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amputee mom

Back In the Kitchen

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Back In the Kitchen

When I became an amputee, there was one other lady who lived in Charlotte who was a quadruple amputee. Her amputations resulted from sepsis as well, but in her case the infection began after a kidney stone. In my early days as an amputee, this dear woman came to visit me on multiple occasions to provide encouragement as well as instruction on how to use my (then) new prosthetics. She drove to my house, which amazed me because I did not think I would ever be able to drive. She showed me how she could use an adaptive fork to eat relatively gracefully. With light in her eyes, she bragged about her young grandchildren and told me about how they've adjusted to her prosthetics. Apparently, she was even able to babysit them with little problem. And she even told me about how she was able to go back to work full-time!

This woman gave me hope in so many ways - it seemed like there was nothing that she couldn't do! But she also shared with me the things that, after six years as an amputee, she still found impossible to do on her own. Between her husband and her home health aide, she still received help each day with showering, dressing, and preparing meals. She talked of how, in her early days of being an amputee, she had tried cooking and such, but "it was too frustrating, so I just told my husband that it would be his responsibility from that point on.”

In those early days, I was awed by her abilities and, while I was hopeful that I would one day reach equal "footing" with her; I never would have aspired to surpass her abilities.

As such, I resigned myself to never having the ability to cook, meaning that I was perfectly proud of myself when I managed to heat up some leftovers.

Before I became disabled, I would not have called myself a gourmet cook; but I could get dinner on the table most nights of the week, and I could prepare something special now and again. But baking. Baking was something I could do. And it was something I loved to do. Cookies, cakes, banana pudding. I especially loved making and decorating birthday cakes.

And then there was my “Amish Cinnamon Bread.” We also lovingly referred to it as "Bread That's Really Cake." This title came about because Ben one day referred to it as "Bread" when he asked for a piece at breakfast. Then Brook firmly told our boy that it was not bread at all but that it was truly CAKE because it was sugary and had the nutritional value of a of a piece of cake, meaning nil. From that day forward, Ben called it "Bread That's Really Cake." That title rolled off his tongue as if that were the most natural of names - just like "Tom John Tom" was the most normal of names for a Christmas elf during advent...

My mouth still waters when I think about the batter for Amish Cinnamon Bread, which is also called "Friendship Bread," and began with a “starter” that consisted of a concoction of flour, milk, and a whole lot of sugar. My husband Brook lovingly referred to the starter as my “science project.” He was never very fond of the gallon-sized Ziploc bag that, in his eyes, cluttered the kitchen countertops and became disastrous the few times that it leaked.

What follows is THE recipe - even after five years, I am writing this by heart (and I purposely don't refer to it as “from memory”).  

This “science project” always sat on my kitchen counter in a gallon-sized ziplock bag. I imagine that, once I was comatose in the ICU, someone had to throw my bread starter in the trash. I am fairly confident that Brook didn't perform this task lightly; doing so would have been an admission that I would not be home again baking any time soon.  

There was a rather complicated  process wherein the day you bake is assigned the title of “Day  One.” Each day you pick up the bag and squishy-squash it around. On Day Three you add a cup of sugar, a cup of flour, and a cup of milk. On Day Seven you repeat the process. Then on Day Ten, you pour the concoction into a rather large bowl. With a wooden (not metal!) spoon, you stir until the mixture is combined but still lumpy. Pour one cup of the new mixture into each of four new ziplock bags.

Give three of the bags to three different friends so that they, too, can bake —hence the nickname “Friendship Bread.” The fourth bag becomes your new starter, and what’s left in the bowl becomes the start of the bread batter for what you’ll be baking!

In order to get the “rest” of the recipe, you’ll have to PM me…

For many years, I baked this bread consistently every ten days (give or take a day or two). I never got sick of this bread, though Brook was consistently sick of having my “science project” cluttering up the kitchen countertop. I added pumpkin to the concoction from October through December. I brought this to family gatherings, potluck dinners, PTO gatherings, school and church bake sales, new neighbors, families with new babies or sick loved ones. One year I started baking and freezing loaves in September so that I’d have enough for family, friends, and teacher gifts that Christmas. If memory serves me correctly, I had close to forty loaves frozen for the holidays. But even more loaves were sacrificed to my cravings for sugar and sweets; I would plan my long runs for “baking days” so that I would have zero guilt for my bowl-licking tendencies.

One of the things I miss the most about having human hands is my ability to bake, specifically baking my Amish bread. I would love to try it again, but something is holding me back. Possibly the fear of ruining it, or at least the memory of it? Or perhaps the fear that baking will be full of more difficulty, pain and frustration than joy - much like what has happened with running.

I’ll never know unless I try. However, if I never try, then the hope and possibility will forever remain. In some ways, I don't want to ruin the good memories I have with my baking by trying to replace them with the new (and probably slower, less graceful moves). It is analogous to not wanting your kids to see your ailing and failing parents; you want them to remember their grandparents from when they were young, vibrant, and strong! Why should you ruin their memories? And why should I ruin mine?

Still, what if baking is like driving? What if it comes back easily? What if I realize that, with it, comes freedom? What if it allows me to prove that I still have abilities? Somehow though, I doubt that would be true…I have the stinking suspicion that baking is more like running and cooking than driving and walking.

Now, as for cooking. I do not have these amazing memories of certain dishes I cooked. I've always been more of a pragmatic cook. I'd rely on tried and true family recipes, most of them fairly easy, rather than seek out new dishes on the Internet. If I tasted something I liked at a friend's house, then I might ask for the recipe; but that was the extent of my "stepping out of the recipe box."

When it comes to cooking, it has always been more about taking care of people. Comforting them, helping them, celebrating them. Or simply filling their bellies so that the whining subsides.

Unlike with baking, I have begun to "cook" again. Mostly heating things up; but still, I can get dinner on the table. Ladies from my beloved CMG (which stands for Christian Mothers Group but is better known as the Christian Mafia Group because they "always have your back.") provided meals for my family for over three years. Then they progressed to making us freezer meals - packed in ziplock bags so that I could simply defrost, warm, and serve. These meals were wonderful, not only for their convenience, fresh ingredients, variety, and gourmet quality; but also because they allowed me to feel like I was actually feeding my family those meals myself, like I was a "real" mom. Don't get me wrong; just serving these meals was difficult for me and my prosthetic hands. It took me quite some time to be able to open a Ziploc bag. It's also dangerous for me to take hot pans out of the oven - burning my hand may not be physically painful, but it doesn't look too great on my prosthetics

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But there's also side dishes to consider; even a salad can be tough. Here's what happens when I try to cut vegetables!

There have been other snafus as well. One day I was going to make a chicken salad using canned chicken, and I cut both "hands" straight through the glove AND shell of the prosthetic. So much for canned chicken being cheaper than fresh. That was the most expensive can of chicken I ever bought.

But all in all, I am doing much better than I ever would have expected. Simple meals I can do, with a bit of effort and a sous chef (a.k.a. Seaford kid) of the day. I can do chili, most crock pot meals, and my new favorite one-pan meals with chicken, roast potatoes, and broccoli. And I have to say that I have gotten pretty good at cheese quesadillas.

As for the Amish Cinnamon Bread...To be continued.

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Back to Work

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Back to Work

Plans. Ha.

My husband and I had plans. Brook would continue working as an insurance executive. I’d stay home with the kids until the twins went to kindergarten, at which point I'd go back to work 25 hours or so a week as a Licensed Professional Counselor. I'd then be able to contribute to our monthly budget, AND we'd be able to save for college. Ha.

Ha. Ha. Ha. That's God giggling.

Then Jeannie Bean came along. Not planned.  (Though embraced.)

New plan: I'd stay at home with the kids for four or five more years, then I'd go back to work. Secretly, I was thrilled. I love babies, and I loved staying home with my babies. I knew that not everyone gets to stay home with their babies, but Brook and I had vowed to make it work for as long as we could.

Then God called Brook to be a Lutheran Pastor. Not planned. So we made a new plan: Brook would continue working full-time as an insurance executive while going to a distance education program at Luther Seminary until it was time to do his one-year internship, at which point he'd quit his day job and dive fully into seminary. One year later, he'd be a full-time, full-fledged pastor. Somewhere in there, I'd go back to work full-time as a Licensed Professional Counselor.

Ok, life just got a bit harder. But Brook would be fulfilled and happy as a pastor. We'd be fulfilling God's plan. It was a new plan, but we still had a plan. We could do this. Ha.

Ha. Ha. Ha. That was God giggling again.

Then catastrophe hit. Suddenly, I got so sick that I almost died. By a miracle, I lived. But my hands and feet did not. Both hands were amputated below the elbow. One leg was amputated below the knee. I got to keep the other leg, but that foot was ”compromised,” meaning that I lost my toes and part of my heel. That heel would never fully heal, so it caused all kinds of problems and and all kinds of pain.

Plan? Umm…

Could I take care of myself? Could I take care of the kids? Could Brook continue to follow his dream (and, more importantly, God's call) of becoming a pastor? Could I work? How could we pay for our medical bills and prosthetics? Moreover, how could we support our family? How could we (financially and physically) get dinner on the table? How can we take care of the kids?

Plans? Umm…

Our family, friends, church, community, even strangers chipped in and not only got dinner on the table but they also raised a ton of money to pay for my medical bills and some pretty amazing prosthetics. With God's help, I recovered. I worked hard, and I figured out how to (mostly) take care of myself and the kids. Brook worked extremely hard, all the while taking care of me and the kids. He graduated from seminary! He got called to an amazing, local church. So, he does get to be a pastor after all! And we don't even have to move, so our family and community can continue to put their arms around us and help us take care of the kids and get dinner on the table!

