Lindsey’s Story


This woman is amazing! She is smart, beautiful and has a sense of humor that may be more warped and twisted than mine! We met on Pinterest of all places and became fast friends on Facebook. I feel blessed to know her. Lindsey, from the United Kingdom, is a make-up, airbrush and nail artist who also happens to be a bilateral below the knee amputee.

lindsey sitting

Lindsey was on IV antibiotics for 4 years as she battled a bone infection in both of her feet. After discovering that the infection was not getting any better, she chose to amputate her right leg in April of 2012 and her left leg followed in August of 2012. After the amputations, Lindsey wore cosmeses (“flesh” covering) on her legs. Just before Show Your Mettle Day last year, she told me that she had been thinking a lot about WHY she was covering her metal and decided to have the cosmeses removed.

This was one of Lindsey's cosmesis covered prosthetic legs.

This was one of Lindsey’s cosmesis covered prosthetic legs.

Lindsey recently told me, “I’ve been showing my metal since May 2013 and it feels great! Since stripping the cosmeses off I have been like a new woman! More confident and kick ass than before!

lindsey chair

lindsey Family

I LOVE this picture of Lindsey in her custom-made "stump warmers"

I LOVE this picture of Lindsey in her custom made “stump warmers”

My first Grandson, Oscar was born shortly after my first amputation and I look after him whilst my daughter and son-in-law are at work. He keeps me on my toes! I am a peer mentor at my local hospital and love meeting with amputees new and old, sharing stories, alleviating fears and smoothing the way. I’m so very fortunate that I met you Lisa, you have helped me through so much of my journey and are a constant inspirational to me and so many others”.

lindsey boardwalk

And I am honored to have people like Lindsey, who help make my journey easier as well.

As always, thank you for allowing me to be part of your day!

Bill’s Story


The stories I have posted so far, are all people who have started off as readers and have become friends. These people and their stories remind me that I am not alone and I am not the only one who has had to face pain, suffering, trauma and self-doubt. Bill is another person who started as a reader way back at the start of my blog. He is another shining example of strength and perseverance. Below, Bill shares his story.

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I am from the eastern shore of Maryland, a little town called Denton. I had a total of three knee replacements. After the first one, my bone started to deteriorate so the doctors had to do a second knee replacement. That lasted about two (2) years and then the components came loose, so they did a third one. Ok, so then the third knee replacement got infected! At that point, the doctors said I had three (3) options.

The first option was, I could simply live with the infection. Haha! Like that was a real option, aye? The second option was, I could have a rod put in my knee and I would be stiff-legged, which meant I would not be able to ride my scooters. Plus, there was no guarantee that the infection would not come back. So, that was not really much of an option either. Then they said that the last option would be to amputate. I had already pretty much decided to tell them to take my leg because I was sick of all the operations and pain I had been through, so that option seemed like the only one. On October 13, 2010, away it went and I became an above the knee amputee.

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I started riding my scooter about 4 short months after they took my leg. I have been very lucky I have only had one small bout with depression and that was just a little bit….about 30 minutes…and I was done with that. I have struggled with trying to get a leg to fit right and feel right but so far that has not happened, so I still use crutches to walk. Other then that I am doing well. I am happy that I get up every day.

bill

As always, thank you for allowing me to be part of your day!

Trevor’s Story


April is Limb Loss Awareness month.  Over the past two years, I have met some amazing people who started out as readers, shared their stories with me and eventually, became dear friends.  Trevor Montgomery has not only become my friend, but my hero and inspiration as well.  This is Trevor’s story in his own, unedited words, written April 14th of this year.

 

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Today is a very difficult, bittersweet day for me and my family. Today is the day my life changed so drastically eight years ago and my life has truly never been the same since.

On this exact day, at this exact hour, April 14th 2006, I was with my family and several other families on a week long camping/riding trip at the Calico Ghost Town off the 15 freeway near Barstow. During the first hour of the first day we arrived my life and my body were shattered in a way I have still yet to fully recover from.

While taking a break from riding OHV’s with my children, I inadvertently stepped into an abandoned, unmarked 4′ x 5′ mine ventilation shaft in the ground that dropped over 90 feet to a ledge, where my broken and battered body landed and came to rest.

Over the next 10 1/2 hours I layed at the bottom of that mine shaft, assessing my injuries, wondering if I would ever be rescued, thinking about what kind of future might lay ahead of me. From my decade working as an orthopedic specialist in the Army, I knew I had broken my back. My left foot was nearly completely severed and I knew I was paralyzed. I had also broken dozens of bones in my feet, ankles, legs, ribs shoulders and much more. As I lay there, broken, battered and clinging to life in the pitch black of that hole, I wondered if I would ever see my wife Robin or my children again, who even back then numbered nine at the time.

Thankfully I was successfully rescued after three different mine rescue teams were flown in from around the state. the rescue alone took nearly two hours. Once rescued I was taken to Loma Linda Hospital, where I lived for four months while recovering from my grievous injuries. After more surgeries than I care to recall, countless doctors and surgeons began the process of trying to explain to me that between the fact that I had broken my back in four places and suffered severe spinal cord injuries as well as the fact I had sustained a traumatic brain injury, their prognosis was that I would never walk again, nor lead any semblance of a normal life. Every time a doctor would say this my wife would angrily and quite physically throw each and every one out of my room and ban them from ever returning. Let me tell you, we went through a whole lot of doctors that first year.

Four months later, I came home as a paraplegic, pushed into my newly transformed “handicapable” home in my wheelchair by family and friends and I assumed that was to be the new life God had given me. I accepted my fate the best I could, but depression, frustration, furious anger, drug-induced confusion, long days and even longer nights were what lay ahead of me those first ten months. The pain was unbelievable and my poor broken body caused me more pain, grief and suffering than I had ever thought possible. Learning to re-live life as a paraplegic, my body seemed to be working against me at every possibility. I was on nearly 30 different oral medications as well as multiple I.V. antibiotics and medications. Robin became my full time nurse, caretaker and provider and life as we knew it seemed like a long lost distant memory. Thankfully, it turned out it wasn’t.

