Category Archives: are you kidding me??

what not to say

As a new amputee I came across people who felt it was important that I know others with injuries like mine. We would have that in common, so we were destined to be friends. This amused me. Just because we were amputees didn’t mean we were immediately bound together, having long meaningful conversations over glasses of wine, forever friends. Sharing similar injuries doesn’t create chemistry. Yet, people asked if I knew Joe, an amputee living in a town not far from me, and if I didn’t know him, would I like to meet him?

However, there were two women in physiotherapy that I especially liked and admired. One of the women was a police officer, Laurie, that had been shot in the leg in the line of duty, resulting in an amputation below the knee. The other woman, Gail, lost her leg above the knee to cancer. We were in physiotherapy from Monday to Friday, so it was easy to get to know each other, a ripe climate of opportunity to be understood. We became quite friendly and every once in a while the three of us visited the resident social worker together. It was a time to talk, to be there for each other, and, sometimes, air grievances.

“Do you know what makes me crazy?”

“What?”

“When people say everything happens for a reason.”

Everyone nodded.

“Why do people say God won’t give you more than you can handle? This is way more than I can handle.”

“The other one I can’t take is when people say this will make you stronger. What does that mean?”

We were in agreement. What did that mean?

I said, “I really hate it when people keep asking me if I’ve tried aloe.” This is something that still makes me laugh, that with all the medical intervention and the best surgeons in BC working on me no one had thought to use aloe. Like it was some super cure. Good for small cuts and sunburns. Not for burns so deep multiple surgeries were required to save your life. My friend, Jenn, summed up my thoughts well when she said, “There isn’t a plant or bottle of lotion in the world big enough.”

“What about when people have foot pain and tell you they can relate?”

We laughed. Hard.

I shared a story where a girl I didn’t know well said she thought of me while shaving her legs. She told me how lucky I was I didn’t have to worry about that anymore. She smiled. She said it with absolute innocence. She said it in front of a large group of friends at a pub. There was an awkward silence until someone, bless them, changed the subject.

“People say the dumbest things.”

People meant well. The three of us acknowledged that. We’re at a loss for words, so we rely on cliches and old advice that was never wise advice to begin with. Everybody wants to help. We wondered why people couldn’t stick with “I’m sorry” or tell the truth, “This is terrible.” It was always a relief to me when it was called as it was. Even saying, “I don’t know what to say” was welcomed. Everyone has found themselves in a position where you’re stuck, where words aren’t enough.

We found things in common with each other that went beyond our amputations. Our willingness to face our fears, to get on with it, and the dumb things that people say were what brought us together. From Monday to Friday I could look around the room and take comfort that someone knew what it was like to be me.

h is for handicapped

I wanted to move from patient to person. Each day was laid out for me. Physiotherapy, occupational therapy, meals and rest were scheduled. Structuring my days was bringing some evenness to my life. However, I missed having a life of my own, one where I wasn’t accountable to a team of people.

Towards the end of my time at the burn unit I began to help with my dressing changes. Before the nurse came in (my army of nurses was reduced to one) I unwound the gauze from my arms. It wasn’t so much that I was being helpful, but exercising my will. Decisions had been made for my benefit since my arrival. These decisions saved my life, so I wasn’t arguing. Being a patient was like being a child, though. Lying on your back every day, rails on either side of you, dependent, your brain gets soft. I unwound that gauze, needing to wean myself from constant care.

At GF Strong there was more opportunity to be self-sufficient, to work my way towards independence. But I was moved from one set of arms to another and decisions continued to be made for me.

I was in a meeting with my prosthetist, an occupational therapist, a social worker, and I think my mom was there. It was a meeting to discuss reintegrating me into the world. What were the necessary steps to get me out there and on my own?

I don’t think anyone intended for me to be excluded, but somewhere along the way I was forgotten. She needs, she wants, she should. I let the conversation wash over me. They were discussing my ability to get around in the future.

“Perhaps it’s best for her to have a scooter.”

“Heidi isn’t able to walk as much as we’d hoped, so…”

“She’ll need a large enough van to accommodate a wheelchair or a scooter.”

I didn’t speak up. I don’t know why I didn’t say anything. When I left the meeting I was signed up for lessons on using hand controls for the new van I’d be getting.

