I still turn heads

Last week I attended a dental continuing education conference on the campus of Brigham Young University in Provo, UT.IMG_0189

On Thursday, I left my town at about noon and arrived at my hotel at about 10:00 pm. Each leg of my trip (no pun intended) was on time. That is not always the case when flying out of Kansas City International airport. Weather on either coast frequently disrupts (delays) travel in the center of the country.

Flying as an amputee is interesting. Each airport is configured differently. At Salt Lake City International, the walk from the gate to the baggage claim seems to be nearly a mile long. For this one-legged dude, that’s a hike. I usually stop to wipe the sweat off my brow once or twice.

Friday’s presenters at the conference were excellent. Three speakers spoke on a different topics–leadership style, tooth-colored fillings and drugs (the legal, prescription type.)

During the lunch break I had two neat experiences. Near the campus there was an open house of a newly completed facility. I decided to check things out. I rode a shuttle bus to and from the open house. On the bus ride there, I sat directly across from and facing a mom and her three year old daughter. The little girl leaned over to her mom and whispered something. I did not hear what was said, but the mom said to her, “Go ahead and ask him.” This cute girl was shy and started to try to hide behind her mom. Mom said to me, “She was wondering what happened to your leg.” I looked at the little girl, smiled and said, “I had an accident and my leg was so sick and the doctors could not fix it, so they had to remove it. They gave me this robot leg to help me.” That little girl seemed satisfied with the answer. As we were leaving the bus, the mom thanked me for explaining that to her daughter.

After completing the tour, I boarded a second bus for the return trip. Sitting on the bench to my right (my prosthesis side) was a four year old girl. She looked at my leg and finally got up the courage to ask, “Excuse me sir, what happened to your leg?” (Go figure). To which I gave her the same answer I did to the other girl about an hour earlier. She also was satisfied with the answer. Cudos to the parents of these two girls for teaching their children to be respectful and asking, without passing judgement, when seeing a person who is different.

I have a son and daughter in law who live in Salt Lake City. On Friday evening we ate dinner at Cafe Rio. Whenever I’m in Utah, I enjoy dinner there. We each had a delicious burrito. Mine was “enchilada style”, of course. If you’ve ever eaten there, you understand that request. If you enjoy Mexican food and are in the West, I highly recommend it! After about a two hour visit, I saw out of the corner of my eye a lady at the pop dispenser, staring at my leg. Go figure. My experience has been that adults stare, and when I make eye contact, they quickly look away. To avoid embarrassing them, I try not to make sudden eye contact with them. The husband of this lady told me as he walked past me that his wife works for the company that makes my prosthetic knee and foot–Freedom Innovations. She and I talked a few minutes. She was so excited to see a prosthesis she probably made, out in the public. I told her she would probably see it again soon as I was sending it back for its final check up before the warranty expires at the end of this year.

Remember that flight to my course–perfect, on time, etc. The return flight was a different story.  When I  got to the Salt Lake International, I found that the flight was delayed about 40 minutes, or so they thought.  The inbound plane arrived and the inspection showed a part needed to be replaced.  The closest part was in Phoenix–which coincidentally was my layover to Kansas City International.  The flight to KC was canceled because all planes were busy.  The ground crew was so helpful.  They could get me to Phoenix that night and then they could book me on the first flight the next day. They offered to pay my hotel in Phoenix and gave me a $200 travel voucher for my inconvenience.  I did a quick hotel reservation on booking.com, and all was well.  I arrived home about 18 hours later than originally planned, but I have more experiences to share and really enjoyed the trip.

Flying, like life, can throw you for a loop at times. But I have learned to take it all in stride and enjoy the adventure.  I hope you do too.

Until next time!!  Enjoy life, and all its loops!!

Pressure is a Privilege

There are weeks that go by when I live my “normal” life.  Treating patients 4 1/2 days a week.  Nurturing my relationship with my wife (we are “empty-nesters”). Attending to church duties.  Being spiritually fed. Strengthening relationships with my church family.  It is during those weeks, though personally satisfying, there is not much “to write home about”.

