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Breaking the Good Leg

February 16, 2018

 

   I only became emotional sitting in the car, appointment finished, cast taken off, staples out and just told that I could begin walking again. It felt like I was living in a melancholic in-between world, where everything was somewhat familiar but distant from a tangible reality; like coming home after years away and seeing that you’ve changed from your friends or that the supermarket switched owners. I recognized a trick I had learned in the uncertainties of cancer treatment: remaining stoic during the difficulties and only allowing myself to appreciate the stress and overwhelm when it was certain that I would get better. My memories of treatment are hazy and only begin to bubble up in environments like this. I know my broken ankle is not life-threatening and incomparable to the other hospital experiences I’ve had, yet when I was casted and in my wheelchair, I began getting nightmares about my foot rotting and turning blue like it had 4 years ago. After a limb salvage surgery, a slow deterioration of my foot became the reason I had to get my leg amputated. Now, I ached, wanting to see the scar to ensure that it wasn’t infected. I tried not to fixate on it;  A feeling reminiscent of waiting to hear the results of my cancer checks. This is how trauma works. It appears unexpectedly, often after the difficulty has passed, and for me it comes with a sense of relief. It feels distant, unreal, like you’re just realizing that the person who went through those horrors was you, that you were the one so vulnerable. It can feel so, so sweet. You know that at your most vulnerable something inside you was able to pick up the slack so that you could wait to cry until your family is smiling in the car with you. 

 

    Ampuseek talks about the consequences of permanent disability, and in fact a quick google search will give you myriad of results of the devastating issues that result because of limb loss. Without proper limb technology, amputees are more likely to fall, to get osteoporosis or scoliosis, to experience feelings of isolation and shame. When it comes down to it, inadequate technology can mean you will never be able to trust your prosthesis fully and move on with life. The more issues caused by this disability, the more hospital visits, prescriptions and surgery. This comes at great cost to the amputee, physically and emotionally, and to the healthcare system tasked with attempting to remedy the side effects. I’ve experienced typical amputee problems, other falls, socket pain, phantom pain, back and rib displacement, and a sore sound limb from over use, but in the last two years I finally had consistency; I had the pleasure of not having to think about the necessary requirements of maintaining health as an amputee. I was privileged enough to be pain free, and I didn’t really have to think about my leg all that much. After a very public fall, I was led out in a daze, knowing that this reality of disability can’t be taken for granted. Although it was an accident, I felt I had put myself in the hospital because I didn’t keep track. If I don’t maintain my health, it’s only a matter of time before more secondary consequences of amputation happen to me again. It shook me, re-realizing how fragile independence is and knowing that your body can quickly degenerate into feeling like a prison.

 

   The routine itself is a quiet one. You’re biding your time healing, not really leaving the house or focusing on much else. I was so lucky to have my mom and Ollie basically tend to my every need. My mom advocated for me with nervous physios and doctors, drove me to school or to coffee shops, made me dinner, taught me ankle exercises and helped me put my leg on because I couldn’t do it by myself. We watched endless TV series, wheeled to the mall to redecorate my apartment and basically caught up after being apart for over a year. It was different from 4 years ago and cancer treatment. I got to spend more time at home, not feeling out of this world nauseous, and as an extra bonus got to hang out with Ollie.  When I had cancer, my Mom spent every night in the hospital with me, sometimes when there was no space we even shared a hospital bed. We’ve spent a lot of time together and her unquestioning confidence in my recuperation made each situation seem easy. Ollie got to be the one staying overnight in the hospital this time around, and he helped me when I couldn’t leave the bed. Now that my Mom has left, Ollie has been going to all my classes with me and making sure that I get to my appointments safely. Somehow, I found this incredible gift of a family that shows unconditional love and support without thinking anything of it; It’s what you do. And I found people who do this for me in good humour.

 

   Although it made me nervous, I decided that a good way to occupy my mind was to go back to school in my wheel chair. Before this accident, I had proudly gotten rid of all of my equipment, convincing myself that I’d never need it. Honestly, I felt awkward having it. I didn’t want people visiting me and noticing things that outright showed impairment; I wanted them to normalize amputation but was shy about all of the realities that came with it. I had to make myself understand that being hurt is not embarrassing and that showing the truth of my situation could in fact be empowering. There’s a negative stigma around assistive devices, but we need to recognize that it has been constructed by able-bodied people that don’t understand the role that they play in people’s lives. Our society has been taught to be awkward around disabled people, to “other” them. It’s such a strong conditioning that even the sight of a wheelchair, tucked into a corner of my apartment, seemed like too much of a signal for me, so I got rid of it. 

Now I understand that it is a necessary part of my life that improves my functionality so that I can be more independent and strong. Having these devices around has become something I recognize as essential, but also symbolic in its rejection of that stigma. 

 

   This process was extremely intimidating and I’m relieved that it’s nearly over. I didn’t know how I would be able to walk, the idea of my prosthesis acting as my sound limb was unfathomable but somehow I did it. I have a metal jaw, a metal ankle and a metal leg, evidence that I’ve experienced a lot in this body. Although these periods of healing have been difficult, I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accept and that I continue to regain trust in myself. The version of me who deals with moments of trial and difficulty is always the most confident and sure person I’ve encountered. I have endless faith that I can succeed in things because I’ve learned how to deal with the trials.  If anything, this experience has made me more sure of my dreams and intentions, and how important it is to acknowledge that they are valid and worth striving for in the limited time we have. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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