Category Archives: my story

pain management

I check my list and lean on my cart. There’s that familiar flutter, the anticipation of it’s going to get worse and I’m stuck. I’m here to buy groceries and the pain in my legs is explosive. I could desert my cart and drive home, but we need food. I began the shopping trip okay, my legs cramping but tolerable. And then the ache crept, grew bigger and I have three more aisles to go.

Butter, sour cream, milk go into my cart. My left leg feels squishy and I know there’s blood pooling in my liner. (A liner is made up of silicone which goes over my leg and then fits into the protheses.) What I need is some privacy; to take off my legs, ease the pressure and clean up the blood. I have to get to checkout.

One step. Two steps. Twenty steps. A hundred steps.

My hands shake as I plunk every item onto the conveyor belt. Fast and careless. While I pay I look for a restroom sign and there it is; a beacon. Public washrooms are gross and they’ve become my safe haven.

I roll my full cart into the handicapped stall. I sit down hard. Legs off, shoulders sagging, my head in my hands; I wait. Until the throbbing subsides. Pain is a second heartbeat. A ragged pulse.

I grab toilet paper to catch the dripping blood before it reaches the floor. There’s a scrape, a shuffle outside the door. Deep breath. I slide everything back on, biting my lip as the liner rolls over the open wound. Opening the door, I apologize to the woman with her baby for taking so long. For a quick second I think maybe I should explain. But. No time. No strength.

She smiles. “No, no. That’s okay.” Her sincerity, my weariness almost makes me cry. Now I have to get to my car.

One step, three steps, a thousand steps. I still have to drive home. 15 minutes of torment until I reach sanctuary.

Since being burnt and losing my feet due to a horrific car crash 17 years ago I have dealt with chronic skin breakdown and pain. There are days of reprieve. I’ve even had weeks of reprieve, but my skin breaks down, I get different liners, new prosthetic legs, and pain resurfaces. Distress is never far away.

A few short years ago I wrote a book. A memoir with a cover and publisher and title and everything! There were book signings and television spots, months of feeling like the luckiest woman in the world.

I was invited to speak more. My kids began to grow up, turning into people with lives of their own. Life got busy. My legs were an ongoing problem. Battling infections. Energy waning. A bad week spiraled into a bad month and then it was, “it’s been a bad year and a half. Oh, um, I guess it’s been two years now.” There didn’t seem to be an end. Bad legs became bad health. My body couldn’t cope. There were frequent visits to doctors. Blood drawn. Priorities changed.

Careful with my time and energy, my life is a forced list of capabilities. There’s little room for extra. I’m fine until I’m not. Each day is different. When it’s a good day, I’m grateful and I go with it – no analyzing. Walking. Seeing a friend. Going to work. Yay! Unless I’m obviously limping or I tell you “my health is for shit”, most people will assume I’m alright. I want to be okay. Because I’m over it. I am so sick of being sick. You get tired of explaining. My complaints on Facebook would look like this:

Legs hurt. Again. Please send chocolate.

In bed. Watching Downton. How cute are Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes?? (I did text that to a friend.)

Full thickness wound. Boo.:(

Really missing morphine! #nostalgic

On prednisone for some weird immune thing. I’m allergic to myself. Feeling manic. (For those of you who have had the delightful/disturbing experience of being on that steroid you get this.)

I put out the happy stuff, not because I’m lying about my life but because these issues can be consuming and my life has other parts – lightness, sweetness. The bad cannot outweigh the good. My family. A great book. A dancey Annie. A funny, weird thing Ben said. Good friends. The TV I’m obsessed with. If I’m not driving or working, I’m resting. I don’t have a choice. I have to go to bed. That gets old fast.

So, what is the point of writing this?

To fill you in, to catch you up on where I’ve been. This is what’s happening. I felt I owed it to you guys, to the kind people who followed me on this journey of writing. I was around until I wasn’t. To say I’m so sorry to my writerly friends that I haven’t been around.

To tell those of you who deal with chronic, persistent anything that you are not alone. As children we’re told we can do anything and we grow up to discover that might not be true. We have limits. We’re told to push past and soar. Sure, yes, sometimes that’s possible. But. Sometimes in order to thrive we need to acknowledge our limits – not in defeat but with acceptance. Sometimes it’s worthwhile to say this is hard. In the muck of it all I can still see the good and make the most of living. Because there is so much good.

