Thanks Lady But My Life Hasn’t Been A Tragedy

“How did it happen?” The lady says gesturing to my leg.

In the rehab gym it is a common question. It is place of injury, accidents and often tales of woe. Here the common curtsey of privacy is ripped away and nothing is sacred nor personal. For many of the patients here in the gym, no question is too intrusive, no line of inquiry too invasive.

Most of the time I am happy to talk about my leg, this exciting surgery, the glittering future that awaits me when I leave this place but sometimes there is a tone in their voice and I just know that I’m not going to enjoy the conversation that follows. Her voice was dripping with this.

I told her I had osseointegration surgery and how exciting and revolutionary it was. I hoped in focusing on this I could steer this conversation in the direction I wanted.

She was not to be thrown off course.

“Yes but how did you lose the leg. Was it a tragic accident?”

I sighed.

“No I had the leg amputated when I was a child due to a birth defect.”

I could feel my body involuntarily brace, waiting for whatever insensitive remark was coming next.

“Oh how awful,” she said.

“My son was born with problems with his two pinkie fingers. Nothing like you but we thought he might want to be a pianist so we had them operated on.

“But I was sick through the pregnancy and I just kept thinking what else might have gone wrong. We were lucky. Your Mum probably thought the same when you were born, wondered if she had done something.”

I wanted to slap her.

I’m sure these thoughts ran through Mum’s head at some point but the way I was born was no reflection of her behavior. She was a model pregnant mum-to-be, it was simply a cut to the blood supply in the womb. Just one of life’s little hiccups.

But this condescending conversation wasn’t over just yet.

She asked what I did for a living and where I was from. She was most interested in the fact I was a journalist.

“The only other journalist I have known who has also known tragedy was a girl whose car was squashed when a truck carrying bundles of paper tipped all the paper onto the car.”

I was a little confused why this was relevant.

“Are you going to compete in the disabled games?”

This was not a new question. I have coped this all my life.

When I was born the doctors told Mum cheerily “well now she can compete in the Paralympics.” Almost like it was a consolation prize for being born with a disability.

It’s strange really. I can’t see doctors saying to parents of able-bodied children “you must be excited, they could compete in the Olympics.”

The question and suggestion followed me throughout my childhood and teen years.

I was a quite a good swimmer growing up. It was the one sport I excelled at. In the water I was no longer clumsy and cumbersome. I was smooth, streamlined and strong. I didn’t feel different to the other kids and I could match their abilities, often better them.

I competed at swimming carnivals and did well until the higher levels where it was a little more difficult to beat the elite swimmers of the state with the slight disadvantage of having one leg less then them.

The suggestion was that I should train for the Paralympics. I would be able to win against those more evenly physically matched to me.

I competed in a few disabled games type carnivals. They were right; I easily sailed down the pool and scored myself ribbons. I don’t know if it was a pride thing, a desire to be normal and not lumped in with the disabled kids or something else but despite the fact I won I didn’t feel proud. It was too easy almost.

Sure I could have gone on and perhaps been a swimming champion at the Paralympics but I decided I would rather lose to the able-bodied kids then win against other disabled kids. I felt prouder coming second last in the higher level carnivals in the regular events then I did winning the disabled races.

Looking back I wonder if I should have tried harder to train for the Paralympics rather than let my pride get in the way. But that is the thing with paths not travelled, you can never know what could have been, only what is. And I choose to live life without regret.

But having this operation has seen those Paralympics questions surface again. A few of my friends and many of the nurses have asked if I will compete in the event now.

It’s strange really, like not every able-bodied person wants to be an athlete nor does every disabled person. We are all still individuals after all.

Plus if I was to compete my chosen sport or event would be swimming and that is out of the question now since I am no longer allowed to swim in public pools.

This lady seems to think competing in the games would be great for my self-esteem and self-worth.

Don’t worry lady; I feel fine about myself thanks.

