Click the picture for the story of Calypso, the Three Legged Green Sea Turtle, and why she's my symbol

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Grad School, Jumping, and The Way Forward

Been awhile since I've written anything here so here are the big updates:

I'm currently working on my Masters in Biotechnology. This is a fun field with interesting and challenging opportunities. Most of my teachers have either started Biotech companies of their own or are doing research for the university. I have teachers designing tests for cancer markers and a teacher who runs the Infectious Disease department at a local hospital. As exciting as it is, it's exhausting and complicated. Most days after class I feel like my brain is leaking out my ears.

I know how he feels.

I will be graduating in the spring and from there... who knows! I've been applying to research positions both in academia and in industry. Where ever I end up, I will probably be taking some time to use my microbiology skills in the field instead of going straight into my PhD.

Though this does look SUPER fun...
Physically, things are going well. The pace of my recovery has slowed over the years but I am still regaining small amounts of muscle control in my weak leg. I can fully used my right leg and the left leg I have full control over the muscles above the knee. I use an AFO (ankle foot orthosis) that allows me some ankle movement while still keeping me upright.

 I still get asked why I am wearing one shinguard.

The newest tricks I'm working on are jumping and jogging. Jumping I have a decent handle on when my feet are together, allowing my good leg to do a lot of the work. My therapists are slowly taking this crutch away, working on having both legs do equal amounts of work. Though I won't be winning the Olympic long jump anytime soon, I can now play a decent game of hopscotch.

My friends wonder why I'm so tired after Physical Therapy.

I'm also working on jogging/running. I'm doing this thanks to the wonder of underwater treadmills. Kennedy Krieger's underwater treadmill allows me to practice the motions of running without worrying about pesky gravity. I'm not yet up to running on land but I see it happening in the near future. I do miss being able to run (in the abstract) but to honest I've never liked running. I have no desire to run marathons, but it'd be nice to know that that it was an option.

Even if I did run marathons, the competition is intense.

I still have things to work on, but at the end of the day I'm doing okay. If you've made it this far here is your reward: pictures of my cats and my friend's pet duck.

This is Hobbes. He thinks he's a meerkat 
 This is Terra. She thinks she's an armadillo.
This is Donald. He is a week old and my friend carries him around in a fanny pack.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Some things change

Some things change but some things stay the same. One thing that will always stay the same is that children will ask the questions that people have been conditioned not to ask.

I'm free of the wheelchair but I still have my leg brace. People don't notice the leg brace itself (though I still limp and am slow) when I wear pants and I'm a jeans kind of person. On a lazy Saturday with perfect weather, I wore a pair of basketball shorts. This allowed the leg brace to be visible.

I was walking to my car when I passed a dad and his 7 year old son playing soccer on the lawn of my apartment complex. The son took a look at me and asked "Why are you wearing a shin guard?" The father looked thoroughly annoyed at his son but I just laughed. I told the son I'd been in an accident and now I needed a leg brace for my ankle. The son seemed satisfied though the father still looked annoyed at his son.

The eyeroll is strong in this one.

Some things change and some things stay the same.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

First post of 2014

Sorry about the decline in the number of posts. I've recently started grad school and due to an increase in my work load, any posts have been through my facebook page. A lot has happened over the past few months and here is a quick overview.

1. School
Last fall I started grad school at Johns Hopkins, studying Bioinformatics, which is essentially combining computers and microbiology. I learned a lot that first semester but I feel more comfortable switching to Biotechnology, which had most of the same requirements and cool electives. Biotechnology is more centered around bench work, small in-person labs, and I really enjoyed doing lab work. In class we're going to do bacterial cloning and a bunch of other fun experiments.
Poor billy...
2. Work out
I've actually been fairly faithful to my work out schedule lately. I keep a calendar my sister gave me for Christmas on the wall, writing down whatever exercise I do on that day's square. It's not a perfect system but so far it has worked.

This is from the calendar she got me. 
A cat yoga calendar... you know me so well.

3. Artwork

Pizza... mmm...

Cats in the Moonlight

Full Moon Rising

The Fire Flower

Down the Rabbit Hole

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Boot Camp - Summer 2013

This the long overdue account of what happened my second week of bootcamp. We did a lot activities that challenged me physically but were often a ton of fun.

1.Jenga balance
Anyone who grew up with the game Jenga knows how tricky the game at the best of times. As a balance exercise, they removed the brace and put me on a foam square to throw me often... and then we played Jenga. It was a blast but it is one of the hardest games I've ever played. To make things even harder, my therapist would occasionally try and push me in different directions.

