating or it's an afternoon shower drenching you to the bone, I am worried I am going to spend more time drying out my liner than running during the summer. I have a few more months before I can run again, so it's best that I find a reasonable solution - if one exists - before then.

I was mildly surprised that no x-ray was taken this visit to see if the bones had fused together. Larry and I were taken to an examining room where we continued our discussion until Dr. Ohlson arrived. I introduced Dr. Ohlson to Larry; others from Larry's office had spoken to Dr. Ohlson in the past but this was the first time these two had gotten together. I was very pleased that Dr. Ohlson asked to trade cell numbers with Larry and told him to call with any questions.

The doc examined my stump and removed the steri-strips and the gunk that was under them. I cleaned up nicely but still have a couple of spots that need a little more time to dry and completely heal. I made an appointment to see Dr. Ohlson in six weeks and I will see Larry on Wednesday, June 17. It seems a little strange that I might be walking about on my new foot in a matter of weeks. I have been going through the surgery and recovery process for the past 8 weeks but it has been since November 2007 since I was able to run.

Larry informed me that I have been approved for a free foot from Ossur! I will have more details soon, as originally Larry wanted me to participate in a local seminar sporting said foot on June 26. It seems a little quick for me to be up and walking around but if I am I be one happy dude. Once I get all the details - mainly because I hate disappointment and if for some reason this falls through - I will make a separate post about it.


On Thursday I had the honor of speaking to Mr. Dick Traum, founder and president of the Achilles Track Club (ATC). When you talk about turning adversity into opportunity, Mr. Traum has done that for himself and thousands of other so-called disabled athletes. I say "so-called" because I do not see people who have faced amputation or were born with a birth defective or had some other circumstance that claimed some part of their bodies as disabled. They are giants; giants of spirit and heart.

From being the first amputee to run a marathon to founding an organization with over 150 chapters in the US and around the world, Dick Traum took losing a leg in stride and has touched lives worldwide.

When I talked to Mr. Traum he said he expected me to tell him I would be running the NYC Marathon in a year or two. I have resisted running big marathons in the past - except for the Chicago marathon in 1997 - but I have been giving this some serious thought. Since I sitting here with a stump and a wheelchair and crutches for mobility, I am some distance from even walking again.

I have several reasons why I should do this race, in memory of an old cyber-running friend Jim Ahrens; in honor of those who died on 9/11; and for the help and support of the ATC.

The marathon is still not a distance I have had much luck with; I train to race it, not to finish, and in every match so far it has demolished me. With this in mind, I don't want to commit to something before I know I can give it all I have on race day. I am old school track, lacking talent but never the determination to give my best.

We shall see.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Glen, Oscar, and Distant Me

When I was a child, Glenn Cunningham was my hero. I recall reading his story and made a connection that has stayed with me all my life. No matter what I have been through, someone has had tougher circumstances and prevailed beyond belief. Glenn suffered horrible burns to his legs yet became a world record holder and possibly broke the 4-minute mile many years before Sir Roger Bannister. Glen's mantra was simple: Never quit.

"Still others - and I am one of those - never give up. We fight and fight and fight. We fight no matter the cost of battle, the loses we take, the improbability of success. We fight to the very end. It's not a question of courage. It's something constitutional, an inability to let go. It may be nothing more than life-hungry stupidity."

- Pi, from "The Life of Pi" (Yann Martel)

Perhaps stupidity, but doubt clouds that excuse.

This morning I have been watching videos of Oscar Pistorius.


Oscar is my inspiration for going down this one-footed path back to running. I knew I could run again with the amputation of my non-functioning and painful paw; I used Oscar as the example to my surgeon and family alike. As a child, Oscar had little choice in his case; I believe if had he a vote in the matter would have arrived at the same conclusion.

Oscar is a champion. We all fall short of perfection, we are human after all. But Oscar comes dangerously close to what all athletes strive for and that is...perfection. I am talking about human perfection, that impossible height reached by sheer will, not letting legs cooked to the bone or being born with no bone at all stop the heart from it's desire.

"Now I will turn the miracle into routine. The amazing will be seen every day."
- Pi, from "The Life of Pi" (Yann Martel)

It amazes me that so many able-bodied people moan and bitch for others to defend their weakness, that being laziness. It seems benign yet it can bring nations to their knees. The absent deep respect for their ancient human roots, the runner who chases prey until one drops from exhaustion and the other feeds their family. They are lost souls who bring others into the caverns of lost hope with no path to the world above and stark freedom.