As I turn to walk away, she tells me she will be praying for me.

“I pray you don’t have anymore tragedies in your life,” she says.

It really is quite interesting people’s reaction to disability. Just because I am disabled doesn’t mean my life has or is marked by tragedy. Sure I have had my struggles, there have been tough points, difficulties and moments of self-pity and ‘why me’ thinking but I would not describe my life as tragic. Not for a second. I don’t need people’s pity or sympathy. Not in the slightest.

My life is pretty damn good actually. There is very little my leg has held me back from achieving. There have been very little activities I haven’t done because of my leg and I don’t feel my life is lacking in any major due to my absent limb.

Like I said at the very beginning of this story, I believe that everything happens for a reason. I have one leg for a reason and while of course it would be great to have two legs, if I was granted a wish to change one about my life or my past I’m not entirely sure my leg would be the thing I would change.

Wow I can’t believe I just wrote that, or thought that even. Perhaps I really have just taken another huge step towards self-acceptance.

How About You Poke Fun Of My Hip While You’re At It?

Chris is still away so today I am working with one of the other male physios. I know he doesn’t mean anything malicious, it’s just his personality but he sure has a knack for sensing where my insecurities may lie and making me feel worse about them.

This morning he tells me my leg is the least fancy and “cool” looking compared to the others.

“What do you mean it doesn’t even have Bluetooth,” he says shaking his head with disappointment and disgust.

Thanks.

He then watches me walking and tells me I am walking like a “spastic” and does a gross exaggeration of my limp. Again I am reminded of the kids at school who would occasionally imitate the way I walked.

But that is not all. Next he tells me my knees don’t quite align and look funny. I explain what Dr Al Muderis said about my bone being too narrow to amputate any higher.

He still isn’t done.

“If I was an amputee I don’t think I would have this surgery,” he says gesturing to my leg.

Oh good, kick me further when I am down.

“It’s far too limiting. You can’t even run.”

I grit my teeth and force a smile.

Thanks buddy, any other flaws you would like to point out? How about my lack of hip or missing finger? Go on.

He Did Say I Could Go Crazy

Chris’s exact words before he left for the long weekend were: “go easy with the leg. You can go crazy with the weights and sit-ups and whatever else but go easy with the leg.”

So with this in mind today I am busting out of rehab to go to the gym. The real gym, the Fitness First at the shopping centre down the road.

Yep I am a certified gym junkie. And he did say I could go crazy with anything else.

heaven

The nurse at the front desk asks Mum and I where we are going.

“Just to Castle Towers,” Mum says.

“To Fitness First,” I add.

“Why did you tell her that,” Mum whispers to me in the elevator with slight concern.

“I don’t want you getting in trouble.”

I explain to her I couldn’t let the nurse think we were just the sort of people that wore gym gear to the shops. I have a reputation to uphold after all.

The girl at the desk at the gym hands me a medical form to fill out.

“Have you hurt your ankle?” She asks casually, eying the crutches.

“No, I’m just missing a leg,” I reply with a grin.

A look of horror crosses her face and a hot rash is spreading up her neck.

“Oh I am so sorry. So sorry,” she says clearly mortified.

I try not to openly laugh.

It is a sea of cardio equipment. Now this is my idea of heaven.

After an hour and three quarters Mum has had enough. I could go on. I feel like the energizer bunny.

worth it

Worth It: Cyborg walking school motto

Then comes a battle between my pride and my vanity.

I have brought clothes to change into as Mum and I plan to see a movie after our workout but I have forgot to bring a different shoe to wear with my maxi dress.

My options are to look fashionable and go bare foot but in the wheelchair or go on crutches wearing my jogger with my dress and be independent but a dag.

I am torn.

My pride and independence wins and as I am crutching around the shops I have to remind myself people are looking at me because I have one leg and not because I am wearing a jogger with a maxi dress.

