Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Moving in silent desperation
Keeping an eye on the Holy Land
A hypothetical destination
Say, who is this walking man?

I have my eye on running but today I walked again. Not just a couple of tentative steps but walking up and down the hall at Floyd Brace.


Oh for sure he's always missing
And something is never quite right
Ah, but who would want to listen to you
Kissing his existence good night


Always missing my right foot, my old friend, but I remember you with honor. We will run, we will fly again.


Well now, would he have wings to fly
Would he be free
Golden wings against the sky
Walking man, walk on by
So long, walking man, so long

- James Taylor "Walking Man"

Monday, July 27, 2009

Training Wheels

I have begun training again, albeit not running 50+ miles a week but my first steps to that event. Having started with that short walk at my mom's house, my goal is to walk one mile this week. Walking now means walking with the aid of my crutches.

On Monday I managed to walk about 0.3 mile, from our house to a nearby field in our neighborhood. Jen was at yoga so I did it alone. It was a little exciting to be out by myself with my new foot. I use to be a local fixture of sorts, being tall and running so much many people recognize me if not by name then by appearance.

Tuesday I stopped by a local store to pick up a shower stool. I use it while sitting at the sink when I shave; I had a plastic footstool that had cracked and nearly dumped me on the floor. While waiting for the new stool to be retrieved from storage, I checked out the canes to see if I could walk with one - I found I could take a few steps while going nearly full weight bearing, using the cane for balance.

In the evening Jennifer went with me on my walking trek along with our dog Baxter. We took the path that runs by the aforementioned field. The path has a short wooden bridge through the woods and above a wetland. At the far end it is 0.25 mi. from home and the turnaround point for this particular walk. The pic above is at this path and bridge.

We took a short break when a guy rides up on bike and wants to talk. He introduces himself as Allen McWhirt who works at Floyd Brace. He was at the Ossur seminar I attended a few weeks ago and recognized me. Allen is in triathlon training and was headed back from the pool; he's our neighbor. Pretty cool.

Wednesday I headed out by myself again as Jennifer and Baxter had a date at agility class. I plan to go next week to watch these shenanigans but I needed to get my walk in this evening. I went about 0.6 mi, crossing a main collector road while avoiding being killed at the crosswalk. SC drivers rarely pay attention to pedestrian's rights here, they view you as some kind of alien than a human being. Fact.

It was warm and humid and I felt some squishiness in my liner on the way back and was hoping I had not developed a blister. After a careful inspection the stump was pronounced A-OK (a little astronaut lingo) which inspired a sigh of relief.

I did PT (weights) on Thursday, giving my stump a day off just in case the skin needed to recover from the walking. Since I might not be able to tell when it is getting irritated to the point of a blister I want to be careful.

Friday evening I was again joined with Jen and Baxter. I felt good in my walking motion and while Jennifer was watching I raised the crutches and take three steps. Full weight bearing.

I am a 56-year-old amputee and I am walking again.

We just got back from the Saturday night stroll: 1 mile. Mission accomplished! Skin looks good but there sure is a lot of moisture in the leg and a little pool in the bottom of my liner.

It is now Sunday and I plan to walk to the field and then try walking a few steps at a time without crutches. My stump has a little soreness, I suppose it is to be expected and I am trying to avoid overdoing it. It will be 15 weeks post-op this Tuesday, almost 4 months.


We've been watching the Tour de France, expecting Lance to win but finding a new champion in Alberto Contador, who despite whatever controversy the press is generating, is the real deal, the best of the Tour. I've enjoyed watching the Schleck brothers work together, trying for podium places for both. Hated to see George Hincapie miss his stage win, but hoping he will come back to ride on Lance's new team. Also been fun watching the sprinters, with Mark Cavendish and Thor Hushovd's different strengths in the same competition providing a unique race for the green jersey.

My bike has been waiting in the garage since my last 26.2 mile ride before my amputation. Although running is my passion, I came to look forward to my bike rides when running was denied to me. What the bike did was make me think about what I might want to do for my 60th birthday, less than 4 years hence. We'll see if the whisper turns to something more urgent.


It looks like we may have a fall marathon in Charleston, SC in 2010. I have long thought a marathon from the town of Summerville down highway 61 and around White Point Gardens would be ideal, a sort of Boston South course. I haven't heard anything about the course design but I hope this might be considered as it is the best one possible, I firmly believe that.

This is along the same course my friend Paul Smith and I ran while we were in high school, from my house in Salisbury Acres to what was then a 7-11 convenience store, just past the train tracks at Springfield subdivision. 15 miles in the summer heat with about 12 oz. of water. Yeah, it was tough and the thought dissuaded me from marathon running for many years. That and the idea of running as hard as possible for 26.2 miles - we had no sense of pacing for it - was difficult to overcome.