My brain was soft.

When did I become paraplegic? Hand controls made sense for people that couldn’t feel their legs. When did I turn eighty and need a scooter? They may as well have put an orange vest on me, attached bells, and slapped a sign on my chest that said, I’m Handicapped.

A week later, I finished the first forty-five minute lesson for my reintroduction to driving. As I waited for the handydart (the bus for the disabled) to come get me I made the decision to drive again, on my own terms. I’d already taken Drivers Ed when I was sixteen and I wasn’t about to torture myself with that again. Scooters and vans and what I couldn’t do be damned. I was a grown-up and knew how to say no.

I never returned for a second lesson.

losing my blob

So, my blog got a facelift and it’s moved. I’ll have you know this is Scott’s idea. From the beginning this has been Scott’s idea. Creating a website for me, starting a blog two years ago, then, “You should write a book.”  As of a day and a half ago I’m up on Facebook and Scott has moved my blog to WordPress, changing my teeny, tiny world as I know it. We even had a talk like I was one of his clients. We sat across from each other in pajamas, computer on his lap, and had a business meeting. He’s all visioning and marketing and ‘what does the future hold’.  I’m riddled with anxiety, head aching, and my hands are actually shaking a little.

Tears filled my eyes as I looked at my new blog this morning with the words, ‘Help me get published’ on the right hand side. These were not tears of joy, people. It was 7 am. I had just finished making lunches for the kids and thought, I’ll check out the progress Scott has made with my blog. He looked over my shoulder as I said, “You have to take this down. It’s too much.”

Scott said no.

I’m sure I have mentioned somewhere in this blog how Scott is a dreamer. He has ideas for a new business every other day. His latest venture is creating a comic strip based on the world of skydiving. That’s right. Scott skydives. Frequently. Have I mentioned that before? It goes with his dreamer, risk-taking, Braveheart-freedom-crying, possibly plunging to his death persona. What I wanted for him to do this weekend was to clean out the shed and mow the lawn. Instead, he rebuilt my website and told me to believe in myself. I hate him sometimes.

I’m slow to change. My very, very good friend Jenn said to me,  “Welcome to 2006, Heidi,” when I announced to her I was on Facebook like it was something to announce, like I just began a relationship with some guy wondering if we had a future together. Melodramatic, much?

The problem is that I feel vulnerable.

I know I’m being irrational, but all of this change makes me feel vulnerable. I’m really putting myself out there in this very intentional, purposeful way. I write, I’m writing a book, Help me. I know I have a blog but I started out with, like, two readers and it’s a very gradual, take-you-slow process, so it’s safe for internet inept, old-fashioned people like me. And, in all honesty, my heart raced each time I hit publish, for months. I don’t mull things over. I process and process and process until I can accept, meanwhile another planet has been discovered where a similar species to ours exists happily and peacefully.  It took me an entire year to say, alright, I’m writing a book rather than prefacing it with we’ll see and a shrug of my shoulders. It took me three years to upgrade to a blackberry from my antique flip-phone with antennae. I am S-L-O-W.

Yesterday I learned how to comment on my wall. Today, I’m going to post my ‘I hate change’ post on my new blog and wrestle with my unbelief. I guess you’ll see me on Twitter next. As my friend Jenn would say, “Ack!”

the emily post of car crashes

“Bless you.”

I rolled my eyes as the elevator doors slid shut.

I sighed heavily, my hands tense on the arms of my wheelchair. I was annoyed at the man in the suit who couldn’t help himself, who had waited fifteen flights up to bless me as he exited the elevator. I’m sure he was well meaning, but I didn’t need anyone’s blessing.

I knew what I looked like. I mean, truly, I was a disaster. I’d take a second look. Not only was I in a wheelchair, but I had hair that stood up in short dark spikes, a by-product of a shaved head and hair desperate to make a comeback. I wore white pressure garments resembling too-tight spandex that I would tell every girl to run away from, and, here I was, forced to wear them to combat the raised scars on my arms and legs. I was too pale, too skinny, but it was my legs, or lack thereof, that alerted people to the obvious, that something had gone very wrong. I was a clown in a garish costume in a sea of ordinary and all I longed to do was to step out of my costume and join the sea.