And without the wheelchair there is no free tickets or discounts at the movies. Damn.

Cyborg Servicing

He walks in with a large metal case and instructs me to get on the bed and lay down.

Instead of scalpels, tweezers, forceps or any other kind of medical equipment you might except a surgeon to turn up with, inside he has a vice, screw-driver, clamps and a hammer. Not your usual operating tools.

tools

It’s time for my cyborg servicing. Just like a car it’s time for some repairs. The 5km service perhaps.

Dr Al Muderis tells me he will need to take the abutment (the piece of metal attached to my implant that sticks out of my leg) off and replace it with a new one. One that fits.

He places my leg in the vice and unscrews the bolt with a jolt. There’s a sharp twist but it doesn’t hurt.

He pulls out the new piece and the hammer and tells me this part might hurt a bit.

I gulp nervously and grip onto the bed. I can feel my fingers tightening around the bed sheets as he raises the hammer.

It’s only a little tap and I relax. Not so bad really.

Turns out I was lured into a false sense of security as he brings the hammer up again and brings it down with an almighty whack!

cybrog servicing

“Owwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!” I yelp as the pain rockets up the bone. Essentially he has just hit my femur with a hammer. If yesterday was painful, this is a whole other universe of pain. One I would be glad to never visit again.

But at least I didn’t swear this time. I don’t think he would have approved.

The pain doesn’t last and with trepidation I slip the leg on.

It fits! Hoorah, hoorah.

I do a few laps of the room for him and he looks on approvingly. He seems quite impressed when I am able to walk with one crutch and tell him I have managed a few steps unaided even though I really shouldn’t.

“You’re not pistoning,” he says with surprise.

From the very beginning he has said this would be the case with my hip.

“Your hip is doing so much better than we ever thought possible,” he adds.

Oh good. Glad he had such faith in me. But I beam all the same. I feel like a child in kindy who has just been awarded a gold star.

From the first operation he has constantly said the stump was a bit long but today he explains why he didn’t amputate higher; if he did then my bone would have been too narrow for the implant. This makes sense and I am relieved to hear there was a reason and it wasn’t just a miscalculation.

He packs up his tool kit and says he will see me in six weeks.

I am no longer a faulty cyborg.

My fellow cyborg Ali is leaving today. She has graduated and is out of here with top honors.

ali and i

I give her a big hug. We both feel like we have been through such a profound life-changing journey together. It has been an intense couple of weeks and I feel incredibly close to her.  She is one of the few people who will ever truly understand this experience and what I have been through. I wonder if this is how the contestants on The Biggest Loser feel when they leave. They live and breathe their challenge with their fellow contestants and then when they enter the real world it’s only those who have been in there with them who can truly understand the journey.

We have been through a journey filled with so much emption, in a world that is removed from the real world. Cyborg walking school has been an intense physical, mental and emotional journey.

Us cyborgs are bonded for life.

More Revelations

It’s Friday night. My hair is straightened, I’m all dressed up and I’m heading out. This is what real life is about. I had forgotten about this.

It’s Ali’s last night here before she graduates from cyborg walking school and we’re heading out to dinner.

It feels good to get out in the real world and I catch a glimpse of what my life will be like in a couple of weeks. It looks good. I can feel my excitement returning.

After my chats this week with Chris and talking with Ali about body image it really cements the need for me to not only accept my body and my leg but to love it.

I have spent so much of my life trying to hide, wanting to blend in and be as normal as possible.  That is largely part of the reason I jumped at the chance of this surgery. The chance for normalcy. Or as close as possible to it.  But I have spent too long feeling ashamed and inadequate when really I should have been feeling proud. It’s time to stop that shame, that feeling of being inadequate and not good enough.

No I am not perfect, I am flawed. But a flawed diamond is worth more than a perfect pebble.

Yes my hip is non-existent but it is incredible in what it can do if you were to judge it by the x-ray.

