Sunday, March 22, 2009

Just One Foot

When I started this blog I had to come up with a name. It needed to sum up who I am. Wife, mom, friend, sister, many titles. They all define me in some way. Then five years ago I got a new title. Amputee. It quickly defined me also, but not in the way you'd expect.

Getting rid of that one foot gave me new options in life. After living with a deteriorating deformed foot, the result of a minor case of spina bifida, I decided to have it cut off. I wanted to start over with metal and plastic. Many didn't understand how I could be excited to be having my limb amputated. As one friend said, "It's on the short list of things the rest of us fear the most in life." But amputation did not mean failure to me. It meant starting over.

I have written a memoir about my experience and how you can come to a place in your late thirties where you're shopping around for docs who are willing to do elective amputations. And how it can be all about good, nothing to do with failure. The working title is Just One Foot: How Amputation Cured My Disability.

So here is a brief explanation, in an excerpt from my manuscript, of where the title Just One Foot came from.

The other night a man asked me if I had bone cancer. I understood why he'd think that. Most people see my prosthetic leg and put it in a box they understand. If they have known someone who had cancer and lost a leg, that's what they think happened to me. If they read an article in the paper about someone losing their leg after a traffic accident, they wonder if I survived a car crash. Sometimes it bothers me. I get points for overcoming some obstacle I never had to face.

Maybe hauling around that deformed old foot all those years could be counted as adversity but I don’t put it in the same category as car wrecks and cancer. People who lose legs for those reasons knew normal before and are thrust into this new category of amputee. I never had a normal foot. This new metal leg is my version of normal.

And with the whole cancer thing there are more issues. Cancer is arbitrary. Even if they give you good odds, there is still a chance you will DIE. That's a long, emotionally draining road. What I had was a long road, but I knew what I was dealing with every step of the way. I knew it was just a foot that was not formed right. I also knew it was never life threatening. Life altering, but very different from life threatening.

I bounced these thoughts off Jeff one night. He surprised me by saying he thought my decision was actually harder. With cancer they tell you it's coming off. There's no choice. If you want life, you lose your limb. My surgery was more about taking chances. If I were going to beg a doctor to cut off my limb I'd better be ready to deal with the outcome. If anything went wrong I had to live with the consequences, knowing it had been 100% my choice to have it done. But I still have trouble believing I'm anywhere as brave as amputees who have it thrust upon them. Usually I feel like I have an advantage over them.

By having never known normal, my standards for this new leg are different than for most amputees. I just wanted better. When I walked out of my prothetist's office with my first leg I was not asking for normal, I was just looking for better than my old foot. And as twisted as my old foot had become, better was not hard to achieve. I lived most of my life hating my old foot. I have never had a moment since my surgery that I have missed it. I have never cried about my new amputee status. I'd already done all my crying, in the years I battled decreasing mobility. I can fully accept and love this new limb with no reservations.

Granted, I would have loved to have been born with two normal feet. That would have been great. But I wasn’t. I had no memory of running and skipping and jumping. I got used to the idea that those things would never be possible. Then suddenly there was a flicker of hope that I could get them back. It was worth pursuing. I had nothing to lose but immobility. It was all forward progress for me. Cut off the one that doesn't work, stick on one that does. It’s a mindset that is only possible if you hated the limb that came with your original packaging. It is great for one’s mental health. Not many amputees have that luxury.

So in a nutshell this decision was not as radical as it may seem. To me it was just one foot. Just a bit of flesh and bone that no longer worked. There were promising options if I had it removed, hints of a more mobile life. Why would I not pursue them? Bionic legs had amazing technology that could improve my life and give me a brighter future, if only I got rid of that limb. So what's the big deal? It was an easy choice. It was just one foot.


Ellie said...

Wow Judy, you are awesome.
When you were a little girl I knew about the problems with you foot but never knew how you felt about it. You seemed the happiest and most congenial of all the children. I never saw the worry and pain in your face, only the bright smile. I never noticed because you shined on.
I am happy for you and will continue to read what you publish. I'll have that infectious smile spreading from your face to mine.

Blaise said...

Your blog is way cool! What a great looking family!