That longing grew greater as strangers went out of their way to place a hand on my shoulder, mutter a quick prayer, or crouch to look me in the eye and ply me with questions.

“What happened to you?”

This was usually asked slowly, each word enunciated, emphasis on the you.

My standard answer was, “I was in a car accident.”

For some, who understood tight-lipped responses, the answer was satisfactory and they moved on. For others, who were immune to social cues, followed up the first question with wide eyes, “Was it bad?”

I wanted to respond with snark. To ask incredulously, “Are you freaking kidding me?” Followed by, “Seriously??” And, finally, a roll of the eyes so huge I would put a moody teenager to shame.

But, I opted for the polite way, the Emily Post way, and met their irritating curiosity with calm.

“Yes.”

I enjoyed not giving them what they wanted.

my introduction to being an amputee, officially

It was time to meet the prosthetist, the leg guy, as I would later come to call him. I had no idea of what would be involved with that. How long would it take? How does one go about making legs? I was hoping I’d be given answers.

Everything here, at the hospital, was about waiting. Wait for the next surgery. Wait for the doctor to come see me. Wait to heal. Wait until I’m told what to do next. I couldn’t will anything to happen faster. I couldn’t make anything go. I was at the mercy of my body. Even my resourceful doctors were following my body’s lead. We were all waiting. If one could hone the skill of survival it was going to be me. I could do very little besides read a chapter of a book or watch television, so survival was going to be my craft and I was getting good at it.

Later that day, David, my prosthetist, entered my room to discuss fitting me for prosthetic legs. He had thin white hair, glasses, wore a short-sleeved plaid shirt and he carried an over-sized briefcase. I guessed he was in his fifties. He was nice, cheerful. I wasn’t sure what time it was, but I knew it had to be late and was wondering why it took him so long to get here. I found out it was actually early afternoon. My morphine messed with my days or maybe it was each day running into the next that messed with keeping track of time. This discussion of my legs was a step forward, one of many, getting me that much closer to what I wanted and I was anxious to begin the process. Acquiring legs was the key to getting my life back, to returning to the world I knew. I might not be the same in it, but I ached for normal and I knew this is what it would take to achieve that. I had to walk.

David was talking about casting me. This was going to be interesting. That was the word he used to explain the open wounds on my legs. An interesting problem. Would it be worth it to put all of this plaster on me maybe damaging my skin further? And it would hurt. But everything hurt. I had become hyper sensitive. Even running water on my skin at this point caused me pain. It was like my body had enough. I had been in the burn unit for months and my body needed space. It was crying out for it to be left alone.

I couldn’t imagine a job like his. Dealing with people with missing limbs. Meeting them under trauma and having to maneuver yourself and each situation so carefully. I may have been one out of a hundred but he was still tactful, still sensitive. This wasn’t new for him, but this was completely new for me. With care and forthrightness he explained how the process worked.

He had some problem solving to do. He would have to return another day to cast.

He saw me again about a week later. He handed me these thick squishy liners that looked like super sized rubbery socks or giant condoms….they were comical. They bent in half when holding them. I would roll these over my legs. Well, I wouldn’t. I didn’t have the strength yet to do it. I could barely bend my body far enough to reach my legs. David would have help from the burn unit’s resident physiotherapist, Gail. He would then spread plaster over the liners, wait until it hardened, then slide it off of my legs creating shells which David and his team at the lab would then use to build me prosthetic legs.

It was my official introduction to an amputee’s world. One where I learned words like liners, sleeves, pylons, titanium and how that was relevant to me. Prosthetic instead of artificial or peg leg. There was a lot to take in, a lot to accept. When being handed unfamiliar words with thick squishy liners I realized how very permanent all of this was.

Stump was a word I could not get used to. Although my prosthetist didn’t use the term many people did. Instead of legs or arms or limbs it was stumps. Which, for me, brought up words like hacked and dead and rotting. Not images I wanted to associate with me. I already had burnt, scarred, MRSA positive, amputee on the growing list of things that had gone desperately wrong. The last thing I wanted to do was to refer to my legs as stumps. They deserved more dignity than that. I deserved more dignity than that. Stumps was like the spoiled cherry on a gone sour, curdling sundae. I had legs. Legs, which still had some ability. They had feeling and bent at the knee. They were a part of me. I never uttered the word stump. Stump was a dirty word.