Then there are weeks like the last two.

Two weeks ago I attended the Amputee Coalition Conference in Louisville, KY.  At the conference, I learned many things.  The first (and probably MOST IMPORTANT) lesson is that I am not alone in this amputee journey.  As I live my day to day life in a small town in southeast Kansas, I rarely run into amputees.  There are weeks I don’t even see another one.  All the struggles–sore residual limb, pinching socket, sore muscles, lack of stamina while walking, a less-than ideal gait are mine alone.  There is no one to talk to–or so it seems.

David Vobora presented in a session about fitness and driving each of us to be better than before.  He was a linebacker for the Los Angeles Rams and the Seattle Seahawks before retiring due to injuries.

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He founded an organization called Adaptive Training Foundation.  He helps wounded soldiers and other amputees to work and improve. In his presentation he taught me that “pressure is a privilege”.  My amputee condition can open up avenues to help others in so many ways.    Many times amputees want nothing more than to go back to their “normal” lives.  His challenge to me was to catapult past the old normal–to be even better (in a different way).

The Conference had many breakout sessions on very different topics.  There were sessions for Above Knee amputees (there were AT LEAST 150 Above knee amputees like me), Below Knee amputees, Arm amputees, Men amputees, Women amputees, children amputees.  There were sessions on future health conditions that affect prosthetic users (arthritis, lower back pain, etc)  There were classes on cycling and swimming (taught by paralympians).  There were classes that showed that almost all organized sports can be adapted to amputees.  This excited me, because I really want to get back onto the ski slopes again!

Another highlight was the Mobility (Walking) session.  For two and 1/2 hours I worked one on one with a Physical Therapy student under the direction of the world renowned amputee walking expert, Bob Gailey.  I received pointers on how to improve my walking.

I enjoyed the conference so much that before I came home, I had already blocked off my schedule to attend next years conference to be held in Tucson, AZ.

I was disturbed that of all the people I met and talked to personally, about 20-25% lost their limb as a direct result of a motor cycle accident.  I enjoy riding my Harley.  I really need to be careful because I do not have any more limbs to give up!

This past weekend, I did something I have not done in over three years.  As you may know, on July 4, 2014, I lost my right leg in a tragic accident while riding a jet ski on Stockton Lake, MO.  Well, I finally got back on the VERY SAME Yamaha Wave Runner I was riding on that fateful day. The hardest part of that ride was not convincing myself to get back on it.  I had always planned on it.  The toughest thing was deciding to ride with the prosthesis or without it. In the end I rode without it.

jetski

I ended up walking towards the jet ski that was beached at the lake’s edge.  It was there I doffed the prosthesis and hopped with the help of my son, Brandon to the ski.  I kicked my residual limb over the seat and set off on my maiden ride.  It was exhilarating and simply awesome getting back on the saddle of that personal water craft.  It was a major milestone in my progress forward.  The one concern I had was as I rode slowly in the “no wake zone”, the craft listed to the left.  I thought that maybe I was sitting crooked, when I suddenly realized my left side weighs more that my left side. 254___thumbs-up-emoji

I am blessed in so many ways.  I have a wonderful family to support me.  I have a beautiful wife who pushes me and will not let me slack (even if I wanted to).  I know of God’s love for me.  My life really is good.

Until next time!

Beekeeping has life lessons for me.

In my last post I wrote about my new adventure in beekeeping.  I discussed installing the nucs and feeding the bees a sugar-water mixture.  A few days after the install, I returned to inspect my hives–to check on their progress and provide more sugar-water. A few days after that I returned again to inspect and feed again.  It was during that second inspection I noticed some elongated cells- queen cells.

queen cells

Being so new at this, I was concerned.  I knew enough to realize something happened to my queen.  I killed her accidentally, or she flew off.  Without a queen the hive will eventually die off.

