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Carol - Okanagan - Below Knee

My Roller Coaster Amputee Ride

I am almost 60 (time flies) and I have been an amputee(right below knee) for just over four years. It has been a roller coaster of a ride and not something I would recommend! But it was a choice I had to make. I am a full time teacher, soon to retire, and a single mother with a daughter whom I hope will graduate this year. I have two cats and an energetic dog. Life is very hectic and I do not have time to sit around with one leg!

I was born with a club foot. By my late forties it had rotated, making hiking and sports painful activities. I also taught physical education, and this became impossible. By my early fifties walking was constantly painful so I succumbed to a ‘hot shot’ surgeon in Vancouver who said he could fix my foot. He did, he made it straight, but unusable. The surgery also damaged nerves which left me with constant pain. It was after this that I at last chose amputation. I had the surgery in Kelowna, as my experience in Vancouver had been unpleasant.

This was my second mistake! The surgery was well done, but my stump was a little short for the level of activity I wanted. After my surgery when I tried to discuss with my surgeon problems relating to length of stump, phantom pain and nerve damage he got up and left the room!

Choice of prosthetist was another mistake. There was no team effort among those involved in my rehabilitation. The physiatrist was the decision maker, right or wrong. There was little input from neither the physiotherapist nor the prosthetist. But I was determined and after a couple of months I was using my prosthetic and ready for a holiday with my daughter. It was then I realized that my leg alignment was painful and dangerous. My foot was in a downhill position. My “team” were unable to fix this and I was told it was my fault; I was not doing the right exercises! I think they hoped the problem would go away, or maybe I would. Well I did. I headed down to GF Strong where I found out that team work works!

Getting a correct fit still took time and I required proper gait training, strengthening, and balance work. I did not know how to walk correctly with two straight feet. But one year after my amputation and seven months after my referral to GF Strong, I completed the July 1st 5km walk in my home town. Later that summer my daughter and I flew to England and France for a month and we hiked up to as many castles as I could find!

In the winter of 2003, I was back cross country skiing with a lot more control than I had had with my club foot. I also decided, foolishly, to do some downhill skiing with my daughter. Second time out I fell, breaking the femur of my amputated leg and so another saga in my roller coaster ride began! It was not until the summer of 2005 that I recovered from this episode. This would not have been possible without my GF Strong team, who worked collaboratively with each other and me. My physiotherapist helped me to build back my muscles and walk properly again; my physiatrist really listened to me and did something about my concerns, and my prosthetist in Vancouver made me the best leg with the correct alignment, after seeing the problems I had had with a locally made prosthesis. I also had a dedicated physiotherapist in Kelowna, who after each surgery on my leg helped me regain range of motion in my knee.

I am now walking my dog in the bush, working out at a gym, doing yoga again, riding a bike, occasionally riding my daughter’s horse, swimming, canoeing and working in my garden. I am not very good at the latter, but this has nothing to do with my prosthetic! I was also cross country skiing last winter, and have decided to abandon downhill skiing. For the first time I am back driving with my right foot, although I will probably always have a left foot drive option, as the constant pins and needles sometimes becomes uncomfortable. But I am no longer in pain walking. I never use crutches. I never sit around with my leg off, I only remove it when having a shower or going to bed.

Having a prosthetic leg changes everything, but it is not an end, it is just another beginning. My greatest frustration is dealing with prosthetists, even the best. Billing procedures are strange and often a ‘dark secret’. Who pays for what and what you are allowed under B.C.’s Pharmacare is never clear and changes. Much is political. I have a great functioning leg, but I cannot get one with a well finished appearance. If you want more than a basic leg in B.C. you need to have good insurance, a large bank account, or a generous benefactor!

If you are having elective surgery take the time to ask questions, demand answers, and don’t let anyone tell you are a ‘wuss’ or should be thankful for what you have! If you are prepared to put in the effort, you can expect the same from everyone else! The people at GF Strong certainly put out the effort, but unfortunately this is not true of all medical establishments in B.C.

Carol
csmithson@shaw.ca

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