 

a very fancy feet Christmas sale

FANCY FEET has been busy, thanks to many of you! Book signings have been successful and so much fun. One of my favorite stores to visit was Third Place Books in Seattle. Shelves lined with beautiful first editions served as my backdrop as I read from my book to a lovely group of people including some supportive writerly friends. I shared a green room with The Wiggles just before my interview at Breakfast Television. I was reunited with 2 of my 4 rescuers at a BC Professional Fire Fighters burn fund event. Between driving my kids around, tackling my laundry, signing the one hundred and sixteenth school form and panicking over a too-big ballet costume for Annie, I’ll open my inbox to find kind messages like this one:

Hi Heidi
I want to thank you for sharing your amazing story. I just finished reading on my Kindle and was so sorry to reach the end. I felt like a dear friend had left. Best read I have had in a long time, your outlook is a great example to follow.
I wish you and your family the very best!
Jacqui

It has been an incredible few months and I am very grateful. Many dreams have come true.

AND, if you can believe it, the holiday season is almost here and I am having a FANCY FEET Christmas sale! Check out the reduced prices of my books here. I will also happily sign your books!

774_620111178053295_696701484_nHere I am standing with my heroes, 2 of the 4 Abbotsford firefighters who rescued me 15 years ago.

so. this happened.

Scott and I were on our way to a Fancy Feet book signing when I got an email from my publisher with the subject: Are you sitting down?

This has to be good news because I don’t think my editor would send me an email full of bad news with that subject. If it’s bad you use a generic subject like Hey or be super direct: Your life is about to take a turn for the worse.

Confident this was good news, I opened the email and found this gem. “I have some wonderful news for you. Consortium, our distributor, got a Kindle Big Deal for Fancy Feet. It will sell for $1.99 from 10/11-10/27 and is one of only 1,000 titles to be picked. It will be in Amazon’s promotional email and on the website and Kindle devices, of course.”

I read it out loud to Scott. “This is pretty cool, right?” I’m a little slow when it comes to good news.

That deal begins today! You can download my book at Amazon for $1.99 from October 11th to October 27th.

Thank you to all of you who have been so supportive, so wonderful about Fancy Feet. I have received such thoughtful and kind messages. Thank you to those of you who have shared your stories and trusted me with a piece of your heart. I’m honored by everyone’s generosity and grace. It’s Thanksgiving for we Canadians and I am going into this weekend with a whole lot to be thankful for.

my first reading

I pick up my book with trembling hands. “Thank you for being here. I’ve been speaking for the burn fund for a long time. Whenever I’m with you guys and our fire fighters it feels like coming home.”

Deep breath.

“I’m going to read you a little of chapter 12 called ‘Home for Christmas’.”

Deep breath. My hands are still shaking. Keep still. But my hands won’t hear me.

I begin to read aloud from page 63. “Tinsel, wreaths and garlands…” On a hot July evening I read about going home for Christmas after being in the burn unit for 6 months. In front of me is a small audience of fire fighters and burn fund supporters. We’re on a large boat, big enough to hold many people, serve dinner, and pick up a gaggle of campers waiting on an island for us as we make our way across the ocean.

It’s quiet as I read. There is a smattering of applause when Peter is mentioned. Peter is the fire fighter who drove me home when snow had fallen hard in the Lower Mainland, making the roads slick and dangerous. My voice is steady but my hands continue to shake. This is the first time I have read my book aloud to a group of people. For years I’ve spoken to audiences large and small, telling my story, and I have never been this nervous, this raw.

I finish reading on page 66. I look up. “Thank you. I’m so happy to be here. Thank you for listening.”

People are smiling and clapping. I look at my family, at Scott and my kids. Annie and Ben have never heard me give a speech. They’re too young to read my book, but they came with me today. I wanted them to be here, to be a part of what I do and meet kids who have suffered, who are spending a week at camp to have fun and be free. Ben jumps up from his chair. “Good speech, Mommy!” He wraps his arms around me tight. I squeeze him back, hard. “Thanks buddy.” I return to my seat beside Annie. Tears shine in her eyes. “Mommy, some of that was so sad. It makes me sad.” I pull her to me, rest my chin on the top of her head and breathe her in, shampoo and sunshine. “It’s okay. I know. But there is a happy ending.”