A hive of honey bees could be considered a super organism.  Individually, they will not survive long.  The queen directs all the workers and drones to function as a unit. Together the hive grows and thrives.  Each bee knows what it should do for the benefit of the whole group.  Without the queen, the workers make honey and eventually die.  The average life span of the honey bee is 3-4 months.  The honey bee knows when the hive is queen-less.  IF there are eggs present when the queen leaves/dies, the workers can make a new queen.  They feed some of the eggs (which are less than 3 days old) a material called royal jelly.  These eggs will grow into a queen.  When the new queens hatch, one of them kills the others. The hive becomes hers!

queen

She is not ready yet to lead her hive.  She is still a virgin.  She will leave the hive for about two weeks as she goes on her mating flight.  Over the next two weeks, she will mate with up to ten drones (from other hives).  She will store the sperm and use it the rest of her life to fertilize eggs to become worker bees. And potentially a future queen.

I had hoped those queen cells had hatched and the surviving queen was going to assume her role as the leader, but so far nothing looked that way.  I was about to give up, but went back for one more visit.  Two days ago, I found larvae in the hive.  The mated queen returned.

Honey-bee-comb-containing-eggs-and-larvae

Prior to getting my bees, I read a few books and watched many hours of YouTube videos. I had a basic knowledge of beekeeping.  As it turns out, my greatest, most impressive learning occurred while things did not goes as planned.  If both hives would have progressed in an ideal manner (like the first one has) I would have missed out on so much information and true learning.  Isn’t life really like that.

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Yes, life is the best teacher!!

New journey..new hobby

It started December 25, 2016.  Actually it really started a couple years back.  I had been reading about beekeeping and thought that someday that would be a hobby I would like to pursue.  I mentioned it to my wife. Her reply at that time was, “Are you trying to kill me?”  You see she is allergic to bee stings.  This past Christmas, she was thinking about a Christmas gift for me and recalled our conversation on bees.  She ordered me a starter kit from a business specializing in all things bees.  The kit contained the hive and all the needed tools, including a bee suit/veil combination.

In January, the local beekeepers club held a “beginning beekeepers” course.  The all-day class provided the information needed for a person with a small amount of interest in keeping bees to get started.  Through the course of that meeting, door prizes were given away.  At the end of the meeting the grand prize was awarded.  It was a complete (unassembled) hive.  I had won a small door prize during the meeting, but when the ticket for the grand prize was drawn, I was the winner!!  I now had two hives.

I spent the winter reading books and watching YouTube videos gaining as much information as I could.  I assembled my hives and painted them.  Then I built a base for my hives.  I really enjoyed the building process.

Assembled hives and self-built hive stand

There are a few ways to get started with bees.  One can purchase full hives from a beekeeper who is “retiring” or down sizing. Definitely a “turn-key” operation if your bees are healthy.  One could purchase a “package of bees”.  This is a box full of loose bees with a queen.  You dump the loose bees into the hive and let nature take its course. The bees will need to create honey comb and get ready for the queen bee to lay her eggs.  The last way is to purchase a nuc (short for nucleus).  Nucs have a queen and her workers and drone already living a normal life–honey comb established, honey made for food, and eggs and larvae growing.  It is a miniature self-sustaining hive.

I ordered 2 nucs in February.  After three long months of waiting and preparing, the day finally arrived.  I picked up my babies in Joplin, put them in the back of my truck and headed back towards Pittsburg. Those boxes were taped shut but the loud buzzing of thousand of confined bees does get your attention!!

Two boxes of nucs in the bed of my truck

I had placed the hive stand and hives in the bee yard the day before, so I drove to property where the bees would reside. As soon as I got there, I donned my bee suit.  It wasn’t until later that I would learn how important that suit would be, and how trusting I was of the manufacturer!

Obligatory beekeeper selfie!

