I went to visit Christy September 8-13th. I decided to dive back into her blog before my visit so I could get an idea of what to expect. I learned that she has a prison pen pal, her sister Jess moved to Texas, and she is STILL having trouble sleeping at night because of pain. BUT I still had many questions about Christy’s day-to-day life. In the off-chance that others are asking the same questions, here’s my attempt at sharing what an “average” day is like for Christy Wise.
A few diagrams to help build a frame of reference for this post:
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”
As Christy’s roommate of three years at the Air Force Academy, I knew she was a focused individual. After spending the week with her, I can tell you that her determination hasn’t changed a bit.
When Christy picked me up from the airport Tuesday night, I was surprised to see her – and only her – driving Duke (her jeep). I soon learned that she is now a certified left-footed driver. This was the first time I’d seen Christy since losing her leg and this was the first of many times she surprised me with her progress and independence.
Day 1: Wednesday
Christy has a knack for bringing others up with her positive attitude so I wasn’t surprised by the fact that everywhere we went, people wanted to talk to her and see how she was doing. The first day I got to meet a few of her friends in the Center for the Intrepid (CFI or “the center”) and hear about their challenges being amputees as well. It was comforting to see that Christy is surrounded by people who can relate to her and help her get back to flying (her goal).
On Tuesday she was frustrated with Ariel (her swimming leg) because it was kicking out awkwardly and not letting her walk normally (like she did the week prior with it). Once we got to the center, we asked her prosthetist, Troy, what was wrong with the leg. Troy took the leg off, walked to the other side of the center to look at it. Suddenly he pops out of the corner room, and yells “Christy! Look at this.” He pours brown water out of her leg. Apparently the leg had filled up during her weekend of scuba diving. That and the hydraulics in the leg were gone. So…even though Christy had practiced so hard to look “normal” walking around the scuba shop and on the boat with that leg for her weekend with friends, she couldn’t use the leg normally. Her Physical Therapist, Alicia, joked that she should send a video to her friends to show them that she really could walk well in Ariel.
Later that afternoon we picked Tim (Christy’s boyfriend) up from the airport and headed to the center to run. Christy’s next goal is to run the Army 10-miler in D.C. October 11th. Even though she didn’t have her “running leg” (name TBD – Bambi and Roadrunner are options on the table) yet, Christy planned to run/walk two miles that day (part of her running plan for the 10-miler in D.C.).
I overheard many people tell Christy that day that when she finally got the running leg, it would be so much easier but for now she was running with Xena. Alicia told us that while running, an amputee has to work around 60% harder than a person with two legs. Needless to say, two miles was quite a feat but there was a constant sense of community surrounding Christy as she took on her first run.
As we left the center, her friend Dean, said he’d like to join Christy, Tim, and I for the run. Halfway through the run we saw Jess putting her clothes away in Duke (Christy’s Jeep). As we got closer, Jess ran to join us. As we passed the playground, Donna, a quad amputee, waved at us for encouragement. We completed the run but Christy was definitely in pain. Since the center was closed, Tim filled up a bucket of ice at home and Christy strategically slid her stump in. I was cold just watching her.
We had chicken (cooked by Tim) for dinner and talked about how Christy and Jess sound the same. We joked about a game of having them call on the phone and trying to identify which one was which.
After dinner we played patient and doctor (to help Jess prepare for her practical boards exam Saturday in LA). Tim had a bad cough and I had health issues with my 10-year old son. We had some fun role playing and throwing Jess some curve balls. We were all pretty beat from the day so we went to bed early.
Day 2: Thursday
Day 2 was jam-packed with activities. Christy wore her flight suit since she was flying in the T-1 Simulator at Randolph Air Force Base (something she does every Thursday). Christy looks so tough in her flight suit and got a lot of attention in the center with it on. She had barely been in the center five minutes before a woman asked to take her picture.