I doubt I can run a marathon in 2010 since I can't even walk more than three steps now. It would be hard watching this one from the sidelines, but the day is coming when I get off the bench, uh, couch, and I'm back out there going as long and far as I want.

I have so much I want to do when I can run again, and I know marathons will be a higher challenge than before. Running one as an able-bodied athlete takes months of training and a bit of luck on race day; I never had an easy race and fell apart over the last miles in every one I ran. Thinking of the problems of running with a prosthetic limb with a non-breathing sleeve is a matter of compromise and one I will have to negotiate with one day soon...and the sooner the better.

It is not a matter of sour grapes; I have always enjoyed running a race of 3 miles / 5k. The best race of my young life was a 3 mile race at Parris Island as an Explorer scout. One day I will post my recollection of that race, it was during a rough time with my dad in the hospital following a heart attack. I think of it from time to time, it could have changed my life completely from the path I took but left me only with a well-worn memory of what might have been.

There is much to look forward to and I want race everything from 800m to the marathon with many 5ks to half marathons in between. But first I must learn to walk again, and it will be no less a miracle to go from walking to running a race in so short a space of time. I do not do it alone; it took a huge number people to make this happen. With this much support, I will run again and I will never forget how I did it.

To one, my wife Jennifer, I owe my love and thanks. Always at my side, doing all I could not do and still cannot do. I am making some progress here, using a hoe and my crutch to change the air filter. But you get the idea.


Sunday: I walked a little over one mile today but no crutchless walking. I had a funny twinge in my ITB (I think), I have to remember this leg has not walked for well over three months, and not much before my surgery either. I used a 5 ply and 2 one ply socks in my socket to get a snug fit.

On Tuesday I have an appointment with my CP and I will find out what is next on my journey. I imagine I will get some help with my walking technique, and I'd like to know what the future holds for new sockets and feet. I have a few questions as usual; I have to keep a list so I do not forget to mention them.

Lastly, as I learn to walk again I think about Oscar Pistorius and his earlier battle to allow him to compete with able-bodied athletes. One cannot imagine the difficulty in learning to walk with one prosthesis, much less run with two at world-class speed. It boggles my small mind. An advantage? All I can say is if you think so, you are ripe for a Nigerian bank transfer for 12.3 million US dollars. Well that and Al Gore's global scam.

You pick 'em.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Random Thoughts Part III

There is a mockingbird in the dogwood tree outside my window with a broken leg, trying to balance itself in a fork in the branches. Nature abhors an injury, perhaps this is why we try to push through ours.

Hate? I hate seeing this. I took out a pack of fig newtons and tossed them under the tree. Good thing Bubba didn't see me.


Before our last visit to Mepkin Abbey, I saw a monk in the grocery store on the wine aisle. As I got into my car the thought occurred that I should have asked him: what does God recommend?

Is there a "Last Supper" wine for sale? Didn't see any with a quick Google search.


It's a pleasant surprise when something itches on my right leg that I find I can scratch it, not some phantom sensation that has no physical part.


We are alone in ourselves. In the end, you only can count on yourself, no one jumps in your skin to help. The help comes from within and there the memories work their magic.


Below is a pic of "GA," a.k.a. Guardian Angel, a little figurine that Jen and I have personal ties with. Sometime around my amputation I realized GA's right foot was missing.

Friday, July 17, 2009

[Almost] Walking Man

After the virgin blister episode, I have nearly healed and have been walking with crutches again. Looks like I had another smaller blister in the side of my leg, I attribute both of these from not being snug enough in my socket. I have been taking it easy this week to let the blistered skin heal without further irritation.


I am concentrating on my walking form and Jennifer is helping with a side view. Larry taught me to consider the importance of gait length and speed. With the assistance on my crutches, I start by looking down to get my gait length correct; that is, an equal length step between my feet as I walk. The biggest trick I found was to lead with the right knee of my amp side, then move the foot out and under me while walking normally with the left foot. The other major consideration is to walk with equal speed between steps.

My prosthetic foot, like many, does not have an ankle motion - I cannot press the gas pedal down with heel to toe action. This translates to not as great a toe-off angle, particularly with me not at full weight bearing and walking without my crutches. The design of the Renegade does give some noticeable energy return to offset this visual difference. I can walk with a fairly normal gait while applying about 50%+ of my body weight on the prosthetic foot. While standing I can lean forward and put 100% of my weight on my socket with total comfort.


