Thursday, May 31, 2012

My kneed to swim

It's wonderful when I swim. I leave my prosthesis on the grass and hop-dive in. Kick with my right leg. Stroke with my arms. Shoot through the water like a dolphin. Float on my back staring at the sky, at the wild roses that cascade to the edge of the pond. Swim steady laps across the length of the pond. I just jumped in ten days ago but day before yesterday I swam almost a mile. Could have kept going. Didn't want to stop. Hated to crawl out of the water. It's like hopping off a trampoline back into the unforgiving world of gravity. Damn gravity.

 My right knee crunches when I lean on it. A new pain has flared on the outside of the joint. Usually all the grinding comes on the inside. I wear my knee brace all day now. After I've walked a while the pain and weakness fade into a white noise I mostly ignore. That's too familiar: it's how I managed my deformed foot and ankle in 2006, the year I felt my leg-clock run down.

If you'd have told me thirty years ago I'd do as well as I did with my fused leg, then been active for five years as an amputee, I would've been thrilled. Lose motion at fifty? Big deal--so distant from twenty. Infinitely far away. A small price to pay. Wrong, Liz.

Now I'm scrambling for a new point of reference, a physical venue where I can find the hard work and repetitive motion I love. Give me a tool to use, a tractor to drive, a horse to gallop & I was set. I craved the movement, the breeze, sun and dust, and my muscles aching at the end of the day. I need a setting where I'm still able to push my body.


I swap rubber bands from wrist to wrist each lap to keep count. Otherwise I lose track. After about a quarter of a mile I slide into the zone. I lose myself in the strength of my arms and legs. Or rather, leg. Except my phantom leg kicks too. I lose myself in the joy of going as fast as I can, as hard as I can, as long as I can. And nothing hurts.

Doctor's appointment tomorrow: cortisone shot in the knee. Bring it on. Prescription for the "TENS unit" insurance overlord Nurse Ratched said I have to try and document before we go farther with another approach. It all feels like deck chairs on the Titanic.

Maybe, instead of a knee replacement, I need surgery to give me gills. Then a ride in a sloshing tanker truck of water up to Cayuga Lake, the 400-foot-deep Finger Lake twenty miles from here. Forget just swimming across it at the surface: I'll swim it end to end, underwater, when I'm released. Flip my leg like a tail. And go.  

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Postcard from Holy Crow Farm

Today my mare Laredo turns eleven. She was a three-year-old when I first saw her, untrained, brassy and bold. I said "Oh, I don't know...I don't really need another horse. My horse just has a little spook to him."

Indeed he did. Three days later I crash landed in reality: yet another fall from the seemingly endless string of frightened geldings I'd owned/trained/worked/exercised throughout my life. OK, I'll admit it. I welcomed them as challenges, that combination of twitchy and reluctant. Sometimes I bought them though I always claimed I wanted a tough mare instead. The snotty mare appeal goes back to Flicka, the unfinished dream-horse I was yanked away from at thirteen by the bone disease osteomyelitis.

My personal mounts from 1984 to 2004 were geldings, with the MO of spook & spin & dash. All spirited enough to run and jump; neurotic enough to satisfy my need to Ride the Hard Ones. Try as I had, I couldn't always instill the confidence they needed. And hell, suddenly I was forty-two, still trying to prove something. For some reason, falling off wasn't as much fun as it used to be.

I made up my mind airborne, mid-fall--Hell yeah buy that filly with the attitude!--but I had plenty of time afterward to be sure. I sat with my back against the sapling I'd hit and nursed my useless leg and my sore right shoulder. I was lucky the folks working at the greenhouses next door figured out my echoey voice bouncing off the trees was an emergency, not just a woman shouting for a lost dog.

The ambulance crew took me out on a backboard. At the hospital they thought I had a broken pelvis, but it turned out to be a dislocated hip. I requested general anesthesia when they put it back. Thirty-six hours after my wreck I walked out of the hospital on one crutch: I was nursing a separated shoulder and cracked vertebra. Still limping on the crutch, I got a horsey friend to drive me to see the red filly with the white oak leaves on her hips. Friendly. A little pushy. Sweet. Brave.  Not  big enough for the woman's husband, whose mount she was supposed to be. Ready to start. They'd had her since she was a baby.

