Do you know where you were 12 years ago today? I do. It's a day that I'll never forget. While some anniversaries are happy and are anticipated throughout the year, others are more difficult to bear. As the day approaches I know that I have no choice but to try to stay busy and keep the events of the past at bay.
On March 11, 1998, I woke up early in my apartment in Baltimore, MD and drove to Ocean City, MD. I was eager to attend my first professional conference. I felt invincible and excited both about my developing career and my seemingly limitless future. I saw nothing but possibilities and adventure in the world. I never envisioned that an amputation would be in my future.
I was standing in the exhibition hall looking at the rows of vendors eager to talk with me about their products and services. I saw a computer salesman pushing a large monitor on a cart, and I stepped out of his way. In that instant, my life changed.
The monitor was not strapped down on the cart, and the cart became stuck on a transition strip on the floor. He jerked the cart forward, dislodging the monitor. The large computer monitor flew off the cart and the edge landed squarely on the top of my left foot.
To be honest, initially the injury seemed to be relatively minor. I didn't feel any pain at first. I even lifted the monitor off my foot by myself. It wasn't until I lifted up the monitor that I felt pain.
I was taken to an Urgent Care clinic along the boardwalk, commonly referred to as a "doc in a box." X-Rays were taken, and I was put in a cast and given crutches. I was told to rest, to keep the weight off my foot, and that I would be fine in six weeks.
After six weeks, my cast was removed. My foot was distorted and purple. I was told that this was "normal" and that the bruise would dissipate. The discoloration and swelling never faded. Neither did the pain.
The injury on March 11 set me on a path filled with riddled with pain and surgeries. I endured over 20 surgeries in five years in an attempt to ease the pain and to regain my mobility. I was reliant upon crutches to get around, and my life was ruled by my disability. Amputating the limb was the only option left that would alleviate the pain and provide me with the hope of resuming a normal life.
My life was changed simply by standing in the wrong place at the wrong time. I did nothing wrong to cause the injury, yet I have been dealing with the effects of that day for 12 years now. Life can change in an instant.
This anniversary used to fill me with anger. Actually, anger is probably not an apt description. Rage is probably more accurate. I spent a lot of energy thinking about that salesman. I knew that he did not injure me on purpose, yet I was was mad that he was able to walk away from the conference and I continued to suffer. Did he even think about me after that conference? Did he know how severely he injured me? Did he lose sleep because of his mistake? These thoughts used to haunt me.
Over time, my anger has faded into sadness. Every year on the anniversary of my injury I feel sad thinking about everything that I lost. My 20's were filled with nothing but a cycle of surgery and recovery. I was robbed of this carefree age.
Today I can't help but reflect upon the injury and everything that it cost me. I cannot change the events of the past, but I can impact that way that the injury affects my future. I have a better appreciation for my health and for days without pain. I am a stronger person who is no longer afraid to put a voice to my thoughts.
When I woke up 12 years ago I never envisioned that I would be living my life as an amputee. Fate set my life on a new course that I never imagined. The journey, although painful, has been both enlightening and empowering.
I find it ironic that 12 years later, I am again in another hotel room. This time I am not merely attending a conference, but I have been invited to speak. I am now helping others learn about living with an amputation and getting the most out of life despite a limb loss. In a way I have come full circle; it is just a completely different circle.