Being an amputee the most common and frequent question I am asked is, “how did it happen?”
I’m sure most assume some cool gruesome story like a crocodile attack, I’ve even been asked if I’m a war veteran, in some ways I feel I let people down by telling them what really happened, which is that I was born with a deformity in my foot, called Lymphaedema and chose to have my foot amputated.
Interestingly the most gruesome part of this story of mine is the agony of the decision making time, deciding I would go through with an amputation.
Medically having my foot amputated was not strictly necessary, but rather a gut-wrenching choice I felt I had to make because my foot was completely unbearable and incompatible with any long term happiness.
I grew up for 13 years with a foot that quite frankly didn’t stop throbbing. After 15 operations, including 2 toe amputations and countless other treatments I’d had enough. I never quite had a normal childhood, as most of it was in and out of treatments hanging out with doctors, travelling to far away countries to try anything that would help, instead of being out in the school yard with my mates. Mum and dad said that when I became a teenager I could choose to have my foot amputated if I felt that was right at the time. Needless to say 5 days after I turned 13 it was off.
So here are 6 lessons having my foot amputated taught me about life:
- The contemplation (mental pain) you put yourself through with a decision like this is so far greater than the physical pain. All the “what if’s” start creeping into your mind. “What if I never walk again?”. It’s not like I can grow another foot back. “What if I don’t survive the operation…?”. A place I’m sure most chronic illness sufferers spend some time in. However, I can’t recall one of my “what if” worst case scenarios that came true. Thus, being an amputee taught me not to worry, because it most likely won’t happen the way you imagine. Even if something does happen, I’ll guarantee you it won’t be as bad as you imagine. So embrace the journey.
- When I’m 80 years of age, I’ll have the functional ankle of an 18 year old. You see, I can keep replacing mine, all my friends at the same age will potentially be limping around with arthritis. People often ask me, “if science allows you to ever attach another human leg, would you get one?”. The answer is always no. Having a prosthetic leg is a part of me now. This prosthesis and I have so much history together, replacing it with something else would be disrespecting the journey we’ve been on. I think the worst things that happen to you are the core of your character. Losing the prosthesis means losing who I am.
- Being an amputee I can change my socks every 2nd day!! Not that I do it that often, but when I need too it’s very handy!
- When you are in pure agony you can’t cry. Usually when the mental and physical pain coincide. Every time I’m challenged by something physical or mental now, I reflect on those dark days and I get a surge of energy. Your biggest challenges in life build your character. They are the very fuel of any goal you set. Without these challenges your goals would struggle to be reached in my opinion.
- You don’t need to walk on your legs to lose weight. I lost 40kgs after realising that the reason I couldn’t walk was because of the 40kg on my back, not because the stump couldn’t take to the motion of walking. I spent my first 5 years of being an amputee in a wheel chair thinking that I was overweight because I had big bones and a slow metabolism, and of course a stump that can’t take too a prosthesis. My motivation to change this way of life came when a friend put me on a set of scales and said “take the weight off your legs until your stump doesn’t hurt”. At that very moment in time I realised I had to lose 40kgs. It is amazing when you stop eating chips and donuts and start eating carrots and fish and begin to move around doing circuit gym work sitting down, the weight just falls right off.I think to make any dramatic change in your life you need a big wake up call to give you a different perspective. Alcoholics that sustain abstinence, say they hit rock bottom first before they fully committed to the change. I’m not saying you have to hit rock bottom to begin the change, but you must not only be aware of a new perspective but feel that new perspective emotionally. I will never forget the way I felt on those scales when I realised that if I lost the weight the stump wouldn’t hurt. That emotion fell slightly short of my kids being born and seeing my beautiful wife walk down the aisle.
- You have to look down when you walk, otherwise if you hit a small hole, it’s good bye knee as there is no ankle to combat the hole. In some ways this has been a strong lesson in life. Whilst it’s good to look ahead and have goals, it’s equally important to be aware of what’s right in front of you. I don’t like the term “positive” I prefer the reference “realtisitc optimism”. Have one foot on the ground and one in the clouds. I’ve seen so many business owners go broke because they were unaware of their financial position, didn’t understand the numbers in their business, didn’t care about any legislation updates, didn’t listen closely enough about what their customers were saying about their product and people and thus blew their business up with their own ignorance.
By the way I’m not suggesting you cut your leg off, it hurts too much I am suggesting to consider these principles of life.