Life-Changing Anniversary Coming up Fast

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“Do you want to move over (onto the operating table) by yourself, or would you like us to do it for you?” somebody — the surgeon? — asked.

“Would you do it for me, please?” I responded.

And that’s the last I remember until I woke up in my room, minus the lower part of my left leg.

It had been a journey of close to two years to that point; a journey that began with a ruptured Achilles tendon and encompassing five surgeries, a bone infection that kept growing throughout my foot and then starting up my leg, MRSA, Klebsiella (another superbug), C. diff (a bacterial intestinal infection), and enough antibiotics to cure an infection covering the population of Rhode Island.

The amputation was surgery number six. Tomorrow (November 16) will be the first anniversary of that surgery.

“I’m going to fall! I’m going to fall!” I told the people who were helping me get back into bed after I went potty the first time or two. And I nearly did, my right leg collapsing under me as the group struggled to keep me upright. I could not manage to straighten up my leg to keep myself standing tall.

After that, they taught me how to use a transfer board. Two weeks later, in rehab, the transfer board slipped and I darned near went SPLAT! while going from the scooter to the toilet, but the nurse grabbed me. (So that’s why I needed somebody to accompany me to the bathroom and back!)

And despite warnings not to fall, I did. The first time was on the day I got home from the hospital, three days after surgery. I had to go to the bathroom and both my walker and my transfer board were out of reach. “No problem,” I thought. “The potty chair is right beside my bed and I’ll just stand up, swivel around, and sit down.”

SPLAT! Four EMTs showed up to pick me off the floor and put me back into bed. “It isn’t easy, is it?” one EMT asked. Nope. I was as weak as a newborn kitten.

Fast-forward to August, when I went off a curb cut a little too fast; a little too far to the side; a little too sharp.

SPLAT! (And I’m so glad there was a red light, or I might have been roadkill.) Several people came running to help. They picked up my scooter. They put my items back in my basket. Then they reached down to help me up.

“Hang on a sec,” I said, as I put one hand on the seat, another on the handlebar, pushed up with my right leg and landed on the seat. “I’ve had practice,” I said as I grinned.

Practice I’ve had! In just one week, when I was three months post-op, I fell twice in one night in a bathroom of a cruise ship. It wasn’t configured the way my bathroom at home was, and I wasn’t all that flexible yet when it came to the different configurations of vitreous china fixtures and grab bars. Then I fell in the airport two days later when the tiller on my scooter came loose. Not only can I pick myself up off the floor now, I’ve lost my fear of falling.

Yep. That leg is strong now. Don’t make me mad. (Try not to remember that I can’t kick you: I don’t have a[nother] leg to stand on.)

In fact, I’ve lost my fear of a lot of things: of transferring to and from my recliner; of transferring to and from my “cooking stool” in the kitchen; of bending w-a-y over to reach into the back of the refrigerator. I go from scooter to my desk chair many times a day; a maneuver that involves hitting the desk chair — which has wheels on it — backwards. For a long time, it was either the scooter or the bed for me. It’s great fun working on a computer from a scooter, lemme tell ya!

My husband notes that I’ve managed to do a lot of problem-solving over the past year. While the bathroom was being remodeled, he came in while I was trying to figure out how to transfer to my new shower seat. “She’s figuring out something new,” the construction guy said calmly when my husband asked what was going on. A couple of times and I had it. No fear. I have to hop onto the shower bench backwards, too. That is, I can’t see what I’m about to (hopefully) sit down on.

I’ve learned some new jokes, such as when I told a friend of my grandson that the amputated part of my leg was in my burial plot. “Does that mean you already have one foot in the grave?” he asked — not without some trepidation. (I think it’s hilarious.)

“You can tell I’m from West Virginia,” I sometimes tell people. “One leg is longer than the other.” (For the clueless among you, that’s a reference to having to walk on hills all the time.)

I chuckle to myself when I think about comedienne Phyllis Diller’s old joke that she wore long skirts because her legs don’t go all the way up. I wear long skirts because one of my legs doesn’t go all the way down.

One confession: I rarely wear my prosthesis. I have trouble walking with it. I was frustrated until I remembered that, with my arthritis, I couldn’t walk without a walker and a lot of pain when I had two whole legs. It does, however, come in handy to get me from the airplane door to my seat and back.

Oddly, losing part of my leg has never really bothered me. In fact, after all of the surgeries and infections, I feel a lot better now. I was sicker than I ever let on, but now I’m back to planning and working on social events, having guests for dinner, traveling, and more. I can look at something I’ve never done (like get from my scooter into that chair, or into the window seat on an airplane, or even into the passenger seat of my husband’s new van — it’s very high!), think about how I’ll do it — and then do it. Successfully.

Sometimes we have to relearn things. It happens so gradually that we sometimes don’t realize how far we’ve come or how much we know. Hopefully, nobody else has had a leg amputated, but I suspect that most of us have diabetes of one type or another. Think back on what you knew about diabetes at diagnosis and how much you know now. You’ll be amazed. Give yourself a pat on the back.

While you’re at it, give me a pat on the back, too. My shoulders don’t want to let me go there. One more thing to relearn…

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