She was a rescue case.Like the kid I'd been, except I wasn't rescued. I could start her right. She'd be the horse I rode into the question-mark of my future. Would my leg give out? Would I keep my limb? The decision was on the horizon.

At the end of the rope, the filly sighed. Licked and chewed, reluctantly. Tough. But willing.

I bought her. Damn straight. I started her right. I'd learned: don't skimp. The horse doesn't get it until the horse says so. Maybe all the riding, training, falling, getting back on and persevering had taught me how to train this mare I named Laredo.

She was solid when I rode her in the local parade the next summer, mannerly for the farrier and vet, polite loading on a trailer. We dragged tarps and Little Tyke cars. She loves trails and chasing other animals; she hates riding in circles inside a ring.

But she wants to be with me. I'm the boss of this most bossy of mares. When my leg was amputated, I wasn't sure I'd ride much more. Wished I'd "finished" her (like I know what that really means). But Laredo is happy with me.  We understand each other. She's due north on my internal compass. I need her. We've got this herd thing going. It's special. Happy birthday, lady. Love you, mare.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Christian Science: Making other religions squirm since 1879

Excellent post by ex-Christian Scientist blogger MT_SPACE last week. He was raised Catholic, became a "Scientist" as an adult and spent many years heavily invested in the church before declaring himself a "born again atheist."

He discusses how he switched "brands" of religion before rejecting the whole category. It made me consider the appeal of Christian Science as an intellectual belief system with a metaphysical, ultra-modern New Age gloss--at least at first glance.

I grew up immersed in it. I had a minimum of immunizations. A practitioner prayed when I caught chicken pox and German measles. Our church was austere, our services serious and quiet.

By comparison, other churches were ridiculous. When I was seven I visited a friend's Methodist Sunday school. We played games. We had snacks. I was appalled. Sunday school was supposed to be an endless hour sitting still at a table reading from the King James version of the bible and of course, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy. No carrot sticks or crackers. No juice. No coffee hour for the adults. No games, except racing to find certain books of the bible, which we begged to play. It was the only break from taking turns reading aloud, stumbling over words and trying to wrap our brains around the concepts.

What is the god of a mortal, but a mortal magnified? This indicates the distance between the theological and ritualistic religion of the ages and the truth preached by Jesus. More than profession is requisite for Christian demonstration. Few understand or adhere to Jesus' divine precepts for living and healing. Why? Because his precepts require the disciple to cut off the right hand and pluck out the right eye,--that is, to set aside even the most cherished beliefs and practices, to leave all for Christ.

Pluck out your eye? Gross. We got in trouble for giggling. We had to lift our thoughts above mortal life: it was unreal. We had to keep God's perfect creation in mind. Then we would only know harmony. Sure. It was familiar, weird but normal. If it was all you had when you were sick, it could seem comforting. 

Other religious believers shout that Christian Science is not the least bit Christian. But serious "Scientists" are the most devout followers you'll ever meet. They don't smoke or drink, they pray constantly and try to do good. Evidence of their healing is anecdotal at best. Nevertheless, hard-core members stake their lives on so-called Divine Science. Sometimes they survive; often they don't. But they believe in their faith enough to willingly suffer ex-cruci-ation. They have enough faith to put their children's lives on the line.

And other religions hate this. Stop taking that healing thing so seriously!! 

But hey--if prayer works at all, why not depend on it? Is it just posturing? If some prayer is good, a lot is better, right? Is prayer practical or not? If too much faith in a god is bad, maybe even fatal, what does that say about the premise of prayer?

I've been out of Christian Science almost twenty years . I've rejected the whole category of religion and I vehemently reject any church's substitution of prayer for a child's medical care. But I remember the very first year I was in therapy when I felt the power of religion leave me. Those rules that had defined my life slid away like a tide going out. It left me with the expanse of reality. I'd given my mind and body to Christian Science and it had broken me. I wasn't about to hand over my faith to some lesser church. Those amateurs.