Swept up
in the incredible people of the BC Professional Fire Fighters burn fund

1082731_10152075690059202_159081274_n1085225_10152075690064202_1643917081_nThis photo of these lovely women reading my book was snapped and sent to me. The second photo was taken on the Burn Fund Cruise where I did my very first reading and signing.

fancy feet: turning my tragedy into hope

I had just dropped off a van full of kids at the pool on a school field trip when I decided I needed a coffee because everyone needs caffeine on a field trip. Home isn’t far, so I made my way there to make my extra dry cappuccino. I opened the door and found Scott in the kitchen. He pointed to a box on the counter. “Your books are here! I wanted to open it, but I thought I should wait for you.”

My books. My heart caught in my throat. Instead of tearing open the box, I circled it. “Go ahead. You can open it.”

Scott ripped open the box and picked up a book. I stared at them. Stacked neatly, one on top of the other, Fancy Feet: turning my tragedy into hope. My sparkly red shoes on every cover. My words on each page. I picked up a book, opened it, and shut it. Chapter 1, 15, 28…Acknowledgments. Uneasiness formed a hard knot in my stomach. I looked over at Scott who had begun to read the book. “You’re reading it now?”

“Yeah. This is awesome. We’ve been waiting a long time for this. Don’t you want to?”

I grabbed my phone and snapped a picture. Because I’m supposed to capture this moment. My book is here. It’s here! I’m supposed to be excited, but I’m not. I’m nervous. Apprehensive. Will people like my book? I snapped a photo of the box of books and posted it to Facebook. “A case of books! That I wrote.”

That hard knot of apprehension bloomed and then slowly shrank as your comments and emails and texts made their way to me sharing in my good news. Because this was good news. In the midst of worry, I’d forgotten this was good news, great news. I wrote a manuscript that became a book that got published. I’m an author.

A few friends and family who picked up early copies gave me more good news. I received texts like this one from my friend Jenn: “Just had to choke back tears at end of chapter 8. It’s so intimate, vulnerable and brave. You just let the reader feel with you. It’s beautiful.” And there were a few back and forth texts from my friend Tanya who said: “The book is so you. All I hear is you.” A request was made to the library for my book which will be a neighborhood’s book club choice. A dream come true.

The hard knot in my stomach disappeared and I felt gratitude, relief, and, finally, a sliver of excitement. People like my book. They’re seeing what I want for them to see. Through burns, amputations, the loss of a best friend, enduring more than 20 surgeries and a trial, there was hope. Hope was there from the beginning, woven through my entire journey, and here today.

I am thrilled to announce that you can pre-order my book today! For a sneak peek of Fancy Feet and purchasing a signed copy or finding other buying options look here. Can you hear my squeal of joy?

one day

She was still, her hands in her lap. Tears streaked her face as she told me her story about loss and aching sadness, loneliness that met her everywhere she went. The sun didn’t shine for her anymore. Life was too much, hard and hollow. “I’m trying to fight, to have hope. But, I can’t. I don’t know how to do this anymore. My family is gone.”

I had told my story on a stage that evening to hundreds of people. 20 minutes of how my life fell apart and how I picked up the pieces. Afterward men and women made their way to me and shared their stories of fallen pieces. Some spoke haltingly, the words stuck in their throats. Other losses spilled out fast, fast. My sister, my baby, my husband. Blindsided by tragedy. They lifted their heads. They wanted to know. “When did it get better for you?”

I couldn’t give them a definite answer. There wasn’t a timeline. I just knew that one day I began to feel better, lighter. Sorrow didn’t disappear, but joy found me. I could laugh, a body-shaking laugh, and I felt that joy and sorrow could exist together, side by side. I didn’t have an explanation of how or why, only that it was true. One day it wasn’t only about what I had lost, but what I had learned. One day I didn’t wake up and wish I could return to the numbness of sleep and shut out a world I didn’t want to be a part of. One day I made peace with my scars and saw them as a map of what I had fought for and how far I’d come.