I opened the hive boxes and installed the nucs, one at a time. The first one went well.  I pulled each frame and inspected them.  The queen located and the frames installed, all was well.  I dumped the bees who stayed in the cardboard box and tapped them out into the new home.  Most went right to their new home. The few stragglers would eventually go home too.  The second nuc was opened and the first thing I noticed was there were about 50-75% more bees in that box.  I located the queen and placed all the frames into the second hive box.  Since there were more bees in the second box, there were more to pour and shake.  This time the loose bees were flying EVERYWHERE.  I had literally hundreds (if not thousands) of bees buzzing all around me.  It was at that moment I really learned the importance of that bee suit and veil. I think the bees were a bit upset.  In fact I saw one land on my right glove and attempt to sting me.  She penetrated my leather glove but never made contact with my skin.

Here is the stinger of the bee on the index finger of my right glove.

Once all the bees had the opportunity to get to their new homes, I placed a quart sized bottle of sugar water at each hive for them.  My work for the day was done. A couple of days later I returned (with the bees suit on) to replenish their food.  They were MUCH calmer at that visit.

So the journey begins.  I am so excited to learn and grow in this endeavor.  I am also looking forward to home grown honey!!  Lessons learned so far include the knowledge that I enjoy building hives.  I have also learned the importance of proper equipment!!  I plan to give periodic updates.  Stay tuned for more.

Until next time.

One last thing–you haven’t lived until you are surrounded by thousands of bees, buzzing!!

Cutting the rug

In a prior post, I talked about the lessons learned since my accident. One lesson learned is the need to celebrate small victories.  Today’s post will be short and to the point.

This weekend my wife and I attended the wedding of some friends. They are in their early to mid 20’s. It was a lovely wedding with a simple, yet tasteful reception. This couple has a ton of potential. Both are devout Christians with a strong desire to live good lives. They will be great together! Congratulations Jake and Randi, and best wishes to you!

At the reception, I did something I have not done in years. I DANCED! My patient wife got stepped on a few times, but we danced. The first time as an amputee on the dance floor.

Hooray for small and large victories!! 

Until next time.

Public speaking and public doffing

It has been quite a while since I last posted.  I have been busy with life–as we all are.  I would like to bring you up to date on a couple of recent experiences.

Just before Christmas 2015, I was contacted by a acquaintance on Facebook.  She leads a mastermind group of dentists.  She has been following my story on Facebook for sometime.  She contacted me and asked if I would be willing to travel to the Salt Lake City/ Park City Utah area to present to her group.  She asked me to focus on what I learned as a business owner from my accident and subsequent recovery. I was not sure I could do it, but after giving it some thought, I agreed.

That meeting occurred recently.  I was allotted 40 minutes.  During that time I shared my story to a very nice group of dentists and their teams.  I was nervous, to say the least, but I feel I did a pretty good job for a non-professional public speaker.

One of the lessons I learned and presented, was any contingency plans for overcoming accidents or any SHTF  (S*#t Hits The Fan) scenario must be clear with all the significant people in your life. I had plans in place, but my failure to explicitly share those plans with my wife resulted in her having to learn and implement them “on the fly” immediately after my accident.   That was not fair to her. I encourage you to make plans to help you overcome trials and setbacks, but be sure to share those plans with those that need to know. Thank you Wendy, for the opportunity to share some important life lessons!

My second experience involved my garden.  If you have been following me, you know that my wife and I enjoy gardening.  OK, the truth is, we love the REWARDS of gardening–the harvest.  The hot, sticky summer work is just an obstacle to be pushed through.  So far we have harvested our broccoli (a first time crop for us) and some leaf lettuce.  Both were very tasty!  Our onions, beets and carrots are doing well too.  Our tomato plants are getting big enough to require placing cages around them.  A few days ago, I was out in the garden doing that. We had a 3 inch rainfall a few days before and the ground was still somewhat muddy.  Not enough to sink into it, but enough to build up the mud on my shoes.