Yes: Christian Science takes the premise of prayer to a potentially horrifying extreme. It shocks all but the most devout believers. It's immoderate. But that's the ultimate dimension of religious belief: My faith is real despite the evidence around me. I know a different reality. It's a slippery slope.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Stump Splash

Got in the water today. Hot out, beautiful blue sky, & time to swim. My pond is still a little algae-fied lately. I treat it weekly with the non-toxic, all-natural, supersonic Microbes but I didn't get a good start this spring and with all the warm weather it's a little...furry, so far. 

So I drove to my friend's pond late this afternoon. It's up a sylvan lane, past what used to be a pasture & riding ring where she & her daughters rode a dozen or so years ago after I fanned the flames of their horse interest.

The pond is beautiful. It's not huge but a nice size, full of bass, surrounded by hilltop trees and grass. It even has a pea-stone gravel "beach" where an AK amputee doesn't have to slide through mud into the water as she ditches her crutches.

It was perfect. The water temperature was just right, not cold until I dove down. Since I started swimming the lake four years ago, I wear goggles & earplugs to handle some of the water-logged feeling. I hate water in my ears. I'd only planned on a meet & greet with the water, but I was prepared to swim if I felt so inclined.

I did.

Understand, I have one leg. On land I walk, happily but stiffly, with my non-computerized Otto Bock EBS 3R60 prosthetic knee. I still fall sometimes. My organic right knee has deteriorated to the point of being replacement-worthy from years of overuse. On land I ice it, wrap it with Ace bandages or wear my unloading brace. I'm fifty, but I'm grinding to a halt. I can't work or move the way I did even when I had a fused leg and I miss the whole-body exhilaration of pushing myself. It was an important side of my relationship with horses that is limited now. Speed. Athleticism. Physical challenge. I haven't run on my own legs since 1975. 

Today I tossed my crutches on the beach and dove into the shallows. It set me free. All the motion I needed was there--swimming hard, kicking with my leg, feeling my knee work without pain. I kicked with my absent left leg, the one I still feel; I believe my phantom limb helps propel me through the water. It was pure joy. Every stroke, every gasp for air as I turned my head. When a little striped head poked up to watch me across the water before disappearing, I just shrugged. It was probably just a painted turtle. We both had swimming to do.

Whenever I tired, I floated on my back. Goggles made the non-aquatic world a silver blur of light, sky and trees. Goggles made me an unblinking fish head down in the water. The sounds of bubbles, my breathing, and the splash of my arms were the only sounds in my underwater environment. It always makes me feel like an astronaut. An aquanaut.

Think I'll be swimming a lot this year. Like a loon: I'll make a nest at the edge of the water. Roll in without needing to walk. Loons have solid bones that let them dive 200 feet into a lake but this makes it difficult for them to move on land. So they don't. They swim. They dive.

And they fly.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Paging Nurse Ratched

Just a little rant, OK?

Let me start by saying to the Insurance Overlords, State of New York: Thank you for my coverage. Thank you for my leg. Thank you for my socket that fits.

But... Why must you deny me a knee brace that costs a fraction of an above-knee prosthesis and less than half of a socket? I know--it's on the edge of being experimental. The Bionicare Knee Brace has a stimulation system that zaps the joint into thinking it's normal, or at least this is my understanding. Studies show it to be effective in staving off knee replacement surgery. Which my doctor says I'm too young for, at fifty (going on seventy). Though I have a feeling the Overlords, in their twisted universe, would pay for surgery first. Spite surgery.

 The last letter I got was signed by a PT named (appropriately enough) Pike. Think of a spear with a severed head on it. She said my request (which included med & injection records, a letter from my doctor, a statement from me and a plea from my orthotist)  could not be processed because information was...inadequate...incorrect. Or not present.

It appears that a trial to confirm the efficacy of this device for Ms. Heywood's pain and dysfunction is warranted. Provide details of Ms. Heywood's trial...Provide initial evaluation...Provide documentation...Provide studies that compare Bionicare to other treatments such as (but not limited to) exercise or medications or to different forms of electrical stimulation...

Ah. They want a flipping term paper. And they want me to use the brace on trial to see if it works. Except they won't approve the brace for me to use without knowing how the trial went.  See the beauty of their world? It has the logic of a moebius strip. I bet they all believe six impossible things before breakfast. Well, hey: I used to believe nothing I experienced was real except as defined by Christian Science. Did I spend fifteen years in therapy so Nurse Ratched can play mind games while my "good" leg gives out?

