We all have a story to tell. Some more dramatic than others. Each story is a testament to our courage, faith and determination to continue a life of meaning. This is mine.
It is a journey of learning to live with loss, to continue to be active despite the loss of my right leg that was amputated above the knee. The journey never ends. It is a process of constant change and challenge, but one I’ve embraced.
To begin, in 2007, I had a partial knee replacement that went well for a month. During the first follow-up appointment with the surgeon, he took my leg and moved it back and forth. Immediately, I knew that he something wasn’t right. As my husband and I walked into the elevator to go home, I said “he did something to my leg”. And I was right, it was never the same. One year of pain led me to see a different doctor and determine what the problem was. Test results showed further deterioration and the recommendation was to do a full knee replacement. In 2010, I had my first knee replacement surgery. It went well and I was home in record time, going to P.T. and doing my at home exercises. I got a call from the surgeon three days after I was home asking “how are you doing Patty?” I replied “fine.” He then told me that there was a contaminant in the operating room. Not confirming exactly what it was, there was no treatment required for myself. So life went on.
Two months later, I couldn’t bend my knee and suspected that I had scar tissue problems. This proved to be true.
I’ve had a long history of scar tissue problems, resulting in many surgeries over the years. Prior to the knee replacement surgery, I was most concerned about this issue. I asked “will I have scarring problem?”, and the answer was “no”. That proved to be wrong. After two manipulations of the knee and many painful physical therapy (P.T.) sessions I still had no significant movement. Over time I developed a straight leg with a lot of swelling, but no pain. So I decided that this was my “new normal”. Life continued until one morning while I was in the dentist chair in 2012. I started to have pain and had difficulty even making it home. Back to the orthopedic surgeon. He aspirated the knee and found a massive infection. In January of 2013, I was back in the operating room to remove the knee replacement; inject antibiotics inside start I.V. daily antibiotics for 6-8 weeks. It was a long waiting game to make sure the infection was gone before I could have another knee replacement surgery.
However, the next surgery to put the permanent knee replacement was a difficult a procedure called an osteotomy. Recovery was long and arduous, but once again and I came home without any rehabilitation center, however I started outpatient P.T. but unfortunately I did not gain any significant mobility in the knee. As time went on, the pain returned and it interfered with every aspect of my life. I knew that somehow I had to find a way to restore my life.
This led to consuls with doctors from Twin City Orthopedics, University of Minnesota, The Mayo Clinic and other orthopedic specialists who reviewed options for a pain free leg. They all agreed the best decision would be to amputate the leg. Any further surgery would not be effective in relieving my pain or giving me more mobility. Because I was already in my 60’s and in good physical condition, I opted to do the amputation sooner rather than later.
July 18, 2016, is a day that I will never forget. My right leg was amputated above the knee. When I woke up I felt pain in my right foot, something I did not expect. I had heard of phantom pain, but never thought I would experience it immediately after surgery. I literally sat up in the recovery room and looked at my leg because I didn’t think it was gone! The surgeon left the wound open to be sure all the infection was gone and 4 days later, he went back to close the leg.
Once again, I came home and without an inpatient stay at a rehabilitation facility. Evaluation from the facility personnel determined that I was strong and agile enough to return home without further inpatient P.T. I was glad for this because for me, being back in my own home has always been my goal as I believe that I heal faster and am more motivated to move around and continue with a busy life. I cooked, cleaned and tried to begin my new normal with a walker and wheelchair as my limb healed. I was able, with the help my husband to navigate life as an amputee. We are creative and came up with ideas and methods to make my life more adaptable as an amputee. I looked forward to starting the process of getting a leg and to begin life pain free. After almost five months, I began the process of learning to walk with a prosthesis.
The day at the prosthetist office when I finally got my new socket and leg was exciting to say the least. At the start, my only challenge was to learn to “trust the leg” and begin to walk. I qualified for a C-leg and thought I was on my way to learning how to continue my life’s interests, maybe in a different manner, but to go forward none the less. The P.T. continued and I was learning and doing more every day. But my optimism was short lived. I started to experience pain in the lower part of my limb. My prosthetist cut a hole in my socket to relief the pressure, but regardless of trying many options to help provide relief, nothing helped. I finally made the decision to return to the surgeon. Tests showed that I had a huge bone spur.
So, back to square one! I had yet another surgery to remove two more inches off of my limb. Everything started over. With every disappointment, somewhere there is a positive. I had wanted to be able to bend my leg upward to help with dressing and putting shoes on, but my leg was never long enough to put the device on the leg. Well, after removing two more inches, I was now able to turn it upside down!!
This is my story. It is no more impressive than any others. But it is mine. I am not ashamed to say that I have worked hard to keep a positive attitude, work hard and am grateful for what I have, not what I have lost. I am grateful for all the amputees that have gone before me that have encouraged the technology to advance to the level of helping myself.
Life may be different, but, life is still enjoyable and rich. Loss has been great, but the rewards are many. The journey continues.
And, just when I thought my story had ended, I encountered yet another challenging health issue.
In December of 2019, my husband and I were enjoying some holiday spirits with a large group of close friends. As I was saying good bye to a friend, I noticed that her eyes became glassy and inquired if she was alright. Just as the words came out of my mouth, she passed out, grabbing me along the way and falling on top of me. She was fine. Not me, however. I walked out of the restaurant only to discover that when we got home, I could not get out of the car. I had broken my hip on my good leg and had to be taken by ambulance to the hospital for a total hip replacement. And from then on, I’ve had nothing but complications resulting in pain and restricted movement from the accident. Eight months later, I’m still going to P.T. with minimal results. I’m scheduled for another four months and hopeful that by that time I see some positive results.
Dealing with the physical side of the accident has been one challenge. The more difficult aspect for me is that I never heard from the friend that fell on me. I’ve had all sorts of emotions; from anger to resentment that her life goes on and mine is compromised to an extreme. I’ve soul searched answers to “why did this accident happen to me”, to asking “what makes a treasured friend”. I’ve questioned what this friendship of nearly 50 years has meant to her or myself. I have learned that I will never ignore another human being who may be hurting. I vow to acknowledge an apology if ever necessary. In the end, all I can do is continue to invest in those friendships of quality and let go of the ones that are not healthy in my life.
So, now I end this journey of today. But as we all know…life will continue and why some of us are chosen to suffer more than others is always the mystery of life. When life challenges seemed insurmountable, I can always look near and see someone suffering far worse than myself and know that I am blessed to have the life that I have.
This article is featured in Amputee Coalition’s #WeTHRIVE story campaign to help raise awareness of the resilience, strength, and courage that people living with limb loss and limb difference have to transform their ordinary into extraordinary.