Just ten months after my accident, I realized I was starting to sense movement in one of my toes. My new goal in life was set and I was like a man possessed. I was GOING to walk again. I spent every moment of every day doing every amount of in-home physical therapy I could muster the strength to do. I would lay awake at night working around the clock at forcing my brain to make the reconnections necessary in my damaged nerves and spinal cord to be able to someday rejoin the “real” world and the actual living.

In July 2007, just 15 months after my terrible accident, I returned back to work full time as a sheriff investigator. I had impossibly beaten the odds and proven to every doctor that miracles could and do happen. I was on cloud 9 and nothing in the world could have brought me down or slowed my progress. Or so I thought. Unfortunately, just nine months after returning back to work, repeated bouts with MRSA and bone infections caused my left foot and ankle to completely collapse and I ended up having the first of what would be two separate amputations of my left leg. First at the below knee level in 2008 and then again later in 2013 at the above knee level. Additionally, in 2011 my spinal fusion, which doctors had used to repair my destroyed back completely failed, causing me an additional 15 months down in bed, first waiting for and then recovering from yet another, much larger and stronger spinal fusion. From September 2011 through December of 2012, it would be 15 full months before I would have the opportunity to be up and out of bed again.

Nowadays, I still deal with severe back pain and gastrointestinal/bowel issues related to the injuries and problems from my original spinal cord injury. Some days I feel it is all I can do to hold on for the better days that I can barely keep faith might someday show themselves again.

However now, eight long years later, I can honestly say despite all I have gone through I am the happiest I have been in nearly a decade. In spite of everything, I am actually healthier (most days) than I ever was before and I finally feel like my life is slowly inching closer back to the normalcy I so desire and miss.

In spite of it all, I have learned to accept myself and I actually love who I have become since my accident. I feel I have truly learned to love both myself as well as my life and my family. I am far more optimistic nowadays and I find much more true joy in the small blessings in life. In spite of all the bad things that have happened over the last decade, I feel as if I have grown leaps and bounds as a person, a husband, a father and a friend. I truly hope and pray I have gotten through the absolute worst parts of my lengthy recovery, however regardless what God allows me to endure I now know I can overcome any obstacle.

I now have 13 children who call me dad, each of whom I love dearly and I have three grand babies I absolutely adore and never otherwise would have gotten to meet. If things go well and if I get my way, I might even soon be re-joining the ranks of my fellow law enforcement officers, although never again in the full capacity I used to provide, and that is OK…..life is all a process of constant change and hopefully positive growth. I have learned to embrace my injuries and limitations and more importantly, I have found a new way to love my life and all those in it again. I ALMOST feel like I am actually living again. I am close and getting ever closer.

For those of you who live with my mood swings and medical issues yet still love me, you are saints. Each and every one of you. For those of you who follow my daily dramas and rants, comment or laugh with me at my posts and listen to my (hopefully only occasional) bitching, I love and appreciate each and every one of you. For those who argue with all my posts and offer a diametrically opposing point of view from my own, I thank you for helping to re-sharpen my mind and thought processes after years of letting my brain turn to mush from taking the worst, most hardcore and toxic meds you would never want to have to absorb into your system.

It has truly been a very long eight years. But thankfully I feel have come a long way even though I still have a long way to go.

Having a strong support system is as important as having a great prosthetist or surgeon - Trevor definitely has one

Having a strong support system is as important as having a great prosthetist or surgeon – Trevor definitely has one

 

Thank you Trevor for sharing your story.  I will be posting more inspirational amputees’ stories this month, along with some other information to help educate people abut limb loss.

As always, thank you for allowing me to be part of your day!

Life is Like Vegas


I had every intention of writing this a few weeks ago, but I ended up really sick and in bed for 15 days!  My goodness, it seems to be a rough year for all the amputees I know!  I am interested to hear if it has been for you as well.

On March 19th, Michael and I caught a red-eye to Las Vegas for an extended weekend getaway.  This was a huge trip for me and I was so excited to come home and share it with you! You see, the last time we were in Vegas was three years before (February of 2011) and the difference between the two trips was night and day!

In December of 2010, I had what would be my 19th and final surgery to attempt to fix my ankle.  I had my artificial ankle (the second one) removed and my ankle fused.  I was still in a cast up to my knee and spent the majority of the trip in a wheelchair.  The trip started of on a bad note before we even left Seattle.  I was wheeled through security and they did the standard test of my chair and cast for explosive residue.  Michael was already through security waiting for me.  Imagine my surprise when out of nowhere, I had a half-dozen security people surrounding me!  It turns out my cast tested positive for the explosive residue.  Obviously, as they started questioning me and talking about removing my cast, I was in a bit of a panic and searching for Michael, whom they refused to let back to me.  Finally, a man who I assumed was the supervisor came over.  He looked at me in the chair, tears rolling down my face and insisted they bring Michael to me immediately.  He bent down to my level (everyone else stood, looking down at me) and very quietly asked, “Does your foot get really dry from your cast?”  I was a little confused, but nodded yes.  Then he asked, “Do you put lotion on it?”  Again, I shook my head yes, still having no idea where he was going.  Finally he asked, “Is your lotion from Bath and Body Works?”  Michael and I looked at each other, totally confused, but I answered, “Um, yes it is”.  The man then said, “Let this poor woman go!”  He explained to me that Bath and Body Works lotion gave a false positive reading quite often and he was unsure why.  He had someone rush us to our flight and I have NEVER worn lotion when I travelled since!