But. I've got a friend on the inside, sort of. A fabulous trooper of a paperwork magician at Hanger prosthetics. Her name is Sarah. We have regrouped. I just signed a release to send the Overlords my nastiest bone-on-bone knee x-ray. I will be calling Madam Overlord tomorrow. I don't want to believe (though I know this often is true) that she is paid to deny middle-aged single-mom above-knee-amputees a band aid that might postpone surgery. I really don't.

But for her sake, I hope Nurse Ratched gets a good night's sleep. She's about to meet One-leg Liz. ;-)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A piece of string walks into a bar...

Relaxing in the hammock Sunday before my damn lanyard snapped
Heard this one, right? Bartender says, We don't serve pieces of string. So the string goes outside & ties himself & fluffs his ends...

...speaking of which, my mobility depends on a piece of string. I call it the "O-ring" of my leg. It's a length of nylon (kevlar?) that threads through the bottom of the socket in some mystical way and has a screw which attached to the end of my stump's gel liner. That way I can put on the leg & pull the string to cinch it on tight. The lock mechanism holds it tight unless I push the button, which you can see in this photo on the lower-right side of my mechanical knee. It works great until it breaks. Remember King Kong? "Don't worry, ladies and gentlemen--those chains are made of unbreakable kevlar!" Or something.

It gives me very little warning: suddenly I notice how frayed it's become, sometimes just as I'm putting on my leg in the morning...snap. I noticed it Sunday, this time, and so I left it on & lay in the hammock although I'd been psyching myself to jump in the pond. But Monday morning, sure enough. Snap. And it broke too short to even be on for the day.

Called in to where I work part-time: taking my leg to the shop. Called my prosthetist. Drove to Elmira, almost an hour away. Managed the trick of crutching my way from truck to office with my leg hanging over my shoulder. (Now there's a photo I should post here.) The second set of doors almost did me in.

Apparently the lock mechanism had broken as well as the string. It took a long time in a hidden room for the prosthetist to magic the new string through the maze. I complained a little, as I do when this happens (every eight months or so) that the string is bound to fray on the sharp edge of the carbon-fiber socket. Why can't they put a little enamel eyelet there? Like on a fishing rod? Wouldn't that make sense?

At work one of my bosses said, "You should schedule them to replace it every six months."
That makes sense, too. Alas. the bartender says, Hey--aren't you that piece of string I kicked out? And the string says, Nope. Frayed knot.

Till next time. Keep your leg on tight.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Second best place to be

I played with my mare the other day. First step towards riding. Haven't been on her in almost three years: logistics, life complications, all that. I cut saplings and tied them to standing trees to make a semi-round pen so I could work with her. 

The mare: Laredo, aka The Potato, nice little pintaloosa who turns eleven next week. Got her as a three year old when the clock was ticking on the last few years of my mobility & athleticism. That was before I knew I'd be an above-knee amputee, but it kind of hovered in my mind just out of sight. So I tried to do an exceptional job when I started Laredo in 2004. I wanted to still be riding her when we were both old and grey. And I rode her the first few years as an AKA.

Working her with a flag in the pen the other day, she was her usual snotty self. This is the first ten percent of her Boss Mare persona. Next she was very polite: coming in to me, working on the rail, halting, turning, backing, walking with me, all at liberty. Then the next forty percent: pure appaloosa. (Sorry to use that breed-ist slur. I've had apps my whole life. I do love them, despite the donkey-streak.) The Potato has an amazing brace that surfaces even when she's moving. That shoulder just sets; she bucks and kicks out at me, flipping me the horse bird. The real horse is one more layer down beyond the cranky bitch mare. Then she's polite again, turning and backing and sidepassing just by my pointing at her. It's like a dialogue, a conversation with a thousand-pound being. That day, it felt great like always. We both worked up a good sweat.

And I realized that I hadn't noticed the pain in my right (=organic) knee. The joint's pretty much demolished. The pain pills don't work anymore; neither do injections. I'm young for a replacement, plus it's my "good" leg which equals difficulties beyond the norm. But it's getting worse and worse. I'll have to do something, just like I had to do something with the other leg. Meantime I wear an unloading brace more and more.