As I was finishing up for the night, my wife called out to me from the house to tell me that we were having a couple of visitors.  I wrapped up my work and walked to the house–leaving a trail of mud in my wake.  When I got to the house, I could not just stomp the mud off my shoes, so I needed to remove them.  That is an easy task with my natural foot.  I bend over to untie my laces and slip it off.  The shoe on my prosthetic foot is an entirely different story.  Taking it off requires that while seated to lift my leg straight up and while holding it in the air, I untie the laces and force the shoe off.  I could not do that easily, so I opted to just remove (doff)  my leg. I did that in front of my guests, apologizing for the unique shoe/leg removal.  I explained it was easier and more graceful to just pull off my leg.  They got a chuckle out of that!  Ah, the life of an amputee.  It is never boring!!

Generally, life is very good.  I am blessed with a VERY caring, (and increasingly) patient wife!  When I describe my feelings about losing my leg, I tell folks to imagine losing a very dear close family member (a spouse, sibling or child).  When you lose them, you never fully get over the pain of missing them. You just learn to manage that pain.  Most days I manage it well.  There are still a few, occasional days when I don’t do so well.  I am still grieving my loss, but with the help of a loving God and an awesome wife, family and friends I am certain I am going to make it.

Until next time!

 

#ControlTheFall

At the end of our driveway is a grate for the city storm sewer. 

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It is level with road, and because of that, the grass, seeds and leaves build up and block the drain. When that happens, a moderate rain results in a small lake forming at our end of the cul-de-sac.    

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I try to be civic-minded, and do my part to clean out the debris as it builds up.

Recently, we enjoyed a beautiful Saturday. The sun was shining and the temperatures were in the mid to upper 50’s. In others words, it was a perfect day for yard work. My beautiful wife and I mowed the grass, edged the yard, and bagged all the grass clippings. As she was blowing the clippings off the drive, I decided to clean out the storm sewer grate.

In order to clean it properly, I need to get down on my knees. Doing so as an amputee, takes a bit more thought and effort. I slowly bend my prosthetic knee and carefully get down onto it.  Then I get down onto my real knee. My neighbor was watching from across the street. As I was imagining his thoughts about my routine, I realized that I spend a great deal of time controlling my rate of fall. Getting on my knees, walking down stairs, and walking down inclines are all are controlled falls for me.

While using the stairs, I have not mastered step over step as I descend, like most adults do. Standing on the top step, I step down with my prosthetic leg. Then I bring down my sound leg. Then I repeat the process–one step at a time. It takes longer, but it works for me and I feel safe. I’m hoping to eventually go step over step.

Before becoming an amputee, I never looked at it this way, but going down ramps is a very controlled fall.  I plant my prosthetic foot, then as I’m taking a step with my sound leg, (This next step is obviously lower than my prosthetic step was.)  I have to trust my robot foot to support me untlll my real foot finally comes forward and hits the ground. Then it’s a matter of lather, rinse, repeat!!

I know I’ve been talking about controlled falls, but I have done a few uncontrolled falls too! I have learned from experience that a simple drop to my knees is the least painful. Getting up is not too graceful, but it still works for me.

I am learning that life goes on. We all learn to adapt to our environment and situation.

Until next time. #ControlTheFall

What is beauty?

By definition, “Cosmesis is the preservation, restoration, or bestowing of bodily beauty.” In relation to prosthetic limbs, “it is the custom-made silicone cover, which can be made to match a person’s skin tone.  They are attached to the body using an adhesive, suction, form-fitting, stretchable skin, or a skin sleeve.”

above knee

I would imagine that the percentage of women leg prosthetic wearers with cosmetic covers is higher than that of men.  I don’t know for certain.  And even saying that out loud almost makes me feel sexist.  I am sorry if I offended fellow wearers of leg prostheses.

While at the Myers Rehab hospital in Springfield, MO (immediately after my amputation), my physical therapist and occupational therapist discussed with me the process of obtaining and using a prosthetic leg.  They asked me how I would feel about my leg “showing in public.”  I stated right there and then that I would not be afraid of showing my new leg off.  In fact, I determined that I would proudly wear my leg and that I would (and do) consider it a badge of honor. Really, why not?  After all I went through to get it, I better wear it proudly.  My insurance company has been great to work with, but they have not (yet) covered a good portion of the micro-processor knee.  I paid a  HEFTY out-of-pocket price for the upgrade (enough to buy a pretty nice late model car).  Heck this leg better be admired, gawked at, or whatever, to make it worth the price paid!