On Thursday I attended the Otto Bock seminar that was held at HealthSouth and hosted by Floyd Brace. I had hoped to see the Harmony system (see pic at right) but I didn't know exactly what to expect. Although I didn't get to see the Harmony, I snagged a couple of DVDs for patient care and technical use of the system. We did get to see the C-Leg in action from a local amputee and by the presenter, Trent Bowers. Larry Wiley demonstrated the C-Leg software.

What I learned at this seminar was something I already knew but it keeps being reinforced: no matter what I think of my own condition, others have gone through far worse. It's not a matter of a morbid one-upmanship, it's a matter of life. And death.

Trent and his good friend along with some other people had gone to a concert. As more usual than not, there was alcohol involved. Afterward, Trent and his friend took an old and familiar route across some railroad tracks up to their apartment, and along the way both passed out on the rails. The train came. The first responders came. Two young men were changed forever.

Today Trent has a C-leg. He rides motorcycles and has a job he loves. He took a horrible situation, did not give up, and lives on.

Not very long after recovering, his friend went down to the railroads tracks and waited for a train. He faced it head-on in his suicide.

We all face choices in this life. Many are difficult. Some are horrible. And no one can tell you the answers. I've never thought anyone who questioned everything was smart.

What I've learned in my life is this: questions easy, answers hard.

Never quit.


As I left the office on Friday, I was putting close to full body weight into my leg. It's another in many baby steps, though this one is more of a human being step.

Sometimes it's not easy to see the little victories, sometimes it is.


On Saturday - after I slept for 10+ hours - Jennifer and I took Baxter on a short trip up to Mepkin Abbey. This might be my favorite place in the lowcountry. I never fail to find a sense of peace there, not unlike what you might feel in the solace of the mountain spires.

I walked with my crutches avoiding the longer staircases but confident on the smaller ones knowing I had grass for my pillow should I fall. We went to the water's
edge to find a bench but both were taken.
We took in the view of the Ashley River and walked back up the gardens. As we turned around I felt we were viewing a great impressionist masterpiece. So peaceful and beautiful. I did not have a camera with me but I placed the picture within.

Due to my past foot problems we (I) have not be able to take any of the tours of the grounds. This is something I am looking forward to, perhaps this fall.


On Sunday we had dinner at my mom's with some family. I had been watching my diet all day in anticipation the food I grew up on...chicken, creamed corn, mashed potatoes, string beans, sweet tea, all of the major players including the unpalatable butter beans for moi.

Afterward mom, Jennifer and I went for a short walk, probably about a quarter of a mile. We spoke to neighbors coming and going on our short adventure, nice for me since I haven't been outside nearly as much as I use to be when I ran. I think of this as my first 'official' training walk since I have had my new foot.

It is my plan to walk every evening when I get off work with a goal of one mile by this weekend. I will be keeping a close watch in any hot spots that may develop into a rash or blister, but I also know these things will happen so I will have to exercise patience when they do.

But I think one mile is very doable, and if the skin cooperates adding a mile a week will be a longer term target. Sometimes I feel I should just throw the crutches down and walk. I must resist that temptation.

For now.

(Note: Pics in this post were downloaded from Mepkin Abbey and Otto Bock's websites.)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

My Little Blister

My first blister

After getting my brand new prosthetic foot this week, I tried to be smart about not wearing it too long to avoid the very thing you see above. Obviously I have a lot and need to learn about this amputation business. Better to learn now than when I am trying to run and put myself on the d/l for a week.

We found this unpleasantness at Floyd Brace by the Freedom Innovations CP who had come to speak at the seminar. I think I didn't see it because it developed on a spot that was one of the last to heal and had the pinkish-red appearance of a scar. On closer inspection, there was the dome of a fluid-filled blister, something that is a minor inconvenience and aggravation for a runner but a showstopper for me.

I was told to put a little mineral oil on it so I used some Aquafor I had on hand from my prior running career. I also used a little Neosporin to help prevent any infection, that being a real disaster should it take hold.

I haven't worn my new foot since the seminar so the blister can heal and will try it again tomorrow. All of this is a learning process; I did not have any direct discomfort from the blister that would have warned me with the stinging pain that something was awry. Now I know what to look for the things I cannot feel on the incision line.

Elevated vac, such as the Otto Bock Harmony and Ohio Willow Wood LimbLogic, help control the volume changes in the residual limb. As the limb contracts under other systems (i.e. suction only) during a normal day, fit is compromised. Given your skin is sweating in the oven of the liner, soon problems can occur like my blister.