Brook’s salary will cover most of our expenses. But, because I had been a stay-at-home mom when I got sick, I did not qualify for social security/disability pay. This could/should be a whole different blog post, op-ed, and fight against the federal government. But who has time or energy for that? We're choosing to face forward and remain positive.

But what's our plan?  Umm…

Can I physically and logistically handle taking care of the kids and holding down a job? Definitely not full-time, but possibly part-time. Can I make enough money to fill the gap between what Brook earns and the family needs? Will anyone hire me? Do I have something to give this world?

Damn right, I do.

I have an amazing education. I'm intelligent. I have a passion for helping people, and I'm good at it. I have a purpose. I've been through hell, and I'm living to tell about it. I have a message to spread. I'm a great speaker. And I'm a great counselor. I can do this.

Ever since I got sick, (once I could get out of the house and walk to a podium,) I've been speaking to groups of all sizes. I've been shouting my hope and joy at all types of events, everything from corporate to Christian. I've built a bit of a business in motivational and inspirational speaking. Now that I've done so much of the hard work in the process of healing, I'm ready to help people on an individual level as well. I've helped new amputees through the tough parts of healing on a volunteer basis. But I've missed counseling as a career.

I've kept up my industry knowledge, my skills, and my licensure as a counselor such that I'm completely qualified and capable to work as a counselor.

But, like many moms out there, I've been out of the work force for a number of years.

I've been extremely lucky that Brook has always earned enough and has been willing to join me in a lean lifestyle so that I've been able to stay home with our kids up until now.  The promise and the expectation has always been for me to contribute to our bottom line once the kids were in elementary school. 

Whether or not I have a disability, it is time for me to go back to work. I no longer have this “choice” in the matter; we now need two incomes to make ends meet. Unless I work, we cannot pay our mortgage, our medical bills, or our grocery bills (even at my favorite store in the world, Aldi).

I've adored those (many) hours and days of snuggling my (many) babies. But I've also missed the sense of efficacy and accomplishment, satisfaction, and adult conversations that working brings. Most of all though, I've missed using my natural leanings, intellect, and professional skills to help people.

All through my years as a stay-at-home mom, I've retained my licensure just so I'd be ready when the time was right to go back to work. And I am ready. Except I'm missing just a couple of substantial tools — I'm missing hands. They come in “handy” when filling out the necessary paperwork, taking case notes, and presenting myself as capable.

Still … I can do this.

Let's talk about the specifics: I want to keep speaking and spreading my story of miracles and hope. But I also want to fulfill a dream I've had for twenty years -- to open a private practice for therapy and counseling. Maybe not with a full case load. That was never the dream anyway. I want just enough clients to fill my heart and bring home a living. But not so many that I'm too stressed to simultaneously take care of myself and my family.

This won't be easy. It would be a big feat for anyone to master, let alone a quadruple amputee!

Still, if I can beat sepsis, learn to walk again, climb to the top of a rock wall, travel across the country, downhill ski, paddle board, and ride a bike along Lake Tahoe, I CAN do this. And I'll picture all of these things as I plunge back into the workforce. 

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amputee rock climbing
amputee traveling
amputee skiing
amputee paddle boarding
amputee kayaking
amputee biking

I can DO this!

So, yes! I'm headed back to work. I'll continue to speak to larger groups, but now I'll also be working with individuals on facing their own challenges and difficulties. I'll be subletting a friend/colleague's office, and it's located exactly where I'd want it to be – downtown Matthews.

As of August 1st, "Kristan Seaford, LPC" is open for business! Which is simultaneously exciting, exhilarating, and terrifying, 

Please pray for me to attract enough clients, to help people and contribute to society, to adequately care for myself and my family, and to join my husband in financially supporting my family. Here I go.

To express an interest in individual, couples, or family counseling, click here

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No Barriers - Recap

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No Barriers - Recap

Hmmm...As I sit here a week after returning from my trip to the No Barriers Summit (it has taken me this long to recover from jet lag and the chaos that is called the last week of school in a house with five kids), I have so much to recount and so many conclusions I've drawn. But I have no idea where to start...

 So, the beginning seems like a good place, right?

The flights out to CA were as uneventful as things get for a family with a disabled mom and five kids on their first airplane rides. Meaning that our day of travel was hilarious, to an outsider. We must have looked like a gaggle of geese, each with our own rolling suitcase. 

At the Charlotte airport, the kids delightedly turned circles, in awe of all the unfamiliar people, sites and sounds. (Except for 14-year-old Ben who was already a travel expert and practically bored after his one-way flight to Ohio a few summers back.) Even our firecracker of a four-year-old, Jeannie, glued herself to my side for most of the time.

Yes, there was excitement (and questions flying) in the air among the Seafords. As we walked down the aisle of the cabin in the plane, Brook and I just kept making eye contact with our fellow passengers, smiling and apologizing, smiling and apologizing. We imagined that the other passengers must be gritting their teeth and wishing they'd taken an earlier or a later flight. To them, the bus system must have been looking better and better. Or at least quieter! 

But truthfully, everyone was incredibly gracious and understanding of our chaotic crowd, even when there were more than seven spats over who was sitting next to Jeannie. (I was not innocent in this department - I just wanted to see her reaction when we actually left the ground, OK?) Even the flight attendants offered us mercy - in the way of continually feeding my husband Brook free biscotti and bloody mary's.

Jeannie was wide-eyed and mesmerized at take-off, yet I was dismayed at how quickly she was “done with that show;” she wanted to shut her window shade and play on my iPad. I kept trying to divert her attention to all she could see out the window, but she kept returning to the topics of her next snack, lollipop, or dollar-store prize. Unbelievable.

We had a few blips with connecting flights not leaving enough time for meals; but luckily I had stocked my back pack with granola bars and gummy bears, so we made it to Lake Tahoe without a child fainting from pangs of hunger and thirst.

Yay! We made it Tahoe! And we began to meet some folks who didn't look like the majority of the population. Walking sticks for visual impairments, ASL interpreters for hearing loss, prosthetics, and wheelchairs all became commonplace. But my kids were much more impressed by all the service dogs, who they all knew by name within minutes. Our favorite dog of the weekend, Potter, was a yellow lab who could carry groceries, open doors, and (best of all) take his owner's socks and shoes on and off!

Almost as soon as we got to the resort, I met Sophia, my new seven-year-old hero with several prosthetics that fit on to her shorter arm. She chooses a different one each day, depending on her level of activity. Sophia even has a "sports arm" that she wears to play baseball, basketball, soccer, or to "cirque" practice. Yes, you read that correctly -  this little girl who was born without a hand participates in "Cirque De Soleil," specifically aerial dancing and acrobatics. I love her! She has no barriers to sports and no problem making quick friends with my girls. Her mom and I had an instant connection as well. I was going to LOVE this weekend!

And I did. Oh how I did. I think my eyes were opened wider to my surroundings than Jeannie's were when our airplane left the ground! And, a week later, I am still flying.

As I had hoped, I was able to participate in several adaptive adventure sports. I tried an adaptive bike (recumbent-style with hand brakes customized for my prosthetics) on a 15-mile trail that sidled along the Truckee River. I climbed on a rock wall, an activity I'd tried before. But this time I summited the wall, and I gloriously rang the bell at the top!

I kayaked and canoed; and then I surprised even myself by standing on a paddleboard and paddling on Lake Donner. (Praise be to God that I didn't spill into that ice-cold water like my older kids did!)

After three years of obstacle after obstacle, words can't describe what it was like to cycle, paddle, and climb without barriers again. Exhilaration! Laughter! Fear! Gratitude! Reward! Joy! Yes, I experienced all of those! I was amazed that after all this time my muscles remembered what it felt like to have two hands and two feet again! Not only was I able to do the sports I used to do, but I also found myself trying things that I never had before. I was taking more risks, not less; and I felt more confidence in my abilities than ever before. On several different occasions I actually forgot that I was disabled. 

I've had the opportunity now to see a few pictures and videos of myself from last weekend. Interestingly, I was almost surprised to see the adaptations, equipment, and people that were assisting and allowing me to cycle, paddle, climb, and move. Because, in the moment, all I'd felt was able! Those adaptations were merely part of me.

Even though I noticed all the help I required, I didn't consider myself "less than," "dis-abled" or "unwhole." Instead, I felt stronger! I knew that, with my team, I could do anything. And I am eager to discover what adventure awaits!

My experience at the No Barriers Summit left me forever changed. But, even more than the adventure sports, it was the personal connections I made that proved to be the most defining of moments. My family and I, we met the coolest, most inspiring people! Paralympic athletes, singers and songwriters, artists and innovators. 

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We met people like Sarah Herron, the first contestant with a disability to compete on The Bachelor, who now spearheads a nonprofit that builds self-confidence in young girls with disabilities.

We heard amazing speakers like Marlee Matlin, the beautiful actress who stars in the show "Switched at Birth" and won an Oscar for her work on the movie Children of a Lesser God.

Then there was Liz Murray, the author of Homeless to Harvard, her memoir about spending her high school years living on the street but breaking barriers to achieve great things despite the economic, educational, and cultural differences she faced.

And, of course, I need to mention the founder of No Barriers, Eric Weihenmayer(I got to have breakfast with this amazing man!) Several years ago, this born adventurer wrote a book about his experience as being the first blind man to summit Mount Everest.

His latest book, No Barriers, chronicles his days as the first to solo kayak through the Grand Canyon. He is a quick-witted gentleman who makes everyone in the room feel like their own "barriers" are mere mirage - when Eric is in the room, obstacles disappear.

