Let’s go back to when it all began…
When I was four I turned to my mum and asked her innocently; “mum when will my leg grow back?”
I can imagine my mum steadying herself. She would have known this question was coming but when it did came it still hit like a suckerpunch to the stomach. She prepared her words carefully as she gently told me; “no darling it will never grow back. You will have leggy (the nickname I had given my artificial leg, yep I was highly original back then) for ever.”
At the time this was enough for me and I simply went back to playing with my cabbage patch dolls.
Later I would complain to mum in frustration that all the kids at kindy always wanted to touch my leg. I couldn’t understand it; it was just my leg, what was the big deal?
As I grew older I grew tired of the thoughtless remarks people made about my leg. In summer my classmates would tell me how lucky I was to have only one leg that would feel the heat. Little did they know that an artificial leg is like a sweat box, a private continuous sauna that you cannot escape. In winter they again would tell me how lucky I was that only one leg would get cold. In hurt exasperation I would respond that I would gladly change spots with them in a heartbeat. God, I would endure the icy cold of the Antarctic if it meant that I could have two legs.
I have always been a big believer that everything happens for a reason and I was convinced there had to be reason for my disability. Everything in life happens for a reason right?
As a young teenager I searched for this reason and was sure I had found it when I started ‘dating’ my first love. I use the term dating loosely cause it was one of those early relationships where his friend tells your friend he likes you and you hold hands at school but do little else. In my young mind I was convinced it was fate that drew us together. It was at our school camp that our young love story began. As well as an artificial leg, my whole right side that been affected by a cut to the blood supply in the womb which meant I was born with a useless thumb on my right hand as well. I had this operated on at age ten where the surgeon broguht my index finger around to be my thumb. It might sound like a small thing but only having one thumb is incredibly difficult. Try and do up buttons with the use of only one thumb and you will soon see what I mean.
But the point is, as a result I am left handed.
During our camp activity of archery, those that were left handed were separated from the right handed kids. There were only four of us lefties and one of them was L. As soon as I met him it was like a Taylor Swift song. I thought with absolute certainty that this was the reason for my missing right leg and thumb. The reason life had dealt me this hand was so I could meet and fall in love with L.
Looking back I’m not so sure this was quite the case since our relationship of sorts ended after a year when he changed schools, but at the time it felt like destiny.
Growing up I never wanted to be seen as ‘the disabled girl’, in fact I still don’t.
I am so many things, female; brunette, occasionally funny, entertainment journalist, a good friend, a kind person and yes, disabled. I just want to be seen as Miranda and not Miranda the girl with one leg.
I never wanted to be treated differently because I happened to be missing a limb. Since I was a kid Mum taught me that the only limitations my disability had on my life were those that I placed upon myself.
I have body-boarded, skied, rock-climbed, abseiled, kayaked, bushwalked and beat able-bodies kids at swimming carnivals.
I tried best as I could not to let my leg limit me.
But in saying that, it has still been tough.
As a child and teenager I hated drawing attention to my disability. I found it hard to talk about my leg and would often invent stories about how I lost it to deflect the attention.
The most common was that I lost it in a shark attack. The story started after a rude and nosy stranger had commented and asked about how I lost my leg and the story just sort of slipped out. Over the years I perfected it down to every last detail and no one ever questioned it’s legitimacy. Often the story was greeted with inane questions such as “did you hunt it down to put on your wall?” Or “what kind of shark was it?” And my personal favourite “did your dad punch the shark in the nose?”
During my work experience at Dolly magazine I peddled them the same shark attack story and they were so impressed they asked me to write something for the magazine. Eeek I was caught out! I had to come clean and surprisingly they were still keen for me to write something.
I think as well as helping to deflect people’s comments, the story made me feel like I had something to be proud of. Like I was a survivor and not just a disabled girl. Despite not letting me leg hold me back, as a teenager when body image is everything I was ashamed of my leg and how I looked. People tend to view you differently if they think you have lost your leg as a result of an accident rather than just a birth defect.
When I finally decided I would just tell the truth about my leg when people asked, people would often say, “well at least you must be used to it since you have had it all your life.”