Once we got to Vegas, we realized it may have been a mistake for a vacation.  Poor Michael had to push my chair up and down the strip.  We tried to see shows, but it was difficult to get seating for the chair and crutches were too much trouble to bring along.  I couldn’t even gamble, because the tables were too high and there was no place to put the chair.  I spent all my time in the casino at the slots, which I don’t really like, wishing I could play Blackjack. We couldn’t go to the pool because my cast was so hot and couldn’t get wet. Even going to exhibits and the wax museum were a bit of a bust because everything is at standing eye level, not sitting eye level! Michael ended up needing naps everyday because he was so exhausted from pushing me everywhere. I was miserable.  He was miserable.  Yes, there was some fun, but for the most part it was just more trouble than it was worth!

Fast forward three years and the trip was completely different from the last one!  Michael had to actually convince me to take a cab a few times!  I was walking everywhere!  We didn’t have to look for elevators and could go anywhere we wanted.  We had amazing 5th row, center seats for The Blueman Group.  We went to the Bodies Exhibit and I actually got to see everything at eye level!  I played Blackjack with the best of them (and yes, I left Vegas ahead).  I felt a new sense of freedom while we were there.  I was no longer limited.  I also got to do something I was unable to do the last time.  We stayed at Paris and I was able to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower.  Last time, I couldn’t go because it was too difficult to navigate the wheelchair in the tight spot at the top! I even got to spend the day at the pool AND go in the water.  It was the same Las Vegas, but in a totally different light.  I saw it at eye-level or looking down, not looking UP at everything and everyone and we had so much fun!

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Do not get me wrong, Vacations can still be difficult and I still get frustrated with my leg sometimes….I even have meltdowns.  As a matter-of-fact, I had one Sunday.  I couldn’t get my leg to lock into place and kept stomping it like a kid having a tantrum.  Michael looked at me and said, “are you ok honey?”  My response was something along the lines of (and imagine this said as one very fast, long, loud word) , “no this stupid leg won’t go on I am going to fall on my face I hate it and I don’t want to spend the rest of my freaking life living like this don’t smirk at me you don’t know what this is like it sucks it sucks so much and I hate it and it’s not fair and I just want my leg back”!!!!!!  Michael (very wisely) said nothing.  Ten minutes later I apologized and said, “I’m better now” and went about my day.

I recently have heard about experiences many of you are going through, that four-limbers cannot even fathom!  These trials we go through as amputees may not always seem fair and they try on our patience and our strength, but we are warriors.  We have been through worse and made our way through.  Stay strong my friends and know you are not alone.  There is a community of us behind you.  The frustration will never fully go away.  We will all continue to have our melt-down moments, but if you are a new amputee, I can guarantee, those moments will get fewer and shorter.  You too, will be given back a life filled with adventure.  Life is like Vegas; you need to gamble and even lose once or twice, in order to walk away with more than you started with.

As always, thank you for allowing me to be a part of your day!

****By the way April is Limb Loss Awareness month – HUG your favorite amputee!  Also, if you are an amputee, please email your story and some pictures to me if you would like to be included in my blog this year about other amputees! LisaOnALimb@Hotmail.com

Does God Really Give Us Only What We Can Handle?


Oh my goodness!  It has been entirely too long!  I have no excuse except, “life keeps life-ing”.  Actually, I have been, as my mother used to say, “in a mood” for a while.  You know that saying about God only giving you what you can handle?  Well the big guy and I needed to have a little sit down and discuss the difference between what I CAN handle and what I AM WILLING to handle!  I seriously feel like I have had my share of health drama….I am over it….and yet it continues. (Yes, I will be talking about God today).

I have been truly lucky with the amputation, and sometimes, I feel like I have no right to complain. There are people out there that have had it so much worse than me.  The surgery was flawless, I rarely get phantom pain, I walk great, I didn’t have to go through any physical therapy and I am actually happy with the decision to amputate…most of the time.  I have developed a  neuroma on the bottom right side of my residual limb.  According to Merriam-Webster.com, a neuroma is:

1: a tumor or mass growing from a nerve and usually consisting of nerve fibers

2: a mass of nerve tissue in an amputation stump resulting from abnormal regrowth of the stumps of severed nerves—called also amputation neuroma

A neuroma in a below the knee amputee

A neuroma in a below the knee amputee

According to PodiatryToday.com, “The stump neuroma is a natural and expected occurrence after nerve injury. When damaged, the proximal nerve segment attempts to regenerate, leading to a bulb-shaped thickening or stump”.  Basically, during the amputation, the nerves are severed with the leg. They regenerate quickly and can create a cluster of nerve cells that shoot off in multiple directions instead of in a straight line, which can cause mixed signals about sensation, which can cause the stump to be extremely sensitive to any touch, no matter how light.   Every time my prosthesis hits the neuroma just right (which is frequently), pain occurs.  Most of the time, the pain is tolerable, a 5 or so on a scale of 1-10, like the pins and needles feeling when your foot falls asleep.  However, it has gotten so intense that it has actually made me cry.

The nerve does not run straight up and down.  The neuroma is on the side, but the nerve actually runs on an angle and goes behind the knee.  That is usually where the pain is the worst.  It feels like someone is stabbing me behind the leg, where it bends.  I have actually had this happen while I driving on the freeway (three different times).  The pain got so bad that I had to pull off on the shoulder and take my leg off.  I have also had it happen in yoga class and in the grocery store.  In January, I started going to the gym.  I have been limited to what I can do because of this stupid neuroma.  This has defeated the purpose of the amputation, as I am back to worrying if I will be able to do my normal activity without pain.