As we sat across from each other, one by one, knees to knees, sharing heartache and hope, I told them it is possible to get to the other side where the pain isn’t as wide, so deep. The only way to get there is to go through. You did not ask for what happened, but you are capable. You cannot hear one more person talk about ‘the journey’ without growing nauseous, yet you go on. You fight because your life is worth living. You find strength you didn’t know you had. It surprises you, this strength. You will carry it with you and one day you’ll give your strength to someone who needs it. You hang on because you are loved. Have hope even though you’re afraid. You have days where you are angry, so angry it blurs your vision and crushes your chest, but one day it won’t be anger that fuels you. There is more for you than this. Because you’re not a victim. You’re a survivor.

swept up

in my new nephew Brennan! I just want to squeeze him. All the time. This sweet photograph was taken by my friend Lesley.

the gift of words

I love words. Some words beg to be used in sentences, like vast and belligerent. Whimsical is as sweet as it sounds. There are words I enjoy because of what they mean like hope and ecstatic and mindful. They draw you in. I like fancy and delightful because it’s fancy and delightful. I play with words, shuffle them around until they become significant, revelatory. In our house we have words we make up like numptyhead. In our car you could hear, “What a numptyhead!” It’s a nice alternative to idiot when someone cuts you off.

Every year I choose a word to point to, something to steady me when my world gets uneven. Like Charlotte spinning words into her web, it becomes a banner, a guiding star. For a long time it was Perseverance. For two years my life was caught up in that word. Then I slowly worked through Overcome.  One year I pursued Generosity. Then Hope…recently Belief. This year a word found me. I pondered the many words in front of me and shook them as if they were contained in a snow globe.  They whirled and floated and settled. One tiny word winked at me on its way down. Shine.

I wouldn’t normally take on a word like that. A small word that packs a punch. It’s a word that deserves attention, a stage. It’s daring. It implies more. Shine wants to be explored and I suspect it’s attached to this manuscript I’ve been working on for three years. Soon I’ll be able to hold my book in my hands and I’ll feel the weight of my words, the heft of my horror, my undoing, and then my redemption. My wish is that these words will make someone feel less alone and fill them with possibility.

Shine is about ownership of a life I claimed 14 years ago. I said yes to life when death came for me. I turned from despair and chose hope and love. I spent a long time fighting, changing and accepting. Today, now, this year instead of something to strive for or aspire to, I wonder if Shine will be my gift.

What about you? Do you have words that guide you or words that beg for your attention?

where I’m at

I’m tap, tap, tapping into a small space inside me marked crash. It doesn’t take up as much room as it used to, but it’s a room that holds remarkable power. Once you step inside, it’s bigger than it appears, stuffed with old emotion and the unexplored under a thick layer of dust. When your editor tells you to let the reader in, that I need to dig deep; I have to open the door wide, shed my armor, and dust off emotion I haven’t touched in 12 years.

When you do something crazy like write a memoir everything is fair game, up for grabs. I understand the advice now to make sure there is enough distance between you and the subject you’re tackling, so one has perspective and prevents further harm. I couldn’t have written this manuscript ten years ago because it would have been too soon. I wouldn’t have been ready. Memoir is about honesty. Not just telling the truth, but being naked, exposing you to the reader. Here are my darkest thoughts. This is what devastation looks like. This is how heartbreak tastes. And then you have to craft it, find a creative way to say it. You don’t get to cover up with facts, lessons, and a smiley face.

Along the writer way I failed in some of the details, in the ‘going there’. I didn’t explain why I felt this way or I made statements about pain with little to back it up. So I’m at it again with the notes and sound advice of my editor, a wonderful woman who knows her stuff. This week I am writing about the driver. The driver of the vehicle that broadsided us. You know. That guy. I’ve been devoted to not discussing him, armor on, so he can’t creep in. Because he’s done enough. I forgave him long ago and I don’t want to give him more of my life. But, he’s a part of the story, a significant character. I can’t skim over the details, over him. The reader doesn’t know the story. You don’t know how I reached my conclusions and why I made my choices. The short answer is survival, but the long answer is what belongs in the book. I need to let the reader in. My job as author is not to guide you through the story, but to bring you in through all the senses and for you to feel what I felt. It means in order to let you in, I need to let the driver in.