To me it feels like they saying, well it’s not so bad for you. I think this comment hurts me the most. Don’t get me wrong I feel extremely lucky not to have suffered a horrendous accident but I have still had to endure the similar hardship of learning to walk with an artificial leg, the stares and rude comments from strangers, the pain of walking with an artificial leg and the body consciousness that comes with being disabled. For those born disabled it can be just as hard.
The toughest thing is living with the constant rubbing and pain that comes with wearing an artificial prosthesis. Each step is accompanied by pain and uncomfortable pinching, pulling and rubbing on the skin. Imagine the worst kind of blisters you get from uncomfortable shoes and you’re halfway there. But unlike blisters from shoes, you can’t simply choose not to wear your leg as then well, you can’t walk. At times the pain was so bad I would limit the amount of times I went to the bathroom at work as the short walk was akin to a Tough Mudder event.
To try and mask the pain I would wear packets upon packets of Opsite but at $4 or so dollars a piece this becomes quite a costly exercise and so I moved on to blister block Band-Aids which I would layer on thickly like oil paint on a canvas. At times I would go through a box a day and like an addict my room would often be littered with packet upon packet of empty Band-Aids. To survive the walking involved at Splendour in the Grass I went through four packets a day. I remember loading the packets into the trolley as I collected festival supplies with a friend and the mystified look on her face was priceless. “Surely your shoes can’t possible rub that much?” Oh if only you knew.
There are times when my artificial leg will fit better than others, but the problem with a leg that holds on via suction is the slightest change in weight plays havoc with the fit. Gain weight and you limp more, lose weight and you lose suction.
Earlier this year I lost a significant amount of weight, which while it brought about many positive changes in other areas of my life, the fit of my leg became disastrous. Going to the gym and getting sweaty meant my leg would barely stay on and there was one ill-fated RPM class where it simply fell off.
It got so bad I had to literally hold it on when I walked. I became clever and sneaky about hiding this fact by always wearing jackets or pants with pockets or carrying a bag on my right side to assist with holding it in place with every step.
It got to the point where it was simply ridiculous and I knew it was time that I would need to get some padding in it or get a new one made. Despite the pain I was in, the prospect of a new leg worried me as a new leg is like having to break in a terribly uncomfortable pair of new shoes. I have never encountered a new leg I have liked straight away or at least didn’t reduce me to tears daily for the first month. And besides there was still a few more kilos I wanted to lose so I didn’t want to have to go through the process twice.
But boy am I glad that I finally took the step, as without wanting to sound uber dramatic, that decision quite literally changed my life.
Being an amputee from pretty much birth (I was amputated at 14months as my right leg was far too short and twisted) I had always been on the free Government artificial limb scheme. There was nothing fancy about the legs or components on the scheme and I simply accepted that without thousands and thousands of dollars this was the best I was going to get in terms of artificial legs.
It was while the prosthetist was downstairs tinkering on my existing leg and had been for quite some time that I stumbled upon one lone random brochure about something called osseointegration. It explained a new procedure where the traditional suction prosthesis would be a thing of the past as the operation involved implanting a rod into your femur that would attach to the rest of the artificial limb.
I had never heard of anything like it. I had read about computer legs and other types of bionic limbs but not something that was actually a part of you. When I got home I googled the link on the brochure and read fascinated about this new procedure that had only been done on about 100 people worldwide, mostly in Germany and the UK.
There was a link to a video by an older British guy talking about his life after having the operation. I felt the tears well in my eyes as he explained how it had changed his life. Gone was the pain of walking, the rubbing, pinching and pulling. He could walk greater distances, could do more at the gym than ever before, and could ride a road bike. But it was the little changes that really choked me up. The little things that most people take for granted, such as wearing tight jeans without the unsightly bulk of the top of an artificial leg and showering whenever you want as you don’t have to worry about the impossibility of sticking Band-Aids on freshly washed skin.
There was only one catch as far as I could see apart from the not mentioned cost; the procedure was only available for above knee amputees (those that don’t have their own knee). While I don’t have my own knee I am considered a through-knee amputee as my stump reaches down to line up with my left knee. I hoped that that wouldn’t rule me out as a candidate for the surgery.
My parents booked us in to see the only surgeon in Australia that performed the operation, Dr Munjed Al Muderis who was based in Sydney. The surgery had only been performed on about 20 people in Australia and the appointment with Dr Al Muderis would determine whether I would be a viable candidate or not.
And I guess that’s where this story really begins…