My Prosthetist, Rich, who is truly amazing, has been working non-stop with me to try to resolve the problem.  We tried shaving out a small indent in the socket, so the neuroma didn’t hit, but that didn’t work.  We decided to start from scratch and make a new socket.  We tried three test sockets (I think).  The first two, the fit was so off, that I didn’t even leave with it.  The third one was fine when I left, but within a few hours, I could barely walk due to the pain.  I ended up removing the test socket myself and using the old one.  Rich went above and beyond and found a brand new liner.  It is a bit thicker and much softer (it was also designed to stay cooler).  We decided to try the liner and recast over that.  Of course the liner is on back-order.  We having been messing with this for over a month, trying to  fix this problem without medical intervention.  Now, I do not know what all of these treatments are (or what some of the words mean) but I am pretty sure that a better fitting socket is much better than:  injection therapy, sterotactic radiosurgery, fractionated sterotactic radiosurgery, radiotheraphy, surgical removal or steroids – oral or injected (which is seriously counterproductive, considering I lost my leg, which lead to the neuroma, from the use of steroids for a medical condition).  THANK YOU to the best Prosthetist ever, for doing everything in your power to help me try to avoid these “cures”!

So, while dealing with this stupid neuroma and already being insanely frustrated, let’s add another medical scare.  I found a lump in my breast and went in for a mammogram.  Of course, because of the location, the mammogram turned up clean.  I was sent in for an ultrasound.  Nothing was found.  I insisted something was there.  The Ultrasound tech got the doctor, who eventually found a mass and scheduled me for a biopsy.  I was a little nervous, but not too much.  There is no history of any type of cancer in my family.  Plus, as one of my good friends said, “you already lost a leg, God is not going to take a boob too.”  Anyway, I went in for the biopsy and because I am a “go big or go home” kind of girl, it had to be something (I the doctor’s expert medical opinion) “weird”.  It turns out, the mass that showed up on the ultrasound is NOT where the lump is and the lump does not show up on the ultrasound.  They biopsied the mass they could find (which came back negative, thank God), but I still have to go see a surgeon about the lump.  I know it is probably going to be nothing to worry about, but seriously, can I have ONE YEAR that I do not have surgery, have to go to a hospital or have a slew of medical tests??

I have done a lot of searching and praying and thinking and throwing tantrums and crying and you know what I have come up with?  I do not believe (my) God “gives me only what I can handle”.  I do not believe God “gives me” anything.  I believe life happens.  People get sick.  They lose jobs, have babies, lose loved ones, get married….all of it.  God helps us get through each situation that life throws at us.  I do not think (my) God is someone who would intentionally make people go through pain.  I believe he helps us get through our struggles.  I believe he puts people in our lives at the exact time we need them.  For example, I recently became friends with one of the mom’s at Lauren’s school.  We instantly clicked.  Guess what?  She was an Oncology Nurse and walked me through everything I would experience with the biopsy and helped me afterward.  I have several friends that came into my life at the perfect moment.  I believe (my) God did that.

I will continue through these new medical issues as I have with all the others.  I will rely on my family and friends to pick me up when I am down.  I will pray.  I will probably have a few (more) melt-downs and I will do it all with as much grace and dignity as I can manage.

I want you all to know how much I appreciate all of my readers….the ones who have been with me from day one and the ones who are just joining me on my journey.  Thank you for allowing me to be part of your day!

‘Tis the Season?


Hello all!  I hope you had a very happy Thanksgiving.  Mine was wonderful!   I spent mine with Michael, our kids, our future son-in-law and my brother-in-law…and of course I cooked enough for three times that many!

Like many of you, I have always gone a bit overboard with the holidays!  I cook too much…bake too much…shop too much and EAT too much!  Unfortunately, due to surgeries and pain, that little tradition of mine slowly dwindled until it completely ended somewhere around 2009.  I was just in too much pain to stand on my feet for hours cooking and I had to do the majority of my shopping trips using a cane or a wheelchair – neither of which is conducive to power shopping! November of 2010, I had a failed artificial ankle that was being removed the day after Christmas.  I was almost immobile and could not participate in my holiday rituals.  On November 15, 2011, I had my amputation.  This put me in bed for Thanksgiving and heavily medicated and legless for the holiday season.  I hit a massive depression and cried A LOT….and then something wonderful happened!  Santa brought me a new leg for Christmas!

Because I refused to settle on anything but the best, I ended up with something that looked like it came straight out of a Sci-Fi movie. The socket was a deep black carbon fiber and the foot was a Motion Foot from Motion Control.  I chose this foot because I was told, “The Motion Foot is a unique hydraulic foot and ankle system with a natural-range of ankle movement. Natural motion adjusts to slopes, various heel heights, and sitting with feet flat. Fully adjustable for nearly all levels of activity, the manual lock prevents unwanted movement in situations like driving, climbing ladders, or putting on shoes” (of course this foot was not available with a split toe for wearing flip-flops, but as we all know, that did not stop me and I now have a split toe).

It took me a little while to get used to feel of the socket around my calf and the pull of the weight. It was big and bulky and extremely awkward.  I cried a lot.  I threw tantrums even more.  I made the decision to never, ever wear a prosthesis and to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair or on crutches.  My family, always supportive, told me to stop being such a baby, get over it, move on and be happy that I was not in pain anymore.  Yes, they really did….and I am glad, because that is EXACTLY what I did.

Since then, I feel like I am on fast forward and making up for years of lost time!  I was on my feet for 8 hours straight on Thanksgiving, cooking like I have not cooked in years!  Then, I was up at 2:30 in the morning and did Black Friday power shopping until 10:30 in the morning – I quit because I was exhausted, but my legs were still ready to go.  I have been cooking, cleaning and decorating like a mad-woman and do not seem to ever sit during the day. I even started up a part-time business, selling Pampered Chef products, which involves standing in a kitchen for several hours-something I never would have CONSIDERED prior to surgery!  I feel like I stepped out of the opening credits of the 70′s show, “The Six Million Dollar Man”. (To paraphrase) they rebuilt me; they have the technology.  They made me “better, faster, stronger”.

I am certainly not saying that I am at 100% or that it is always easy.  Of course there are times that it is difficult.  There are times that there is pain…both real and phantom, and some times emotional.  However, the benefits far outweigh the negatives.  I worked very hard at learning how to utilize my prosthesis to the very best of my ability.  I learned to ask questions, to try new things and to see failure as a chance to try again, not as an excuse to quit…and you can too.