Amy Palmiero-Winters told me that fit is the key for the amputee. I now have first-hand experience about what this means, and it will be exaggerated for the runner I intend to be.


On Thursday when my blister was discovered, I was to be an active participant in the Freedom Innovations seminar at HealthSouth adjacent to Trident Hospital. I was going to walk in my Renegade LP foot, but my blister prevented that activity. The seminar was rather dry in that too many products were mentioned with little practical knowledge imparted to the rehab audience in my opinion. Several prosthetic feet were available for inspection, but the Nitro Running foot was sadly missing. This was more of a sales event and less of a reason for obtaining continuing education credits or knowledge. I hope all of the Freedom Innovation clinics/seminars are not quite so focused on the products.

With this event so poorly attended, the subsequent Otto Bock seminar was cancelled. I had hoped to see their Harmony system in action, but that will have to wait.


It is Sunday as I write this and the blister has subsided, looks like the fluid may have been absorbed into the skin. Tomorrow I will try to wear my prosthesis again; the incision line looks good except for this spot and where the larger scab was located. The latter keeps getting smaller and now is two tiny areas, but they still need some more time to heal. I will do my best to avoid getting another blister and need to take it easy until everything is fully healed. I'll inspect more diligently, but since I couldn't feel this last blister I'm not sure if I can avoid another.

To the non-amps and especially any runners: reading about this tiny blister probably makes you chuckle a bit and I couldn't fault you for that. In high school wearing old school canvas (Riddell?) track shoes, I often had blisters that covered my entire heels...and that did not stop the training either. A blister on the incision line, if infected, could become serious in short order and means I cannot wear my prosthesis, as the blister heals more slowly under a non-breathable liner. The latter is just untenable in my opinion for a multitude if reasons. Skin that cannot breathe will have trouble sooner or later. It's only a matter of time.


There are no seminars or appointments scheduled for next week. I will talk to Larry about upcoming plans and what he thinks my chances are for getting a sponsorship. Once I am running I think that will be easier, but right now my recovery is taking longer than I had anticipated.

For further motivation, I just received "Blade Runner" by Oscar Pistorius. I have several amputee-related books to read including "Amped" by Kortney Clemons and Bill Briggs and "Up and Running" by Jami Goldman and Andrea Cagan.

The latter is a book I bought Jennifer, my sweet wife, a number of years ago as motivation for her running efforts. Then I was running upward of 80 miles a week and there was no thought of amputation in my mind. I felt I could have run hundred mile weeks if I had time.

Now I borrow the book from her.

And I'm looking forward to running around the block again.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Who is Disabled?

This post is more negative than I like, but I am going to publish it anyway as it is all true and needs to be aired. Otherwise the pressure builds and...ooooh Rusty!


Lately, for some silly reason, I have been more sensitive to handicap issues like access via ramps, parking spaces, and bathroom stalls. The major gripe issue is the entitlement able-bodied people feel in using disabled resources.

While on our trip to Hannibal MO, I found this to be the case in many places we went. Both times while trying to access a larger handicap stall at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport it was unavailable due to my fellow inconsiderate able-bodied human beings. I waited at least 10 minutes for one while a man and his son enjoyed the spacious accommodations on our outbound flight. Coming back I found another man camped for at least that long while I waited and wondered if I would make my boarding time. He would not look me in the eye when he left.

You need to look someone in the eye to have a conversation.

Once in St. Louis we took the Hertz shuttle over to their rental parking lot. Jennifer obtained our car inside the office, as the counter in the airport was understaffed. I waited for a while with her, but after negotiating another too-small handicap bathroom, I scouted for a handicap parking space so we wouldn't have to lug the luggage to a stall. I had just looked out to the right (building left from main door) when Sweetness and Light, a.k.a. Jennifer came out and motioned we had to go to the left.

I was looking for a ramp when I spotted the Hertz yellow-and-black Viper squatting in a handicap stall. It had neither a handicap plate nor placard and was partially blocking the ramp and access corridor. As we plodded along to our rental, Jennifer with two rolling suitcases and my laptop, me with a backpack and crutches in hand, I found my usual patient self beginning to slowly broil and blister. In hindsight I should have gone in and directly confronted the management.

Ah hindsight, thy name is politician.

We had a full sized car which I thought I'd be able to stow my wheelchair in the trunk and have plenty of room for family when we reached Hannibal. The trunk was cavernous but I, popping buttons off my shirt as my massive chest muscles expanded in cartoon-like fashion, found it very awkward to load the wheelchair sitting on the bumper while Hertz employees across the way twiddled their thumbs. I managed to cut my left arm a little in the process as the bright red cherry on the sour cake.