The Seaford Seven also heard performers like Mandy Harvey. You may know her as the winner of last week's America's Got Talent! She's a deaf singer who takes her shoes off to feel the vibrations and "hears" the tones that help her sing on pitch and in time. The band X Ambassadors played as well; Ben had (of course) heard their music before; and, for about an “instant,” being with his family was cool enough to post on social media. We had arrived!!!

We met people who recognize "No Barriers" standing in the way of their dreams. Because, like the motto claims, "what's within you is stronger than what's standing in your way." Not everyone at the conference was "disabled." Some people and corporations attended for the sheer inspiration the weekend provided. Most were there to financially, physically, or emotionally support some person or group who is disabled. But all attendees were there to live a life without barriers.

Cabinets to Go was the corporate sponsor who donated the funds to bring my whole family to the Summit. A national company, they sponsored one person (or one family, as in our case), to travel to the conference. We had breakfast with the attendees representing Cabinets-to-go, and they thanked us for coming jusr as greatly and just as often as we thanked them. Their generosity and compassion was truly humbling.

An entirely unexpected result of our trip was what No Barriers did for our family unit. Yes, it helped my children learn to accept and interact with all sorts of people from all walks of life. Yes, it celebrated my kids' adventurous spirits and their courage in untried and unproven activities like archery, kayaking, and paddleboarding - even trying new foods! And yes, it increased my kids' self-confidence as they talked to new people of all ages, ethnicities, and abilities.

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But the No Barriers Summit weekend also changed the culture in my family to that of a team! We worked together to find gate C6 in Phoenix, to keep each other's attitudes in check when we hungrily awaited the extremely late shuttle bus to the hotel, and to plan our days so that everyone got to do an activity they enjoyed. Before I knew it, I was commenting to Brook that the kids were all playing well, together!, in the pool. They didn't fight over who sat together on the flight home. And don't tell anyone this; but Caroline's head exhaustedly fell onto Ben's shoulder on the car ride home from the airport. (Don't worry: they are back to fighting like cats and dogs.)

Even before our weekend in California, I knew that my family could survive all kinds of trauma. But, for three years now, (ever since I got sepsis), we've been operating with an underlying tension in our family, always looking over our shoulders for the next trauma to hit. There was grief and healing that had yet to occur.

The No Barriers Summit taught us that, together, we can not only survive after a trauma, but thrive. Collectively, we've learned to let go, relax, take risks, trust, help others, and have fun together. We're looking forward to the next adventure that life will offer.

The point is (and perhaps this is the point) that our family unit is stronger than anything that may come in our way.  With organizations like No Barriers, and with inspiring heroes like Sophia, Marlee Matlin, Mandy Harvey, and Eric Weihenmayer to inspire me and show me the way, I am stronger than my amputations. With innovators like Ottobock Prosthetics, Adventure Sports, Cycledifferent and more, we come away stronger than whatever’s in our way! And with nonprofits and foundations like No Barriers, people with disabilities like mine are encouraged and underwritten to have amazing experiences like this one as well as my ski trip with Adaptive Sports Association in Durango, Colorado, as well as my First Cycle, First Swim, First Dance, and First Climb experiences through OPAF (Orthotic and Prosthetic Activities Foundation). See my blog posts, "Independence" and "I Am A Skier".

What a weekend, what a trip.

Thank you, Cabinets-To-Go. And thank you, No Barriers.

** If you would like to donate or to co-sponsor a participant for the 2018 No Barriers Summit (in New York City!), click here.

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Stockings, Blessings, and a Christmas Kiss

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Stockings, Blessings, and a Christmas Kiss

This morning I visited the dollar store to gather all the candy, small toys (my husband Brook so generously calls these items,"landfill"), school/craft supplies (more landfill) toiletries, and other treats that I love to buy to stuff the stockings for five kids, one husband, and (this year) one cat. What fun!

The items flew easily off the shelves and into my cart with superhero speed! Time passed all too quickly, and a glance at my watch told me that it had been over an hour since I'd arrived. I knew I had to hurry if I was going to accomplish all my planned tasks on this last school day before winter break! My cart and my heart were FULL as I imagined the looks of surprise, joy, and glee on the faces of my family next week.

Time to head to the checkout! Unfortunately, my euphoria came to a halt as I attempted to transfer my purchases from the cart to the rolling checkout counter. Physically, logistically, and financially, my purchases had suddenly become more difficult to handle. There was a fairly long line of customers behind me, and I was all too aware of how long the process took when using robotic, prosthetic hands.

Consider my task at "hand":
1) Open hand.
2) Place hand over the bag of candy or trinkets.
3) Close hand lightly around it, careful not to smoosh the M&M's or cheaply made toy.
4) Pick up hand, hoping that the stocking stuffer was attached.
5) Hold hand over the scanner and open it. Exhale with relief that I hadn't inadvertently dropped said item back into the cart or onto the floor.
6) Celebrate that I'd successfully transferred an item.
7) Repeat above process with the other >100 stocking stuffers.

I smiled lightly at the sweet lady who was the next customer in line, tacitly apologizing for how long this process was taking and how much of her Christmas shopping time I was eating. But, instead of being annoyed with me, she kindly and graciously offered to help! And I knew she was doing this from a genuine place of goodwill to men (or women, as the case may be).

Thankfully, I often receive such offers when I am grocery shopping, etc. But I am not naive. I know that some of the people who help me at the time of checkout are merely expediting the checkout process for themselves.

Every single time I shop, I am aware of how other shoppers notice my struggling with the checkout process, not only of putting my items on the countertop but also of retrieving my debit card from my purse, sliding it through the card reader (or more recently pushing it into the chip reader - yet another new thing I've learned), and finally entering my debit code or signing my name. Sometimes my prosthetic fingers are recognized by the touch screens; but more often they are not. In these cases, I am forced to use my elbow or the stylus pen provided, another lengthy process all its own.

I usually try to reassure people that it is harder for them to watch me struggle than it is for me to struggle. Many kind people must suppress an enormous urge to reach out with their own hand and do this whole process for me - to take away my struggles, if only for that one moment. My heart goes out to them; it truly does. The whole debacle just makes it awkward for everyone involved...

But I digress...Back to my story.

The sweet lady behind me, let's call her "Beatrice," was actively and authentically helping me. But the rest of the people in line were not quite so patient - they were using their hands and feet to tap their watches or their toes. At this point, I felt the need to explain that I was filling stockings for five kids, not just spoiling one or two. I thought this might somehow make it less annoying that I was also "deciding against" items here and there, trying to remember that we are on a "pastor budget" these days, and attempting to keep things "fair and even" between each child and their bounty. 

But you'll never believe what happened next:

Beatrice gracefully swept the things that I had set aside back into the pile of items to be purchased. She looked into my eyes and told me I was a blessing to her. She quietly told me not to worry about the items I'd set aside because she'd be paying for my whole order!!! And she softly said, "You just go home and take care of those babies. I'll take care of this."

I tried to argue, but she'd have nothing of that. With tears in my eyes, I thanked her and hugged her. I told her what an incredible blessing she was to me and my family this Christmas!

What an incredibly generous gift Beatrice gave my family. I can only imagine the expressions of surprise and delight that will appear on my kids' faces this Christmas morning! Oh, what a blessing!

When I returned home, the first thing my husband did was ask me who I'd been kissing! "What?" I asked. I thought maybe he was referring to the way I was glowing with joy. But, as it turned out, when Beatrice and I hugged, she had left a little reminder of her gift that morning. A simple kiss.

Who has kissed you this Christmas season? How will you kiss, or bless, someone else's life? I challenge you to take away someone's worries, be it through a warm smile given to the cashier in Walmart, a financial gift, or just taking something from their plate of burdens. Be that blessing in someone else's life, just like Beatrice was in mine.

I hope you have a merry Christmas, and blessed New Year.

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My Fortieth Year

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My Fortieth Year

My fortieth year was fabulous, fantastic, and fun. It was filled with new experiences, new friends, great challenges, and greater love.

I tackled many new things as well as old things in new ways.

I swam hundreds of laps in the pool, rode the elliptical for many miles, and held many minutes of planks.

I learned to ride a bike, climb a rock wall, and dance a mamba.

I began a new career, started a business, and partnered with my sister to develop my web site.

I opened accounts with Squarespace, Twitter, and Instagram.

I wrote a blog, spoke to over 25 groups, and presented my ideas to audiences of children, teenagers, and adults alike.

I cut vegetables, cooked dinners, and washed dishes.

I hiked on trails, walked on sand, rode on chair lifts, and skied down beautiful slopes.

I traveled by plane, car, minivan, and Uber.

I ate dinners out, tried new wines at a vineyard, and even tried to like drinking beer! (Only for you, Brook!)

I saw Wicked at Ovens, Mary Poppins at Christ Lutheran, and Alice in Wonderland at Sun Valley Middle.

I pumped my own gas, swiped my own Red Card, and bagged my own groceries at Aldi.

I unbuckled a car seat, carried a 35-lb child, and happily buckled the seat again.

I donned a prosthetic leg, stayed overnight, and showered, all independently.

I ate over a hundred Poppy Seeds bagels, drank 52 bottles of Chardonnay, and had 700,000 cups of coffee (600,000 of which were prepared by a griping husband).

I made several versions of a chores chart, nagged five children about said chores chart, and paid too many dollars in unearned allowances.

I played Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, and Santa Claus, defended their existence to a set of twins, and broke it to a big sister that there were no such things.

I had three surgeries, one hospital stay, and three newly-fitted prosthetic legs.

My "hands" broke exactly 181 times, and I got stuck to three grocery carts and five car doors.

