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

11 thoughts on “my introduction to being an amputee, officially

  1. Christy

    Ugh Heidi people can be so freaking insensitive! That is a dirty word, when thought of this way. And just in general, it's an ugly word. Who likes ugly when they can be sensitive instead?! I can only imagine how hard this is for you to write about…not sure I would've had the grace to consider that situation from David's perspective. You continue to amaze me.

    Hope you had a good weekend and your week is off to a good start!! xo

  2. Anna See

    Heidi– Thanks for this perspective on a word that most people rarely even think about. I'll be here for part II. xo

  3. Kate Coveny Hood

    I completely agree. Stump is a word for trees – not people. You just may be the bravest person I know…

  4. Intense Guy

    I never come away from your writing unmoved – and patiently wait for part two and the part where you DO walk again – I want to be there to cheer for you when you do (did) your first steps this time around.

    You are indeed an inspiration and an awesome writer.

  5. Heidi

    christy and anna and kate, david was really great – this mild-mannered, gentle sort of person. i have a different 'leg guy' now. and neither of them ever use that word. i was just surprised at how many people did, including doctors. anyway…somewhere along the way i thought that if i ever get a chance to tell people how vile i think that word is, i will. so, here i am writing about its grossness. i've heard other amputees use the word in reference to their limbs and i don't know what it is….but i just have this almost physical reaction to it.

    kate, trees…exactly!

    cindy, thank you! so much!

    intense guy, that's where i'm headed in part two – to my first few steps. thank you for your very kind words. you're so supportive in this space and i really appreciate it.

  6. lisa mertins

    heidi, please count me as one who patiently waits to hear the next part of your story. i come often, finding inspiration in your courage — or sometimes your despair as well. "thank you for sharing your story" seems a little trite for something as awesome and compelling as what you went through but i can't seem to find the appropriate words…

    as for the inappropriate word stump, i guess docs can be insensitive. hopefully, some will see this and learn.

  7. Phoebe's Pretty Pictures

    I agree totally with intense guy. I wish I were there to help you through this and I eagerly await to read more about your incredible ability to maintain courage against so many odds

  8. Rachel Cotterill

    Thank you for sharing this story. I'm sure most of us couldn't even begin to imagine what you've been through – so it's fascinating (and there-but-for-the-grace-of-god terrifying) to read about your experiences.

    On the lighter side… I misread "my prosthetist, entered my room to discuss fitting me for prosthetic legs" as "four prosthetic legs" (I have very poor eyesight at the best of times) and I was thinking "what, spares…?" And with more thought, it probably *does* make sense to have spares…

  9. kendalee

    Heidi, as always I come away from reading about your journey through this experience awed and with a sense that I've been invited to witness something so rare and special and intensely personal and moving. I know that's not why you're writing this necessarily but thank you for it nevertheless – it's a privilege.

    And thank heaven for people like David in the world. It makes me feel better just knowing they are out there.

  10. Heidi

    lisa, thank you for being here and reading and your kind words….i really appreciate it.

    phoebe's…., thank you. it's actually been pretty okay to write this. if i feel overwhelmed i've learned to take a step back, take a break, and then get back to it. it's been working out well. thank you for your concern…it's very sweet. 🙂

    rachel, yes! spares would be nice. i'd like a pretty pair if i had my choice…some fancy, womanly-like legs. 🙂 thank you for visiting me here!

    kendalee, thank you, as usual, for your kind, kind words.

    david was/still is i imagine…he moved a long time ago…a good, decent person….one of the most patient people i met in the entire process.

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