Pi shared a small boat, lost in the wide Pacific, with a Bengal tiger. Glenn's tiger was a horrible accident; Oscar's tiger was a birth defect; my tiger was a yellow and black school bus.

I have little talent but Glenn and Oscar's life examples help me survive in this small boat with a fierce animal. As I work though my journey, I begin to see through those slits of blue sky at my prey, this lean body of sinew and muscle, small and destructible, yet unwilling to yield.


(Oscar Pistorius image courtesy of www.ossur.com)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

All Quiet on the Stump Front

This week was quiet on the stump front, perhaps in anticipation of next Wednesday's eight-week anniversary of the foot removal service. My CP is going with me to get the verdict: yes, we start the prosthetic fitting process or no, not quite ready and wait another 4 weeks. Worst scenario: no bone bridge and revision surgery.

I still have the tiny spots of blood on my shrinker...not sure what this means but I guess I'll find out soon enough. After nearly eight weeks I would expect there to be no bleeding. I cannot remember how long I had bleeding after my first surgery; the heel osteotomy incision took the longest amount of time to heal, definitely more than 4 weeks but less than 8.

I joined the NYC Achilles Track Club this week and got an enthusiastic welcome. With our semi-tropical weather I am very concerned about the problem of sweating and running with a prosthetic leg. I have read about people having to stop and dry out the liner in more moderate climes, so I am anxious about trying to run while sweat pours off me. This was one question I thought other amputee (amp) athletes could answer.

The problem is the liners do not breathe, so until this bugaboo is solved sweat is going to pose trouble. I have been told that many use talc in the liner to help manage sweat, as well as the prescription anti-perspiration Drysol. It's going to be a few months before I can run any distance, so I will have to find what works for me as Dr. George Sheehan noted as "...an experiment of one." I do have an idea that I want to try should I find this to be a major problem, so I am ready the challenge.


I asked my brother Mark to help with some yard work, meaning I would practice my supervisory skills while he clipped, poured, and tossed. There really was, as I promised, about an hour's work. Of course as he worked under my tutelage, I noticed several days' worth of details to attend to, so I am very anxious to get mobile again.

My PT session went well today. Whatever muscle I pulled in my chest is much better now, I imagine in another week or two the pain will vanish. I need to do more intense sessions, which I am scheduling for Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. On those days I am going to try to do two sessions or at least one full body and then lower body/right leg workout if limited by time.

My right leg is atrophying and I'm trying to slow the rate it evaporates into punydom. This is to be expected but I do not like it much. Once I get up on my two feet I can stop this musculature death spiral.

Jennifer grilled us a delicious dinner tonight. Back in my two-footed days I would grill, yeah, the easy part, while Jen fixed everything else. In a few weeks things should be getting back to normal. We did go out to the Pitt Street bridge for a little while on Saturday, just missed seeing a waterspout in the harbor.


I have Wednesday off when I have my doctor's appointment. Whether I go forward or a step back is out of my hands. Either way the journey does continue and I am along for the ride, although right now it seems I am strapped to the roof of the family wagon. The view is different up here, I don't mind the rain, but the drive-through clearance bar does pose a problem to my health.

As the wise Mary Hartman once said: "Things are not so bad that they couldn't be worse."

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Joy To Be

Old Flowertown race start,
brother David in jeans left of dogwood tree
on sidewalk

For the most part I am over my decision to lose my foot in order to regain my life. When I see my stump - which is just easier to say and write than "residual limb" - I have some pangs, well, not of remorse but of disbelief that I have no right foot. I see my Nike encased left foot, on a strong left leg that could propel me above the rim, or when paired with it's mirrored twin, run as far and as long as we cared to go...and it is itching to fly again. The right is just itching and cannot be scratched.

There is one thing I want to think of often but do not dwell on or bring into the light for very long: running again on my prosthetic leg. I see it out there, this dream where I am running, flying again in the flowertown in the pines, my favorite race.

I could probably run it blindfolded: down Laurel Street and the playground where I played Little League ball and later pickup basketball; past the Episcopal Church, which in spring would cause atheists to consider attending a service in its loveliness; around President's Circle, just keep turning left and you won't get lost; down Linwood Lane where my high school pal David Laudig lived; cross West Carolina and onto Sumter and some of the most beautiful historic homes in the town; past the VFW hut and where the race use to start some years ago; turn onto Richardson with a slight uphill finish. Kick your guts out.

All along the course I see the ghosts of my past; they are welcoming in their spirits. Hello Tom, my old employer. Hey Boobie and Tubby, who's got game? David, are you going to Explorer's this week? Eric, I'm going long, let 'er rip!