I'm attempting to raise five children with manners, respect, values, and faith. I've tried to model strength, gratitude, and kindness. But most of all, I'm trying to love them as much as they deserve to be loved.

A huge thank you to those who have helped me survive and thrive to see the day that makes forty-one years of age.

An even bigger thanks to the One (God) and the one (Brook) who help me do all the things I love and love all the things I do.

And Brook, baby, you make me want to live to see forty-one more years.

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The Shallow End

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The Shallow End

In the blog post that I wrote last week, I described the sheer fear I felt in those first few moments of swimming again.

Without hands or feet, and without any prosthetics to help me, I didn't know if or how I'd keep my head above water, even in the shallow end. But I faced another, possibly greater fear before I even went near the water.

I'm embarrassed to mention this particular fear. But if I am going to be honest on this blog, I have to say it. And there's no flowery way to put it. No talking around it.

I was simply afraid of unveiling my broken body. I didn't want to undress and remove my prosthetics because I was deathly afraid of allowing anyone to see just how pitiful and helpless I look.

My prosthetics normally hide the "stubs" on the ends of my limbs; and, without them, I am naked and vulnerable.

Before tackling this fear, I could only imagine what I would look like, sitting at the edge of the pool: a little, helpless, "handicapped" girl, that someone had possibly left behind.

Being a (relatively) new amputee, I am often shocked myself when I see my own body.

So it is understandable that strangers give me that second glance...

But I do notice it.

I see the stares.

They are not mean-spirited stares. Yet, they are still unsettling. And I certainly don't want to attract more of them. Facing the world without something covering my wounds invites even more stares!

Kids, in particular, stare at me. Or maybe they are just less practiced at hiding their reactions - Most times, children are truly just curious...Who is that? What is that? Could it hurt me? Could it happen to me? Could it happen to my mom? As they look more closely, they often become fearful. They hide behind their moms. Anyone who knows how much I love kids (and not just my own), would tell you just how devastating this is to me.

Yet, most of my hesitation about swimming is on an embarrassingly superficial and vain level. Seeing my body and its challenges reminds me that achieving my "idea" of physical beauty is now even less of a possibility. I have a physical deformity, after all. I am not even whole! And I have many, many inexplicable scars. (I've never asked the doctors how some of them appeared because I truly don't want to know.)

I could never look beautiful. Or sexy. Or strong.

It certainly gives a new layer to dreading bathing suit season.

To think that I used to worry about how I looked in a bikini, or if I should even wear one...

Before buying a new (always black) bathing suit, I'd look in the mirror with angst. I'd examine the circumference of my thighs. I'd pinch the flab on my tummy. And I'd lament my "runner's chest," flattened with each mile.

I was at the gym nearly every day, trying to mold my body into some unnaturally tight and thin figure, without one ounce of fat or flubber. I did pushups and lifted many weights to build my chest, biceps, and shoulders. And the sit-ups. Oh, the sit-ups.

It all seems so ridiculous now.

So silly.

It does make me realize this: Everybody has something. Everybody has some physical characteristic that causes them shame. Some thing that weighs them down. Too fat. Too thin. Too short. Too long.

I guess my thing now is "too robotic," "too fake." (Although one could argue that more of my body is real than those Sports Illustrated Swimsuit models'...)

Unfortunately, we all hold ourselves to the ridiculous ideals that we see in the media. We spend so much time and energy trying to change ourselves. It is so "self-" centered; imagine if we spent this same time and energy on others - women could save the world! Still, I think we all do it, to some degree.

I used to keep my "arms" on while I was working out at the Y. I would use them to disguise my own arms, even though they'd make me uncomfortably hot. Now I just take them off. I know that some people will stare, regardless of what I do. They can just as well stare at my prosthetics as at my stumps. So I may as well be comfortable while they stare.

For me to wear a bathing suit now is a bold and courageous move. It says, "Yes, I am different. I am an amputee. So, stare all you want. I'll be over here enjoying my life."

Once I slip in to the pool, I realize how strong and amazing my body really is. I can still float. I can still swim, lap after lap. I can still enjoy life.

And that is beautiful.

Being beautiful is so much more important than looking beautiful.

So, what is the one fear that holds you back from doing something you love? That keeps you from enjoying your life? How can you "slip in to the pool" in your life?

For when you do, I think you'll find strong, amazing, beautiful things.

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I Am A Swimmer.

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I Am A Swimmer.

The verdict is in, and I will likely never run again. 

Yes, this ruling feels like a life sentence - I am a runner at heart, and I mourn the loss of that identity. Running has been my life-blood, my therapy, and my stress relief for my whole adult life. After a few hours (ok, months) of pity partying; I am getting up, brushing myself off, and hitting the gym again.

Emotionally, physically, and spiritually, I crave an activity that gets my heart rate up, makes me sweat, releases endorphins, clears my head, builds muscle, and glorifies God. 

According to the authorities (doctors), I am "allowed" to ride the stationary bike or the elliptical. Those machines are fine, and I'm grateful that I'm physically able to use them. As long as I have an iPad and a good TEDtalk to occupy me, I can tolerate them as ways to sweat. I've even taken a few cycle classes.  But frankly, I just need to MOVE more than those machines allow me to do. 

Another obvious option is swimming...

I grew up swimming at the neighborhood pool, even joining the swim team by the time I was six years old. As a teenager, I was a lifeguard, swim instructor, and swim team coach. And as an abled adult runner, I occasionally swam laps for cross training. I even competed in a triathlon or two.

About a year ago, I participated in an event called "First Swim," offered by OPAF,  an organization that travels around the country providing swimming (and other active) experiences for amputees. 

This particular event that I attended was led by a two-time World Champion TriAthlete, Mabio Costa, a below the knee amputee, and assisted by the NCAA Champion Queens University Royals; and I was excited to try it. 

As I headed to Queens University, I was envisioning a sweet college girl holding me like a baby in waist-deep water, helping me float on my back. Sounds easy enough, right?

Well, my "first swim" was nothing like that at all. 

Instead, the leader had me remove all of my prosthetics and sit at the edge of the deep end. Then, he simply told me to "hop in!" As if it were that easy...

Mr. Costa predicted that I would sink; and he said that when I got to the bottom, I should push off and swim to the top as fast as I could. Did I mention that this pool was 12 feet deep?

I gasped, as two college girls treaded water and encouraged me, "Come on! We've got you. On the count of three, just jump in!" 

I don't think I've ever been so scared, before or since. I had a whole new respect for the preschoolers that I taught to swim all those years ago. I truly understood the fear they'd expressed when I'd asked them to "just" jump into my arms! 

"Ok," I thought. "I can do this." Mr. Costa seemed to know what he was talking about. I doubted that he'd go through all of this, just to watch me drown. Plus, I'd been resuscitated more than once already. I didn't see much risk wrapped up in one more time...

"Ok," I whispered to myself. "One, two, three..."

Only I didn't go. 

The coach whispered back, "You can do this."

"One, two, three," I tried again.

And, with a burst, this time I hit the water! 

It happened JUST like he said it would. I sank to the bottom. I pushed off, and I swam as fast as I could to the surface. I lifted my head, and I heard a boisterous cheer.

"You did it!"

There was my husband, and there were my kids. In the bleachers clapping, big smiles on their faces. 

Yes, I did.  I did do it.

"I'm swimming," I thought. Or maybe I shouted; it's hard to say. 

Either way, the answer was clear: I can swim again!

I floated like a cork! Still, I was unbalanced and uneven. Treading water felt very strange, and I teeter-tottered back and forth like one of those old-school toys. I think they were called weeble-wobbles?

But I was doing it! I put my head back and easily floated on my back. Then I flipped over and tried some freestyle. 

It was odd. Oddly easy to stay afloat. But oddly impossible to go anywhere.

Swimming, for me, works like a treadmill! I stroke and kick as fast as my little sticks can go, but I don't go anywhere! 

Without hands, I don't have "oars." So my arms can crawl forward, but it's a bit like rowing a boat with sticks. 

Kicking is even more fruitless. My legs feel like dead weight - it is easier to use a pull buoy so I don't have to kick at all. I'm not sure if that is due to my uneven lower body or to my toe-less foot lacking any resemblance to a webbed one. Are there any swimming experts or physicists out there who want to weigh in? Why is it that amputee swimming is so difficult and slow-going?

Regardless of my speed though, I'm finally swimming again! And I can say with confidence that I am getting a good cardiovascular workout each time. I get breathless, and I tire easily in the pool. My upper body and my entire core work especially hard. 

Swimming is also fulfilling some of my emotional and spiritual needs. The breathing is meditative, and it is incredibly quiet under water. I get into a rhythm that is very similar to that of running.

 I use that rhythm to repeat prayers like a rosary. I swim in honor of people on my prayer list, and there is plenty of time for reflection. At the same time, I can scream in frustration, and no one hears my curses.

These days I'm hitting the pool several times a week. With each workout, swimming gets easier; and I'm swimming faster, longer, and stronger. 

Today I swam a MILE! 72 LENGTHS!

And all without prosthetics! Yup, just me and my little, broken body. 

Yes. I am an amputee. 

But I am also an athlete. 

I am a swimmer.

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Cinnamon Toast Crunch

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Cinnamon Toast Crunch

I promised that this blog would record my everyday life as an amputee mom of five young kids. For the most part, I have tackled larger and more general topics. But today I want to walk you through a very simple part of my every day life - fixing my breakfast. 

As you will see, simple things turn complicated when you lose both hands to sepsis. At the same time, I appreciate simple things all the more.

I am extremely fortunate. Blessed really. I have two remarkable, technologically-advanced, battery-powered, game-changing, "myoelectric," robotic, prosthetic hands! They even look real!

prosthetic hands

I will have to tackle a full explanation of their workings another day. Suffice it to say that I can open and close them in a pincer grasp. I am able to grab things, pick them up, and put them down. But I also drop or smush things a great deal of the time.