But walking around that corral for half an hour I wasn't even aware of it, only that my rough gait & occasional stagger keeps me from dashing to wave the flag (a plastic bag on a stick) at my fiesty horse.

It was a happy surprise. I'd forgotten the freedom I always felt when I worked with horses, how absorbing and interesting and fulfilling it is. A dozen years ago I had foot surgery. I'd decimated my left foot walking on it with that fused knee. The doctor said I'd been stepping onto a bunion, bone spur and dislocated toes for two years. Whenever I'd gotten moving, I didn't feel it. (Or maybe no brain, no pain!)

Wish I had a couple more legs to help me out. But hey--I know where to borrow some. Real soon.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

AKA Drummer: prosthetic left foot tied to the high hat pedal

I started played piano when I was a kid. Quit the lessons but kept playing, mostly Scott Joplin & stuff I learned by ear. I can read music though I can't sight-read. I played the French horn and marched in the Lexington Patriot's Day (April 19) sunrise parade with the chaotic combined junior high band in 1975, Lexington's bicentennial where President Ford appeared. I played five-string banjo in my early twenties, and went on pounding out the many lengthy Joplin piano rags I'd memorized. But I really wanted to play drums.

Piano and drums are both percussion instruments: striking makes the sound. I played piano on enough tabletops to drive my school friends insane. I took a few drum lessons in high school but I was too self-conscious to continue. To make that much noise.

Flash forward almost thirty years. My cousin Scott called me just before my above-knee amputation. "You still want a drum set?" A buddy of his was willing to trade his old kit for Scott's banjo. "I'll bring it this next trip."

Scott was my right-hand man that year, or rather, my left-leg man. He drove out to come to appointments with me, and then for the Big A-surgery itself. He delivered the drums the day before my vascular surgeon set the amputation: ten days away. 

I went home. Picked up the sticks and cranked some music: The Offspring: This was my anthem of that time. Turn it up to eleven. Wail along. That was what those ten days was like. The week I started drumming.

It didn't matter that my left leg was gone soon after; I wasn't coordinated enough to use the high hat pedal anyway. It was enough to pound these huge, deep drums, keeping the beat with my right foot on the kick pedal. (There weren't any cymbals. I learned that's typical, like keeping your girth and stirrups when you sell a saddle.)The kit is old and massive--a 26" bass drum and a big tom almost the size of some basses. It's a 1939 Radio King set, wooden, re-finished by Scott's friend. I can't imagine its history. If only it could tell the stories of those gigs and parties.

I got my prosthetic leg and gingerly pressed it on the high hat pedal. I went to the local music store and shopped for cymbals. I changed the heads. I cracked my first drumstick and learned to keep spares handy. I played along with Three Doors Down's "Kryptonite" until my daughters were howling "That's too LOUD!!" I put my broken drumsticks in a vase. I tried to keep my left foot on the pedal.

Eventually I jammed with electric musicians in my neighborhood. Loud and fast. Loud and slow. But always loud. I use my left hip to move my leg to work the high hats; I tie my prosthetic foot to the pedal with a shoelace. Drums are very much like horses. Years ago when I learned to ride racehorses out of the starting gate, I often lost my stirrups in the hard leap forward. Until I learned to balance and stay with the horse, I had attached the stirrups to my boots with rubber bands. Like trying to stay with the fast rhythm as I ride the music. The old drums are as full of speed as ever. They have an intricacy that you can't think about too hard, that you have to feel out instinctively.

It's a blast. I guess it helps that, here in middle age, I'm finally ready to make some noise. Just ask my daughters.

Monday, May 7, 2012

AKA Mermaid, or almost

Two legs minus one is one, which is one more than a fish, although I guess that's not an advantage in the water. Five years ago when I jumped into my pond just a few months after my above-knee amputation, my then-seven-year-old daughter said, "Mom, you're a mermaid!" I liked that title. (It also made me feel better about the way I slither onto shore.)

The next summer, my friend Debbie suggested I swim across a lake with her. (My cousin said, "You've only got one leg--you'll swim in circles!")

