August 11, 2014

The Day My Life Changed

November 3rd, 1988. 

It was a morning like any other. The sun was high in the crisp, clear, blue sky; and my day started the way my day day usually began. I put on my suit and tie, grabbed my briefcase and walked out my door to catch my train to go to work.

November 3rd, 1988. The day my life changed ...  

I reached the corner of Francis Lewis Boulevard and Sunrise Highway, looked up and saw my train pulling into the station. I didn't want to miss my train and be late for work so I did what almost any New Yorker would do, I started to run. I never made it across the street. I didn’t see the Nissan Sentra speeding towards me from the other direction and a split second later I was up in the air, and then I was down on the ground, both my legs broken. Shattered.

I awoke in the hospital from surgery. My legs were wrapped in so much gauze they could be mistaken for tree trunks. All I was able to do was lie there. If I wanted to sit up I had to pull myself up using the triangle that hung above my bed. My days were filled with physical therapy. At first physical therapy was me being supported by two of the biggest orderlies you have ever seen. I just hung there, between the two orderlies, for hours everyday stretching the muscles in my legs to prevent further atrophy and ensuring a steady flow of blood to my lower extremities.

Eventually, I was able to go down to the physical therapy room. It was there I started to learn to walk again. I would wheel my wheelchair up to the parallel bars, grab the bars and pull myself out of my chair, and began to slowly move down the parallel bars. At first I could only walk a few inches before becoming tired and then my doctors would end the therapy session, but soon I was able to walk the entire length of the parallel bars. 

The next challenge was learning to use a walker and to build my endurance. I did this by walking around the perimeter of the large physical therapy room. There was no ending the session this time if I got winded or tired. The session ended when I walked completely around the therapy room. The first time I completed the loop it took me almost three hours. I was so happy and proud that when I got back to my room I grabbed the phone and dialed.

"Hey Mom!! Guess what I did?!?!" 

A few weeks after that I was released from the hospital. My therapy continued for another three and half years until my legs became strong enough. I went from using a walker to using two canes to using one cane. Then came the day.

I finished my afternoon therapy and reached for my cane only to find my therapist standing a few feet away at the staircase holding it. Walk to me, he said. I was clinging to the doorframe about 35 feet from him. I let go of the frame and stood there for a moment to get my sea legs. I swayed for a minute or two and then gained my balance. After steadying myself I still stood by the doorframe. I wasn’t nervous or afraid. I was trying to remember how to walk. I started thinking about the process of walking, 

“Lift my left leg. Step forward. Down. Lift my right leg. Step forward. Down. Left. Forward. Down. Right. Forward. Down.”

Soon, I had crossed the sea of carpeting and was standing in front of my therapist. He just smiled, shook my hand, and handed me my cane. That was the happiest day of my life and I promised myself I would never take anything for granted again. Especially my legs. My new legs.

I couldn't wait to try them out. I couldn't wait to run in my first 5K! As soon as I was able to I signed up for the race. I would come home from work everyday, put on a tee shirt and shorts and go run around my block to get ready for it.

Finally the race day was here and I was so excited! I walked to the registration table and got my runner's package. I reached in and pulled out my number, 3149, pinned it to my shirt, and stepped to the starting line. 

The starter’s pistol went off and I so did I. I started running and was doing pretty well. I passed some people ... and got passed by some people.  I was feeling good, right up until the second mile mark. My legs started to cramp up and my side was hurting. I was so thirsty and there was not a water stop in sight.

All I kept focusing on was what my running friends had told me. "Don't stop. Don't ever stop. Jog, walk, crawl; but don't ever stop. If you stop you'll never start again." But I'll tell you the truth, the only thing I was thinking at that moment was to throw in the towel. Just give up and quit.

And then the most amazing thing happened. The other runners, my competitors, started to shout words of encouragement to me. 

“Keep going!!”
“You can do it!!”
“Don’t quit!!” 

Their support energized me. I got my second wind and I started to move forward. At this half jog, half stumble, I started to move forward. Pretty soon I saw it. The finish line. It was there 100 or 200 yards in front of me. All I needed to do was stumble, bumble, fumble my way forward and not trip and fall down and I was going to complete this race.

I glanced up and saw the clock, 48:13. Something in the back of my head said, "Karp, you're not only going to finish this race, you're going to finish this race strongly. You're going to finish this race powerfully. You're going to finish this race in under 50 minutes."

I picked up my pace and started to jog. Faster, I started to run. Faster still, I started to sprint. And I’d love to say I crossed the finish line with my arms raised in victory, like Bruce Jenner on a Wheaties box. But I fell across the finish line. My legs were screaming, burning. My side ached and my throat was the Sahara. I was doubled over in pain, so much pain.

And then I glanced up at the clock. It blinked 49:53

I learned many lesson during my three and half years of rehabilitation and recovery. I learned the human spirit is capable of performing miracles. More importantly, I learned that I could have the perfect home, the perfect job, the girl of my dreams by my side, all the toys, and all the money in the world but if I wasn't living with appreciation and gratitude, I had nothing. 

You see appreciation and gratitude is what allows us to enjoy the things we have. I learned a very valuable lesson and I always live with ...

An Attitude of Gratitude.

1 comment:

  1. You should rename your blog "The world, according to Karp"