They are difficult to operate, and the learning curve has been great. It took me a ten-day stint in a rehabilitation hospital as well as 18 months of trial and error practice to learn how to use them as well as I do. Day by day, I continue to improve; but my prosthetic hands will never work as well as the ones God made for me.

Lest I get distracted, let's go back to fixing my breakfast. 

On school days, I typically have a beautiful 40-minute period of time between sending the big kids off to school and waking up my toddler for preschool. (She is a late-nighter, not an early riser.) Let's say that I want a simple bowl of cereal; and humor me while I walk you through the steps I take to prepare it. 

First, I reach up into the cabinet and carefully grab a cereal bowl. Then, I scavenge in the silverware drawer and manage to pinch out a spoon. After almost two years of practice, many broken bowls, and even more bent spoons, I have learned to do these seemingly simple tasks. Today, I complete them without a hitch!

Next, I go to the pantry and am pleased to find a fresh box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch that the kids have not yet demolished. Better yet - the box is on a shelf where I can reach it and even at the right angle for my hand to open and close around it. Chances are I will squeeze the box and bend it, possibly crush the cereal that's inside of it; so I have to be extremely careful, or I may inadvertently unclench my hand and thus let go of the box. Which I do. Then, in an attempt to hold on a bit tighter, I smoosh the box. Back to a lighter grip. This time the box falls and smacks me in the middle of the forehead. But I do eventually get it onto the counter in one piece.  

The next frustration, I mean, step, will be to actually open the box. I use my "fingernails" to get under the side of the box top. Then I gently wiggle and pull several times to open it. After two or three minutes, it does not look pretty; but the outer portion of the box is OPEN! Hooray! 

Yes, now I have to open the plastic bag inside the box that actually holds the cereal. Using my prosthetic fingers, and holding one side at the top of the plastic bag, I try five or six times to tear through the glue. When that doesn't work, I change strategies and grab the bag on both sides. I get a good grip on each side and count to three...BOOM! I open the bag, and there is an explosion of Cinnamon Toast Crunch! The cereal lands all over the counter and on the floor.  I sigh and get out the broom to sweep up my mess. I try to think back to the last time the floor was cleaned... I decide that, since I can't remember, the cereal doesn't meet (even) my standards of what is edible. Luckily, there is still enough cereal left in the box to pour a small bowl, which I do without incident. 

Frustrated yet? Stay with me. 

I still need some milk. I open the fridge to see which type of milk carton we ended up with this week - the kind with the twist-top or the pop-top. I've learned to manage both types (with my teeth, of course), but the pop-top is quicker; and I'm getting hungry now. 

Ugh. It's the twist-top. With a deep breath and some positive self-talk, I lean over and open my mouth. Remember all those times that mom told you it was rude to drink from the carton, unsanitary to put your mouth on the spout? Forget I ever said that. You do what you have to do. 

I proceed with gripping the round twist-top in between my teeth. I hold my head still and recite the "lefty-loosy, righty-tighty" rhyme while I turn the jug to the right. Think about that one for a minute...

I successfully open the milk jug and carefully pour some milk over the cereal without dropping the whole carton or spilling milk. Boo-ya!

I slowly and gracefully (ha!) carry my breakfast to the table and sit down to (finally) eat. I take a deep breath, smile, and (figuratively) give myself a pat on the back. I lift that first bite to my open mouth. 

Then, suddenly the back door bursts open.

"Mom, Mom!"

My breathless, disheveled middle-schooler plops down in the chair next to me and barks, "I missed the bus! Can you drive me to school?" 

Oh well, I'll try this breakfast thing again tomorrow. 

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Independence

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Independence

I recently traveled to Durango, Colorado all by myself for an entire week! The Adaptive Sports Association awarded me with a skiing scholarship that included an all-expense paid trip, and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. Many people couldn't believe that, as a triple amputee, I had the courage to ski. (See previous post about my trip here).

Though skiing took courage, the scarier part of my journey was leaving the comforts of my home and family, as well as the assistance of a nurse or an adult who was quite close to me (mostly Brook, but sometimes a friend or family member).

Since my amputations, I have traveled to Ohio, and even to The Bahamas. I've gone through airport security gates, and I even swam with dolphins!

But I have never stayed at home alone for any length of time, nor had I traveled anywhere without an accompanying family member.

For two years now, I have almost completely depended on my dear husband Brook. His caring smile and twinkling green eyes were the ones that greeted me when I came out of the coma. After 100 days in six different hospitals, his were the strong arms that retrieved me from our car, carried me across our threshold, and wheeled me around our house.

Brook learned to gently bathe me (rather than scrub me like a car), and to slowly detangle and brush my hair - even and especially when it fell out in clumps from the sheer trauma that my body endured. He even blow-dries and styles my hair these days, and he does a surprisingly good job, I must admit!

Brook has prepared most of my meals, and he learned to feed me only the smallest of bites. 

Initially averse to blood, guts, and gore; Brook has patiently changed all of my bandages and could now pass for a skilled wound nurse. He has accompanied me at doctor's appointments, and he paced outside the surgical suites during all six of my amputation and revision surgeries. 

Brook still puts on my prosthetic leg each morning, helps me dress, and assists with my shower. 

Brook is my constant source of emotional support, encouragement, and companionship. Those that were present for our wedding day back in 2001 can vouch for us - we have always had a very strong and rare love. 

And it probably comes as no surprise that, since my illness, we appreciate one another like never before.

So, it follows that leaving Brook behind when I went skiing was, at best, difficult and, at its worst, incredibly scary. 

There were only three weeks between the day I was awarded the skiing scholarship and the day my plane departed. That small window of time worked in my favor, as more time to consider would have meant more time to reconsider.

The night before my trip, I did start to doubt my decision to go. My thoughts began to spiral down the hole of "what if's."

What if I can't get my (prosthetic) leg on each morning? What if I can't get my ski pants on?
What if I can't get my ski pants off? What if my hands get snow on them and break? What if I can't get in the shower? How would I even turn on the shower? What if I can't get out? What if I had "over-sold" myself in the application? What if I had exaggerated my independence?

Several other things were contributing to my self-doubt as well: 

First - Even when I had hands and feet, I was not a risk taker. Nor would I be categorized as adventurous or spontaneous. I have often joked that I could be spontaneous next Tuesday from 2-3, if only someone would give me the options ahead of time.

I went to a college that was only three hours away. A very "safe" move. Then I moved back to Charlotte and lived here for a couple of years before enrolling in a graduate school that was located less than two hours away. Not risky.

Today, I live only fifteen minutes from the house where I grew up. I live right near my family, and I depend on them greatly.

Second - While I am very talkative, I am also quite reserved in new situations (I have always been too scared to live in new places); and I didn't know one person in Colorado.

Third - Because I became friends with him on FaceBook, I have never actually met the amputee who recommended ASA Durango. I scoured their website, and I could not find a prosthetist or physical therapist on staff. Then I asked my expert friends at Hanger Clinic here in Charlotte, as well as at Active Charlotte Alliance; and no one could officially vouch for them.

Let's review.

 I was supposed to be leaving my home and my peeps

+

 I was flying across the country

+

 I wasn't sure that I'd be able to safely shower when I got there

+

 I did not know anyone

+

 I did not know anyone who knew anyone there

 =

 Big RISK.

Especially when it is considered that I am not a risk taker...

But accomplishments are bigger when the challenge is great. And one definition of courage is to be afraid and do it anyway. Sounds like a motivational poster with a picture of a big mountain, huh? So, I jumped onto that plane.

And here is where I landed.

IMG_0487.JPG

And it was a risk well worth taking. My host mom put my (prosthetic) leg on every morning, and she helped me get on my ski pants and boots as well. But, other than that; I took care of things, as my three-year-old would say, "all by myself."

I picked up my suitcases and put them on the scale at the airport check-in desk. I even grabbed them off the baggage claim turnstile when we got to Colorado. I ran and caught my connecting flight. I dug in my bag and found my boarding pass when it was time. I opened, refilled, and closed my own water bottle (after the security checkpoint) so that I was not challenged by the refreshments served on the flights. And I even buckled my own airplane seat belt!

When we got to my host house,

I got my own little self settled in my room. I unzipped my own suitcases (even the cheap one with the broken zipper). I plugged my own chargers into and into their corresponding devices. I plugged in my own hands. Yes, they are battery-powered and need to be plugged into the wall to charge every night. And I negotiated the eating utensils at my host home as if I'd been using them for years.

In case you were wondering...I was able to shower independently (though my hairstyles were atrocious!)

These details are many, and it may seem arduous and monotonous (and silly!) to list them. But these tasks are bragging points in my life. If you had told me two years ago that I would be able to perform them, I would have told you to "stop with the crazy talk." 

So you may think it's impressive that I skied down a mountain, but I am more proud to tell you that I did all the things necessary to get up that mountain.

My 12-year-old son may have said it best: "Mom, I feel like you came home with a newfound self confidence." Or it may have been my prosthetic technician, who told me I was "wearing that ski trip."

6,532 feet. That's the elevation of Durango, Colorado. 

But I gained a whole lot more height.

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See Kristan Ski!

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See Kristan Ski!

A few months ago, my virtual friend Ian Warshak told me about a program in Colorado that helps people with disabilities learn to ski. He said they were accepting applications, and he sent me the website for the Adaptive Sports Association in Durango. This remarkable organization uses athletic pursuits to enrich the lives of those with disabilities while spreading a message of hope and showing the world all that we are ABLE to do. Their mission is right up my alley, huh? 