‘Tis the season for gratitude and miracles….be grateful and be a miracle.

As always, thank you for allowing me to be a part of your day.
**Note:  The rave review I gave Motion Foot and the quotes about it were not a paid advertisement.  I have not, nor I ever advertise on this site.  You trust me to be 100% honest and real and I will continue to honor that!

Children are our Future


During the school book fair a few weeks ago, the Principal and I were talking about Limb Loss Awareness month.  She asked me if I would be willing to come in and speak to students about limb loss.  Of course I said yes.  Last Friday, April 26th, the day before Show Your Mettle Day, I was blessed to go in and speak to five separate classrooms of fourth and fifth grade students and it was an experience I will not soon forget.  Many of these students have seen me out and about at the school, but other than pointing and whispering, none had actually acknowledged me (or looked me in the eye);  I was determined that would change.

I approached my speaking with these words in my head,  “It is vital that when educating our children’s’ brains that we do not neglect to educate their hearts” (Dalai Lama – 1935).  I wanted to walk away with them not only being educated, but hopefully more compassionate.  I began each class in the same manner.  I told them I was there for two reasons: the first was that it was limb loss awareness month and I wanted to tell them about amputees and that we are not anything to be afraid of or to laugh at…amputees are just like them.  Before I gave them the second reason, I asked them if they knew what the only thing standing in the way of them achieving their dream was.  Some of the answers I got were:  “my parents”, “my grades”, “money”, “being sick” and my absolute favorite, (which is technically a second thing standing in your way of achieving your dreams), “death”.  After they answered, I told them none of those could stop them (except death).  That actually, the second reason I was there was to show them that the only thing standing in their way from achieving their dreams was themselves and their attitude.  If they believed they were not good enough to make the baseball team, then they wouldn’t.  If they didn’t think they were pretty enough to get asked to a dance, then they wouldn’t.  If they didn’t think they were smart enough to get on the honor roll, then they wouldn’t.  I think this got their attention.

I decided that I would let the children’s questions guide the direction that my presentation went, so I  only wanted to spend a few minutes talking about what happened.  I told them that my bones got really sick and after 20 surgeries in eleven years, I had the amputation.  Then, I told them we were going to get their main concern out-of-the-way right away and if they wanted me to, I would take my leg off and show them what the residual limb (I tried to avoid the word stump) looked like.  Of course they all made all those faces and noises that only ten-year olds can do, but they all wanted to see it anyway (with the exception of one girl who started to cry and the teacher let her go into the hallway – she later came back and asked a bunch of questions).  Before I removed my prosthesis, I wanted to make sure they understood it was not going to just fall off, so I picked a student to try to pull it off.  It was actually pretty fun to watch.  One boy almost pulled me off the chair!  Then, I explained the whole removal process and what each part of the prosthesis was.  When I got to the liner, I slowly rolled it off (yes, I was being extremely dramatic) and at the bottom said, “Ok, are you ready???”  A lot of them covered their eyes, peeking through their fingers and I removed the liner.  They just stared.  Every class had several kids who said, “that’s it?”  One girl said, No offense, but it looks like a smile.”  What I discovered is, having no experience with limb loss, many of them expected that the residual limb would look like it had just been hacked off – muscle and blood still showing (I blame this on movies and video games).  So once that was out-of-the-way and I had their attention, I began the question and answers.

I passed around my prosthesis and my water leg and other props as I began. I was not prepared for the hands that went up.  I brought candy to bribe the kids with questions.  I don’t think it was needed (several kids even said, “I don’t need candy, I just have a question”).  I brought “filler” information to use if there was a gap in questions.  That was not needed either.  I had 45 minutes in each classroom and I did not get to all the raised hands in any classroom.  We talked about all the ways a person could lose a limb and the Boston bombing. I got some amazing questions…..and some pretty funny ones, but each question really helped me gauge what children believe about amputees.  I could go on forever about what they asked, but below are some of my favorite questions (each was asked in more than one classroom, except my favorite) and my answers (paraphrased of course):

I think in just about every class I got asked the “would you rather” questions.

QUESTION:  “Would you rather lose your right leg or your left leg?”     MY ANSWER:  “For me it doesn’t matter, but for some people, I imagine they would rather lose the left leg since you drive with your right”.

QUESTION: “When will you get your leg back?”  MY ANSWER:  “Do you mean my real leg…like when will it grow back? (as I tried not to laugh) “Never.  Once your limb is amputated, you will use a prosthesis for the rest of your life.”

QUESTION:  “Would you rather lose and arm or a leg?”  I actually thought this was a great question and had to think about the answer for a minute.  MY ANSWER:  “For me, I would much rather lose my leg.  I do so much with my arms and hands, I can’t imagine having to learn to do all of that, but I am pretty sure if you ask an arm amputee the same question, they would probably say they would much rather lose an arm because they use their legs so much.  It is very much about prospective.”

QUESTION:  “Do people laugh at you and make fun of you?”  MY ANSWER:  “Yes.  But I take that as an opportunity to educate them about why I am different and how I am the same.  I know that a lot of times people make fun of other people because they are insecure about themselves and they try to take attention off of themself by drawing it to other people.  Sometimes, people are just mean and if they continue to make fun of me, I ignore them and tell myself mean people are not the kind of people I would want to be friends with anyway.”

QUESTION:  “Can you (insert activity here – run, do sports, etc)”.   MY ANSWER:  “Amputees can do anything you can do.  Like I said, the only thing stopping us is ourselves”.  Then I brought out one of my “props”.  I created a three-ring binder with pictures and descriptions off of my “Show Your Mettle” blog.  I showed myself doing yoga (the head stand picture thrilled them).  I showed amputees skiing, rock climbing and bike riding.  I also had pictures of Brittany Hamilton (the amputee behind the movie Soul Surfer).  On several of the pictures, I heard “I can’t even do that!”.