In my life I have achieved more than what many two-legged people have. I go to the gym more than a lot of my able-bodied friends and I have never let an obstacle get in my way.

Yes, this body has served me well really.

Suddenly this being comfortable in my own skin seems like a possibility and taking my leg off at work seems like something I will be able to manage.

matter

After the chat with Chris earlier today I already feel more confident in myself. He is right, life is too short to waste worrying about what people might think of me.

The people who mind, don’t matter and the people who matter don’t mind.

Of this surgery, this whole journey Chris told me it was a life-changing event.

“There are things in your life you will look back on and you will be able to pin-point the moment they changed you,” he said.

I have already had a few of these moments but he is right. This is huge. This whole experience has already changed me in many ways and has changed the direction of my life.

“Don’t give up on your goals. You might not get there next week but you will get there. You are the most motivated person I know,” he said.

“Don’t let this define you.”

He told me that Stefan had mentioned that looking back most of the other cyborgs barely remember the rehab stage. It all becomes a blur once the incredible gains in real life set in.

Being out tonight with Ali I am reminded again of real life and how good it can be. I think rehab has become such a bubble where I focus on such small movements that I had lost sight of the big picture and just what this surgery will mean. But talking to her about life, love and legs I can feel the excitement that had been there earlier in the week returning. And I can feel my spark reignited.

i-think-i-like-who-i-am-becoming

My life really has changed and right now the future looks bright.

This time last year I had no idea this was in my future so looking forward to the coming year, it looks glittering and shiny with possibility. It holds so much potential.

Discussing old legs and the way we used to walk it struck me one of the reasons I had trouble at first telling Chris when he would ask if I was in pain. And why I have continually pushed through the pain despite his warnings not to.

My whole life I have lived with pain. It is there everyday. From the moment I would put my old leg on until the moment I took it off. Like static on the TV I just try to drown it out. Block it with other distractions. Pain is a normal way of life and pushing through it is just as much a way of living as is exercising and eating healthy. This is why I push through so much pain here. It seems only natural. Anything a five or below on the pain scale is normal, manageable and not really worth mentioning.

There were many days where at work I would limit my trips to the bathroom, as the short walk was simply just too painful.

During my uni days I lived about 500m from campus and each day I would leave half an hour before each class. Not because I was slow walking there but I would need the time to visit the bathroom to change the bandaids on my many rubs and to have cry. That was the level of pain I endured on a daily basis.

But once I master this new leg, break in this wild brumby, that pain will be a thing of the past. A distant memory.

After the tough last few days I feel properly excited for the future again. Life really is going to be amazing. The rest of my life is going to be the best of my life.

I am a completely different person to who I was before I came down for this surgery. I still have far to go but I am far from who I once was. It has been a profound experience really.

I can’t believe just this morning I even entertained the idea, even if it was only for a brief second, of giving up.

As Michelle Bridges always says, “with every breakdown comes a break through.”

best

Gosh, in terms of soul searching and personal growth this whole osseointegration business is better than an Eat, Pray, Love style trip around the world. Maybe this needs to be mentioned in the brochure.

Osseointegration: it will change not just your leg but also your life.

Cyborg Walking School Progress

butterfly

Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day after day. But it’s hard to see the small improvements as they happen each day but looking back it’s quite exciting to see my progress. It may be slow but it’s not about being the best, only better than yesterday.

A little better…

Getting there…

 

Drama and Revelations

I try to tell the negative committee that is meeting in my head to sit down and shut up. But they are noisy, loud and insistent with their demands. I try to pipe them down with positivity but I have only been awake a few minutes and already I know that today is going to be tough.

Like a backpack filled with lead I feel weighed down with anxiety and frustration. Not even Carly Rae Jepsen and my usual pep-up tunes are lifting my spirits.

I’m so tempted just to lay on my bed. It seems like the easiest option today. I don’t think I have the strength to face Chris and the others today. I don’t have the energy to put on a brave face, fasten a smile and pretend that everything is ok. Not today.