So, when I am not working on Annie’s ballet costume (if you know me you know how funny that is) and terrified I’m becoming a Dance Mom, or catching up on laundry because my son is walking around naked in search of clean underwear, you’ll find me at the computer, hunched over, trying to shine a light on the dark places.

swept up

in a compelling story and beautiful writing. I read The Secret Keeper over the holidays and just fell in love with it.

for the love of writing

The day I knew I had to write my heart was in my throat, tears in my eyes, as I took refuge in my car.

I’m in over my head.

But.

I want this.

After completing the first day of a course on writing autobiography, in the obscurity of underground parking and a racing heart, I was hit with fear and love. All at once, I knew there was more.

I fell in love with words a long time ago. Sprawled on my bed reading just one more page before I had to turn out the light. Hiding novels inside text books at school. Excited by every creative writing assignment. I felt abandoned each time a great book ended until I found another. Words comforted, brought revelation and moved me to higher ground.

Before the writing course I began a blog on a dare. Fancy Feet became an online corner to store my thoughts and musings on life until it became more. I had been telling my story to people on behalf of the BC Professional Fire Fighters burn fund, speaking to groups large and small about a 23 year old girl who was in a massive car crash on June 12, 1998. She lost her best friend, suffered burns to her body, the burns so severe her legs needed to be amputated. It was a story of survival and hope, and it began to find its way to my blog. My audience grew, people were interested.

Come join me at Erin Margolins’ blog: The Road to My Writer Roots where you can read the rest of my post. Erin, who is just so lovely, kind and talented (you’ll want to get to know her), invited me to write about writing, and I thoroughly enjoyed looking back on this writing journey and how much has happened since I began my blog 4 years ago. I am honored to be there with her today.

14 years ago

On June 12, 1998 my life changed in an instant. I’d heard that statement in an instant many times – on the news, in the papers. I didn’t know it could reach me. In an instant is something that happens to someone else. One second found me. Calculated by engineers, they read the marks on the road, assessed the damage to the cars and the curb, determining how my life changed. This speed, the percentage, my life summed up or reduced by a number.

I looked both ways before crossing the street like I’d been taught. A lifetime of looking both ways and checking for danger and it didn’t matter this time. I crossed the street, the sun setting, not seeing anyone as I left the safety of the stop sign. And then. There it was. That instant. It slammed into Betty and I, pushed us off the road and into a ravine. On impact Betty died. I was trapped upside down as my car burned and I waited and waited, pleading for someone to rescue me.

As one life left this earth another began. One I didn’t see coming. We hear that, too. I didn’t see this coming. Nothing could prepare me for what I didn’t see coming and what came later. The after. The unraveling, the pain, the loss. My life ripped apart. That night, with a signature and the heartache of my family, a surgeon took my body apart to save me.

When the first anniversary loomed near, I dreaded it, hating a date which reminded me of that instant. Anniversaries were supposed to be special, celebratory. My best friend gone, 20 surgeries and 2 prosthetic legs later, how was I still here undone by one day, by one second?

The second year I went for bigger, bolder. Let’s make this better! I decided to go hang-gliding. I wanted to be off the ground, in the blue sky. This will make it different. I was after a moment, an exhilarating moment. June 12 is the day I went hang-gliding! Except that I got sick. It was exciting climbing toward the sky until we reached it and my stomach began to turn. I shouted in the wind, to the instructor I was strapped to just inches below me, “I’m air-sick. I forget I get air-sick.” He said, “What? Why didn’t you take anything? Are you going to be okay?” “Um, no, I’m going to throw up if we don’t get back down.” I concentrated on not vomiting all over this guy until we landed and I could plant my feet on the ground. I threw up into a bush.

The first 2 anniversaries family and friends called, remembering with me. As every summer drew near, heat and invincibility making everyone drive faster, my heart raced. You don’t know how your lives can change. Careful, careful. As another and then another June 12th arrived, there were fewer calls and fuller lives. Distance grew between that day and I, too. There was less pull, less gravity as the day approached. Because I am here. Because I fought hard. Because I am living.

Today, June 12 is closer, somehow. I’ve been re-living my story as I write it over and over again. This is the year I swallowed my fear and pitched my story out loud. This is the year I signed a contract to have my story published, a signature marking a new beginning rather than an ending. It will be another kind of anniversary. The anniversary that something beautiful, something epic happened.

read to be read at yeahwrite.me