Jennifer makes the command decision to go upgrade to an SUV. (Jennifer is a smart woman.) She comes back with a pleasant Hertz employee who cheerfully assists us and we are on our way, but first I stop and take the above pic. Hertz recently sent Jennifer a customer satisfaction survey, which she forwarded to me to answer. No response from Hertz yet which amazes me.

Shocked, really.


I could go on and on (and probably have) but you get the idea. Before you take further advantage of someone who is disabled - in that they have already suffered enough - please show some decency and consideration and leave their resources alone. As the population ages there will be more disabled people than ever. You could easily be indirectly responsible for a cardiac person's death if they have to navigate across a hot parking lot because you decide to take their slot out of sheer laziness.

I have seen you, and you need the exercise.


My temporary handicap placard is for one year; this is what I requested from my doctor. As soon as I can walk without my crutches in near-normal fashion and transcend stairs, I intend not to use the handicap slots. I'm not doing this for any reason other than some disabled person may need them more than me.

Once I start running again, I thought it might be humorous to park in a handicapped spot only to hop out and start a race. That's a joke, son, so no, I would never do that.

It will be interesting to see if they allow me to get to the head of the line at the handicap port-a-pottie. I think I will have earned that one right. = ;-)

* approximate times

Monday, July 6, 2009

It was a good day, a very good day indeed.

I have a Freedom Innovations Renegade LP foot although you can see little of it in the pic.
I am a bit numb right now...I have been waiting for this day for nearly 12 weeks from amputation, even longer from when I first thought about it 2007. It is emotional overload or shock; it just hasn't fully hit me yet.

I have my first prosthetic foot.

I met Larry Wiley, Ricky Miller, and a young woman whose name I cannot recall (sorry!) around 10 am. The Renegade LP foot had just come in this morning, so I would be able to avoid the dreaded - or so I gathered from the various unholy sounds I heard some amps make at the last seminar - SACH foot.

Larry was given my Nike Vomero running shoe to add to my prosthesis. During this time we other three had a good conversation about the life of the amputee. Ricky is a fount of practical knowledge about all things prosthesis, being an amputee as well as a technician. He lost his foot as the result of an unfortunate accident on a barge that tossed him into a river. Ricky's stump is rather short as he developed an infection that resulted in his once long residual limb shortened by numerous revision surgeries.

Larry brought my new foot in and we spent some time walking and adjusting...walking being me with one hand on the rail while trying to process instructions about what I needed to adjust. Later Larry had me walk in the hallway while I tried to maintain a constant speed and an even gait. All this while having a bit of discomfort with the newness of the prosthesis...but as I walked occasionally I would take a couple of good steps. This is going to take some time but I am ready to have a goal I can sink my teeth...and stump in!

On the way home from Floyd Brace for lunch, I saw an eagle perched high in a dead pine, his head swiveled toward the road, likely looking for a quick meal. I have seen eagles at different times, and I consider them a sign of good luck, if not good fortune. I'll take his glance as an affirmation of both.

Later as I left work I saw a rainbow, with an end on the road ahead. I think the pot of gold is at hand.

I am going to fly again.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Big Day

Moi, Nancy and Gary Starrett at Riverview Park
(S&L Photography)

We just got back from the unofficial Starrett family reunion. We also had to pick up Best Friend Baxter from grandma's (my mom), unpack, and then I did my leg exercises. I have been very bad about my PT this past week, no excuses, just didn't make time for them. I am back on the exercise wagon now, and I can say the upper body strengthening has come in handy in too-small handicap bathrooms, one where I had to lift my body over the wheelchair in order to turn around in the proper direction for business.

Right now I am wearing my liner for 45 minutes or so to test for skin allergies. My one incision spot continues to shrink. I feel certain it will completely heal this week. This is more time than I initially expected, but considering what was done, not unusual.

My book for in-flight reading was "A Victory for Humanity" by Dr. Dick Traum. I have nearly finished it and will have a separate post when I do. What a remarkable human being and how many lives he helped by helping others reach for the stars and to find them within. Within those blinded, diseased, broken bodies that we, for some reason, might consider freakish, even if those bodies belonged to a brother or sister or father or mother. Or child.

Tomorrow is a Very Big Day. I get my first foot some time after 10 a.m. I am very tired right now and need to veg a while. Tomorrow morning driving to Floyd Brace I will be thinking about how far I have come and where I am going: to Phase II.
Learning to walk and the run again...hey, it's déjà vu! Maybe this time I will learn to walk before I run, but we shall see where those first steps go.

I am hoping it's not making an impression of my giant head in the floor of patient room #5.