The local Hospicare & Palliative Care Services holds a fundraiser every August called "Women Swimmin'": an all-women swim across mile-wide Cayuga Lake, the Finger Lake that touches Ithaca. Hospicare raises most of their budget for the whole year--upwards of $300,000 dollars--with this single event.

I'd always swam a lot, but never laps. Never trained before. I strapped on goggles and earplugs and learned how to breathe on either side. My pal Debbie gave me pointers and encouragement. We swam together sometimes to practice. I hoped I was ready.

The actual swim was a blast. I was with a hundred women grouped in pods (like whales!) with matching  colored swim hats waving from a ferry chugging across the lake just after a summer dawn while a bagpiper played. (I was on crutches; they were returned to the yacht club that was our starting point and destination.) At the far side of the lake, dozens of canoes and kayaks paddled out to greet us, to accompany us. Motor boats patrolled our closed channel across Cayuga. Pod by pod, we jumped in the water and started swimming. My heart settled into a steady beat as my arms stroked and my single leg kicked double time; I could feel my phantom leg kicking too. I think it helped. I realized that though I might never gallop my horse bareback across a field again, I can still feel the same way of pushing my body, exhilarated, going flat out.
Women Swimmin' isn't a race. We stopped here and there to tread water, trade encouragement, laugh, and be advised by our kayaks to keep swimming towards the huge balloon bobbing above the yacht club. When the dock grew close I was disappointed. Over already?? My crutches were policed by my older daughter who brought them out to me on the dock when I emerged up the ladder. Waiting onshore was a party: a live band, a breakfast tent, and a big crowd of spectators cheering every single swimmer as she climbed the ladder. A celebration.

I swam the next year with my older daughter; last year I swam without a partner, still surrounded by friends both in the water or in canoes. I love the community, the sense that we're all in this life together, that we're invested in challenging ourselves for the benefit of us all. I write Why I Swim essays for the Hospicare newsletter and help with publicity.

This morning, I registered bright and early for Women Swimmin' 2012. This will be my fourth year in the water. The pond looks cold and murky right now, but it won't be long. It'll be warmer. I'll be in the water, the one-legged swimmer. The mermaid.

And dammit, I don't swim in circles, Scott. So there.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

My personal tech breakthrough

Finally, it's happened: I have crossed the great divide into the twenty-first century, just a dozen years late. Took & uploaded my own pictures, figured out the damn camera, found out how to get the photos on the computer...

No small victory for this Luddite. (Recently I've been lamenting the passing of the typewriter, complete with x-ing out words, white-out, ribbons, carbon paper and that wonderful heavy clicking sound.)

This is my mailbox & sign. Back to the carbon-less, x-less & quieter clicking of the keyboard. Tomorrow: the announcement of my Cayuga Crossing. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Religion-based child neglect: Overdose of prayer

I'm not celebrating the National Day of Prayer on May 3. I grew up with nothing but prayer. We prayed every morning, we tried to keep our thoughts "above" mortal influences, we read and studied and went to church. And we prayed when we were sick or hurt.

My parents hadn't used anything else for most of their lives. Neither had our relatives. We'd all been healthy. We believed our prayers had kept us safe. I rode my horse and felt invincible.

But I never touched a horse the year I was fourteen. I lay in bed at home for ten months with my left leg rotting from a bone disease. And my Christian Science parents and practitioner treated me with prayer only. I guess you could say I was overdosed on prayer.
Nine years old and ready for my first horse show
At that time, Massachusetts law protected this right of parents. "A child shall not be deemed to be neglected or lack proper physical care for the sole reason that he is being provided remedial treatment by spiritual means alone in accordance with the tenets and practices of a recognized church or religious denomination by a duly-accredited practitioner thereof."  

My knee and much of my leg were destroyed by the bone infection. It was diagnosed years later as osteomyelitis. For thirty-five years I walked with a fused, bent knee. Then my leg was amputated.

I want to speak for the kids who died. The kids who were spanked to death by parents who believed Michael Pearl's logic. The baby boys who died after circumcision rituals. The dozens of children who died of treatable medical conditions in Oregon because their parents were Followers of Christ.