QUESTION:  “Do you think you are still pretty?”   Now I had to be very careful not to go off on one of my tirades.  Many of you are quite aware of my feelings about this particular way of thinking.  I know little girls, especially at this age, are struggling with self-image issues.  MY ANSWER:  “I think I am prettier now than I did before I lost my leg because now I can show that I am strong and brave and can handle whatever life throws at me.  It also makes me more aware of what actually makes a person beautiful.  There is no point in having a pretty face if you are mean and ugly on the inside.”  Just because you look a little different on the outside does not make you ugly.”

QUESTION: How do they take your leg off?”  Thank goodness I was prepared for this question and I had a very non-graphic diagram of how the surgery is performed.  I held the picture up in the front of the room (so there was a bit of distance between the students and the photo) and walked them through the general process.  This is the photo.

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QUESTION:  “Did it hurt when they cut it off?”   MY ANSWER:  “Well, I wasn’t awake when they did it, so I didn’t feel it, but yes, it hurt for a few weeks after the surgery.”  I figured telling them that at times, I was screaming and crying from the pain, was not necessary.

QUESTION:  “How long did it take to cut it off?”  MY ANSWER:  “It took about four hours and then another two for me to wake up”.  I was actually quite surprised to learn that many of them pictured an amputation being an axe chopping the leg off and it taking about ten minutes.

Jacob Abbott (1803-1879), an American writer of children’s books is quoted as saying, “A child can ask a thousand questions that the wisest man cannot answer”.  My favorite question asked by a student still makes me think and rethink my answer, but in the end, I believe the answer I gave was completely truthful.  QUESTION:  “If you could have your leg back without any pain, would you?”  MY ANSWER (after a long pause).  ” I don’t know.  Honestly, I have made such a difference to so many people’s lives and have had the opportunity to educate people, like I am doing today, I really don’t know if I would want to miss that opportunity.  I would rather help many people than just help myself.”

I ended each class by telling them that I hoped they had learned something and the next time they are out with their friends and see an amputee or a person with another disability, I hope they will take the chance to educate their friends that we are no different and there is no need to point, stare and snicker.  I truly believe that I made a difference, at least to some of these children.  This week many of them have come up to me and said hello.  I couple have even hugged me when they saw me.  I truly feel blessed to have been given this opportunity and look forward to being able to do it again.  I think I will contact some of the school districts and see what I can arrange during diversity week.  I believe educating children make for better adults, thus making a better future.  As Frederick Douglass, a former slave who went on to become an orator, writer and statesman said,  “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men”…..children are our future after all.

As always, thank you for allowing me to be part of your day.

 

Taking on the Limb, One Step at a Time


I hit a bit of a writer’s block and was unsure what topic to cover today. I got some great suggestion and will use them in the future. Today, I will address something that many people have mentioned to me before; most people do not understand some of the terms I use in my blog. I have also heard a lot of questions about my prosthesis and the make up of it. Today, I will address some of these terms and questions so you can better understand what an amputee goes through and have a better understanding of the wording I use in future blogs. Today I will include a lot of pictures!

Many people (me included, prior to my amputation) refer to the artificial limb as a prosthetic. I use three terms a lot and they all start with pros.
First, there is PROSTHESIS, which is the actual artificial limb, as in, I just got a new prosthesis. PROSTHETIC is an adjective. An example would be, I just received a new prosthetic limb. PROSTHETIST is a person who makes or fits prosthetic devices. My Prosthetist’s name is Rich. Simple, right?

Many people have told me they glaze over a little as I talk about the prosthesis because I have never fully explained the parts, so things get confusing for the two-legged reader. I will break down the prosthetic limb for you. There are many different types of prosthetic limbs, but for today’s purpose, I am mainly using pictures of my own.  I have two “legs”.  One is for everyday use and the other is for water use.  Since I mainly use the everyday leg, I will use that for my description.

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My below the knee prosthesis (and most others) are composed of three major components.  There are other parts necessary in order to wear the prosthetic limb.  Here is the general  process and the parts (note:  these are for my leg only, the names and parts of your limb may be different).

First, I make sure I-Lean (my “stump” or “residual limb”) is clean:

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Then I put the liner on.  This is a “sleeve” that slides over the residual limb.  My  liner has a pin at the bottom that will lock into the prosthesis later. There are other types of liners and prosthetics, but again, the main components are pretty similar.  The first picture below  shows the full liner.  The center picture is a close up of the pin.  The bottom picture is the gel inside.  This is what helps the liner stay tightly on my limb.  Yes, it can get extremely hot and sweaty inside there.  During the warm months, I use Aveeno or another unscented powder and lightly cover my leg before putting the liner on.

This is my everyday liner.

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The next step is putting on the number of socks needed for a comfortable fit.  Sometimes finding the right fit is a little difficult, especially as the limb is decreasing in size.  The Prosthetist will ask “how many ply are you wearing?”  The ply refers to the thickness of socks.  Mine comes in one, three and five ply.  I have been as low as zero ply and as high as 18 ply.  I also have older socks that I cut because sometimes I need less ply in the bottom than the top or vice versa.  My sock has a hole in the bottom to put the pin through.  I put on the necessary ply and then move to the next step.  The first picture  shows what a sock looks like.  The second picture is an example of a cut sock.  The third show the hole in the bottom of the sock.

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At this point, I will put on my shoe if it is a tighter fit.  If it is a sneaker, sandal, flip-flop etc., I can wait.  I guide my limb into the socket.  The socket is the black shell at the top of the actual prosthesis (you can custom design them with, like I did with my water leg, but talk to your Prosthetist about that).   The top photo is a close up of the socket.  The bottom picture is the inside.  At the bottom of the socket, you can see where the pin lock in.  I will step into it and press down until I hear it lock into place.  The white on the sides is padding.  As my leg shrinks and I lose weight, my socket is getting too big, but I don’t want to get another just yet because the size is changing so rapidly.  My Prosthetist, Rich, added padding to help fill the space without wearing a ton of socks.

