my introduction to being an amputee, officially – part two

It was a few weeks before I saw my prosthetic legs. Man-made legs that were to join the rest of me and enable me to walk. They looked enormous. They were enormous. I was a mere 90 pounds while in the burn unit. It took a lot of energy to be a burn survivor so keeping weight on proved to be difficult. I swear these legs looked like they weighed as much as I did. I was hoping I wouldn’t tip over in them.

Their bigness was to accommodate the thick liners I had to wear over my legs. I needed as much cushion as possible to protect my skin. My legs, especially my right, were in bad shape. I had skin that had adhered to the bone and open spots ran along both my legs. There was one on my right knee the size of a quarter. To cover my legs with silicone and acrylic, non-porous materials that wouldn’t let my skin breathe, wasn’t exactly ideal.

I was told I could put my legs on for short periods and get a feel for them. I had to stay in bed though. I wasn’t ready to make contact with the floor yet. Gail, my physiotherapist, made it a priority to visit me each day and tip the bed slightly so I was slanted, not quite vertical yet, but getting my body adjusted to having my legs beneath me supporting me rather than straight out in front of me. I had not stood in five months.

I would do these exercises for just minutes at a time. We had to be so careful to not damage my skin further. We were trying to get that quarter sized wound on my knee down to the size of a dime which sounded silly…why not aim for the wound to be eliminated altogether? But the goals we strived for around there were painstakingly realistic and dime-sized was something attainable, although it would take months. My legs would then be removed and left to rest against the foot of my bed.

One evening I was finally given permission to stand. Gail brought in an aluminum walker. A nurse came in and together they put on my legs for me and helped me to a sitting position in my bed. I scooted over to the edge of the bed and dangled my legs over the side. They placed the walker in front of me, each holding an arm and moved me to a standing position. My mom was ready with a camera.

My feet met the floor. I was upright.

I took a breath. I gripped the walker tightly in front of me. Gail and the nurse stood protectively on either side of me, letting go of my arms. I was standing.

After months of surgery and recovery and enduring I could feel the floor beneath me. My mom snapped a photo of my first step like I would one day take photos marking my children’s first steps. I smiled for her. It was new, but there was a sameness to it. I knew what it was to walk, how to put one foot in front of the other. Like a toddler though, I wasn’t strong enough yet to hold myself up. And I had to learn in cumbersome legs that felt utterly foreign to me.

I moved the walker slowly and as I did I took a small step. Then, another step. The walker was supporting a lot of my weight, so taking these tentative steps wasn’t as strenuous as I thought it would be. I looked at my feet as I was walking. I relied on my eyes for balance. I walked out of my room and just past the doorway. I was on the other side of my room and I had walked there. Of my own will, my own strength. I took maybe five steps, but I did it. I wasn’t wheeled or lifted out.

I should have felt victorious or elated. But, what I felt was determined. I knew I had a long way to go. The race had only begun and it was going to be a slow, measured one – one I would not be setting the pace for. My skin and time would dictate to me what I could and couldn’t do. I walked and I would do it again.

7 thoughts on “my introduction to being an amputee, officially – part two

  1. Anna See

    Wow, Heidi! To think of your situation that day, and how far you have come today. Wow.

  2. Intense Guy


    I head off to bed with this vision in my head – of someone who overcame a horror – determined and perhaps grim – doing what had to be done in order to go on, to move on in her life – not knowing then that courage, pluck, and steely determination would, could and IS a role model for others…

    I have a cousin that is paralysed from the waist down – the results of a silly high school shoving match – who by himself decided to have a fundraiser, taking pledges for swimming laps in a pool – he started swimming sometime in the afternoon and that evening he asked me to join him – to keep him company – so I got in and we sawm laps in silence since I couldn't hear him once I took off my hearing aid. It was around 2 AM when I pulled myself out of the pool having swum 5 miles – and my cousin went on to swim 26 of them – all on the strength of his arms and shoulders. He inspired and awed me that day – much like you do tonight.

    Keep on keeping on, Heidi. And thank you.

  3. kendalee

    What strikes me about this, beyond the amazing feat of courage and determination, is just how ingenious people are and how adaptable. That someone imagined and made real new legs for you and that you learnt to use them… it's an incredible thing. Thank you for sharing this Heidi – as always, so inspiring to read and today, very much in search of inspiration and a story of overcoming, just what I needed. xx

  4. Bitter_Angel

    WOW its amazing how far you walked just the first time.
    I remember after laying flat for 3 months how hard even sitting on the edge of the bed was.
    Your courage and strength astounds me.

  5. Linda Sue

    Kendalee said it- amazing FEAT (feet) of courage and determination! In this writing I would like to have spent more time pondering the removable bits- the metaphor…the weight of them, the advantage
    like fish swimming to shore – walking on the sand vertically…eventually…leaving one world for another. Determination is key and the irresistable urge to go forward- like evolution. You are highly evolved, Miss Heidi!

  6. Live More Now

    Wow. So descriptive. It must feel like a different lifetime to look back and describe these memories.

    I need to share your blog with a friend whose dad was recently hit by a car and lost his leg. He is a strong, courageous person, but no doubt your story would also inspire him. He is in a much different place in life, but I hope that he has a lot of life ahead yet.

    Thank you for sharing this. Big hugs. xoxox

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