As I got dressed on Thursday, I knew it was the second-month mark since my entire world went topsy-turvy, this after my right leg had been amputated. I have adapted well because there was no other option. I can now shave and shower like a champ but the one thing that stymies me is that with just one good arm and leg – both on my left side – I cannot pull up my pants. I have to go back to my bed, lie down as I arch my rump as high as I can, and then pull ‘em up. But … no … on Thursday I knew I was in trouble. Not only could I suddenly hardly turn over, I was unable to sit up or “crab walk” the bed’s edge and my wheelchair. I lay still, going down my mental checklist – pain, no … phantom nerves, no … blood anywhere, no …
Knowing I could call the police – since I live by myself --I retraced, going step by step over my every movement since I first became so suddenly hampered. I could still arch my back towards the ceiling, so I skinned my everyday shorts back off and then – voila! – I found my “stump” from the surgery had somehow joined my good leg in the same pants leg of my boxer shorts. In seconds I was free and laughed deliciously at myself as I do every day. I am constantly asked by cell phone, texts, and emails, ‘How are you REALLY doing?’ And the answer is I am REALLY amazed by how far I have come in such a smidgen of time. With each new morning I am more excited, and with each night in my prayers I am increasingly overwhelmed in my gratitude for friends and strangers alike.
Of all my emotions, gratitude is the hardest for me and asking for help, imposing on others, and struggling to be self-sufficient, has caused me to rob from others the very thing that I enjoy the most in life; making the road a little easier for the next fellow struggler. Emotionally? This is the toughest challenge I can remember but when I was at my lowest, I figured I might as well tell folks about the next day’s surgery rather than endure what might happen if I didn’t and, boy, here you came. Somebody counted over 1,000 notes of love and encouragement on Facebook, my emails, left at my door and in my mailbox. I still can’t talk about it … that’s emotion.
Just so you’ll know, exactly one month ago I told my pastor I didn’t want to live anymore. “No, I will never commit suicide … but the next time the infection comes back, I don’t think I’ll be quite as reactive.” Since then I have sought and received professional help and I remind myself every day that the most powerful number I know is “24” and the best word is “yet.” When something tragic happens, or you wake up in the middle of the night twisted in worry, or the lab tests are bad … do not do anything for 24 hours, barring an emergency. It won’t happen in 12 hours, or in 18, or in 21 hours but nothing is ever as dark or hopeless 24 hours later and you’ll know the right path to take.
One night I was lying in the Siskin Hospital bed after I had fallen out of it six or so hours before. By the grace of God. I somehow climbed back in bed by myself, not daring to call the nurse because when I plopped to the tile floor terra firma, my stump slammed into the floor. So here I was, the sheets bloody and me too proud to ask for pain medicine. I said to myself, “This ain’t ever going to work …” but the little bell I keep in my brain rang, reminding me to put a “yet” at the end of every such miserable thought, and – just like magic – I immediately fell asleep. Since then, the “yet” word has been used quite often in my pep talks to self and as I start the third month in my recovery, I am REALLY excited about what’s in store. I can’t walk on my own … yet. I’ll never be able to climb up the stairs …. yet. Fillauer has shown me the truth and the proof of “yet.”
THE FILLAUER WIZARDS HAVE JUST INSTALLED ‘MY HOPE’ BACK
Want a sneak preview of month No. 3? The good news is that every Friday since I left, I have spent the afternoon at Fillauer Orthopedics, which is probably the most under-recognized jewel of all the companies in Chattanooga as well as all of Tennessee. Fillauer is readily acknowledged by its competitors as one of the foremost prosthetic leaders in the world. They have plants in Spain, Germany and goodness knows where else. Our hometown boys are the recognized gold standard all over the United States but nobody in Chattanooga seems to know that in the World Para-Olympic Games every champion wears Fillauer gear.
Those fancy running “blades” amputee athletes wear with such success that others claim they give an unfair advantage? They are made by the same genius engineers at Fillauer who tend to me. Isn’t it funny that every detractor of runners in blades has never lost a limb? What’s not fair in this old world is what an amputee must lose to wear a prosthetic. There is another truth you’ll never hear the whiners admit: Nobody wears blades, or any prosthetic, by choice.
It is well-known that for the last dozen years, I have had a “flail elbow.” After four rejected elbow prosthetics in 2006-10, my right arm has been “for decoration only,” so the first thing the Siskin people did after totally evaluating my unfortunate circumstances was to launch a space-age upper prosthetic for me. They quickly realized a functional right arm could be the key to my entire right side. You see, following a lower-limb amputation, it takes approximately three months for the leg wound to recover enough to accept a snug liner and a socket. In the meanwhile, my right arm has been revived.
How smart is this! I have a good left arm and left leg, versus two zeroes on my right side. By restoring the use of my right arm – that I had long ago resigned away – they created a life’s triangle of sorts. Turn any triangle upside down … each of my arms obviously form the corners of the inverted triangle’s base and my good left leg becomes the vertex. Now I can balance. I can pull my pants up (yes, I can hold onto an exercise bar with one good arm balancing the vertex, while I pull my britches up with the other.) This is even better: And, as a 70-year-old male with mileage the vintage other men can only envy, I can once again pee standing up for the very first time this year.
As I write this, the prototype of the brace that has been developed through lengthy sessions in each of the last six weeks, is being replicated in carbon fiber. The custom hinges, the special assist spring, the internal locking (and unlocking) device, the top-of-the-shoulder silicone, the support stabilizer that I will wear across my chest and back, all are the parts that add up the sum. Read slowly -- On December 13 I lost my right leg. This Friday I will regain my arm that has been missing for over a decade. Are you kidding me? What more does it take for you to believe -- God never closes a door that He does not open a window?