Before going to Randolph for the simulator we headed to the center to get training from Yanci for shooting. Christy explained that it wasn’t necessarily something she HAD to do but something she wanted to do to ensure she’d be prepared for any scenarios (especially the different positions) required for completing the M-4 and M-9 training back at Moody Air Force Base. She got expert almost every time (but if you know her, this probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise).
Between shooting and the sim on Thursday we had some time, so Christy practiced walking up the stairs. She explained that in order to fly again, she’d need to be able to walk up the stairs to the plane. She matter-of-factly explained that it was simply another challenge she WOULD overcome (no questions asked). Taking one step at a time, she stayed focused completing flight after flight. Meanwhile Alicia explained that many above-the-knee amputees NEVER learn to walk up stairs. She said they don’t even try (but also that the legs are always improving too, which helps).
Simulator (aka Sim) : I’m no flying expert but I can tell you that Christy and Tim taxied, took on winds, and hooked up to a KC-135 for refueling. Christy goes to the simulator to keep her relatively current with the many steps a pilot has to go through to fly an airplane.
Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) Speech:
After a quick lunch, we headed to “the Tahj” to General Poore, the AFPC’s Commander’s Call so Christy could talk about some of the ways the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) organizations have helped her through her recovery. She told the auditorium of 300 Airmen about her accident, pulled up her pant leg to show them her leg, Xena, and explained that she was “lucky to be alive.” She told them about how the wounded warrior program had set her up with new legs, and how the river rats organization had helped her find a home in the San Antonio area.
We hadn’t even left the parking lot before Christy was on the phone trying to work out her other upcoming public appearances. She was trying to coordinate two TDYs for the following week (one to be part of Gen Welsh’s presentation at the Air & Space Conference and another to speak at Moody Air Force Base’s Air Force Ball).
Warrior Care Center:
After checking emails and getting orders printed for her TDY (ie: trip), we headed to the Warrior Care Center to find Jess. Once again, we were welcomed with open arms and SALSA! Yum. Again, the sense of community radiated from every individual we encountered. It felt like home.
During lunch I asked Tim and Christy about their favorite foods. “Where is your favorite place to go on dates together?” I asked. “Actually, we really haven’t gone on many dates,” Christy said. The two explained that with so many visitors, they had had very little time with just them since the accident. They said they weren’t bothered by it but I think Jess and I were both happy to see them make that night date night (in case you’re curious, they had sushi).
Day 3: Friday
“Everyone’s staring at you asking if it feels right and it doesn’t feel right but you don’t know why…..all you know is that it doesn’t feel good.”
– Christy (when asked about her first time in her running leg)
Christy got her running leg Friday morning. With that, came much trial and error. She strapped into the harness (which hangs from the ceiling in the center) and tried out the leg. After each trial, the prosthetists would try to adjust the leg to make it feel better.
Christy, Tim, Jess, and I went to Zoës Kitchen for lunch, dropped Jess off at the airport (for her boards in LA), and headed back to the center. We went inside first to test out the running leg again and prepare for SIX miles. As Christy sprinted from one side of the center to the other, her peers awed at her stride, and the staff told me about the progress she’d made that morning. “It takes other people WEEKS to make the progress she made this morning,” they told me. Christy, so focused on her goals, doesn’t see her progress as anything special. She interjected, “but other people – especially military guys wanting to get back to duty – do what I’ve done too – I’m not the only one.”
During the run we talked about raspberry soufflé, running, kids, donut-eaters watching amputees run, movies, installing a swing in Christy’s apartment to get to the bathroom…anything that might keep the pain off Christy’s mind. We would run for a while, walk for a while. We stopped once to put a new sock in her leg (since the legs get really sweaty especially the first year). “I know you hate me,” Alicia said, “but once we get to the stop sign, we’re running up that hill.” According to Christy, she cried the last two miles. But I didn’t see tears…I saw a fighter who doesn’t know the word quit. As painful as it was, she just kept moving forward one step at a time. After we finished she said it was the hardest thing she’s ever done. But she did it! The same day she got her running leg, she ran/walked six miles. Alicia said running is the only way to get better at running. If that’s true, Christy is well on her way to conquering this as well!