Religious extremism is alive and well in the U.S. Religious influence in our laws and a politically correct hands-off attitude create a smokescreen for fervent believers to keep on praying for children instead of immunizing, instead of seeing a doctor, instead of calling an ambulance. And kids go on hurting. They go on dying.

Except when people speak up. Rita Swan of  Children's Healthcare Is A Legal Duty (CHILD Inc) was instrumental last year in overturning the Oregon law. Parents in that state are no longer exempt from prosecution for faith-based medical neglect of children. For thirty years, Rita, her husband Doug and the non-profit CHILD organization have tackled laws in state after state. They've made changed happen. They've saved lives.

But currently, thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia still have religious exemptions in their civil code on child abuse or neglect.

Think about the overdoses of prayer those kids receive. Beatings. Ignorance. Untreated injuries and diseases.

Seventeen states have religious defenses to felony crimes against children. 

Fifteen states have religious defenses to misdemeanors.

Three states have religious defenses to manslaughter.

One state has religious defenses to murder of a child and child neglect resulting in death.

One state has a religious defense to capital murder.

I stopped praying twenty years ago. I have faith in the goodness of humans to reach out to each other, and to find strength within themselves. I'm celebrating the National Day of Reason. I hope to live to see a total separation of church and government. Kids' lives depend on it. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Amputee on Horseback Salad

(A virtual gold doubloon to the one who identifies that extremely obscure movie reference.)

This is my mare Laredo, pintaloosa extraordinaire. She's a very unregistered 14 hand chestnut with snowflake appaloosa patches on her rump and a lot of roaning going on. Technically graying: her mother was a pinto. Crossing pintos with apps tends to bleach color out of appies and fades them whiter as they age. The Potato is almost eleven. I got her as a three year old. (I'll tell you that story another time. Suffice to say I decided to buy her while I was in mid-air as my then-horse evaporated out from under me once too often.)

I started Laredo  under saddle myself, patiently and thoroughly. I knew my steps on two legs were limited and I wanted a solid mount. She was already a smart, sensible boss mare, exactly what I wanted. A confident horse. 

I climbed back on her six weeks after my leg was amputated, even before my first prosthesis fitting. Was I going to quit riding just because my left leg had been cut off above the knee?? Hell, no!

Gifted Potato Princess Laredo and yrs truly

This was the last remnants of my machismo. I was running on the fumes of my nerve. (Apparently  courage is located in the knee.) I waved goodbye to my invincibility after a ride or two. It had to do with my age, too. Forty-five don't bounce like twenty. This was why I'd settled down with the Potato. I use to pride myself in climbing on (almost) every difficult horse I met; with one leg, I decided to stay in the shallow end of the pool. In the ring. Or the pasture. Always with a friend. It was a new definition of limitation. But it was appropriate. I was ready to go slower.

My method: I wore jeans with snaps all down the outside seam of one leg. When my mare was focused and ready to mount I led her to the wooden fence. I unsnapped my jeans leg, took off the prosthesis, leaned it against the fence and tied my pant leg in a knot. Then I climbed onto the fence, had Laredo step to the right spot and stand so I could slip right into the saddle. (At the local horsemanship clinic I went to every year, they got a big kick out it when I went as a uni-ped. "OK, everyone get mounted. Hold on a minute, Liz has to take off her leg.")

I missed the weight of my leg. I experimented with bean bags, cuff weights and things. The part of my left calf muscle against Laredo's flank was played by the long dressage whip in my left hand. I also found how well I could ride by my thighs, seat bones, weight and intention. And Laredo was great. She really enjoys being ridden; granted, she'd rather not be enclosed. (She wanted to be a cutting horse when she grew up.) But she definitely likes being in my herd and being given a job.

I rode those first few summers I was an amputee. Now it's been almost three years. I moved and I don't have a riding ring anymore. Still, no excuse. A thousand days without sitting on a horse? I've never gone that long in my life, not since my first pony ride when I was three or four. I wasn't out of equine commission more than eighteen months when I had osteomyelitis as a kid.

And now it's May. I need to get back on my horse. And look: I'm putting it in writing. I'm going to climb on my mare, even if we stay in the kiddy-pool of my homemade round pen. Laredo's game.

Hold me to it, OK?