To be continued…..
Consider this part one of two

the truth

Here’s the thing. The truth. I hurt after I wrote about Betty. I didn’t expect to hurt so much. I retreated to the far corners of myself and tried hard not to think about that post, about her, about any of it.

I’m finding writing this story of mine difficult which is a polite way of saying that returning to writing about this story has become effing hard. I want to pursue it. I want to write it out and complete it. I want to get to the funny parts. There are funny parts. I want to get to the paragraphs where I’m learning, where inch by inch I’m healing. Where I reach an oasis in the storm, the thunder is rolling and lightning cracks the sky but I know I’m going to be okay. I’m still at the beginning. I’m still at the burn unit. I’m still in surgery. I want to be at the after, but there’s a journey to cover. The after won’t make sense if I don’t write about the before. What I can look forward to is that I know how this story will end.

I am tired. That post was true. I’ve been hitting wall after wall of fatigue and I’m beginning to suspect the cause of it isn’t physical. Which sucks. That means it’s mental. It means I need to dig deeper and get to the bottom of what’s bugging me versus taking a handful of vitamins, getting an anemia diagnosis (that was the easiest and best solution to my problem I could come up with. Better than cancer or some disease that doesn’t have a name yet) and eating everything soy based. I can’t take up residence at a yoga facility and chant my way towards freedom. Or can I?

I’m sighing right now. Loudly.

Somewhere between a week ago and today I’ve realized whatever is going on with me is not going to be as simple (or as hard) as cutting out my deep love of sugar. I don’t know what it is but I’m wondering if writing this story might have a small hand in my unrest.

I know I don’t have to come here and put forth post after post on the car crash, but I also know I’m not done with this yet. I can’t get away from this nagging need to keep going. There is something to writing this that is good for me on some level I can’t see or understand. And I’m learning there are times where it’s going to hurt a little on the way down.

meds, anyone?

I’m throwing up these (story) posts not as often as I’d like but I have been slowly chugging along doing what I can when I can. Lately, the what I can when I can are giving me a hard time, so I’ve slowed down to almost a halt. (Honestly, it is making me pull my hair out crazy and I’m riddled with anxiety. Riddled. No one is here with a gun to my head, but for some unexplainable reason the gun is at my temple ready to blow. What the hell? Alright, I’ll take the crazy down a notch now…)

Yesterday I’m in the city for a prosthetic tune-up and before I have to keep my appointment I arrive early so I can walk around with a coffee, from 49th Parallel, in my hand and take it all in. It being the uneven sidewalks, flowers in bright ceramic pots, people walking their dogs and the sunshine that has pushed past the clouds. It is unseasonably warm here and I want to breathe deeply and not take anything for granted.

I want to live here. I’ve made plans with Scott. When we’re older, when the kids are grown I want to live here. It feels like home. Here in this part of Vancouver where tall trees line the streets their roots stretching to the bottom of the earth, where the houses reach high and have windows with beautifully crafted panes, and solid welcoming doors. The streets are narrow and there’s little parking, but who cares because you can walk to wherever it is that you need to go. It’s the peace that settles on my shoulders when I visit here that I’m addicted to. I can take my book around the corner to one of the cafes that live on 4th and get lost. I like blending in and being just one of many sometimes. Where I live right now is home too and I love it here, but one day…one day….

I’m walking peering in to store windows words rattling around in my head. They come so fast. I have words for what it felt like when I was given permission to leave my hospital bed for the first time. I have words for how the snow swirled above me as I was driven home for Christmas. I need to release the words, to free them. My chest is heavy with the weight of them. I’m buzzing with coffee and inspiration. My step is lighter. Just wait until I get home!

I finally touch my fingers to the keyboard and the words are there, but I’m having trouble connecting them. They’re squished together in my brain and I can’t separate them long enough to form a coherent sentence. I sit and I sit and I sit. I get up, make a phone call, pick up a book I can’t get enough of, put it down, sigh. I return to the computer and my shoulders slump. I sigh again and this post comes out instead.