And yes, I see my brother, standing near the Catholic church, silent now. I wave to him.

I think of running at odd and not so odd times. On the way to work. Doctor's office visit. Driving to lunch. Sitting here on the couch. Alone with my thoughts.

Rarely do I look at my leg and feel any self-pity. It does seem very strange that I, a runner all of my life, have no right foot. It was my decision and I know it was right, that this time will pass and soon I will run again.

It is the thought and dreams of running that charge me with emotion and can bring tears. The pure animal joy of moving through time and space.

I am an animal.

I see myself running like a deer along the side of the road as I drive into work. In my dream I am racing, feeling the pull and release of the muscle and tendon, the foot impact, compression and then ever so briefly, airborne. I see my running companions, none of whom I train with but all of whom have wings and we, a colored flock of avian souls, strain higher toward our common destiny.

We are flying in the pines.

This thing is holy, this is my church, my now. I live here, in this moment.



Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Wednesday, June 3

The photo is what Jennifer correctly calls my nest where these rambling are rattled off the laptop. It has been my home through two foot surgeries and it is a struggle to keep it as, uh, clean as this fuzzy pic indicates.

I took today off; I've have quite a few vacation days to burn so I don't lose them. This is sometimes difficult to do in IT, as many things have to be done after hours so the production train stays on the track...plus the passengers are mildly irritated when the choo-choo jumps the tracks.

Yesterday was my 7-week post-op mark. Next Wednesday, June 10, I go back for my 8-week checkup with Dr. Ohlson. He'll have an x-ray taken of my stump and will want to see the fuzzy image where the bones have grown together. My Ertl has a screw holding the bridge together, some do not use hardware but I trust this will be best for me. My CP Larry Wiley plans to go with me; if all looks good I will be in his care for the start of my prosthesis fitting. If the bones aren't quite ready I might have to wait another 4 weeks or so. If the bridge has not grown together, well, we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.

I am having a consistent tiny spot or two of blood on my shrinker when I check it. I wash it about every three days and hope not to find any spots. So far every time there is a dot or two of the red marker. I still have the Steri-Strips over the incision; I am careful when I wash the stump not to disturb them and they are all intact.

I ran out of Gabapentin and have switched back to Lyrica at a higher dose to see if it helps with the dreaded phantom pain. Hard to say after one day, but it is certainly no worse. I'll see how it goes at work tomorrow. As I write this I can feel the rawness of the heel and the electrical tingle in the first metatarsal in a foot seven weeks severed.

Today I worked on a couple of upcoming posts, one about running from my current sideline seat and then other about someone I deeply admire, Oscar Pistorius. A great champion in every regard, legs or no legs. After watching a number of YouTube videos of his races and interviews, I am seeing less of a man on running blades and more of the very essence of the model athlete as embodied in a runner. He raises the human race up one full measure. God knows we need it.

I just finished my PT. My chest muscle pull is slowly getting better; it doesn't have shooting pains when I lie down as much. I am still avoiding doing pushups, although I did 10 tonight because I wanted to see if I could. Yep!

I have been looking for some sort of a wrap-around limb massager for my stump. When I can use either my hands or the Wahl massager on it, I get some relief as long as I employ them. At work the phantom pains typically get stronger as the day goes on...a couple of times I had to take a pain pill to take off the jagged edge. I thought if I could get an electric hands free device then I could avoid the medication and the loss of my alleged mental acuity. After beating up the keyboard on Google, I found the "RevitaLeg Portable Leg Massager" and ordered it through Amazon. From the description it sounded perfect, but some personal reviews said it was cheaply made and didn't work well. I am so desperate for the promised relief that I'll have to give it a chance.

It is after 10 pm as I write this so I need to think about going to bed. I had a deep nap late this afternoon; I think I hit the very bottom of the sleeping well. Overall I am sleeping a bit better since I upped the nerve med dosage.

Today I found someone also in pain, who lost their love in a tragic accident. I nearly lost Jennifer to a drowning accident a few years ago; I can imagine but know I cannot possibly understand such a loss. The death of someone near is not unlike phantom pain. The object is gone, ripped from life, thrown in that deep black pit of sorrow that goes on and on. Indeed, time heals all wounds, but time knows not itself.

Although losing this foot is, as things go, insignificant, it continues to show and teach me a greater awareness outside this 56-year-old body. We all must keep going, there is no looking back, nothing to see there, keep climbing the mountain.

Where we stop we will have time enough to enjoy the view.