In my 16th year, I was enjoying my yearly vacation at Denver Children’s Hospital where I was having my remaining leg amputated. It didn’t seem like a big deal. I was already an amputee. When I climbed on the exam table, the doctors asked, “Now, how are you going to do that when your leg is gone?” “My mission in life doesn’t involve climbing on exam tables,” I replied, “I’ll figure something out.”
The doctors wanted to do an experimental surgery involving graphing all the nerves, arteries, and muscles in the leg to straighten it out. If it didn’t work, I’d be left paralyzed from the waist down. I wasn’t willing to take that chance. Two surgeries to amputate the leg had been attempted when I was 9, and again when I was 11, only to change the course of action during the surgery. And I was too young to make the decisions then. Now I was 16. They were going to listen to me. I was done with the back and hip pain. And the severe limp. Not to mention the strain my limp was putting on the Harrington rod I had in my back. There was a risk of it coming loose. The thought of that gave me the willies.
Before going to the hospital, I remember lying in bed studying my foot. My big toe wasn’t like other people’s toes. It always reminded me of a hamburger. Picture a jagged nail, like lettuce, and a lump of skin on top, like a burger bun. I kind of liked it. And some of my toes were fused together, like my fingers had been prior to being surgically separated.
Every summer, before my surgery, we would go to Elitch Gardens. An amusement park. It was a ritual. My brothers and sisters probably looked forward to my surgeries all year! Especially since we got to cut the lines since I was disabled. I’d ride the roller coaster at least twice. And the Tilt-A-Whirl. And cotton candy was a favorite. My parents had to control six of us kids running through that park! Later in life, I had one child. And that was challenge enough. Looking back, I don’t know how my parents did it.
Another ritual we had was my dad asking me if there was anything I wanted before my parents left me the first night at the hospital. He always knew what I was going to say. “Peanuts and strawberries,” was my reply every summer. One year one of my nurses knocked my peanuts in my bed, and before she could clean them up, she got called away. I had a horrible infection from that spill! But I still ordered, “peanuts and strawberries.”
Before surgery, I had ordered tickets to see Rod Steward in concert two weeks after the amputation. Forgetting that I would probably be in a wheelchair, I neglected to order accessible seating. So I was bound and determined to be up and walking by that time!
The anesthesiologist came in to discuss my surgery that morning. I asked him what they did with my leg after it was amputated. He told me that since my leg was so unique, they planned to slice it and study it under a microscope. I had a Salisbury steak that night. I wondered where they came from?
We also talked about my fear of needles, which years later would be identified as PTSD. He agreed to skip the pre-op sedation and give me the IV after I was anesthetized with gas. So when I got to the operating room, my doctor was running late and I was wide awake. I asked to see the saw they were going to use for the amputation. The assistant uncovered it to show it to me. It was so industrial looking. Didn’t look like a medical instrument to me at all. It looked like they were going to build cabinets instead! My doctor finally came and surgery was underway. They placed the mask over my face and soon my whole body became heavy, and I…
After the surgery, I woke up and the first thing I asked was if the leg was gone this time. It was. I had a cast with a metal pilon attached to it with a foot at the end. The day after surgery they stood me up. What a strange feeling that was! I could still feel my leg there! But it’s placement was all out of whack! It wasn’t where it felt like it was. They instructed mom to get me shoes so I could begin learning to walk again. She started down the hall… and lost it. She cried, “I don’t know what size to get her. She has no feet!” They asked, “What size do you wear?” Get her that size.” So I now wear the same size shoes as my mother did. I was up walking the next day. And I made it to the Rod Stewart concert, by the way!
Now the part you’ve been waiting for. The love story part. I was watching TV when this 17-year-old boy came into my hospital room, grabbed a chair, climbed on it, and proceeded to steal my “No Smoking” sign! “What are you doing?” I asked him. “Collecting ‘No Smoking’ signs,” he replied. I didn’t even bother asking “Why?” Here was someone my age to talk with.
The next day he shared a chocolate milkshake with me. He came to my room every day after that, sometimes with another milkshake, and we talked. About everything. I was having some ridiculous pain with my leg suddenly in a new position. He offered to massage it for me and he wasn’t afraid of my residual limbs. Eventually, I started asking him to do it. Then I began sending the nurses to get him when the pain got worse. He’d even come at 3 o’clock in the morning!
We would sneak into the janitor’s closet that was between floors in the elevator and make out. Oh, young love! Richard became my best friend, my first boyfriend, my husband, my child’s father, and my true love. We had some hard times together, but it helped us grow.
I found out later that he was in the hospital for substance abuse and a psych eval. He had stopped talking to everyone. His mom told me I was the only person he was talking to.
Throughout the years, we dated off and on. Eventually, he asked me to marry him. We had a son, named Daniel, who’s now 30. We gave it our best shot. But even with counseling, we couldn’t figure out what the issues were in our marriage and we divorced after 7 years. But we still kept in contact.
One year, he showed up on my doorstep and we decided to give it a try again. And we’ve been back together since.
He has now been diagnosed with bipolar with schizoaffective disorder and takes medication to control his mood swings. He fights his addictions one day at a time. We have our ups and downs. But what couple doesn’t? He’s taking responsibility for his disease and not relying solely on medication. I’m damned proud of him! And more importantly, he’s proud of himself. He’s my partner, through thick and thin. We see each other through it all.
The buildings of the old Children’s Hospital have been torn down. And that elevator is gone. But we still have our memories of those 16- and 17-year-old’s, young and in love. And brought together by a leg amputation.
You know a little more about me now. I’m all grown up and designing Song Sense Jewelry. I believe knowing about the designer makes the jewelry more interesting, and perhaps more treasured. Please have a look and perhaps choose something for yourself or a friend.