Wednesday, August 20, 2008
A Change of Mind
I had an idea last night, as I was drifting off to sleep. It has bugged me all day so I started some preliminary research.
I have finished the latest edition of the memoir I am working on. Its working title is Just One Foot: How Amputation Cured My Disability.
That's how I really feel. I feel like I was disabled before my surgery and now I am able.
Before my surgery I had a handicapped hang tag in my car and used it all the time. Before my surgery I avoided long walks, meaning I missed out on hikes in the woods with my kids. Before my surgery I had to be strategic about how many steps I used in a day.
After my surgery I was not only able to hike, I learned to ski. After my surgery I let my handicap hang tag expire and it's been two years since I've had a current one. After my surgery I don't even think about how many steps I'm taking. I do what needs to be done and I have no pain at the end of the day.
Many people see my artificial leg and put me in that disabled category. But in reality I am quite the opposite.
Since becoming an amputee I have heard about and met many people who also chose their amputations. Most had injuries that were never going to heal right and their prognosis was a lifetime on crutches or with a cane. And a lot of pain. So they did what I did and traded in their flesh and bone for titanium. And they got their lives back.
The problem is this: Doctors still don't get it, for the most part. Amputation is seen as failure. When they have tried every other surgery possible, which sometimes means years in and out of the hospital, and they are ready to give up, they offer amputation. But maybe, just maybe they need to see amputation for what it is - a way to get back to an active life when the chances of healing that limb are slim.
I had to beg my doctor to do my surgery. And I had been turned down by many other doctors when I asked for it. Their stock answer, "We don't cut off a leg with a pulse." So I was stuck on the couch the rest of my life, which would lead to gaining weight and more health problems. But my limb had a pulse so there was no reason, in their malpractice suit minds, to cut it off.
I would love to educate the newest orthopedic doctors. The young ones who still have open minds. The ones who grew up with video games and rapidly changing technology. They are likely to 'get it'. They are likely to understand that the way technology in prosthetics is advancing by the day, many times it is a much better option than withered, useless real limbs.
I would like to tell them my story and let them know there are many others like me, who got a better life because of high tech prosthetics. Because some day they will have a patient come into their office, frustrated by a limb that is not responding to repeated surgeries. And they will have the opportunity to give that patient his life back.
But I don't really know where to begin in my quest. I may start writing a smaller book, something that could hopefully be listed as required reading for orthopedic doctors in training. I will contact medical schools and see if they would even accept such a thing. I will pick the brains of my friends who have had medical training.
I don't know where it will end up. But this idea, that the new docs could learn a new lesson from an old amputee, will keep simmering in the back of my brain. And if you have any advice or thoughts on the matter, feel free to let me know. I'd love the guidance.