During last Friday’s visit to Fillauer, they brought in about a half-dozen samples of leg prosthetics. Several were for those among us 2 million amputees in the United States who have lost their leg below the knee, which entails only one joint – where their ankle once was. My amputation was above the knee – involving two joints (ankle and knee) that once did my brain’s bidding. The above-knee prosthetics have traditionally worked with a mechanical knee. It is an intricate hinge between the wearer’s thigh – or stump appendage – and a brilliant “foot,” that resembles a pointed forefoot and then a spring-like arch that precedes the heel.
What’s stunning is the common eye can never see this. The artificial foot is totally encapsulated in a rubber human-like covering that very closely resembles the real foot on your healthy leg. Yes, you can cover it in a sock, then put on a matching shoe, and only unless that shoe isn’t shined to match its mate, you cannot tell it is on a prosthetic leg. Yes, the science of prosthetics has gotten that good.
One of our nation’s darkest clouds is the number of our soldiers whose legs and arms and bodies have been torn apart by IEDs, the cruel explosive devices that our nation’s enemies leave in a foot-patrol’s way. We give these same savages foreign aid and the liberal left defend these “poor countries” at every step because the snowflakes still have all their limbs. How is that working for you? But the silver cloud is that the red-blooded American people have demanded and helped for our nation to completely respond with the absolutely finest prosthetic devices ever known to mankind.
HOW MY NEW ARTIFICIAL LEG WILL ACTUALLY WORK
Until this week, I never had any idea how an artificial leg actually works; allow me to explain. After my right leg was amputated, the artificial knee had blocked the bone infection from climbing above the knee. Now it and all below was gone; I was left with what we boys in the bar call “a stump.” From the inside of my groin, on the right side, we’re talking about roughly eight inches of thigh is what remains. It is rounded at the end, as you might correctly imagine, and it is too sensitive for even an ace wrap in the early weeks’ stages. Comparatively, from the inside of my groin on my left side, it is approximately 11 inches to the center of my good knee. So, the first goal of a prosthetic genius is to match ‘the knee alignment’ on both legs – one God-given and one not – at the exact same place.
They start the process with what’s called a liner. This is a closed-in sleeve, if you will, that is lined with a heavy coat of silicone. This fits your stump like the finest Italian riding glove. It is not so tight it smushes your stump, but it is so adhering you can’t pull it on or off. Instead you roll it back from its top to the very seat of its bottom end. Then careful to leave no wrinkle, you seat the bottom on your stump just so, and then unroll the liner up your thigh just like a beautiful Parisian fashion model might bring a silk stocking to the mouth of her garter belt (or, at least, that’s what I’ve been told, this versus some no-brain instruction pamphlet.)
On the inside the liner unrolls all the way to your groin. On the outside, it travels maybe 2 or 3 inches higher on your hip. It is not uncomfortable at all once you discover your right size and the only caution is to never let the back get higher than your hip joint, or you’ll be sitting on an “edge” that could be bothersome.
The inside of the liner has no joints, or any deformities that could cause chafing yet, at the exterior’s bottom on the outside, there is a nipple-like device with a threaded metal receiver in its direct middle. There you tighten a small unobtrusive bolt, one that through its tooled end you have threaded a dependable nylon strap that is about an inch or so wide, maybe almost two feet in length. When you draw your prosthetic close, you push the end of the nylon strap through an easily identified opening at the bottom on a custom-made “socket.” Your liner fits inside this socket like a man with a loving wife – they are made for one another.
As you seat your liner in its socket, you take the nylon strap that is attached inside the socket from the liner – and poking out of the bottom on the socket – and tug it to the interior of the outside of heavy plastic --- or fiberglass – socket that completely envelopes the liner with your “stump” nestled within. You guide the nylon strap through a reverse gate already installed on the outside of your leg prosthetic – to a ring where you can easily tighten it with torque, and then pat the keeper home in a field of Velcro. What holds the leg in place is not the strap but Sir Isaac Newton’s gravity. Your body weight is Newton’s apple, constantly pressing the liner into the snug socket, and many an amputee has won a foot race with the stupids by embracing such a principle.
This Friday I will get my upper prosthetic to take home. It is believed that two firm arms may be able to enlist a walker rather than a wheelchair. If so the stairs in my house would become more navigable. I would be able to easily fetch my morning newspaper and maneuver my way to my car. With the lightweight walker instead of the cumbersome wheelchair, it is well within the realm of possibility thinking that I could seat myself in my car and draw the walker in behind me quite easily. Forget my episode with the boxer shorts – now I will have real freedom.
Also, next Friday, I will be measured for my leg prosthetic. Just two days ago I was handed a hard metal case that resembled in size and shape a 12-inch Subway sandwich. I had no idea what it was. The answer: “We hope its your knee.” Mystified, I was told it contained a computer, activated by my motion that would respond in knee-like function to the sensors inside. Needless to say, I was so entranced I failed to ask how you change the batteries, but I was told within two or three weeks I will have “a leg to stand on.”
That’s when I will return to Siskin Hospital’s outpatient program and, with my Fillauer team in tow and eager to tweak then whatever this and that’s, I should be completely on my feet by my April birthday and blow the candles out that many hundreds of you have lit and prayed over for me.
So how am I REALLY doing? I’m doing REALLY well. Thanks for asking.