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And That’s the Way It (Really) Is

Jan Chait

November 23, 2010

Reality doesn’t always match the images in our minds. Take my presurgery planning, for example. I got a potty chair that fit over the toilet, with safety-rail “arms.”

“I’ll ride my scooter into the bathroom,” I told myself, “stand up, pivot around, and sit down.”

The reality? I couldn’t even slide from the bed onto a bedside potty chair. Fuhgeddabout standing up (on one leg), pivoting, and sitting down — then doing it in reverse after finishing my business.

What I do use is a transfer board. Well, except for Friday night, when the board was out of reach, the walker was out of reach, and I didn’t want to disturb my husband, so decided I could just scoot from bed to potty and back.

It took four big, strapping firefighters to pick me up off the floor and deposit me back on the bed.

The hospital I was in gives its patients a fleece throw. I got a bright yellow one. There was a reason: I had almost fallen my second time on my feet…er, foot…getting back to bed from the potty chair. If you fall (or almost fall) you get a bright yellow throw prominently displayed on your bed. I call it the “Yellow Blankie of Shame.” Seriously, it does signal to your caretakers that you might need a little extra help.

Anyway, with a transfer board, you put one end under your tush and the other end on whatever you’re transferring to, then “butt-walk” from where you are to where you’re going. Like from the bed to the potty chair.

Oh, and transfer boards require that the entities you’re going to and from don’t have arms. Did I mention the first potty chair we bought had arms? (Did you see that “first?”)

I got into my favorite chair on Saturday, but had the devil’s own time getting back out of it. I’m looking forward to having my therapy person teach me some tricks about that. I did get a giggle out of the fact that my favorite chair, which is a recliner, now truly has a “foot” rest. (Yes, I have a strange sense of humor. You may as well laugh, right? Doesn’t do you any good not to.)

Learning how to get from my scooter onto my shower transfer seat so I can take a shower will be good. I’m sure the rest of my family will appreciate it, too!

I’m feeling remarkably well, both physically and emotionally. I figured a long time ago that you may as well accept some of the things you don’t want to deal with. If it has to be done, no matter how onerous, you just hold your breath, jump in, and do it. I’m frustrated now, but know that I’ve already gotten better at some things and will continue to advance in my abilities to get around.

Will I get depressed about it later on? Who knows? I still remember in my early days of diabetes checking my glucose and thinking, “I have to do this the rest of my life?” And yet I’ve survived, and learned, and believe I cope quite well today. Not all of the time, but most of it, and that’s all I can ask for.

As for the surgery itself, the last thing I remember before waking up in my room was being transferred to the operating table. That was after receiving a nerve block in my leg by very handsome doctor with a Jewish last name. I believe I asked if he could wait for my granddaughter.

The first day, I had a cramp in the back of my leg. I think it was the part that wasn’t there, but I’m not sure. Because of the nerve block, I was feeling no pain where the amputation took place — about four or five inches below my knee. That was it for phantom pain. (Knock wood.)

For the first couple of days, when I laid on my side and put my left leg (the one with the amputation) on top of my right one, my left leg floated up as though it was filled with helium. Or maybe it just felt that way.

I still believe I have a foot. I can feel it. I just can’t wiggle my toes. When I got home, I propped my leg up with my “foot” on the bed and, miraculously, a nice, soft hole appeared in the mattress for my lower leg to fit into. Those soft little holes always appear in just the right place when I need one.

There are things to be thankful for in all of this. For advances in medical techniques and technologies that allow for more normal lives. For caretakers, friends, and family who perform tasks for you that you’re temporarily unable to and who bring you home-cooked meals. For friends who send you flowers and cards and post comments on your blogs. For still having a mother who, at the age of nearly 82, is flying in today to see for herself that her daughter really is OK.

And I really am. Reality is nothing like I imagined in many ways, including how I would handle having a life-altering surgery.



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