But laying on my bed, wallowing, indulging in self-pity, this is not how I do things.

breathe2

Sometimes it’s ok if all you achieve in a day is to breathe. Today is one of those days.

I choose my best smile, push down the negativity and get my butt down to the gym.

I am doing my upmost to mask that today is tough. It is a struggle but no one seems the wiser.

Not Chris. He is one of the most intuitive people I have ever encountered and sees right through my façade. My mask might have fooled the others but not him.

He has joked before that he can read me like a book. I’m starting to think he really can.

Often it seems like he can see my mind ticking over, he can sense when I am thinking about attempting something I shouldn’t and sees straight through any efforts I make to hide my try thoughts and feelings. His future kids will never be able to get away with anything they are not supposed to. Good luck trying to lie to him or sneak out without him knowing about it.

I confess my anxieties about life back home. We talk through the practicalities and I admit my fears about work.

“I think I am afraid to leave here,” I confess in a quiet voice. Who would have thought I would be nervous to return to the life I was so hesitant to leave.

He tells me this is common for many of the patients here. Rehab, daily gym sessions, it’s a safe environment. Like a bubble really.

He doesn’t want me to give up any of my work.

“I want you to return to as much normalcy as you can,” he tells me.

We discuss talking to work about having flexible hours. Maybe starting later three days a week so I can do my physio appointments and then work through till later.

I just wish I had of known just how huge, long and intensive this process was going to be from the beginning. I still would have done it in an instant but I would have just been better prepared. I guess I will just have to adjust my expectations.

But it’s not my expectations I am most concerned about.

“I’m worried about not living up to my friends and everyone’s expectations,” I say biting my lip.

“I’m anxious about going home on crutches, returning less capable than I left.”

I also haven’t been wearing the leg all day as I can only really tolerate an hour or so with it on at a time. What will that mean for work? I will have to take it off for periods of the day and this terrifies me.

Prior to this surgery I never left the house without my leg. I never even took it off at home in front of my flatmates. Apart from my swimming days there are probably only a handful of my friends who have seen me without my leg on.

To suddenly be so public and visible about it all feels akin to standing on the edge of a cliff and being asked to jump off into a roaring surf below.

He listens thoughtfully and tells me not to worry so much about what people think. I am doing this for me, no one else.

“Let go of what they think and focus on yourself, you’ll be so much happier,” he says wisely.

It’s not until later I realize just how much time I have wasted in my life worrying about what people think.

Since this surgery, with this blog, me being more open and honest, everyone knows about my leg. There is no hiding it now. And really there is no need to hide it; it is a part of me after all.

Sure I am different but my friends, my colleagues, my family, they don’t love me for my body. I am so much more than my body.

peach

And if people find it weird or gross or unsettling then that is their problem.

Yes I have one leg but so what? I’ve just had this amazing surgery and changed my life. I’m not about to let what other people think get in the way of achieving my dreams and living the life I want.

And again Chris is right, sure I want to impress them with my transformation but it is going to be slow to reach my goals. But I don’t have to do it to meet anybody else’s timeframe. It is my journey and I will get there in my time. And when I do, you had better watch out, there will be stopping me.

It strikes me that this whole learning to walk business is quite like the process of losing weight. It took me a year to reach my weight loss and fitness goals but it wasn’t a year of constant struggle and desperation to reach the destination. It was enjoyable along the way and full of triumphs reaching each small goals and there were plenty of other great things happening in my life at the same time. Walking and adjusting to life with this cyborg leg will be similar.

And like I said at the beginning of this journey, I believe that everything happens for a reason and today it strikes me just how true this is.

Had my surgery not been delayed in the first place I wouldn’t have been in the hospital at the same time as Ali, Dan and Jaime. I wouldn’t have met my fellow cyborgs. Then if my visit to rehab hadn’t been delayed due to my bone needing more time to strengthen then I wouldn’t have been in here with both of them and they have been of invaluable support during my time here.