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As I mentioned, I recently got a new foot shell.  My old one got stained and dirty.  I discovered that wearing brand new balck moccassins without a sock was a bad idea.  I wanted a cleanfoot for summer.  The “skin” looking foot is the shell.  It goes on over the bottom of the prosthesis.  The first picture below shows my new foot shell.  The second and third show the difference between the old one and the new one…..see why I wanted a new one?

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The shell goes on over the “foot” of the prosthesis.  The below photos show what the prosthesis looks like without the shell.  If you look at the picture in the middle, you can see the way it was designed to have the split toe I wanted for flip-flops.  The picture on the right shows the original design (and description of the parts).  As you can see, there is no split toe.

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 As you know, I chose to wear my prosthesis with the metal showing and no “flesh” covering.  The covering is called a cosmesis.  According to the Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics website (http://www.hanger.com/prosthetics/services/Pages/Cosmesis.aspx),  Cosmesis is the art of making a prosthetic limb appear lifelike. Sometimes cosmesis refers to a removable covering such as a glove that fits on a prosthetic hand, or flesh colored stockings that slip over a prosthetic leg. Cosmesis has advanced to the point where it is often difficult to tell by simply looking that a hand, arm or leg is not “real.” The newer cosmeses are made of urethanes and silicones, while older styles are usually a type of vinyl called PVC.   The shape of the cosmesis is based on an impression of the person’s sound limb so that the proportions are exactly the same. Airbrushing the surface can allow for subtle variations in color, especially around the joints and on the palm of the hand. Fingers and toes can have acrylic nails, complete with half moons at the base and white nail tips. Details such as veins, freckles, hairs and even tattoos are now routinely included as part of cosmesis.  It is truly a personal choice whether or not to cover or uncover.  Below are some examples of what a cosmesis looks like:

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A few months ago, I started following a woman  on Pinterest who pinned a lot of amputee information.  Recently, we became Facebook friends.  Her name is Lindsey and she lives in England.  She is a very recent double below the knee amputee.  She is quirky, and positive and funny and is truly an inspiration to me.  She has chosen to have the cosmesis.  Here is a picture she has given me permission to use, of what she calls her “Barbie feet” (bleow).

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I hope you now have a better understanding of prosthetic limbs and all that is required to have our limbs…..whether they be Barbie or as a little boy was said to me, Transformer!
As always, thank you for allowing me to be part of your day!
P.S.  I have a request.  If you are an amputee or know one, I am looking for funny pictures of your limb or stump (for example, I have a lady that decorates her stump and I have a picture of Lauren wearing my foot on her ear).  Please email them to me at LisaOnALimb@hotmail.com and also let me know if I may use your name and/or city in the blog, as well as your photo.  Thank you.

The Support of Social Media


Social media gets a bad wrap sometimes, but let me tell you, it can also be a saving grace….the difference between loneliness, depression or isolation and healing. I have always loved social media. I went to very small elementary, middle and high schools. Since the “invention” of Facebook, I am in contact with about 90% of my classmates. I met a cousin at a funeral a few years ago and after 40+ years, I have gotten to know her. I am able to keep up with the lives of friends that I do not see nearly enough and I can see if someone I care about is struggling, but not wanted to put their hand out for help. Social media has become a new and grand way to stay connected. However, there are other benefits as well.

As an amputee, I am constantly looking for other amputee’s stories, helpful hints and inspiration. I also crave the friendship of other amputees. I have amazing friends and a very loving family, but no matter how I try to explain it, they just cannot understand what it is like for me. Many people have moved on and think I have too….I’ve gotten “used to it”. I don’t believe I will ever “get used to” having only one leg. I will learn to function with it, but that stump will always be there.

Finding amputees to talk to is a bit more difficult than it has been to find support from other people recovering from drugs and alcohol. Where I live, there are numerous support groups every day for those in recovery. I could literally go to one every hour and a half, every single day. However, amputee support groups are few and far between. There is only one in my immediate area (within a 30 minute drive) and it only meets once a month. If I miss it that month (which unfortunately, I usually do), I don’t get one. They are also very hard to find. For recovering addicts and alcoholics, there are phone book listings and internet sites you can visit to find a meeting. That is not so for amputees. The one I found was by total accident. Right after my surgery, my daughter was at the grocery store and saw an amputee. She approached him and told him I had just lost my leg. He gave her his card, I emailed him and he told me about the group.

While I am coping very well, I do still want to have other amputees to share my experiences with…people who “get it”. That is where social media comes in. There are specific web sites for amputees. I belong to a site called Amputee Empowerment Partners (http://www.empoweringamputees.org/). It is a site specifically geared toward amputees. You have to get approval to join, so there are no creepy amp stalkers. There are chat rooms, topics geared to specific subjects or specific types of limb loss, local events, news, etc. You can even find amputees in your area to talk to. This is an amazing social media resource that I recommend to all amputees.

I recently “discovered” a woman on Pinterest that “pinned” a lot of items about amputees. I started “following” her pins (for those who are unaware, Pinterest is an idea sharing and storing site-check it out). Anyway, I noticed her sense of humor seemed a little warped like mine and looked her up on Facebook. I “friended” her and was amazed to find she was a double, below the knee amputee. I was amazed by how positive and funny she was. I became inspired to follow her path. Based on her attitude, I assumed she had been a long-time amputee. This morning, we “chatted” on Facebook for the first time. She has been an amputee less than a year. (I will not give her name or specific details about her because I did nt get her permission). I was in awe by this beautiful, funny and positive woman! We shared a bit about our stories, our struggles and some ways we have learned to cope. If it was not for social media, I would have never been introduced to this woman who has influenced me to be even more positive. If she can do it with two legs missing, I can certainly do it with one!