ASA Durango offers out-of-state scholarships to athletes with disabilities that include an all-expenses paid trip - airfare, lodging, meals, and four days of skiing with a private instructor. Um, yes please!

On a whim, I applied. I had no idea what my chances were, but I figured there were a lot of people in the whole country that would love to go. So I filled out the college-like application, forgot about it, and went about my too-busy life. 

Then, on a Sunday afternoon, I was driving home from running some errands, and I got a phone call that popped up as a Colorado phone number.  I thought, "Who do I know from Colora..." Before I could finish my thought, I remembered my pending application! The super-duper nice woman who was calling said she had a few questions for me! She asked, I answered; and, by the end of our conversation, it was fairly clear that I would be going to Colorado!  

That was two weeks ago, and I am leaving for my big trip tomorrow, Monday January 11th.The quick turnaround really threw me, but it is probably for the best that I not have more time to anticipate and become apprehensive. 

Going somewhere alone, without my husband who takes cares of me, is an adventure all its own! Brook puts my leg on every morning, he buttons my clothes, and he makes my heaven-blessed coffee. What will I do without him? I think I am more scared of the independence than the actual skiing! 

My itinerary is that I will fly straight into Durango, Colorado, and I'll get in right after lunch. I'll use the afternoon and evening to adjust to the time zone and altitude as well as get to know my host family. This husband, wife, and 12 year-old son open their home every year to the program participants, and I can't wait to get to know them. I'll stay with them for five nights. On Tuesday through Friday I will, along with a few other people with disabilities like paralysis and MS, ski from 9 until 4; then I will relax with my new family each night. Then I'll travel home on Saturday to share my experience!

"Excited" doesn't begin to describe my feelings toward my week in the Colorado mountains. This is an adventure that I would never get to explore before my disabilities. And it will be all the more rich, empowering, and memorable because of them.

Check back here for updates and pictures. To be continued...

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Mommy Comes Back

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Mommy Comes Back

I am blessed to be the mother of FIVE beautiful, healthy, smart kids. They are incredibly resilient and have adapted well to the catastrophic changes in their lives. Each has had a unique journey, according to their developmental stage and personality. But Baby Jeannie's path has been, by far, the most troubling for me.

We call Jeannie our "bonus baby." We'd not planned on having a fifth child, so I've cherished every moment with her as the Godly gift that she is. I kept Jeannie very close to me; but, when she was 13 months old, our relationship was traumatically disrupted. I became deathly ill, and I was away from her for 100 days. Even worse, when I came home, I hardly resembled any memory that Jeannie had of me. Instead, I was wounded, decrepit, sick, and made up of more bandage than body. 

In the time I was gone, Jeannie was loved, snuggled, and cared for by the women nearest and dearest to my heart. Her aunts (biological and honorary), her grandparents, and my best girlfriends. But her caregivers were different each day, and they weren't me. Through her eyes, as soon as she'd attach to one person, it'd be time to go to another.  

After 100 days of missing her, and all of those days of using her picture on my hospital room wall as an incentive to heal and recover; I came home from the hospital, and I was yearning for her love. I couldn't WAIT to get her back in my arms. I knew, however, that it'd take time, that I would need to approach her slowly. So I remained on the sidelines; I didn't push myself on her or insist on holding her.

I was happy she had been cared for so well, but it was agonizing to see her loving every woman but me. I observed from across the room. For she would not come within yards of me. When someone would lovingly place her in my arms, she would be noticeably terrified. Her fight or flight response made her kick and scream, hit and punch me. She'd physically hurt my weakened, battered and fragile body. But that was nothing compared to what she was doing to my heart.

Day after day, night after night, I'd endure. Every day I'd start over. I'd smile at her from across the room. I'd sing what used to be our favorite songs. She'd scream, "No, stop that! No sing!" I'd stop. I kept watching from across the room, no matter how hard it could be. I would try to put myself in her shoes. I could see how she'd be angry with me. How she could think I did this on purpose. How she'd blame me. People kept trying to endear me to her. The other kids would hug me and then declare, "See Jeannie, Mommy is nice." Jeannie would only ask when she could go to La-La's (my sister's) house.  

My other kids would refer to me as "Mommy," and I watched as Jeannie tried to decipher the meaning of the word. She also watched my sister's kids refer to my sister as "Mommy." "Mommy" is a universal word. Some version of it - "ma," "mo," "Mimi," "Mame," etc. - can be found in every language across the world. Universally, it means the primary caregiver. Jeannie said, "Mommy" often, but she used it to refer to whomever was going to get her milk that day. Whoever dressed her, fed her or otherwise meet her needs was called "Mommy."  

For a long time, I was really upset when Jeannie would cry and say she wanted milk because I could not answer her plea with a full sippy cup. I would tell her to go ask Daddy. Which she did; and she always got what she needed. But you know what upset me even more? What hurt me to the core of my being? The fact that she got to the point where she would no longer ask me. She got to the point where she did not for one moment consider me. She'd go straight to her dad. Or her Aunt Lala. Or her big sister. Or her babysitter. Or the neighbor. Heck, she'd ask her "lovey" before she'd look in my direction. 

After a great deal of time, effort, and practice, I actually COULD pour milk and screw on the lid of her sippy cup, but she wouldn't ALLOW me to do it. She just assumed I couldn't and move on. In fact, she was so confident in my incompetence that she'd deny me the chance. "No, Mommy, you can't do it. Daddy do it."

The worst was when she'd fall. She would scrape her knee and automatically run away from me. I would use every ounce of energy I had to get up and go to her, and she would push me out of her way to get to her sister Caroline. Or, even worse, to her babysitter, Tricia.  "No. No touch me, Mommy," she'd scream. "I want my Tricia." I found myself feeling jealous of our babysitter  and (embarrassingly enough) of my older daughter Caroline as well. I thought Jeannie loved everyone else more than she loved me. Objectively speaking, she did.

Things were tough between us. I remember when she first started preschool, I worried that she might not come to me when I arrived to pick her up. I remember skipping the class parties, for fear that she'd slap my hand away or refuse a hug in front of the other moms. Because these were things that actually happened around our house on a daily basis.

jeannie at school

Several times, I have accidentally pinched Jeannie with my amazingly strong prosthetic fingers while trying to change her diaper. "Boo, boo!" "Mommy, you hurt me!" she shrieked the very first time I tried it independently. Those few pained words were enough to keep me from trying again for months. I wanted to help her so badly! God designed a child's shrill cry well. It makes a mom naturally want to respond, to save a child from feeling anything uncomfortable like hunger or thirst or loneliness, even boredom. But every time I tried, I was reminded that I was NOT the mom I wanted to be. Still, I tried. 

The first thing I tried was sleeping on her floor. Sounds ridiculous, right? For a sick woman who is trying to recover from sepsis and amputations to purposely sleep on the floor. In graduate school, I had learned Attachment Theory, which purports that babies need to develop a healthy attachment with the primary caregiver in order to form healthy attachments with others. 

Biologically, a baby uses the smells, touches, and sounds of that primary caregiver to attach. But, how could Jeannie know my smells, sounds, and touches if she wouldn't come near me? That's when I had the idea that I could get 6-8 hours of time with her by literally sneaking onto her floor at night. I thought she might warm up to me because I would be there for her when she'd wake in the middle of the night. MOMMY would be right there to talk, touch, and comfort her all night. The first person she'd see each morning was me, her MOMMY. Slowly, she started to recognize and accept me.   

The second idea I tried was to get Brook to strap Jeannie into the stroller. She liked walks, and she didn't have to look at me, so she tolerated my being the one who pushed her. There were a lot of them.  I would sing. And talk. And point out the flowers. Slowly, she began to talk back. And request certain songs. We'd find certain colors in the flowers, and I discovered that she liked the yellow ones, so I picked those flowers and tried to buy her love with them. (Insert public apologies to my neighbors with flower beds here. This was important, guys!) Once she even initiated a walk! I knew things were turning around.

Soon, Jeannie tolerated being placed in my lap. This is when my third idea kicked in. I declared bedtime as MY time with Jeannie. No one else was allowed to put her to bed or even be in the room. At first, she kicked and screamed and cried. But I persevered. I made Brook shut her bedroom door, and I held her tightly in my lap. I sang to her until she settled down, then I read her a story, said her prayers, and sang a song... Same thing every night. Soon, she screamed less. Then, not at all. Then she actually started to request that MOMMY be the one to put her to sleep at night. And sleep on her floor. To this day, she asks that I "sweep on hur fwore," and she gets downright angry when I won't. I keep telling myself, "Remember Kristan, you prayed for this."

Over the past eighteen months, we've had ups and downs in our relationship. There were days when I thought she would never come around. One dirty look of hers could send me over the edge into depression. One day, we went to the movies, and I found myself crying because she wanted to sit on a babysitter's lap rather than mine. 

But today Jeannie loves me, her Mommy. She asks for me to read her a story at bedtime, say her prayers, and sing her songs while I rock her. (And I am a sucker for her tricks; she might just want to stay up later.) She also comes to me crying when she's gotten hurt. And runs to me with joy when I pick her up from school. She obeys my rules, though sometimes I have to threaten a timeout on the steps. 

Together, we've learned to deal with the everyday challenges of having and being an amputee mom. For example, we know to take off my (prosthetic) hands when we cuddle because they are made of hard plastic that does not lend itself to warm and snuggly caresses. We know to be very still when buckling the car seat to avoid an accidental but painful pinch. When I do accidentally pinch her, we blame and punish the hand, not me. And Jeannie has learned to be very industrious and independent - she does things the older kids still can't do for themselves! 

