And That’s the Way It (Really) Is

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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  • Vicki

    Hi Jan

    Glad to have you back with us. I particularly appreciate hearing the “how it is really” bits. Makes things worse – and better. Worse because it’s all too easy to picture myself in that position, and better because I know that at least one other soul out there is really coping.

    I do know about the “how many strapping men does it take to screw in a – er – pick up a large lady.” I had a fall a few months back, after we established that I was not going to be able to pick myself up (left leg present but not functioning that day) we rang for help. I nerved myself to say, “send some good strong men – I’m on the large side.” It was a good job they didn’t need four – there wasn’t anywhere for that many to stand!

    So, if you can stand it, (forgive the metaphor – I don’t think I manage to watch them) keep telling us about how you manage. Some of us can do with the reminder that [a] it really is worth taking care of these bits of your body and [b] that when things get bad, most people cope, and some, like you, cope well.

    And on days when you’re not coping, tell us that too – if good wishes and moral support help, then you’ll get it.

  • Karen

    Your blog made me laugh and cry! When I count the blessings in my life this Thanksgiving, I am going to count you twice! KC

  • jim snell

    Best wishes and good luck. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

    I went through very similar exp when I had my stroke knocking out my balance right side.

    I spent 30 days in hospital as my hospital crew taught me to walk again using my thinking brain, balance section of lizard brain got knocked out my right side balance,.

    Trapped in wheel chair learning all the fine arts of potty transfer from wheel chair to potty and back.

    Just as you described. Three years later I am now stronger and doing better. Along the way I solved my diabetes problems with my Doctor’s help and scrounging webb looking for usefull comment among all the Dick and Jane reader puff pastry of some well known folks who should know better.

  • Deb

    So glad the surgery went well and you are coping so well already! I’m sure your sense of humor has a lot to do with that. And when that doesn’t do the trick, tears are a good release, too.
    Despite the learning curve and the losses, this is sure to be a happy Thanksgiving for you and yours as you take a step forward into a new phase of life.
    Keep telling us the reality of all of it, Jan. We appreciate you for that and so much more.

  • Mary

    Jan – I simply am in “awe” of you and how you manage to face life’s difficulties that have been thrown your way. I can’t wait to read your blog each week, partly because of your humor and partly because you really do tell the reality of this crazy disease we share. I am sure that your desire to be as independent as possible and finding humor in almost any situation will serve you well in the months ahead. You are one incredible lady … wish I knew you personally!! Take best of care … we are all routing for you!!

  • Beth

    I love your survivor’s spirit. As we used to say back in the ’60’s — Keep on Truckin’ Jan!


  • Joye

    So wonderful to hear that you are coping so well. Your sense of humor and attitude are a big part of that coping, I know. I’ve been praying for you; for the surgery and for your ability to create a new “normal” (whatever that is, I haven’t figured that out yet, myself).
    Keep us posted. God bless you.

  • Fran

    I was so glad to hear from you. I thought about you last week wondering how you took the surgery. Your humor is your saving grace. It took me 2 1/4
    toes on the left foot to get the humor in the situation. I got lucky I had surgeons who took a chance on me, when I unreliable and other drs thought I needed permanent convalescent care. Thank you for sharing your life with us and providing a platform for us diabetics to deal with our emotions as well as our health.

  • Lorraine

    Glad to hear that the surgery went well. We have to hope for that. I have 2 legs and still can;t get up if I fall. Last time I fell in the apt hallway it took two strong people to get me on my feet again. So now I walk very carefully and love my cane. I know that you will make it as I have been reading your blog for a couple of years. So good luck and wishing you all the best in your travels from the bed to the potty. Remember we must keep our sense of humour.
    Regards Lorraine

  • Cathy A.

    Jan, you are a blessing to all of us. Thank you for the positive attitude. It is contageous.