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I do wear shorts most of the time–even in the winter.  I have learned that with only one leg that feels temperatures, I do not get cold very easily.  Now, when the winter temperatures are extreme, I will wear long pants.  I have found that with my prosthetic leg exposed, people will give me a wide berth and avoid close encounters that may throw my walking off.  It also gives the kids something to look at.  I love their expressions and comments.  “Mommy. look at that man’s robot leg.”

We all are unique is some way.  Lets just appreciate it in ourselves and others!

Until next time.

 

Looking to the (near) future

   “If you always put limit on everything you do, physical or anything else. It will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.”― Bruce Lee 

  
Over the last couple of weeks, we have been enjoying some spectacular weather. 70 degree highs in late January or early February  are rare. The mild temperatures have led my thoughts to Spring activities;  namely gardening and motorcycling.

Over the last few years, I have totally failed when it comes to growing potatoes. I joke that if I had lived during the Irish potato famine, I would have starved to death.  Yes, my potato plants looked great–green, lots of flowers, but lurking in the earth was nothing of substance. My wife and I have agreed to try again this year.  We’ll  see.  St. Patrick’s Day, the day to traditionally plant the spuds, is just 6 weeks away!

Recently, on the advise of a biker friend, I took time to attempt to sit on my Harley Heritage Classic.  It was the first time on her since July 3, 2014. I was nervous and excited.  It was not a graceful mount, but I did it.  (The dismount was ever more weird!)   My purpose for sitting on her was two-fold. First, to see how to kick my prosthesis over the seat. Second to verify the needed modifications to safely ride again.

There were the obvious needs.  First, the kick stand.  At first, I will not immediately have the strength, or security to balance my bike and me on my prosthesis so I can use my good left leg to raise and lower the stand. I feel a manual spring loaded handle that I can move by hand while I keep the natural leg on the ground will help a great deal.   Second, the rear brake. With no ability to push a foot pedal on my right side, I cannot engage my rear brakes. A modification of the hand brake so it activates BOTH front and rear brakes (at a safe ratio) will be needed.

Sitting on my bike also helped me to realize a couple of less obvious needs.  First, my socket (the hard shell encasing my thigh to hold my prosthesis on) bangs the gas tank if I try to rest my right foot on the floorboard.  I will need that floor board moved out and angled to help me sit without scratching the paint off the tank. In addition, a secure stop or brace on the  back of the floorboard to help me be sure my prosthetic foot is secure on the floorboard  and free from contacting the tail pipe will be essential. Without it, I envision many burned out heels of my shoes and boots. Or worse, a melted prosthetic foot cover (the rubbery skin).  

The second less obvious modification came to me one day as I envisioned myself riding. Any rider knows that as you prepare for a stop, you gradually downshift to first. This is necessary to prepare to start up in first gear. Sometimes a more sudden stop will force you to stop before down shifting completely. With two legs, this is no big deal.  You hold yourself with you right leg and raise your left foot to downshift. I will not have that luxury (see the kick stand issue above).  Maybe I can have something I can engage by hand to pop the bike down to first gear in anticipation for a clearing in traffic, or traffic light  change.

  
In my next post, I’ll share how I got my bike to the shop.

As you see, change for me, and all of us, is inevitable. How we consider it, and face it, is what makes or breaks us. I encourage you to think, prepare and become innovative. Adaptability is crucial for us in this complex world.

Until next time!

Hope floats

“Not everyone will understand your journey. That’s fine. Its not their journey to make sense of. Its yours.” –Zero Dean

“Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle.” –Ian Maclaren

This blog just spoke to me and I wanted to share it with you too.