Another advantage of social media is being able to keep a blog and share it with people all over the world. I am able to share my experiences, strengths and hopes with other amputees, educate non-amputees and learn from those who reply back to me. Facebook allows me to share it with my friends, who in turn, have shared it with theirs and so on. Search engines have allowed people looking for information to come directly to my site.

I am filled with gratitude that I became an amputee during the day of social media. I can’t imagine doing this on my own. it has opened one more door, helping me learn to live and laugh as an amputee to the very best of my ability.

As always, thank you for allowing me to be part of your day!

A Year Like No Other


Boy, again, it has been over a week since I wrote anything.  I really try, but life…..well, it just keeps life-ing!  However, here I am again to share my stories of learning to live and laugh as an amputee.

Today is a rather bittersweet day.  One year ago, November 15, 2011, I went through the scariest and most life-changing event I have ever faced.  I had my right leg amputated below the knee.  I remember, and probably always will, that day like it was yesterday.  I remember waking up eerily calm, although I was slightly grumpy because I couldn’t have coffee.  I showered and dried my hair. I was not allowed to put on make-up or deodorant, but for some reason, I tried to make myself as presentable as possible.

We caravaned to the hospital.  Michael and I were in the lead, followed by my two oldest kids and behind them was my good friend Emily.  My other great friend Deena and her husband also met us at the hospital.  It was a long ride to the hospital (I went to Kirkland from Federal Way, which is about 30-45 minutes). I was very quiet, which is extremely rare, and Michael kept making small talk to keep my mind (and probably his) off the surgery.

Once I was in my gown and lovely cap, my family and friends were allowed back to see me.  They all just hung out, making extremely inappropriate amputation jokes….which were VERY funny.  I think the nurses all thought I was already on something the way I was laughing.  I guess they don’t see many people joking right before losing a limb.  My family and I are twisted that way.  The doctor came in and marked my leg and joked about losing the tattoo on my ankle.  I told him it was fine because I didn’t like it and was trying to figure out how to get rid of it anyway.

I met with the anesthesiologist and was told I would be wheeled into the O.R. Shortly.  My friends left me alone with Michael and the kids.

I got hugs and kisses from Shelby and Alex and then they left.  They did not want to see me actually get wheeled away.  Michael stayed with me until the very last second.  He held my hand as I was being wheeled out of the prep area.  I did not shed a single tear until our hands slid apart as he stayed on one side of the door and I went on to the other side.  I don’t recall anything else.  The anesthesia must have kicked in.

The next thing I remember was being in my hospital room with Michael at my side.  It was quite clear he had been crying, but was trying to put on a strong front for me.  Minutes later, the kids came in.  They were ok until the covers got pulled back and they saw the cast, but no foot.  Shelby busted out in tears.  The kids only stayed a few minutes and left.  Shelby told me later it was just too hard to see me.

A few days later, back at home, the pain was so intense I would cry and yell.  My cast fell off the first week and I saw the stump for the first time.  I bawled and kept thinking to myself, “what have I done???”  That thought crossed my mind a lot the first few months.  I got depressed.  I got frustrated.  I even went through a stage where I thought I would never get the hang of the prosthesis and I was just going to do crutches and a wheelchair forever.

Fast forward to today, my one year anniversary, which is technically my birthday…or more precisely, my REbirthday.  I have spent the last year much like a child, learning to do things again.  I have taken my first steps.  I have gotten frustrated learning how to put on my pants and shoes.  I was restless, irritable and discontent.  But I have learned and no longer have regrets.  Actually, I can honestly say it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.  My pain is gone.  Yes, there is still pain sometimes, but not the “take your breath away pain” I used to have.  Of course I still have good days and bad days.  I am still learning…growing…adapting, but I no longer have regrets.

I can honestly say this would have gone much differently if I did not have the huge support system that I do.  I have had so many people care for me, cook for me, counsel me and just visit me.  I never felt alone for a single moment.  I will never be able to thank the people who were there for me enough.  They have been my lifelines.  And although I am sure I will miss some people, at the end of this, I will name the people who have helped carry me over the last year and been patient with me while I learned to live and laugh as an amputee.

I also want to thank YOU for allowing me to be part of your days.  I get emails daily and try to reply to all of them (if I haven’t replied, please send me another – no response was an accidental oversight).  I get encouraging words, advice and thank yous from people who say I have touched their lives.  In a strange sense, this amputation has been a bit of a blessing.  Thank you all for the last year.  I hope you continue to let me be part of your days.

Special thanks to:

Michael, the love of my life ♥ Shelby, my beautiful daughter, ♥ Alex, my wonderful son ♥ Lauren, the curious little light in my life ♥Becky, one of the greatest people I have ever met and helped me through 11 years of hell ♥ My Surgeon, who treated me like more than just a patient ♥Emily, Paige and Tom ♥ Salina, Ace, Savanna and Kyler ♥ Jessica ♥ Anna ♥ Deena and Chris ♥ Kelly ♥ Jody ♥ J. ♥   My ex-husband, Keith, who began this journey with me ♥ John, Michelle and Brandon ♥ Abby ♥ Travis ♥ Joanne ♥ Jen ♥ Mark ♥ Mary, my cousin ♥ All my fellow Woodlands Academy and St. James alum ♥ Rich, the best Prosthetist EVER ♥ All the others at Hanger ♥ My recovery community who prayed, visited and fed my family ♥ Juan and Chris ♥ Mike and Tony ♥ Cathy C. who was recovering from surgery at the same time and became my words with friends buddy ♥ John and Sandy ♥ Paul and Beth ♥ Robin ♥ Susan ♥ Terri ♥ Cal and Sonja ♥ Steve and Kristy ♥ Maria ♥ Cat and Rick ♥ Jeff H. ♥ Scott and Kim ♥ Mark ♥ Rita ♥ Stephan of Amputee Advocates ♥ Tim G. ♥ Dr. Rich ♥ Rosee ♥

I am sure there are so many more and I apologize if I didn’t mention you.  I love you all and thanks for one HELL of a ride!!