I have set my goals high, and I've practiced and practiced. Allow me to brag for a moment: now I can change her clothes (as long as there are no buttons), I can pick her up and carry her down the stairs, make her breakfast of instant oatmeal, pack her lunch, and put a bow in her hair. 

With Jeannie's help, I can buckle and unbuckle her car seat - I fasten the bottom ones, and she does the top! I can easily turn the pages now when we read storybooks at night. Jeannie and I love to play with play-dough, and we build towers with blocks. We've named all the cows that we go to feed in the field down the street, and we know the names of all the librarians at our little local library where we attend story time and where our books are always overdue. (Sorry, Ms. Terri) These are all ordinary things that I did with of my other kids; but because they almost didn't happen, I find them extraordinary with Jeannie.

jeannie car seat

There is one thing for sure, and it can be summed up in the following song that I always sing to Jeannie:

Mommy comes back
She always comes back
She always comes back to get me. 
Mommy comes back
She always comes back
She never will forget me.

amputee mom


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Wheel Me In

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Wheel Me In

Today I read an article that hit me close to home. Give it a read, then come back here because I have a few things to add! 

For over a year now, I've been avoiding wheelchairs at all costs. In fact, when given the choice, I've opted for crawling around my house. With five young kids I am not allowed to say "stupid" at my house, but I have been known to boldly declare that mine is the "STUPID wheelchair."

Yes, wheelchairs are difficult to use when you don't have hands. That was my first excuse. Yes, my house (with its differing floor surfaces and obstacle course of toys and book bags) is a difficult one to traverse in a wheelchair. Excuse number two. 

But, when I'm honest, I admit that I have an aversion to the wheelchair because of what it symbolizes. To me, a wheelchair says that I am handicapped. It tells me I am dis-abled and can't walk. There is always a fear that, once I depend on a "STUPID wheelchair," I will always depend on a "STUPID wheelchair."

Being in a wheelchair makes me highly dependent on other people. Believe me when I tell you that this is a vulnerable place in which to live. In an overwhelming way, wheelchairs mean that I am less than other people, or more significantly, less than my old self, who could not only walk but run, far and fast. 

This past summer was full of surgeries that have kept me off my feet for weeks at a time. Since I've stubbornly refused to use a wheelchair, I've been limited to my bed, couch, or knees. I've crawled across that hardwood kitchen floor so many times that my knees are torn up and too sore to crawl on any longer. 

So (and this is a rare occurrence), I've given in. The "STUPID wheelchair" won, and I've taken the ride.This short stint in a wheelchair has actually taught me a lot about what people in wheelchairs have to deal with every day. It has helped me appreciate many of the small advantages I have as an amputee who walks, as well as some big ones.

A few weeks ago, my daughter completed some academic testing with an educational psychologist. The next step was a follow-up appointment that included the parents and was scheduled for the week after my most recent surgery. But, because I am in a wheelchair, my husband Brook and I had to cancel. You see, the psychologist's office is on the second floor of a beautiful, old, brick office building. With no elevator. 

We were hugely disappointed. When I called to cancel, the doctor was very understanding and quick to accommodate us. She called a colleague and arranged to use her nearby office that is handicap-accessible the following week.

That relatively-speaking very small inconvenience raised a lot of questions for me though:

  • What if this appointment had been more dire or time-sensitive?
  • What if my wheelchair was permanent?
  • Would I then be forced to search for doctors in handicap-accessible buildings? Would my comings and goings ALL be limited by elevator access?
  • Would I have to choose restaurants, and shops, and hairstylists, and everything based on accessibility? 
  • Should I be fearful of going in to tall buildings - what if there were a fire? 
  • Could I get down the stairs? Is there someone with me who could (or would) carry me down?

I don't write this with political aspirations or as a complaint. Rather, I want to raise attention to this issue because I never would have thought about it either! 

Before my limb loss, I never would have thought about limiting my water intake so that I wouldn't have to use the bathroom during an outing. I would never have considered that my friends and family would need the direction and ability to assemble and dissemble my wheelchair if we were going anywhere. Not once had I chosen a restaurant for its wide aisles between the tables. (But I also wouldn't have expected my daughter to have this much fun riding in my lap or pushing so many elevator buttons.)

Let's stop to consider all the things that come easily to those of us that don't normally need a wheelchair. Or any other accommodations for that matter, be they physical or psychological.

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Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending a meeting at Classica Homes, the local home builder that remodeled my downstairs bathroom to make it handicap-accessible. An important and loyal client, this company is also family to my dad. When they heard of my illness, they jumped to our aid and offered to accommodate my house at no charge. Amazing, right?

So yesterday I was a guest at their company-wide quarterly meeting - to officially meet the people who helped me in such a grand way, to tell the story of my recovery, and to publicly thank them for all they have done. I had envisioned myself striding into that meeting and standing up professionally to speak. I just wanted to make my dad proud. Unfortunately, I had to be wheeled in; and I had to remain seated the whole time. Let me tell you, it was a new and challenging experience to meet someone in a respectful, professional manner without standing! 

In our culture, meeting someone new involves standing up and shaking hands. It creates an awkward space when I am unable to do either one.  

Several months ago, I had given some thought to the hand-shaking challenge - Should I risk breaking someone's fingers with my powerful, robotic, prosthetic grasp? Probably not. Should I just nod my head? Should I hug instead? I finally settled on holding my hand out and allowing the new friend the opportunity to grasp my prosthetic fingers. Seems to work ok for now...

But now there is this (new) challenge of staying seated to greet someone new. And I can't think of a solution to that one. But I will say this: once I am back on my (prosthetic) feet, I am surely going to bend or squat down to eye-level to meet or greet anyone in a wheelchair. 

Listen to how my brilliant and tactful father made my situation smooth and comfortable. His job at the meeting was to introduce me before I spoke in front of the larger group. Instead of moving to the front of the room and standing to address the group, he remained seated for his introduction. (Luckily, the room was set up as a round table discussion, so this worked.) 

Just that small, subtle tactic did an incredible thing: it normalized that I'd be sitting during my talk! How beautiful! I didn't feel one bit awkward after that, and my talk went incredibly smoothly. Thank you, Dad.

I only hope we can all normalize disabilities and help people of all sorts feel comfortable and confident. Because we all have disabilities, some visible and some in-visible. Let's celebrate our strengths and our weaknesses - they are what make us human after all.

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First Communion

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First Communion

The first time I went back to church after my hospitalizations was for my daughter Caroline's First Communion. It had been a big goal of mine to get there. 

I remembered so well that the previous year, my dear friend Ashlyn, who was sick with ovarian cancer, had wanted more than anything to attend her daughter Kaitlyn's First Communion service in our brand new sanctuary. Sadly, Ashlyn was too sick to attend and was in home hospice care for Kaitlyn's big day. Fortunately, a few weeks earlier, our pastors had visited their home to perform the sacrament for them when she was still fully able to enjoy it. But I still wished, for her, that she'd been able to attend like any other mom.

In honor of Ashlyn, I wanted to be at church for Caroline's First Communion day. And I wanted to walk into that sanctuary. No wheelchair. No walker. Just me. I wanted the day to be about Caroline receiving the body of Christ, not about getting her disabled mother into her pew.

With God's help, I was able to walk in to that service. To honor this milestone, it was also important to me that I didn't look weak and sickly. For anyone who knows me, I have never been a "matchy-match" girl who dresses herself or her children in designer clothing. But I wanted to have on a nice outfit and have my hair/make-up done well. I wanted to look like I had my act together as a mother; that all my daughters match in pretty white dresses, maybe even with bows in their hair. 

Looking back, I think that "looking the part" symbolized for me that my family was going to be OK. I wanted my church community to know it. Or maybe I just wanted to be convinced of it myself. We walked in to church that night looking pretty, but I was still working on the "believing we are going to be OK" part.

That night, and every service thereafter, presented another challenge for me. One that "able-bodied" people might never consider. For the few of us on this planet that don't have hands, the challenge lies in physically receiving communion. I never conceived that this would be a problem until our congregation started lining up and walking towards the altar. But, as our pew started to stand and go, my eyes met my husband's, and we knew I could not receive the Body of Christ without help.

My dear husband took the communion wafer for me, dipped it in the wine, and placed it in my mouth. He had been feeding me for months, so this was second nature to us. We made the best of it, and I appreciated the symbolism in the fact that he got to be my Eucharistic Minister. But what would I do the next time, or the time after that?

As time went by, and as I endlessly practiced using my prosthetics, I got better at eating my meals. In addition, the pastors and lay ministers at my church learned to work with me at communion time. It became easier and less nerve-wracking to receive Communion. There have been several occasions where I dropped the host (Talk about an "oops!"), but eventually it became easier.

However, we don't always attend our home church. On our annual vacation in the mountains, for example, we always visit a small, beautifully welcoming church in Brevard, North Carolina. This summer, like all the others, we attended service on our way home from vacation. It did not dawn on me until we walked up as a family and knelt at the altar that their way of giving and receiving communion would be a little different.

The expectation was for me to open my hands and shape them into a cup, receive the wafer, and hold it there until the communion assistant came with the cup of wine, where I would then dip the bread. A little tough when you don't have hands, right?

The pastor placed the body of Christ into my prosthetic hand, and then I froze. As did she. We were both at a loss as to how I was going to dip and eat...

After a seemingly long, but in reality short, pause, my two-year-old daughter Jeannie instinctively and clearly said, "I help you, Mommy." She quickly yet delicately picked up the body of Christ and placed it in my mouth. I sighed with relief. And joy. The Holy Spirit moved her! I knew in this moment that God was giving me His Son. Giving me His mercy and grace. He, through my daughter, was assuring me that, together, my family was going to be OK. 

