How Does Your Garden Grow: Rebecca’s Story

Six years ago, Magee planted a seed.

I had been hit by a truck while riding my bicycle to work. As a result, I had my left leg amputated above the knee and suffered many other internal injuries. In a split-second, my life came to a screeching halt, and I landed in a medical world I never knew existed. Everything was different — the medications I needed, the way I moved, and how I could no longer do things for myself. Even my body was different. I could barely look at my leg, and I suffered from pain in a limb that no longer existed. All I could see in my future were hospitals, wheelchairs, and bandages. I had no idea how I’d ever find my place in this strange, uncomfortable world, or how I would ever find “a new normal.”

One afternoon just before Christmas 2010, I sat in my room – in my wheelchair – at Magee. That was a bad day. My phantom limb pain soared out of control. My toes felt like they were squished underneath my knee, and my little leg radiated like it was on fire. I had stomach pains too, lingering effects of all my abdominal injuries. That’s when Physical Therapist Patrice found me crying in my room, in the midst of an anxious meltdown.

I was late for PT, and she’d come to get me. As she pushed my wheelchair toward the therapy gym, we passed a large room where patients were gardening. We both glanced inside.

“Do you want to plant something?” Patrice asked. All I could do was nod.

Patrice wheeled me up to the table. Someone handed me a dish with snowflakes on it. Someone else handed me a Christmas cactus. I started digging in the soil.

Before I knew it, I had joined in the conversation. Two other patients, Val and Zach, offered ideas for decorating my mini-landscape. We passed around pine-cones, and red stones, and little bells. My hands got busy. So did my mind.

Rebecca’s Christmas cactus, still blooming six years later!

It was amazing how something so small could feel so purposeful. So normal. How something as simple as gardening could soothe my pain.

I was fortunate to come to Magee for my rehabilitation, both inpatient and outpatient. I received physical therapy, occupational therapy, art therapy, horticultural therapy, and counseling. Over time, I was fitted with a prosthetic leg and learned to walk again. (And if that weren’t enough, my therapists taught me to ride my bike and rollerblade, too!) Gradually, I went back to work and returned to independent living. With the support and compassion of the therapists, doctors, and nurses, I learned how to care for my new body — not only to look at it, but to love it again.

Now I’m proud to be a lifelong member of the Magee community. I attend the Wellness Program at Magee Riverfront. I also volunteer as an Amputee Peer Mentor to support new amputees who are just beginning their own journeys as patients. With the help of Magee, I’ve grown back into myself and found a “new normal.”

If you’ve been to Magee lately, you’ve probably noticed all the buzz. The Creative Therapy Center and Healing Garden is almost finished. I can’t wait to see how it grows! (Like that cactus seedling I planted six years ago which is still blooming today!)

The Creative Therapy Center and Healing Garden will be a place where patients can escape the hospital walls, feel useful and productive, and occupy their bodies and minds. It will be a place where they can express their feelings through horticulture and art as they build community with one other and the outside world. I expect, most of all, it will be a place where patients can dig past their pain and transform it into peace.

Magee teaches us to believe in a way back. When we don’t where to start, Magee plants the seed. We learn that, by starting small, we can grow tall again, branch out, and reach toward the sky. In the face of life’s biggest challenges, Magee empowers us to BLOOM.

To learn more about Horticultural Therapy at Magee, click here. March 19-25, 2017 is National Horticultural Therapy Week.

Guest author: Rebecca Levenberg, former Magee patient. Read more from Rebecca on her blog.

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