Tim’s family (Jerry, Susan, and Austin) greeted us in the center after the run. That night we had Mexican food on the San Antonio Riverwalk with Tim’s family where the ladies were serenaded by a Mexican band. We couldn’t help but laugh when they started singing “My Girl” to us instead of a more Hispanic song.
Day 4: Saturday
Saturday Tim, Jerry, Susan, Austin, Christy, and I rented inner tubes and floated the Guadeloupe River. For those of you who have never done this, “floating the river” is usually pretty relaxing since the river does most of the work. On the sunny Saturday afternoon we had plenty of beer, saw many turtles and passed quite a few groups singing along to country songs. When we hit the rapids, Susan got caught but Tim helped her out (at the expense of losing his shoe). Toward the end, we also got to swing into the river (which I’ll talk about more below).
Obviously, there are constant challenges in Christy’s day (ie: her leg not working, having to hop to the bathroom in the middle of the night, tripping while running, sore stump, falling, and lack of sleep due to pain). And although she might be frustrated, she doesn’t show it for long before moving on.
As roommates, Christy and I loved to be busy and loved to be around people (hence our Ice-cream Wednesday gatherings). We hardly had time to ourselves until after ACQ (Academic Call to Quarters). At 10 pm all cadets closed their doors to go to sleep while Christy and I stayed up late doing homework and handstands.
There were times throughout my trip when I realized that Christy’s life here in San Antonio has probably forced her to slow down….as much as you can slow this girl down. My trip also forced me to slow down. During the trip I caught myself wondering how I’d cope under the same circumstances. I don’t think I’d handle it with such class. “Do people ever just break down crying in the middle of the center?” I asked Christy. “No…I’ve never seen that,” she responded. Christy went on to tell me that she tries not to think about those things that might make her sad but just stays focused on getting healthy enough to leave. Her statement reminded me of the advice a fellow patient gave her when she first arrived (which is written on one of the many inspirational post-it notes she has scattered throughout her house): “Don’t for one second long for what you were, but recklessly pursue what you can become.”
As we floated the river, we saw a rope tied to a tree next to the river. People were swinging and jumping from the rope into the river. Naturally, Christy joined the fun. On her second jump she and Tim made a split-second decision to go at the same time (yes, on the same rope!) On the way home, Christy made some comment like she “just wants to be normal.” I had to laugh. I said, “Christy! Most people with TWO legs wouldn’t have done what you did today!” In my opinion, Christy will never be normal, not because she only has one leg, but because that’s just who she is: a crazy, fun, brave, determined, beautiful, inspiring individual.
On the way to the Guadeloupe River Saturday, Christy went into Starbucks while Tim and I got Subway. She came out and said, “Guys, I got lots of stairs in Starbucks today.” I was so confused. “Did they have a balcony or basement in that Starbucks?” I asked. With Christy’s constant focus on trying to get better at walking up stairs, I heard STAIRS (even though she meant STARES). That being said, I think she believes that sometimes the opportunities that she encounters by not hiding outweigh the insecurities she gets from the stares.
Early on in the visit, Christy told me her theory on bearing her prosthetic leg (rather than hiding it) in public. She told me that when she flys, she makes the conscious decision to wear shorts. “It’s a great conversation-starter,” she said. She explained that it also opens doors for opportunities — many leading to conversations about her foundation, (to help get prosthetics for children in need of them). Rather than being ashamed, she is finding ways to embrace her new path and run with it (literally and figuratively).
“Your results are the product of either personal focus or personal distractions. The choice is yours.”
-John Di Lemme
I think it’s clear which path Christy has chosen – that of determination and FOCUS.