I’m not the kind of person to share details of my life with the world, and in the past it may have been suggested that I’m a bit of a closed book. A couple of times. But after much persuasion I have come round to see the value in sharing my experiences.
Three months ago, I had an elective below knee amputation. That is to say, I chose to have my right foot removed from just over half way up my calf.
From being an outdoorsy, just do it kind of person who enjoyed being active and in particular skiing, swimming and riding, I made a decision that would lead to me being faced with the reality of having to learn to walk, run, cycle etc. all over again. It was a risk, there were no guarantees that it would work, that I wouldn’t get an infection, that I wouldn’t be in more pain than I was before, that I wouldn’t have problems that might lead to it being taken off higher up – which is a completely different ball game. There was fear of the unknown, fear that I would injure myself in the night due to my persistent sleepwalking habit, trepidation getting back on skis and uncertainty when doing things like swimming and having to bare my leg and then bumshuffle into the pool. I entered a new phase of my life in which everything was new, strange and rather more complicated than it was before, but these minor inconveniences were far outweighed by the chance of living a pretty much pain free life doing everything that I want to do. That door leading to a world full of possibilities that had got too heavy to open, is now firmly jammed open wide.
This of course was not really the beginning, and followed six years of trouble. Multiple operations to try and fix my errant foot had not done the job, all they had given me was a reason to spend a lot of time in hospital, the chance to try out a huge variety of horrific painkillers and they’d had a good go at sapping the joy from my life. Ultimately there was never any question for me over whether it was the right thing to do – it was lose a leg, or lose a life.
I want people to understand that and how, for me, it is actually a very positive thing. I hate the thought of anyone feeling sorry for me for one minute. Yes, some days are harder than others – when it’s fitting badly, or I’ve been walking (or more likely skiing/running/drinking) too much and it’s sore, or NHS bureaucracy is getting in the way of my fun. That’s all frustrating. There will always be bad days, but there are also good days – great days in fact and they by far outnumber the bad ones. I know it’s difficult for others to get their heads around and of course it is, I’ve lost a bit of my leg – how could that ever be a good thing?! I read books about grief pre-op and wondered when the sadness was going to hit me and how I’d cope when it did. After a few weeks I began to understand why I wasn’t feeling like that, why I wasn’t overwhelmed with emotion and why that sadness never came. I’d already lost it a long time ago and the only losses that came out of amputation were the loss of pain, of desperation, of hopelessness and the loss of the one thing that was causing me to lose my life. So there really was nothing to grieve. What might have been had this never happened? That’s not really something that’s important to me, because what might have been would never have been any better than life is now, like this. I haven’t been damaged by having my foot amputated. I do only have one real foot, but for me having two real feet was hugely overrated.
So now here I am. I’ve got a prosthetic leg (two, in fact, interchangeable for different purposes – one pretty one made of carbon fibre, and my initial basic, plastic leg which is currently serving as a ski leg). I am already reaping the benefits – the main ones being that I now only get one cold foot when skiing, have a hugely expanded medical and prosthetic vocabulary (have just about mastered saying the word prosthetist) and have the knowledge of what a vacuum is and how it works (n.b. different to a vacuum cleaner – I don’t think I’ll ever gain any knowledge about them, sorry if you’re someone that wants me to do some cleaning, but I’ve only got one leg… I can use that as an excuse right??). I’m walking, exercising, and living pretty much normally. But this is just the start of my adventures with my leg.
In the UK there seems to be very little information for someone who has had an amputation and wishes to be active, and even less about elective amputation, but it is something that is increasing massively due to the emphasis on patient choice and the advances in prosthetics. I hope I can share what I’ve learnt and what I might go on to learn. And that it might be useful to someone else.Follow @onelegdontcare