2.Just Dance
I'm now in the process of getting a Wii for one simple reason: Just Dance. This video game forces me to move in ways that my body hasn't moved in years (if ever...). The music is upbeat and fun and the movements are challenging. Plus it's always fun to challenge other patients to a dance battle.

3.Turtle Races
Every year, in the courtyard you can find the Johns Hopkins Turtle Derby. The event benefits the Department of Child Life at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center and Perkins Day Care Center. $10 enters in a turtle with your name on it. Last year I was in the hospital when the Derby was going on. I named my Turtle "Calypso", after the 3 legged turtle that was the inspiration for this blog. Suprisingly, she won first place. This year I was all excited, hoping for another victory. I named turtle "The Doctor", but my racer decided not to move out of the starting circle until the race was well underway. Needless to say he wasn't a victor that day.

4.Vibration Plate
A relatively new piece of equipment challenges balance by shifting the left and right up and down. When increased to a fast pace, the machine will make your entire body feel like it's vibrating.

5.Splitbelt Treadmill
A simple concept, this treadmill has two narrow tracks instead of the one rubber track of a normal treadmill. This allows my therapists to set the speed for each leg differently, slowing my left leg down and allowing me to balance my step length on both sides.

Going up stairs is a continual challenge for me. Though I can handle them worlds better than I used to, going up stairs still require that I take one step at a time. My new brace allows me to go step over step when going down stairs but even that required training of stabilizing muscles.

7.Gait Maping Gaitrite
The Gaitrite is an interesting contraption that maps out on a computer my step length, the pressure I'm putting on my foot (and a picture of where I'm putting that pressure). Though improved from last year, the gait mapping program illustrated a few things to work on, such as evening out my step length.

The Therastride is a magnificent machine, a treamill that supports your weight as you walk. I used to require 4 different people helping me to move my legs and stand up straight; now I only require 1 person to make sure I don't trip over my own feet. Improvements asides, the therastride allows me to practice proper walking technique without all of my weight.

9.Meeting With My Therapists
I had the privilege of meeting with a few of my old therapists. Both lovely girls, they were the first ones who encouraged me to challenge myself. I was able to congratulate both of them on their upcoming weddings and give them updates on my progress.

10.Volunteer Appreciation
I was able to attend the appreciation dinner for volunteers at the Kennedy Krieger Institute. Though there are many ways to volunteer, I participated in the Patient Ambassador program. This matches me with potential patients who could use some advice on what it's like to reenter the world, newly disabled. I have a phone call or two with patients giving advice on things like what it's like going to college/a new city in a wheelchair or how to get involved in adaptive sports (it's so easy!). The dinner was tasty and the other volunteers were a cheerful motivated crowd with lots of interesting stories and good advice.

11.Walking to the Barn With My Cousins
During a trip to my Aunt and Uncle's house, bored with some of the conversation, I decided to join my cousins in the backyard. We walked across the grass to the barn that lies near the back of their property. Apparently while we were walking conversation stopped as everyone looked on, marveling at the improvement in my walking. Though I could manage with my wheelchair, I much prefer this mode of transportation as well.

12.Meeting Old Friends and Meeting New Friends
Coming back to Kennedy Krieger is always great, partially because of all the people I get to see again. I'm always happy to see old therapists, doctors, techs, nurses, volunteers, patients, and families that I've seen off and on since my injury. We celebrate accomplishments, commiserate failures, and share our dreams for the future. These random assortment of people are now part of my family and I love them all.

13.Underwater Treadmill Playing Volleyball
The underwater treadmill is one of the parts of my boot camp experience I look forward to the most. Like it sounds, the treadmill allows me to walk with water supporting much of my body weight. To challenge my ability to walk with distractions around me, they had me walk while hitting a beach ball to all the techs and therapists in the room. A fun game, it forced me to keep my technique while engaging in the next game after my Jenga battle.

14.Working On My Art Journal 
The newest art form I'm experimenting with, I traveled up to Baltimore with only pencils, a sharpie, and box of highlighters. Here are some of the pages that developed. I've since added to many of them. Here are a few samples.

