Monday, October 15, 2012
A Trip to Milwaukee & the Weeks Following
The following Sunday I made the drive up to Milwaukee. I had been planning this trip all year for two reasons. First, to spend a few days with my friend Cliff (who is more a brother to me than a friend), his 6 year old daughter Anna, and girlfriend Laura. This was actually my first opportunity to meet Laura. She and I had only spoken on the phone a few times and it was great to finally get to know her! It was fantastic to see how happy Cliff is at this point in his life (Laura is a huge step up from his x-wife (vile treacherous woman) and he's recently started a fascinating new page in his career) and I was truly impressed by how beautifully Anna and Laura interact with each other!
Being a part of Cliff's world for a few days was an interesting experience. While there I met his friend's the Grimes, whom I've actually had many entertaining speaker phone conversations with over the past several years, but had never met in person. They welcomed me as part of their family; even their children gave me hugs when I departed. Anna and I got to spend a lot of quality time together as well. I hadn't seen her in over two years (she's grown like a weed) and I was a little apprehensive about how comfortable she would be with me.
When she was 4 she didn't warm up to me until the very last day of our Memorial Day weekend visit, but we've spoken on the phone several times over the last two years. Cliff hadn't really told her that I would be there so I wasn't sure how she would react at first. As soon as she saw me her face lit up with a huge smile! This time she was very inquisitive about how my prosthetics work, especially in the morning when I didn't have them on. Every time I see Anna she unintentionally (I think) finds ways to test my dexterity. Two years ago, while playing hide and seek, she took my crutches away before going to hide. I told her that I would need those to find her, and she said "no you don't", then carried my crutches off to hide with her. I had already been toying with walking unassisted but wasn't that comfortable with it yet; still, I managed to find her in the end. This time she decided that we should play Frisbee.
I used to love throwing a Frisbee around. It was something that Cliff and I would do frequently during the years that we were roommates. I haven't even held a Frisbee in the last seven years. We knew that I didn't have the balance to stand and catch and throw, so I sat in the wheelchair on the grass (which meant I couldn't move around very well), Cliff went out a fair distance, Laura was a little closer, and Anna stayed relatively nearby to track down any toss that passed by me. Surprisingly, I was able to catch most that came near. Now, I'm right handed, mind you. At one point Cliff sent the Frisbee flying just over my left shoulder. I knew there was no way I could catch it, and it was high enough that it would pass me and go out into the parking lot. All of a sudden, without thought, my left arm shot up and I grabbed the Frisbee out of the sky!
You may not remember this, but during the accident my right wrist was severely broken, and after that healed my hand was numb for several months. During that time I relied on my left arm and hand to do a lot of things and learned to use my left hand fairly well, but I had never caught anything with it before! My right hand has long since regained dominance, so this was a big surprise.
The second reason for my trip to Milwaukee was to attend the 2012 World Burn Congress. I had only been able to attend the four day burn survivor conference for a day and a half last year and was really looking forward to experiencing the entire event. It's a truly emotional four days, but in a very good way. While at the conference I attended several interesting workshops, but what really makes the event special is meeting, and being surrounded by, people who've had similar experiences and are willing to talk about them. I made some amazing friends and hope to attend every year.
The World Burn Congress was also a huge physical workout for me. Because of the distance, and obstacles between the Convention Center and the hotel I had to use both my chair and my crutches to get around. I walked more daily than I do most weeks and wore my legs from morning until well into the night. By mid week my residual legs (stumps) had shrunk in size (from the consistent pressure of the sockets and physical exertion) so much that I had to stuff several pieces of cardboard into the sockets to tighten them up!
Before returning home I made a stop at a farm outside of Milwaukee to visit Debra Lein. Debra was the RVP at Sodexo (my previous employer) when my accident happened. She was a huge support to my family during the early days when I was still lingering in a medically-induced coma, and continued to provide emotional, personal, and professional support to me throughout my recovery and return to work. She had left Sodexo a few months before me and, though we stayed in contact, I hadn't seen her in years. I spent a few relaxing hours visiting with her at the beautiful farm where she lives.
I drove back to Indy that Sunday afternoon and the following Monday began gearing up for InclusionFest. It was a very busy week, and again I found that I was wearing my legs so much that my limbs didn't have a chance to return to their normal size until the following week. I wasn't walking as much or wearing them as long as I had the week before, so the prosthetics would feel uncomfortably tight for about an hour after I'd first put them on, but the more I'd walk the more "comfortable" they would become.
The Thursday before InclusionFest I attended the second session of the Walking School at RHI (Rehab Hospital of Indiana). (If you look back at either July or August's posts you should be able to find an entry about the first session). The first session, at the end of July, was a tremendous workout, but I had no idea what they had in store for me this time. They had me work on climbing stairs by placing one foot, knee bent, up on a step. Instead of straightening the knee (so it won't buckle under my weight) and then pulling myself up with the railing (which is my normal method), they had me work on forcing the knee to straighten, raising me up to the step, by flexing my glut and pushing my residual leg against the back wall of the socket. The knee has no lift assist, so straightening the knee with that method takes a lot of cautious effort, and a fair amount of faith that I'm not going to fall. I can do it, and it's a great exercise, but I don't see it becoming the way that I normally climb stairs.
After the exhausting stair exercises, they then had a PT (Physical Therapist) wrap therabands (long thick rubber bands) around my legs, just above the knees, and then had me walk the length of the gym, round trip, while the PT pulled on the therabands to provide resistance from behind me. Then they took the bands off my legs and had me walk the length of the gym again. My legs felt so light on the first step that I almost skipped! It was very hard to control and I really had to slow myself down to keep from falling.
The following evening I attended a reception at a club on Mass Ave (artsy area of downtown Indy) for Auti Angel and Cody Unser, the two celebrities who came to participate in InclusionFest. Both women are wheelchair users, and both are simply stunning. At one point Auti dragged me out on the dance floor. I don't dance well at all anymore. I use one crutch on the dance floor which ties up one arm, my legs are like cement, my hips wiggle a little bit, my shoulders bob from side to side (what college guys think is dancing), and I have no idea what to do with my free arm. Auti, on the other hand, is an amazing sight to behold. She spins, weaves, bobs up and down, and moves around the dance floor in her chair with awe inspiring grace, all while doing intricate and alluring motions with her hands, arms, and upper body.
The next day was InclusionFest where I got to hear Cody Unser's amazing story. Her speech during the opening ceremony almost moved me to tears. I'm very disappointed that I didn't get to spend more time with her. As with last year's event the adaptive sports demonstrations (Wheelchair Basketball, Beep Ball, etc.) were hugely popular. The Wheel-A-Thon was a huge success, we raised $30,000 for accessABILITY, which was our goal! Thanks to all who were able to donate to my team. One staff member's teams blew mine out of the water, but we still came in second in raising funds. We couldn't have done that without your generosity!
With all of that activity the month flew by in a blur. I'd love to say that I have the endurance to keep up that kind of pace year round, but the honest truth is that I spent most of the following week in seclusion at home spending more time resting than doing anything physical. Even after taking that time to let my body recuperate, I'm only just now feeling my normal energy return. I hate to admit it, but I'm kind of hoping for a lot of snow this winter, so I have an excuse to be lethargic... ;)
Thanks for the detailed update. It was great to catch up with all your goings on, as always.