A collection of cyborgs

A collection of cyborgs

On top of that, if my surgery hadn’t of been delayed and at the original hospital that was planned I would have completed my rehab at a different centre and I wouldn’t have worked with Chris. And I really don’t think I would have been as successful or have made so many revelations about myself if this was the case.

At times things seem frustrating but you just have to trust in the process. It will all work out. There is a reason why my progress is slow. I just have to trust.

Later that day a nurse stops by my room to take my blood pressure and tells me she feels sorry for me.

I am confused. Because of my leg?

Oh hunny, don’t feel sorry for me. I have just had a day of revelations and I’m about to head off to live the life I have always envisaged.

Stefan is back for take two of fitting my new knee. I am excited to get my chance on the fancy laser machine.

laser

It is tight fit to get the leg on and I worry about getting it off but I soon forget in the excitement of walking.

Walking up and down the corridor both Stefan and Chris seem very happy with the progress I have made. Looking back at the videos from last Friday and earlier in the week I can see the difference. I feel triumphant. Progress at last! You don’t notice it each session or day after day but looking back I can really see the change and the improvement.

But then disaster strikes.

Back in my room after the session I unscrew the bolt with the allen key and attempt to pull the leg off.

It won’t budge. It is stuck. I pull and pull but it is no use.

With a pounding heart I head back to the physio room.

Chris is surprised to see me again so soon.

“Umm I have a little problem,” I say tentatively.

“I can’t take it off.”

He gets me to lay on the bed and he puts his full force into trying to pull it off. I can see the muscles in his arm straining but it is no use.

There is not a slither of movement.

Oh god. I am a permanent cyborg.

I have to keep it on for the rest of the day. Sitting in a chair is uncomfortable after a while with the weight of the leg pulling on the bone. My leg is aching.

Chris has a plan to get the leg off. Armed with a screwdriver he fiddles with some of the bolts and manages to prise the leg off.

Once it is off he fixes me with a grave look.

“I know this is the last thing you want to hear but I think we need to put it back on so we can see if we can get it off again.”

I nod reluctantly.

Putting it back on again slams the metal against my implant and sends a searing shot of pain up my bone. It’s a sledge hammer to the bone.

“Fuuuuuck,” I scream.

Whoops.

“Sorry about that language,” I apologies to Chris as I try not to pass out.

I feel faint and light headed and I have to lie down for a second.

Chris calls Stefan who talks to Dr Al Muderis.

He returns to deliver the bad news.

“It’s the wrong size part. This hasn’t happened before. The surgeon will have to come out and change it.”

I gulp. This explains why the stump loaders originally didn’t fit.

I am a faulty cyborg.

Since I can’t get the leg on and off without a side of searing pain I am not to wear the leg until my part is fixed.

Of course this had to happen on Friday afternoon ahead of a long weekend.

I worry about missing too many sessions on the weekend.

But luckily Dr Al Muderis will be out at some stage tomorrow to fix it.

Chris tells me to try and not be angry or frustrated.

Surprisingly I am not. While it is annoying this whole process has been filled with hiccups. I can’t help but laugh. It’s funny really.

Of course I would be the one to be a faulty cyborg.

Chris is going away for four days and he sternly tells me he doesn’t want to return next week to find I overdid it and was 10 out of 10 in pain and then rubbish when he gets back.

I promise to go easy.

He tells me I can go crazy with the weights, the sit-ups, whatever else I want as long as I go easy with the leg. This is a first.

Since he will be away he has organized for a cardio session in the other gym with Nicole. He looks after me.

Later I plug in the USB he has given me with a few more episodes of the shows I had been watching. I laugh with excitement when I discover he has surprised me with a couple of episodes of shows I had mentioned I was dying to see.

Who knew there were people this good in the world?