Jeannie then insisted that she "wanted some too!" The church we were visiting has open communion. This means that anyone of any age can receive. So Jeannie technically could receive. Brook did not necessarily want her to take Communion until she had received instruction on the topic, so he shook his head. Jeannie, however, disagreed. She started to throw a mighty fit, the way that only a two-year-old can. She would get The Body of Christ, she would! How do you say no to that? Obviously, we gave in. 

Praise God! Jeannie received her First Communion! Ironically, she was wearing a white eyelet dress. 

So, just so everyone else knows (and I believe it myself with all my heart): 

My family is going to be OK.

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Back to School

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Back to School

Today I got to have lunch with three of my girls at their elementary school! It was the first time I've done that this year, and we were all very excited. I feel so lucky to be able to do that. For two reasons:

A) I am grateful that I am physically able to do it - to drive to their school and walk down the steps to their cafeteria. There was a time I thought I'd never be able to do that again.

B) I am grateful that I get to stay at home with my children right now, so I am free to visit with them during work hours.

A week or so ago, I picked up the latest edition of inMotion Magazine "The Living Well with Limb Loss Magazine." Stop laughing. I know it's not Cosmo. But this is what I read now. 😜 (btw- I would have chosen a better emoji, but they don't make laughing triple amputees.)

Back to my point. The cover photo on the magazine was of an amputee mommy and her elementary school-aged child. Right up my alley, right? The feature article had tips for amputee parents as their kids head back to school. The Amputee Mommy has one leg amputated below the knee; she recommended wearing pants for the first couple of visits to school so that your child is not labeled the "girl with the disabled mom," and your child's classmates will get to know you a bit before they are shocked by your prostheses.  

So, despite the heat and humidity of North Carolina in September, there I was, walking in to school wearing jeans and a long-sleeved shirt. But it was worth every drop of sweat rolling down my face.  

Now, to be fair, many of the students know me from last year, BUT this was my best school visit yet!  Not one kid asked me what happened to my leg. Or why my hands looked so strange. I did not notice one kid staring at me. I felt almost like a normal mom. SUCCESS! It is funny that, before my amputations, I used to worry about (not) fitting in with the PTO moms at school. I always felt like I was different. Haha. I knew nothing about being different then.

Later today, my husband Brook asked Caroline (our 9-year-old) about my visit. She agreed that no one really noticed or asked about my hands or feet. Brook kept trying to open doors for her to vent about having a disabled mom. But Caroline interrupted him by saying with confidence, "You know what, Dad? I honestly don't care about that. Everyone just sees her as my mom, and everyone knows she's no different."

Well said, Caroline. Well said.

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The Beauty of a Shower

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The Beauty of a Shower

This is a blog post that I wrote a few months ago. I was just recovering from a surgery on my right foot, which attempted to close up a wound created by my original amputation surgery 18 months ago.

Relatively speaking, the surgery was not a big deal. What was a big deal was the aftermath. My whole leg was in a cast, and I was labeled "zero weight-bearing," which means I couldn't put any weight on my right foot. This put me in a pickle because my right foot is my only foot. I was stuck in my bed; if I wanted to get up, I had to crawl. Or  hop on my left (prosthetic) leg with the help of a walker. I also couldn't get that right foot wet, so showers were not in the cards for me.  

Which led me to this post:

The Beauty of a Shower

Everyone (except my 12-year-old son) loves a shower. But today I had the most beautiful shower imaginable. It has been 6 weeks since my last one. 6 weeks since I have felt truly clean. 6 weeks since the hot, cleansing streams powered over my hair, down my arms and back and rolled down to my legs and feet. Sponge baths just. Don't. Do it.  

But today (about six weeks since my most recent foot surgery), the surgeon sawed off my cast and announced that I could finally get my foot wet! It is hard to run in a walking boot. But, like a kid "walks" on the pool deck when the lifeguard is watching, I raced-walked home to my brand new, beautiful shower. The one that my dad designed and his friends at Classica Homes donated and built for me.  It has a handicapped shower chair, but the rest of the space seems made for a movie star. Gorgeous earth-toned tiling surrounds this giant walk-in shower that could fit my whole family of 7. And since that family has not had time to vandalize it yet, it is wonderfully sparkling clean!

But the looks of the shower don't even come close to the FEEL of the shower. There are (count them) SIX powerful shower heads that shoot water at you from every direction. So many, in fact, that we can't use all of them all of the time because our water bill would amount to more than our mortgage payment! 

So my dear husband helped me get into this wondrous spa, turned on the shower head and all the jets (making up for all the water I saved by NOT showering for 6 weeks), and left me alone with my favorite, delicious-smelling, luxurious  guilty pleasure - Aveda Shampoo (thank you Megie for the perfect birthday gift).

We take our showers for granted. Most of us shower at least once a day. We stumble in with eyes barely open to have the streams wake us up. We jump in after a tough workout. Or we cleanse the dirt of the day away right before bed. Some of us do all three.

Being denied a shower because the hot water heater is broken or because the campsite has no running water is one thing. I have many times now had hospital filth on my skin that I wanted washed away, or my sweet husband has not had time between washing all of our kids to help me shower at home. So showers have recently taken on new meaning for me. But sometimes I do think of our homeless brothers and sisters who are truly denied the beauty of a shower. I am convicted by the truth- we are privileged and downright spoiled in the ease with which we shower.

All this thinking brings me back to a day in January 2014. At the time, I was staying at a rehab hospital/nursing home, awaiting the surgery that would save my life but change it too. My hands and feet were necrotic and gangrene, black and dead. My fingers were twisted, wrinkled, and shriveled like those of the wicked witch of the west. I had not showered since November 22nd, and, believe me, my body had been through a lot.

The ICU nurses had taken great care of me; they had gently bathed me during my coma and thereafter with warm, soapy water and a washcloth. While I was not trying to impress the male nurses and doctors with my hair and make-up, I never feel truly clean without a bath or shower. I have to admit, I was longing for the squeaky-clean feel of a 20-minute-long, scalding-hot, hard-hitting water-pressured, indulgent shower. The kind that leaves your skin red and inflamed.

On this particular morning, my occupational therapist came into my room for my daily session. She announced, "It's my birthday!" "Oh, Happy Birthday, Leena," I replied. She went on to tell me that, as HER birthday gift, she was going to give ME a shower. Now, this was not her job (and yes, many of the nurses and their assistants repeated that this or that was NOT in their job descriptions when I asked for things).

Leena did not have to help me shower; she could have just worked with me on holding a cup or sitting in a chair safely. She could have stayed out of it and let the nursing assistants worry about my required every other day sponge bath that did not include washing my hair.

Let me describe for you what a shower required at this point. Every limb had to be bandaged, wrapped in twenty layers of gauze (we called these my mitts), then covered in plastic garbage bags and closed with a ton of masking tape to keep the mitts completely dry. If any of my wounds (aka my hands and feet) got wet, they could get infected, which is what got me here in the first place. An infection could mean death. Or it could mean my amputations would need to be higher on my arms and legs. In other words, putting me under running water was not only a pain in the neck, it carried risk. Yet, Leena's overly kind heart led her to mark her birthday with helping me.

"Really?" I gasped. Leena nodded in reply, a huge smile on her face. I was anxiously excited, a bit scared of slipping and falling. But I wanted to do it nevertheless. I trusted Leena implicitly. But, for a fiercely independent, control freak like myself, allowing someone to carry my naked, fragile body and soul was a scary step into vulnerability and helplessness. The first of many. 

Once she stripped off my gown and safely wrapped all four nightmarish appendages, Leena lifted me out of my wheelchair (I was roughly 80 pounds at the time, so that part was easy) and placed me onto the shower chair. I was so weak from the trauma of the last two months that sitting up in a chair was difficult and tiring. Nursing homes are not known for their water pressure, but a sprinkle could easily knock me over now. So Leena slowly let the water flow down. I closed my eyes, held my breath, and thanked God for the blessing I was about to receive.

Then it hit me. More like patted me. Oh, the glory of water. Now I know why it is sacramental. Purifying. Baptismal. It warmly soaked my hair, rolled down my shoulders and back. I shivered in delight; then I blew out the deep breath I'd been holding. I opened my eyes and looked up at my Leena with a grin the size of Texas. I whispered, "Thank you, Leena." Then louder, "and Happy Birthday."

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Welcome To My Blog!

Kristan Seaford

Welcome to my blog! My name is Kristan Seaford, and I am a motivational and faith-building speaker, writer, and blogger. I have an interesting, fulfilling, fun, but physically difficult life. I live in Charlotte, NC and have lived here for most of my life. 

I am still recovering from a pretty catastrophic illness, which began in November of 2013. What started out as the flu and strep throat turned into a life-threatening condition called septic shock. An infection in my blood caused my organs to fail, one after another.

After 100 days, a medically-induced coma, six hospitals, and a miracle, I survived. However, the powerful medications and treatments that saved my organs took the blood, oxygen, and nutrients from my limbs. My hands and feet essentially died.

Today I live as a triple amputee, with my remaining foot missing the toes and part of my heel. I am learning to use amazing prosthetics, which are helping me live a fairly "normal" life.  I am able to parent my five children - driving them to their various activities, signing their reading logs, volunteering at their schools, and potty-training the little one. I have even been able to return to teaching group exercise classes at the local YMCA.  

On this blog, I am seeking to chronicle my daily life, educate people about amputations and prosthetics, make people think, and laugh and cry, help people appreciate their gifts, prove to people that those with disabilities can do anything that abled people can, and motivate people of all abilities to reach for their dreams. Here goes!

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