A Walking Poem

So I took about an hour break from studying and explored the area. It's a really nice area but this was forming through my head as they finally turned on the streetlights. Which were bright white and way too bright. While this was going through my head I tripped. I got back up right away but that made it in here too. I liked it enough I wanted to get it down before I lost it:


I walk along, under the streetlights.
Bright new city, strange new sites.
Strange new air, strange new nights.
And the streetlights burn.

The memories flood back of biking in the night.
Long runs in the cold, warm yellow light.
The long shadows of Fall,
That cause me to fall.

Falling over memories, falling over pain,
Falling over memories of utter loss and gain.
 I get back up like I always have
And yet its not the same.

I walk along, under the streetlights.
Bright new city, strange new sites.
Strange new air, strange new nights.
And the streetlights burn.

Different path through the streets, long rides back to home.
They look completely different from the ones I've always known.
I'll walk them still with confidence but inside I'll always know
Each step was fought for, as steps they slowly grow.

I don't know where these steps are leading me, looking for their path.
They don't know how far it is, don't want to do the math.
The lights are all on way too bright and the shadows are all wrong.
But I'll keep walking on and on, strides confident and long.

I walk along, under the streetlights.
Bright new city, strange new sites.
Strange new air, strange new nights.
And the streetlights burn.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Graduation, Boot Camp Day 1, and some more paintings

It doesn't take a genius to realize that I haven't written anything in a while. I've been busy, my attention taken by school, physical therapy, and art.

The first priority for the past few years has been working on my bachelors degree. I am proud to say I have earned my degree in Biology! They even wrote a little press item on the graduating CSU students and my 6 year journey to graduation.
Peter was in a traumatic car accident on Dec. 29, 2009 when his family was driving down the freeway and their car spun out of control, braking suddenly for stopped traffic. He shattered two of his vertebrae, broke both arms and suffered extensive internal damage, ultimately requiring a wheelchair and rigorous rehabilitation. He went through several surgeries and regained motion in his legs and was eventually able to start walking with a brace and walker. Despite wanting to resume his education at CSU, health problems made it difficult for him to be successful on campus, causing him to return home to North Carolina. There, he resumed his CSU education online. Since then, he is recovering more and more and has made such great progress that his wheelchair now serves as a bed for his cats. He is set to graduate this May with a degree in Biology. He also has applied to several graduate schools and is interested in Bioinformatics, the merging of genetics work and computer programming. In the future, he hopes to work in a lab doing research.
I'm glad simply to have made it this far, physically and academically, though I've a long way to go still until I'm satisfied with either. Physically I've been improving by leaps and bounds. And by that I mean I can actually jump (even if it's not very high).

 Who knew I could jump higher than the average house!

I'm currently up in Baltimore for another round of Boot Camp, the two weeks twice a year where I get pushed by spinal cord specialists to improve the best I can. The exercises are tailored to my injury and how much recovery I've made. This generally includes some work in the pool, work on balance, strengthening, using treadmills, or all of the above. Today was the first day and was mostly tests, evaluations, and deciding which exercises required more work and which were too easy. According to their tests, since last Boot Camp I've gotten stronger, faster, and better coordinated. The real work starts tomorrow and I know after 3 hours of grueling work I'll sleep like a babe.

Well... maybe not.

Finally, I've been busy painting. This past Christmas instead of buying gifts for people I gave each person a painting instead. This has started me on a painting rampage which continues today. I work mainly with acrylics on canvas and have come up with a few nice pieces. I've also begun Art Journaling, a combination painting and scrapbooking, layered with inks, stencils, stamps, stickers, and million different mediums.

 Sawfish, Spotted Eagle Ray
Crying Robot, Green Coffee Cup, Red Coffee Cup
Blue Coffee Cup
Green Coffee Cup
Red Coffee Cup
Blue Coffee Cup
 Painting outside on a warm day.
 House from Up
 A multi-layered art journal page. This is my Godson, Eli.
 Dragon on a teacup.
 Winnie the Pooh art journal page.
 "What day is it?" asked Pooh.
"It's today, " squeaked Piglet.
"My favorite day" said Pooh.
 "Life is art, live yours in Color."
 The first layer of an art journal page.
 You have no idea how much I love turtles!
 What happens when I get bored and have only highlighters and sharpies.
 Darth Vader Art
A Whale in Love
 A City in Flames.
Dragon on a cliff.
 The Peacock, done in highlighter.

If you like the art, are a fan of my recovery, or just like turtles, 'like' The Turtle Walks on facebook. I'll start keeping the blog updated but my facebook is where I spend most of my time online. Also check out